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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