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4 Ways to Leverage Virtual Event Design to Increase Engagement

By Victoria Copans

High production value — including quality event design — is incredibly important when it comes to matching live engagement online, which almost half of eventprofs struggle with when sourcing virtual tech. Here are 4 design ideas from recent online events to enhance the virtual experience.

Virtual events have become more and more common amid worldwide lockdowns and social distancing guidelines. Even as some events start to resume, it will be essential for planners to turn to hybrid formats and incorporate a virtual component to their live events for as long as restrictions and uncertainty exist (and probably even after).

Online events come with their own challenges, including engagement opportunities and pricing. In recent EventMB research, 31 percent of planners cited engagement as their biggest challenge when organizing virtual events. Design is a key part of the engagement puzzle, as it can convey a higher production value and help keep attendees' attention on viewing the event content and exploring the platform.

But instead of traditional stage design and other in-person elements, an online event's creative and design elements must be incorporated entirely digitally, through virtual platforms, videos, and websites.

Fortunately, there have been numerous virtual events so far this year that have implemented designs that we can look to for guidance and inspiration as we continue to focus on virtual experiences.

Here are four tips gleaned from recent online events to help you leverage design elements when creating your event.

If you're looking for inspiration and guidance for your upcoming event, be sure to join us on July 30 for The Future of the Event Industry,
where industry leaders will share their predictions and tips for navigating 2020 and beyond.

 

Use Backdrops to Support Cohesion

Depending on the format of your virtual event, speakers and presenters may each be joining from a separate, remote location like your attendees, or — if logistics allow — you may be able to get them all together in one location such as a virtual venue from which you'll film and stream the sessions.

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Either way, it's important to make your event look cohesive and consistent from start to finish in order to more effectively weave together your brand narrative and provide attendees with the feel of a high production value event. One way to add a cohesive element to your virtual event is to incorporate backdrops.

For example, the Salesforce’s World Tour Sydney Reimagined virtual event, which took place in March, prioritized backdrops for their sessions. Although each session was set to a different environment, the backdrops were all notably in line with the event's "world tour" theme — whether it was a beach, the mountains, or a cityscape.

These backdrops served to give the event a cohesive look, and they also helped to engage the audience by also allowing for a literal change of scenery for each session.

A professional look and feel adds to an event's engagement potential and helps improve the virtual attendee experience by making people feel like they're part of a well-put-together event as opposed to simply watching disparate home videos on the internet. With that in mind, backdrops are an especially important consideration for events that include speakers joining remotely — a messy or cluttered room behind the speaker can quickly ruin the atmosphere of the event.

Ideally, every speaker would be provided with an image to set as their background, which can be used as a branding opportunity or a way to further incorporate the event theme.

Use a Strong Visual Theme to Reinforce Your Narrative

Most — if not all — events can benefit from having a strong theme and story, but they're especially useful for virtual events. According to Joe Pine, Co-founder of Strategic Horizons LLP, "every great experience needs that cohesiveness that a theme can bring to it."

However, virtual events have the disadvantage of not being able to immerse attendees in a physical event space, so it falls to visuals within the digital environment to bring the theme together on screen. Focus on images and designs that help convey the event's story.

The Augmented World Expo USA 2020, which focuses on advances in AR and VR, cleverly used a play on words in its tagline: "It's Time To Go Spatial." To support this interstellar theme, the event website was designed to look like outer space and featured an image of an astronaut — imagery that they carried throughout the event, like on the backdrop for the main stage talks.

This theme worked particularly well given that this was a virtual event, since AR and VR are all about using technology to allow people to go somewhere else or experience something new — virtually. This is a good best practice to keep in mind when choosing a theme: it should fit the overall objective or message of the event so that it makes sense.

Embed Speakers Within Dynamic Presentations

AWE 2020 made use of the technology at their disposal to superimpose speakers within thematic backgrounds and to display slides and other visual aids within polished Main Stage Talks presentations.

This year's Forward Digital Summit also exemplified the idea of using visuals to create a cohesive experience, but it incorporated other effective design elements as well. One of these was to overlay the speakers onto their presentations along with dynamic visuals.

Overlaying speakers in this way could be accomplished using a greenscreen, which would likely benefit from the involvement of a virtual venue or other tech partner in order to deliver high production value and ensure the visuals don't look sloppy or tacked-on.

This type of format helps keep attendees engaged with the presentations by allowing them to look at both the slides and the speakers simultaneously instead of having to choose where to focus their attention. The fact that it's not yet widely implemented also serves to add some interest to the event.

Create 3D Booth Visualizations

Trade shows have had a harder time pivoting to virtual than most other types of events. As Covid restrictions drag on, however, more trade shows will inevitably venture into the virtual space, and several experimental features and designs have come out of them.

One of the main struggles with trade shows is translating the exhibit hall experience online. It's important to convey exhibits in a way that's clear and easy to navigate, and that allows attendees to get a good idea of the exhibitors' products or services.

The China Import and Export Fair, also known as the Canton Fair, presented an opportunity for exhibitors to try out new ways to convey their value to attendees through various display options. One exhibitor created a virtual 3D representation of their booth that attendees could walk through from the comfort of their homes and view the company's different product offerings.

If you're organizing a trade show, or if your event will include exhibitors, be creative in how you think about designing the exhibit hall and booths. This is a relatively unexplored area, so there's still room for innovation and experimentation, but also keep in mind that a virtual format offers new opportunities as well as new challenges. Don’t feel like you need to translate the live experience to virtual as much as the core value of attending these shows, and adapt your approach to the virtual nature of the space.

 

IN CONCLUSION

Designing a virtual event may be vastly different from planning a live one, but it can be just as successful if done right. Design and user experience are key to ensuring that the virtual event experience is cohesive and engaging.

Event organizers will continue to demonstrate what's possible when it comes to virtual design, especially with the rise of virtual event studios. Keep an eye out for more innovative ideas as virtual events become the norm.

about the author

Victoria Copans
Victoria Copans is a Vermont-based writer, editor, and translator who's been planning events since grade school. She worked at an events agency before transitioning to writing about the industry.
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