With borders closed, venues shut, and face-to-face meetings not yet a sure thing, virtual events have been a welcome means of connection and communication during the pandemic, but they’re not without their downsides. Zoom fatigue is real, and given just how many online events there have been this summer, it’s not surprising that attendees sometimes see the prospect of another online event as more of an imposition than an opportunity.
How can event planners counter this? One way might be to allow attendees more control over how they schedule their sessions at virtual events.
For many virtual events, schedules are often only provided after registration. That means that attendees are taking an initial leap of faith: It’s not until they’ve registered that they can then create a personalized schedule for the event (assuming it’s possible — only 73 percent of platforms even let you per this year’s Virtual Event Tech Guide).
But what if more platforms and organizers formally introduced the schedules for their virtual events up-front to give attendees the option of which sessions to register for and attend?
Benefits of Individual Session Scheduling
This kind of change has the potential to drive event registration by letting potential attendees see what speakers and sessions they can fit into their schedules. As Nathan Angus of Wildfire Experience Agency puts it, “Generally if there is a speaker I want to see, I will log on for that and then log off. I don’t tend to stay on the whole way through an event. Mainly due to time.”
The ability to easily dip in and out of virtual events is a characteristic that sets them apart from their face-to-face counterparts, and making that easier for attendees may be a smart move. It helps registrants slot their attendance in around prior obligations, without having to necessarily commit to full- or half-day events.
It also means that busy professionals may be more likely to register if they know what they’re signing up for in advance and can cherry-pick sessions that work for them. Once they’ve signed up, these attendees can then be prompted to check out other points of engagement via interstitials or video overlays.
Making an event agenda available upfront can also help to give organizers a clear sense ahead of time of what content will perform well, and what needs changing.
Ticketing for paid events would be more complicated under this model than in a one-size-fits-all scheme, and organizers would have to decide how best to proceed; prices per session, ticket tiers, or passes for certain types of sessions are all possibilities. The good news is that, according to recent EventMB research, almost 90 percent of event tech providers already have the ability to restrict or allow access to content by user tier or type. The less-good news is that only 69 percent of event tech providers are set up to allow attendees to purchase access to specific sessions on the spot.
Personalized scheduling also presents potential difficulties for sponsorship, which might be relegated to Youtube-style ads and sponsored content specifically incorporated into the most popular sessions. This in turn could mean a lower return on investment for sponsors.
Finally, it’s not clear what effect the a la carte model of online event registration would have on networking, which tends to happen in chat and private messages alongside sessions at virtual events. It’s possible that it would put more onus on organizers to block out specific times for networking, or particular areas of the platform.
Virtual events seem here to stay, even after the end of the pandemic: According to a global survey by Conde Naste, 90 percent of all companies that have used virtual events in the past plan to continue hosting them even after live events can fully resume.
Given that new reality, figuring out how to provide the best possible user experience for virtual events is a priority. Giving potential attendees a look at the schedule before they sign up might just be a good way to do that.