How to spark real conversation at your next virtual or hybrid event.

We know we can meet, network, and get things done virtually, but creating real, organic conversations, like we have walking around an event space — that’s a challenge. Not only that, with hybrid events just around the corner, organizers will have to find new ways for live audiences to chat with virtual audiences, and for virtual audiences to want to chat back (and not just lounge around on the couch). To get to the bottom of all this, we checked out a few recent events for how to increase engagement, and spark real conversation at your next virtual or hybrid event.

3D avatars allow for a fun way to have conversation at a virtual or hybrid event

Go full VR!  

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival New Frontier Gallery is turning movie goers into 3D avatars and movie theaters into entirely virtual worlds. With a New Frontier badge, guests can recreate the Sundance experience of walking through the theater and chatting with friends before or after a movie. They can even strike up a chat just by randomly moving their avatar near someone else’s. Most importantly, Sundance New Frontier accomplished something we can’t really do right now, which is helping people sit in a crowded movie theater together. VR may sound costly, and probably complicated, but when it comes just being able to hangout at the movies, or see a concert, or just hang out — it seems worth it!

Social distancing allows for safe conversation at hybrid events

Create comfortable spaces.

The Hilton Hotels EventReady program is creating hybrid events spaces that make it more comfortable for attendees to chat both in-person and virtually. The spaces combine social distancing and contactless check-in, and tons of new technology that helps everyone communicate. The attendees or speakers on the screens can see and talk to the audience, the live audience can easily talk to the people on the screens, and everyone has a high quality experience. The key here is that it all starts with comfort — live attendees feel safe to roam the event space without being too crowded, and Virtual attendees can contribute just as well at home. It may sound obvious, but the biggest variable when planning your hybrid event is going to be your in-person space, if you can make that work for everyone, then the event will work.

Virtual Crowd is showcased at the Disney+Wanda Vision Virtual launch

Pan to the crowd

The Disney + Wanda Vision virtual launch event included an interesting segment where they cut to a screen-full of fans who were tuned into the show. For a moment, the fans (in costumes), and stars of Wanda Vision, were all on the same virtual stage, each in their little video box. It was also a complete surprise to the fans, who had no idea they would end up on the big screen for that moment. Virtual and Hybrid events have the unique ability to literally cut to the crowd, and talk with them face to face, at any given moment. We think this is a great tool to break up the monotony of an event, and create unexpected conversations. The randomness can also make everything feel a bit more real. Which is always the goal.

SXSW Online Instragam account post highlighting their showcasing artists for 2021.

Start the conversation before the event.

SXSW Online (March 16-20, 2021) is already posting links to playlists, future panels, interviews, and anything that can get people talking about what will happen at their virtual event this year. Part of the draw of SXSW (in-person) is not knowing exactly who will play what show, and how it will all go. Only knowing that it will be a great time. But in the virtual world, people like to know what they are tuning-in to. They need a little help picturing the event and getting excited about it. That’s why it’s a great idea to get people talking online, first. Letting attendees have organic conversations around the content. Event if that’s just adding some fire emojis in the comments!

AFI Film Festival panel for sound of metal went virtual in 2021.

Find a moderator that can bring people together.

The AFI Film Festival panel for Sound Of Metal (a movie about a Metal drummer who loses his hearing) was moderated by CJ Jones, a deaf actor, and included a number of other voices from the deaf community. CJ, based on his own personal experience, he was able to speak directly to both those in the deaf community, and the movie community — and work as a bridge between two groups that don’t have that much communication. Not only that, CJ, and the other panelists, were able to elevate the most important issues facing the deaf community, and use Sound of Metal as a jumping-off point. The biggest thing we learned here is that it helps find a moderator that can push your panel to think big, and bring people together in a truly unique way.

Bring everyone into the chat.

For both hybrid and virtual events, one of the easiest ways to start conversation is through a group chat. If you are unsure how to get people talking, try having a moderator introduce themselves, or start things off with a compelling topic. For hybrid events, consider displaying the chat on one of the big event screens, so that people in the live audience can interact more easily and see what the virtual audience is thinking. The most important thing with the chat, is that everyone at the event can use it. It’s a way for anyone to have a voice, at any time, and put their ideas out there for everyone to see — which is the key to conversation. 

Make it easy to reach out

The best way to promote conversation at your virtual or hybrid event is to simply give people a lot of opportunities and ways to talk. Make your spaces chat friendly, fill the rooms with moderators, maybe even make it all VR. The most important thing is that it’s easy for everyone to reach out.

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