5 mistakes that make virtual events boring

I am Xiaoyin, CEO of Run The World, one of the fastest growing online events platform. We have seen ~10,000 organizers using Run The World for all kinds of events from 120+ countries. We launched the week before COVID-19, and immediately got huge traction. I talked to probably 500 organizers personally, heard their stories, learned about their events, and observed how attendees interacted with their events. Here is my short list of 5 mistakes that lead do boring virtual events.

1. Full-day events don’t work

The average Netflix user spends 1 hour and 11 minutes each day watching the highest quality shows, that are designed by the best screenwriters with the most dramatic plots. Yet the average online events are produced by speakers with long presentation slides after long presentation slides that last a whole day. This doesn’t make any sense.

We at Run The World find the best length is around 90 minutes. While we see peak engagement for short events at 90 minutes, we always see drop offs or very staggered audience for eight-hour conferences online. Not to mention almost all event platforms (not Run The World, we support mobile) are web-based only, which requires people to stay in front of a computer. That sucks.

Let people go to the bathroom. I could barely survive movie marathons (in the end I almost always fall asleep), not to mention webinar marathons.

2. One-way webinars don’t work

Remember, we all hated webinars even before COVID-19.

We can’t even survive an hour. That sales rep tries to sell sh*t at you and talks non-stop.

The worst part of a webinar is, you simply can’t say anything. You are silenced. Your comment only shows if the moderator lets you. You don’t even know if you are the ONLY person watching (maybe you are, cause who else would be willing to sit through this?)

Now, welcome to the world of 10 webinars bundled together with no break. Yes. No break. It’s a revolutionary thing and we call this “Online Events.”

Don’t let that be your event. There are many ways you can make your events more interactive. For example, we suggest in between Fireside chats, you add a Cocktail Party.

3. Only using pre-recorded videos doesn’t work

This is another mistake. I have observed many online events that only utilize pre-recorded videos and they never manage to attract attendees throughout. Some organizers pretend their videos are not pre-recorded, but attendees are smart and they can tell every single time.

The whole point of online events is it that they have to be live.

But, is there any way I can still use pre-recorded videos?

Yes!

  1. You can definitely utilize pre-recorded videos as one of the sessions, and we have seen this work well.
  2. You can make a speaker live-react to a pre-recorded video. Have the speaker record their talk first, get the speaker on stage, play the recording, and let the speaker pause the recording to answer any questions the audience has. This tends to work better.

4. Making everything scripted and rehearsed leads to poor engagement.

We see the first-time organizer do this very often. They often make everything scripted. They will write the script down to seconds, collect questions beforehand, and strictly control who gets to ask questions. From what we observed, this approach does not work well online.

Attendees need to be able to feel like they have control, too. They want to be able to come to the stage and chat with speakers (we have launched a feature called “Grab the mic” that does exactly that). They like surprising moments that are not scripted. They want the speakers to give a spontaneous response to one of their comments. Designing online event experiences in a way that allows unscripted moments is critical to make sure people enjoy the event experience and want to stay.

5. Stop telling attendees what to expect

It’s all about differentiation. Attendees are getting so many invites to all kinds of events that they are not going to make it to most of them. Most of the attendees are just going to assume your event is another boring Zoom webinar so you need to communicate why your event is different. At Run The World, we actually created videos for our organizers to share with attendees because we find that is very important to drive attendance.

Typically, we find attendees are attracted by values such as:

  • Opportunity to browse other attendees
  • Opportunity to have a two-way conversation with speakers
  • Networking with other attendees
  • Joining a community after the event

Run The World does have abilities to handle all four, but we are seeing bigger and bigger demands for “joining a community post event,” so we are trying to keep up.