Tools for Interactive Online Events

What are the best tools for designing interactive online events? As I explained in my last post (Design Considerations in Designing Online Events), you can’t just lift and shift a face-to-face event to the digital world and expect interactive experiences to happen. You must deconstruct the face-to-face event and design an interactive online event.

This post will dive into various tools for designing interactive online events. I won’t be recommending specific tools, but providing advice for evaluating these tools.

You Probably Have the Tools You Need

How do you currently host live webinars? Think about the tools you already have, and leverage your investment in them. Your investment includes things like licensing costs, IT integration with your company’s identity systems, and integration with your marketing automation systems.

You will want to ensure that the platform can handle the size of the audience you’ll have if you convert a face-to-face event into an online event, and that you’re able to accommodate for the increased bandwidth.

It’s also a good idea to use this as an opportunity to investigate all options the platform provides, especially if you’ve been using it for a while. Does the platform allow for things like file sharing, built in polls, closed captioning, or even broadcasting to other platforms like YouTube.

Go where your audience congregates

The most overlooked tools for interactive events are the ones where your audience can communicate with you and other audience members. The way to encourage people to participate is to meet them where they are.

Where does your target audience interact online? Is it Twitter? Slack? LinkedIn? Reddit? Find a way to go to them. But be careful of making it weird — don’t show up in the tools your audience is comfortable using with your perfect messaging and expect people to want to interact. That’s just weird.

This is a great time to interview the experts who work in your company, who are probably already interacting in these spaces (yes, with your customers!). Work with them to figure out the best way to make these spaces a part of your architecture for interactive online events. Your internal experts are key to making this part not weird.

Our world is networked, your customers don’t interact with you in the hierarchical ways of the past. Some even say that now co-learning trumps marketing. Take advantage of this opportunity, and meet your customers where they are.

Make Your Content Interactive

Do you want the audience to be interactive? Make sure the content you are
creating for these events is interactive! Stop making sage on the stage
presentations, they are boring.

Also, no one wants to sit through 15 minutes of your marketing message before they can get to the real content they came to hear. If your downstream marketing teams are doing their jobs, everyone has heard this message before. In presentations. On product pages. In marketing emails. All over social media.

The quickest way to disconnect folks is to drone on about what YOU want them to hear. Create presentations that focus on problems your audience have, but be sure you’re telling the story in a way that your customers recognize their environments. Help them see how using your problem helps them solve their problems.

If you’re being honest, you know when your face-to-face audiences tune out. Whether it’s a keynote being delivered after a live band performs at 8 AM or a training class, people go to their phones the minute the content is irrelevant to their needs.

Get back to basics. Focus on your audience’s needs, not your need for
them to hear your polished messaging. Focus on what they came to hear, make sure that is bounded by your messaging, and provide a mechanism for live feedback if they do reach for their phones.

Staff Appropriately for Interactive Online Events

It is tempting to attempt to save money by cutting back on the staff assigned to support interactive online events. Give in to that temptation at your own peril! You need staff to monitor the online event and fan the flames of interest to get that roaring fire of interactivity going.

Bare minimum for staffing during the event is a speaker and perhaps a moderator. But you also need subject matter experts (SMEs) manning where you’ve planned to have interaction. That may mean having an SME in the chat in the webinar, but don’t forget to have SMEs manning social media.

These folks shouldn’t just answer questions. Be personable – just like you
would be in a face-to-face conference! For most of us, this isn’t unusual to do on social media. If you approach these areas openly, you’ll probably encounter some snark. But let’s be honest, if customers trust you they are going to be snarky to your face as well.

Having SMEs monitoring interactive areas can also help find problem areas. It may become apparent that the audience doesn’t understand or agree with the presentation. That could derail the presentation in the interactive space. Having a monitor that understands that language of your audience who can act as a mediator is critical.

This SME can also pass any problem areas to the host or speaker, so that the speaker can address the audience concern. This real time interactive
acknowledgement of the audience is something that can not be done in a live face-to-face keynote. Imagine the impact of really being heard could have on your customer audience.

Don’t underestimate the value of having your marketing teams also monitoring audience interactions. They can document questions to build an online FAQ, take measurements on which social platforms seemed to be most lively, and monitor discussions afterwards with social media tools. If your marketing team works with your SMEs to find keywords and create hashtags, this will help you keep the interactive fires warm until your next event, either online or face-to-face.

