Ideas for Creating engaging virtual events

It's been an absolute rollercoaster ride pivoting to digital/virtual graphic recording (sketchnote) and graphic facilitate over the last few months. I had a feeling over the last 2 years that eventually I would be asked to draw digitally but I didn't know that I would be forced into it. Luckily I was practiced up so the learning curve wasn't too steep.

I've loved graphic recording and helping my event clients add an element of engagement through the visual storytelling. In this post I want to share, from my experience some really unique ideas that some events have implemented to really engage their audience and people sitting on their screens from all around the world. If you are planning a virtual event, I hope some of these ideas inspire you!

Embrace a theme

An event I graphic recorded in May called Software Circus embraced an Alice in Wonderland theme to their event. The event tagline was 'Down the Rabbit Hole'. Many of the speakers embraced this and included theme elements into their talks. Another enhancing element was that the hosts and some speakers even dressed up. It became a conversation piece to talk about what they were wearing. It didn't matter how much or little they put into their attire, all of it was supported and celebrated!

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In learning about the event I found out that the 'circus' part of Software Circus is very intentional to the name. Typically for their in-person events they add circus elements into the event combining circus and software to create a really unique production, not just conference.

From my graphic recording perspective I took the opportunity to add in some of the messaging from the event (see the Alice in the middle, she was part of their branding from the event). This was a fun opportunity for me to engage with the ideas and link it to the theme of the event as well!

Collaborative music playlist

I came across the event online, Hue Design Summit and noticed on their website they had at the bottom of their main page a link that read: Join Our Collaborative Spotify Playlist.  As a music lover and Spotify fan myself I was intrigued to click on the link to see where it would take me.  I found myself introduced to a whole list of new music to explore and even better, for folks who are attending the event, they could add their own jams to the list!

I was so inspired by this fun idea that I decided to take my main playlist on Spotify, make a copy and share it on my website as Mind's Eye Creative Jam! If you have a song that you'd like to add, please do!

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I asked one of the organizers Tiffany Ricks to tell me more about the playlist idea and where it came from:

"Over the last four years, a small but agile team of 11 creatives has planned a summit in Atlanta for black creatives to gather over a weekend to share resources and foster relationships. Our mission is simple: to build a community for black designers and developers. Designers of color are craving authentic and intimate spaces to connect in-person, share resources, create opportunities, and build together on common ground. Collaboration is a cornerstone of our design collective.

When thinking about ways we could connect with attendees each year, music came to mind almost immediately. Luckily, Spotify allows users to share their music on one unified playlist. We thought this would be a great way to build connections across the country with our guests.

One moment you are listening to Eternal Light by Free Nationals added by Hue and the next If You Only Knew by Sevana contributed by a future guest. At previous summits, The Collective has fused the playlist with our game night and happy hour as it helps set the tone for chill vibes between attendees and creates a kickback atmosphere.

With the summit going virtual this time around, the music plays between virtual stage transitions between speakers and play during our after-hours events. The keyword for our team this year is comfort. Between this global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, humans are all looking for new ways to establish a sense of space for our community. If it's only for a weekend, we hope to offer that by connecting and sharing with black creatives from all over the world."

Reinvisiong the hallway track

The two main platforms that I have participated in are Slack & Discord.  They are similar in the scope of communicating but have different features. One thing that I really like about Discord is the option to hop into a channel where you can enable your audio/video and communicate with people face-to-face. Without having to jump into another program it's an easy, all-in-one solution for chatting with people during the breaks and for an after-party.  Since I'm apart of many accounts now, I like Discord for popping back and forth easily with no hassle. Just clicking the different accounts on the left sidebar is super easy.

Having a communication platform is great for:

  • Making announcements on what's coming up next
  • Shout-out reminders
  • Meet and get to know new people and reconnect with old friends
  • Have the option to send a private message to someone if you need to
  • Write an organizer with an idea or issue
  • Share ideas and questions with one-another.
  • Share photos of your work space, home, pets and food!
  • & so much more!

I asked Mat X, organizer of MacDevOpsYVR conference to speak about his virtual hallway track. This is what he sad to say:

"It’s no secret among conference organizers that despite your best efforts to find amazing speakers and plan a successful event that conference attendees really want the most is a lively hallway track. What’s a hallway track?That’s the discussion you haven’t planned in the hallway between sessions or in a break room with coffee.

So what is a virtual hallway track? Online conferences are mostly pre-recorded video talks scheduled for a certain time. How do we have interactive conferences with community involvement? How do we recreate what people want? To just talk to others in the community? The answer is a hallway track, an unplanned non structured safe place to discuss with others about anything.

