As we shared on the podcast, Dennis Shiao is a virtual event veteran. Although he admits that in the past they have left him cold, he shares how a new breed of virtual events is giving him a taste of the IRL (in real life) high.

I get fired up from attending good conferences.

I hear inspirational keynote talks, learn things at sessions that I can apply immediately and – perhaps most importantly – meet, talk and connect with new people. When I return home, I feel energized and motivated. The endorphins are flowing. It’s as if I have runner’s high.

In a past life, I was a virtual events strategist, blogger and evangelist. Truth be told, these feelings of energy, motivation and inspiration always came from in-person events, never from virtual events.

Until recently.

In April, I attended Reboot 2020, a virtual conference organized by Event Geek. The conference focused on how event planners can adapt their events strategy in response to the pandemic. Event Geek used Slack and Zoom to host the virtual conference.

I gave a morning talk on virtual events then vs. now. Afterwards, I stayed on to watch other speakers and engage with conference participants. As the conference came to a close, I felt energized and inspired. I had that conference runner’s high.

In this post, I’ll highlight things the Event Geek team did to make the conference experience so engaging.

Before the event a package arrives at my door

When you check in at a conference registration desk, you receive a swag bag along with your badge. There’s no reason a virtual event can’t have these! I’m not sure how the Event Geek timed its delivery so perfectly, but the day before Reboot 2020, a box arrives at my door:

It contained an Event Geek conference bag, along with pens, notebooks and the conference schedule. It was such a nice surprise. It got me revved up for the start of the conference the next morning.

Use the ingredients you have (and be creative!)

In the Food Network show Chopped, contestants prepare an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert using all of the ingredients they’ve been provided with. There’s an analogy here with Reboot 2020: the Event Geek team used two ingredients they already had in their cupboard, Zoom and Slack.

During one of the main stage sessions, an attendee asked why the event planners selected Zoom and Slack. One member of the Event Geek team responded that they wanted to demonstrate that virtual events can be created using the tools already available at event planners’ disposal.

Continuing the Chopped analogy, one of the afternoon sessions adopted it as their theme! In a session titled Async to Zeitgeist: Engaging WFH Audiences, Dana Pake moderated a panel discussion that focused on how meeting planners can engage WFH (work from home) attendees.

In addition to answering questions from Dana, each panelist became a contestant on Chopped and cooked an appetizer from their kitchen. It was the most creative virtual event session I’ve seen. Here’s a short video of the finale:

According to Dana, the inspiration came from Kristin Hillery, one of the panelists. Kristin had recently participated in a Chopped competition with friends.

Other panelists included Sam Gentry and Liz Lathan. Liz was joined in the kitchen by her two kids. The audience voted Liz the winner of the competition.

Strategic use of Slack channels

Text-based chat and Q&A can be hit or miss in Zoom. Some users miss the fact that those features exist. Also, the chat is not threaded and users can mix up their private chats with those sent to everyone.

The Event Geek team chose Slack to serve as the foundation for attendee interaction. They used a logical and easy-to-understand approach to organizing the Slack channels. They created a show floor graphic that helped attendees visualize how the channels were organized:

The threading built into Slack was important. Without it, a stream of intermixed messages would be confusing to follow. With threading, an Event Geek staffer could post, “Where are you attending from?” and all replies were organized as child posts.

I interacted with a lot of attendees in the session-based Slack channels. Also, after my talk ended, I visited the #main-stage channel to answer questions I didn’t have a chance to address during the session.

Making new connections

Here’s a new way to measure the success of your virtual event: how many LinkedIn connections did you generate among attendees? It’s difficult for event planners to have this visibility. But the sentiment remains. Are you providing content only, or are you creating opportunities for attendees to connect and engage with one another?

At Reboot 2020, the active Slack channels created lots of person-to-person engagements. I received a few LinkedIn connection requests as a result of my talk. Beyond that, however, I met people throughout the day and made connections with them. We followed up by connecting on LinkedIn.

While we’re sheltered at home and hungry for human connection, maybe it’s virtual events that can serve as the facilitator.

May the next virtual event I attend leave me as energized and inspired.

You can get more insight into virtual events and Dennis’s story as a content marketer in this episode of Rockstar CMO FM.

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