“Do not copy and paste your cancelled event into an online format. Your previous agenda design doesn’t translate to online attention spans”.
Taylor Estes, CEO at Apple Box, opens up about how virtual events have proven to be much more than a temporary version of their in-person formats, besides also showing up as the new not so normal for the events industry.
1. You recently stated to not “copy and paste your cancelled event into an online format. Your previous agenda design doesn’t translate to online attention spans”.
Why do you think that event profs are struggling to find something that works well within this new normal?
At the risk of oversimplifying my answer — it’s because so few have experience with this format.
Right when this crisis began to impact our industry, we had the unique opportunity to be featured on a major event industry live webinar around the concept of pivoting to virtual.
I believe it was the same week the “shelter in place” orders started to take effect here in the US. To open our segment, we did a live poll asking, “Have you ever been involved in the process of planning a virtual event?” Of the 2,500 event professionals that were tuned-in live, 66% had never planned a virtual event and only 11% stated they do it regularly.
Most of us have been comfortably planning in-person events for years, but are now suddenly faced with planning an event in a totally foreign land (virtual) where you may not even speak the language (digital, HTML, data) with a timeframe that is way shorter than you like (postponed event dates on the calendar, with no actual game-plan sound familiar to anyone?) This is no small feat.
It’s also difficult considering everything we are up against when using an online format. As event designers, we are battling screen fatigue, short attention spans, and lack of control over internal/external distractions. When you think about it, we go down to only two senses when it comes to online events.
We lose the ability to curate environments that impact the senses of smell, taste and touch which are usually so carefully considered when designing events.
This is what led to me getting on my soapbox about not copy and pasting your 3-day event agendas with 8 hours of content and concurrent breakouts. It doesn’t work.
2. How have you been shifting the Apple Box business model?
Great question. By the end of March, 32 out of the 50 states here in the US were in total lockdown and the entire nation was about to be at a complete standstill because of the pandemic.
Here at Apple Box, every single client event we were planning for Spring and Summer were all cancelled within a 72-hour period. As a husband and wife boutique agency, that was certainly scary.
But, we are very fortunate to have 7+ years experience with online broadcast and custom hybrid event experiences for our clients, so all of this knowledge and experience was highly transferable to digital-only.
We are a team (and an industry for that matter) made up of problem solvers, go-getters and firefighters. We can handle unexpected situations, because we extinguish them all day long on show sites.
It’s been a lot of fun to help people re-imagine their cancelled events, and the most fun and successful projects (in my opinion), have been with teams that are up for thinking out of the box, taking a chance to have fun with new formats, turning their event into a shorter live broadcast with a Jimmy Fallon / SNL / Good Morning America effect, with viewer engagement as their primary focus.
3. What advice would you give to people that are taking the lead on these virtual event projects?
I would urge them to think creatively and enjoy the professional detour. No one saw this coming. None of us pictured us having to adopt this digital-first mindset for the foreseeable future.
It would be easy to frame your thinking with constraints rather than possibilities, or spend your time waiting to get back to normal. But I believe difficulty breeds innovation.
This is such a unique opportunity to try new things and sharpen skills that we might otherwise have avoided if in-person events were still an option.
Try and enjoy the process since you don’t have to fear challenging the status quo — because there probably isn’t one for your organization.
Also, communicate clearly. Virtual events are probably new to you AND new to your attendees. Keep your communication style transparent, authentic and consistent.
Talk about the challenges you are facing, the decisions are you making, get them involved in the process and they will be more forgiving if (and when) you have hiccups along the way.
4. What are the implications for our industry moving forward?
From my perspective, all of these virtual event skills we are rapidly gaining right now are without a doubt, going to help us reform the events industry as we move forward.
When we hear virtual, I don’t want us to panic and think WHAT platform!? I want us to hear — great! This event can be inclusive, safe and environmentally conscious by reducing consumption and waste and emissions.
This can be a chance to forge new partnerships, this can help us sharpen the skills that are going to be required of us to be a more sustainable industry moving forward.
I was just talking about this with a colleague the other day. 10 years ago — having a vegetarian option at events was not “the norm”, and now it’s simply expected. I believe hybrid events are the vegetarian option of 2020.
Keep learning! Take advantage of our free and always updated resources:
- Top three virtual events quick wins we learned in 2020
- Virtual events ideas [with real examples and case studies]
- Virtual Events Engagement 101 [or how to increase attendee’s engagement on online conferences]