Shiny Objects Will Be Abundant During Your Virtual Event - Replace with Tomatoes
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Lately, along with many others, I have been thinking a lot about engagement tactics that could work for virtual events. However, another question hit like a ton of bricks. How on earth are we going to capture the attention of virtual event attendees to even employ a great engagement tactic? Most event organizers are used to a captive audience all together at a "traveled-to" location for a period of one to many more days.
When I think about this from the perspective of me, Nicole Peck, attending an event, I think about how I approach events I either attend or speak at. I commit the dates well in advance, block it out on my calendar and line up childcare for my son. I think through wardrobe choices, include a pair of my power shoes (I'm a Valentino Rockstud gal in case you didn't know). I often set up breakfast meetings right through the post-dinner meet up at the bar. I plan out each day (hour) and retire to my hotel room fully exhausted from talking, engaging in active listening and holding a perma-smile all day. My flight home is filled with email followup and responses and much needed catch up of movies (which is no longer an issue, thank you Covid-19 quarantine)! Sound familiar? I am sure that the way I approach attending an event is inline with the vast majority of others.
None of that planning translates to a virtual event except for blocking out a day/time and selecting wardrobe (albeit blouse/top for the waist up view). Distractions abound at home for that person who is also doubling or tripling as a care provider, school teacher and chef. Therefore, the ability to sit in a spot for hours on end is not only daunting but completely unappealing and unreasonable. What happens when we start migrating back to offices? Your childcare and chef duties might go away but now you could have a colleague or boss pop their head into your office and request your presence elsewhere.
Here come my questions...How will we get them to truly "leave" their office and commit for hours or days on end? What truly is the time commitment someone is willing to make for a virtual event? My gut is telling me it is way shorter than what they were willing to commit to in person.
After attending and planning a couple of virtual events in just the past month, I can tell you that at the one hour and twenty minute mark, I am tapped out. Which got me thinking about The Pomodoro Technique and how it might work in developing programing for virtual events AND how the expectations must shift for all virtual events moving forward.
The Pomodoro Technique was invented by developer, entrepreneur, and author Francesco Cirillo in the early 1990s. Cirillo named the system “Pomodoro” after a tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work while at university. In short summation, his approach is you tackle a large task by breaking it into smaller more digestible units of time and reward yourself after you complete one of the units. The intent is that you would develop the ability to sit for longer and longer periods of time. Challenge here is that his magic time slot is 25 mins (anyone see the obvious comparison to a TED talk)?
In a nutshell, here is his approach (in bold) and my modifications (in parens) for event structure:
Identify the task you'd like to accomplish - (replace task with education, networking, commerce, or the outcome you are looking to achieve).
Set a timer for 25 minutes - Alexa is my preferred one 😉 (use this as your guideline for whether or not what you need accomplished can be done in this timeframe. If not, make sure that you pepper your agenda with both longer and shorter "happenings").
Work on the task until your timer rings, then give yourself a gold star or a check mark on your paper/device - (maybe incorporate some sort of gamification for your event to reward those who are more active, influence more people)?
Take a short break (five minutes) - (Build breaks into your schedule).
Every four 25-minute tasks (Pomodoros) take a longer break. - (Might need to separate "happenings" by weeks or keep areas of your event (exhibits) open for months).
Going out on a limb here, programming and participation will need to be done in shorter spurts over a longer period of time. That event that used to be 2.5 days might need to extend to shorter periods over a longer timeframe. For example, a training course that used to be a full day may need to be one hour over four consecutive Mondays.
The great news is that the technology already out there will allow organizers so much more flexibility to deliver what attendees are truly looking for, i.e. networking with the CORRECT persons, content that MEETS their needs and FLEXIBILITY to make those objectives happen on a timeframe that works for them. Any organizer worth their salt has already created robust demographic questions asking about their participants and their needs. Any capable virtual platform should offer event organizers the ability to use that data to accurately match those individuals.
Remember though... No amount of virtual engagement is going to keep participants engaged and stationary for hours and days on end.