A Few Considerations For Virtual Events

Fill screens, not seats. [Image: Pixabay]

Fill screens, not seats. [Image: Pixabay]

We’ve been discussing a lot about virtual 3D printing events lately, as current global circumstance is keeping us physically separated.

For months now, planned industry events have been pivoting to the digital space . With the pandemic unlikely to be removed as a roadblock until an effective vaccine/treatment regimen are widely available, it’s likely we’ll only see this trend continue. Digitization is having a fantastic impact on our ability to remain in touch, continuing to exchange ideas, communicate happenings, coordinate response, and announce launches of hardware/software/materials/initiatives.

On the whole, I’ve been delighted to not only see this virtual connection pick up, but to participate through both attending and moderating such events.

But there are some things to keep in mind…

Planning an event takes a lot of work, and it is a dynamic, complex process with a significant amount of considerations coming into play.

For the most part, I’m glad that I’m very rarely planning events; my hat’s off to those of you who do. That said, of course do also take all of my thoughts here with a grain of salt; I’m personally most often involved in late-stage preparation on the content side, and only recently dipping into the deeper waters of new event development.

Speakers

The first issue to address is perhaps the most visible: who’s presenting your content?

Virtual or face-to-face, there’s one issue that has come up time and time again: diversity. I’ve said it before and I’m not backing down: we need more diverse keynotes . And it’s not just keynotes; it’s every bit of an event, from hosting to moderating to speaking in sessions/panels/keynotes.

In a frustrated pique this morning, I tweeted what inadvertently has become quite a conversation (for which I am glad), and indeed led to the genesis of this piece:

Two interesting contributions to the conversation came in from DEVELOP3D’s Stephen Holmes and Al Dean, who noted:

DEVELOP3D developed its own series of global events, DEVELOP3D LIVE, and Stephen and Al are well experienced in the delicate art of constructing speaker lineups. As they both underscore — and have continued to dig into — such work is quite complex indeed. Event organizers are pointing out that they’re keen to have a more diverse speaker lineup. Rapid News Group CEO Duncan Wood added , “this issue is front of mind every time we sketch out a program, it’s not for the lack of will on our part.” Rapid News Group, mind, is the force behind TCT — think TCT Show, RAPID + TCT, and other large-scale 3D printing events on the (standard) calendar.

We can’t place blame on any one source — if “blame” is even the right word — as there are so many pieces at play here. But this is absolutely an area where we can each do our part.

My first impulse was to share the Women in 3D Printing Speaker Database, which offers access to a global spreadsheet of female speakers in additive manufacturing. But that’s not nearly a whole answer; calls for speakers are often relatively open calls. Companies looking to propose their representatives should be aware of who they’re putting forward. It doesn’t always need to be, as Al put it, an older white dude. (Another PSA: women/POC can speak to topics other than diversity; it seems so often that diversity panels are the primary/only place to find diverse speakers. Or moderating, as often a woman is seen moderating a men-only panel/agenda.)

This is a diverse industry; sometimes it just doesn’t look like it.

Content & Form

Something decided on before the “who” of a presentation is the messaging itself: what will those speakers be speaking about?

Do you want to talk about one single topic, perhaps best suited for a webinar? Do you want to discuss a bevy of topics, requiring a day-long (or days-long) virtual conference?

The intent behind an event will inform many of these decisions: are you presenting content designed to inform viewers? Sell your products? Announce new products or projects? Engage a wider conversation? Seek solutions? Find partners or opportunities?

When considering topic and approach, there are some obvious considerations: make it timely, keep to your team’s area/s of expertise, time it to not overlap with other known/similar events.

Then of course there are additional layers that come into play beyond these: should you partner with other companies for a more thorough, complementary presentation? Sometimes that’s great, as bringing in more expert voices to a conversation lends credibility and enhances visibility and reach. Other times, there can be too many cooks in the kitchen, as it were, and especially for events put together on a short timeline, all the pieces may not come together quite as coherently as might be hoped.

Audience & Engagement

Once you know what you’re putting together, how do you get it together? How do you gain viewership and engagement?

Attracting an audience is a tricky undertaking for any event, and all the more so now when both invitation and event are virtual. It’s easy to get lost in an inbox. (I don’t think it’s much of a leap to assume that your inbox, like mine, is filling up daily with more virtual event invitations: webinars, webinars everywhere, oh my!)

Working with the media is of course important — though fair warning, it’s all but impossible for dedicated industry media to cover, much less attend, every event. Promoting your events through social media (a good hashtag is helpful) and your usual outreach channels, like newsletters, will help position your event to your existing base of interested parties, which is of course going to be much of the core demographic for your audience.

When it comes to engaging those attendees you do attract, a few things help greatly:

  • Have a sidebar chat available for attendees to interact with panelists and one another

  • Provide easy-to-find contact details for all presenters

  • Perhaps the most difficult of these, understand that many times, especially for longer-duration events, attention will be split as it’s easy to just let a virtual event play on while working / making lunch / minding children — record the session and make it available for those working with distractions and for those unable to attend live

Virtual Events

In the face of a busy week of virtual events, just a few of these issues sprung to mind today. There are certainly more, and I’m not going to pretend that I have answers to these — or, indeed, that there are answers as such.

Planning any public-facing event is a complex beast filled with challenges. Many of these are general for any sort of large event, and some are increasingly specific to the swift rise of virtual conferencing. There are no easy answers to any of these, but identifying and addressing them will eventually benefit broader response to well-planned, appealing, informative, and productive industry interfacing.