Running a Virtual Conference

I see people talking about virtual conferences. I have even been on two this year. I am passing on any more. Here’s why:

In-person keynotes from the corporate exec have been stale for years. I have sat through more than my share and have been impressed twice. The rest are dull and quite frankly written for and about the presenter.

In an in-person event, the attendee can forgive some of that while checking email; drinking free coffee and booze; networking with peers; and hopefully making sales (or at least sales contacts). How do you do any of that in a virtual conference?

Event companies (like Informa) think they put on impressive events with fantastic content. They don’t. The keynotes are there because of the company they work for – not because the exec is a great speaker.

On the hundreds of panels I have moderated and been on, it is rare that anyone did their homework. Who is in the audience? What do they care about? What could I say that would impact them? What nugget can I give them as a take-away? Nope. Most are waiting for the opportunity to sell – give their value prop or talk about how great the company or product is.

This doesn’t work on Webinars, so how will it work on a Virtual Conference?

Here’s some advice:

Do your homework! Know who is in the audience. If it is a mixed bag – like say CP Ev with MSPs, VARs, Agents and vendors in the audience – clearly identify who you are speaking to (not at, TO).

Choose one thing to say that will be impactful.

Be engaging. Spark interest. Don’t read the slides. Treat it like a TED Talk or an IGNITE talk. Quite frankly, the Ignite format of 20 slides (images mostly) auto-rotating every 15 seconds is a fantastic format for virtual conferences. At Ignite Tampa Bay (that I co-founded) we had a slogan, “Enlighten us, but make it quick.” And “If you are bored, wait 5 minutes.”

Most speakers hate (or cannot perform) the Ignite format. TED talks are longer: usually 18 minutes. Either format, the speakers practice. Not something most conference speakers do. More’s the pity because of this.

Could you run a Virtual Conference? Absolutely. Here’s an idea:

TED and Ignite style talks – picked by committee after the speaker submits the talk title, summary and bio. (That is how we have picked IGNITE Tampa Bay speakers for 10 years now).

Follow up each talk with some kind of Q&A or break-out. It would be an AMA (Ask Me Anything) a la Reddit or it could be a deeper discussion on the topic.

One speaker per hour. Plenty of time for the talk (15 minutes, 15 minutes of AMA, and 15 minutes of break out). Even time to take a call or do email.

If that’s too hard for the speakers…

Then do interviews. Questions can be submitted live or beforehand. Last week, I moderated a panel of 5 channel execs for 400+ attendees. It takes preparation – and some work live for Q&A but it can be done.

3 More Tips:

  1. Half the job of a speaker is entertainment of the audience, not just selling or pitching. You have to EARN attention.
  2. Morning talk radio – especially Howard Stern – is a great example of how to do interviews.
  3. Is this how you would converse with your friends at a table? Because if not, why would anyone want to listen to you blather? Your friends are invested in you. If they wouldn’t listen to you on this call/webinar/conference, why should anyone else?

How do you make money?

Sponsors of each talk. Sponsor of the break out rooms. Attendee tickets – doesn’t have to be free. Offer a Money Back Guarantee. Donate a portion of the tickets.

In this “New Normal” (I hate that term) we have to be creative. We have to give Value first and second and maybe third.

To garner attention you have to have something impactful to say. People are preoccupied with survival, so your petty BS talk that you gave last year won’t cut it in 2020 or 2021. Leave you network map and the slide that provides a history in your recycle bin. It’s time to step up your presenting game.

Notes: Some extra tips from Eventbrite.

Channnel exec round table that I moderated for AireSpring in April is on YouTube.

More on this topic (Virtual Conferences) HERE and HERE and HERE.

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