Real Talk

There’s no doubt about it – you will need to rely on tools for interactive online events. The good news is that you probably already have the tools you need. You’re going to need to evaluate these tools, create interactive content, and resist the urge to run these events with a minimal crew.

In our next post in this series, I’ll review an online event that was designed for interaction. I’d love to hear your experiences . What is the most interactive online event you’ve attended? What made it awesome? Let me know below in the comments.

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Design Principles for Interactive Online Events

Do you need to host interactive online events? This is a good time to revisit this concept. As the world faces a viral health epidemic, meeting face-to-face in large groups of people may not be feasible. The World Health Organization even provides guidance on planning large events. It may be in the interest of public safety to move your event online.

But how do you capture the energy and excitement of an annual conference in an online platform? How can you be sure your employees are actively participating if you don’t have them all corralled in a conference room? This post will discuss where you can start the process of planning interactive online events.

Step 1: Review Original End Goal for the Face-to-Face Event

You may have been forced to transform your annual face-to-face event into a virtual event. You may be tempted to look at the tools first, but slow down!

The first thing to consider is your end goal. What was the end goal of the event when it going to be in person? Some common answers may be:

  • Product launch announcement. Launching a product at an in-person event is great because all of your internal experts will have face-to-face interactions with customers, partners, analysts, and press.
  • Helping customers understand technical details.
  • Training. You don’t think your teams will pay attention to online training, so you take them out of their job environments to ensure their full attention is on the training content.

Step 2: Map End Goals to Virtual Execution Methods

Once you’ve revisited the original goals, revisit how you planned to execute them during an in-person event.

Write down every aspect of your face-to-face event. Next to every element, explain how you were going to accomplish your goals in that face-to-face environment.

You may not have thought about this explicitly, but taking the time to re-evaluate your expectations will help you design interactive online events using tools that encourage participation.

Here’s an example of what this evaluation could look like for a conference and training event:

Event TypeEvent Element Face-to-Face ExpectationsFace-to-Face Interactive Expectations
ConferenceProduct Launch KeynoteBig splash to convey vision and how new product will drive that vision. Executives present topics on a big stage, usually with technical presentations to prove it actually works.Media reach and excitement. Social media pictures and commentary during the keynote to increase buzz and excitement.
ConferenceMedia BriefingsMeet in person with press, analysts, and bloggers to be sure they understand your vision and the new product. Gain insight into how they think this will impact the market, influence press stories.Real-time feedback on messaging and market fit. Relationship building.
ConferenceSessionsHelp customers understand the new vision, from business reasons to how it works technically.High level information transfer, answer customer questions in person, receive real-time feedback.
Face-to-Face EventTrainingEnsure learners are paying attention by having them in the same room as an expert.Knowledge Transfer, uninteruppted by distractions

Step 3: Interactive Online Events Must Be Deconstructed Face-to-Face Events

You can’t “lift and shift” a face-to-face event to virtual platforms and expect the same results. But you can thoughtfully design to create online versions of the interactive elements you expect in a face-to-face meeting. You have to create a deconstructed version of the events you normally plan.

To design interactive online events, continue your analysis by thinking of online ways to encourage the interactions you know how to drive in a face-to-face environment. The interactive expectations will most likely be the same, so think about ways to meet those expectations if everyone is connecting via laptops instead of handshakes.

Event TypeEvent Element Interactive ExpectationsOnline Tools for Interaction
ConferenceProduct Launch KeynoteMedia reach and excitement. Social media pictures and commentary during the keynote to increase buzz and excitement.Live webinar, with chat.

Concurrent interactions on social media platforms.
ConferenceMedia BriefingsReal-time feedback on messaging and market fit. Relationship building.Webinar and live call.
ConferenceSessionsHigh level information transfer, answer customer questions in person, receive real-time feedback.Live webinar, with chat.

Concurrent interactions on social media platforms.
Face-to-Face EventTrainingKnowledge Transfer, uninteruppted by distractionsLive webinar, with chat.

Concurrent interactions on social media platforms.

Real Talk

It is possible to create interactive online events, but you must design them. You can’t just lift and shift the content to a webinar wand expect your audience to interact, let alone pay attention.

This post discussed ways to evaluate how you want your event to be interactive, and suggestions for how to create a deconstructed online event. In the next posts, I’ll discuss tools to facilitate interactivity as well as a real world example of an online event that was designed for interactivity.

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