For our recent MacDevOps:YVR conference we didn’t know how we were going to run our conference online but we knew we wanted to get everyone in the community together. We always have a need to talk about important tech issues we are all having, and we also knew just needed to be social with our tech colleagues to catch up and connect. But how to do this?

We decided to use Discord to gather the community around a series of talks and discussions over a series of days. We chose to use Discord because we were able to combine the usual text channels with audio and video channels. And the mixture of text channels for discussion of talks with social rooms worked well. Even more remarkable was our hallway track experiment.

Our hallway tracks were Discussion rooms with no specific topic. We used Discord for audio channels which were open hang outs for just saying hello and It worked well in part because of another experiment our “introduction” channel which helped everyone read a quick intro or bio left by attendees to summarize topics of interest, tech tools in use or workplace specifics (working in a school or corporation or independently). It was easy to meet new people and make new friends with similar interests. Discord made meeting up in a hallway audio channel super easy because you could see who was there already and thus able to drop in a say hi.

The MacDevOps community knows each other from the MacAdmins Slack and on Twitter but we also had a lot of new people join us for the conference and so the Discord based conference really helped focus discussion about talks and about anything in a very confortable way.

Thanks for my co-organizers JD, Shania and a community that was willing to make new people welcome and keep the discussion environment friendly and fun. I look forward to the next conference online in person or hybrid of both. In the meantime we have started a book club in Discord to talk about DevOps for Dummies by Emily Freeman."

Graphic Recording

I've gotten a lot of questions over the last few months with the pandemic around the work that I do around graphic recording. The number one question that I get all the time (pandemic or not) is around 'distraction.' Is graphic recording distracting? My answer is, yes and no. Yes in the fact that people may prefer to watch a graphic record unfold in real time (though not always an option digitally depending on event setup) or focus on the graphic over something else happening at or during the event. It's also a major NO for the exact same reason. Attendees paying attention to the graphic is a good thing. They are engaged with the content that's coming from the event on a whole other (visual) level. Everyone gets distracted whether we like it or not. Graphic Recording helps stop daydreaming in its tracks - 70% of sensory receptors are in the eyes, so the visual concepts will keep attendees engaged longer. 

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Graphic recording highlights a speaker’s main themes, allowing a group to process information in a more unified way.

Some recent ways that I have seen people engage with the final graphic recordings during virtual conferences:

  • Drive people to speaker channels for Q & A
  • Share on slack and discord and use to encourage questions and continued conversation
  • Share on twitter and drive real-time twitter engagement with likes, shares and comments
  • Share final version with speakers are their 'speaker gift' for being apart of the event. I've seen some print and mail them to speakers as well.
  • Share with online audience (slack, discord, social media) after the event to continue the conversation beyond the event
  • Link to final copies in newsletter where audience can download and keep
  • Turn into an ebook
  • Use in blogposts. Either written by the organizers or by the attendees.
  • Attendees share with their management to show content of what was learned to express the ROI of their time spent at the event (as cost too)
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Leaderboard

I've seen a few events incorporate leader boards to encourage engagement of their attendees. I feel like this is a great example of Gamification. As you can see from dictionary.com's definition of Gamification it's: the process of turning an activity or task into a game or something resembling a game. For me, I get hooked by gamification activities. I'm a bit competitive when it comes to things like this, and I think a lot of people do to, which is why it's highly effective.

gamification graphic recording ashton rodenhiser devops event summit virtual how to

Some events, I've seen, reward the attendees for their leader board position with prizes or swag. If you end up in the top 3, 5, 10, etc. then you receive a prize. Some examples are for every comment you make on a post, thread you start or social media share you receive a certain amount of points and the potential of making your way up the leader board. The more you engage, the more of a chance you'll make it up high on the leader board and win those fabulous prizes!

I've seen this done very well by an event that I've been helping with called SkilUpDays with the DevOps Institute

 

Here's what the team had to say about their leaderboard experience:

The leaderboard challenge is essentially a fun way to engage with all of the conference assets.  Things like the Speaker sessions, live chat, sponsor booths and everything that they have to offer.  When you click on these different conference assets, you accumulate points.  These points are a fun way to compete with other attendees and even win prizes as the top 50 scorers are displayed on the leaderboard challenge board and those at the top can win prizes at the end of the day.

I hope you enjoyed reading some tips on how to make your virtual event more engaging! I'd love to hear if you have any ideas to add to the list. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me and share and I'll include them in a future blog post!

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