Remote event success factors: Go niche, niche, niche!

For a while now, I’ve been collecting pointers about online event formats. After all, 2020 has seen the big zoomification* of conferences.

* Note: I’m using “zoom” here as the verb; a stand-in for remote video formats. Doesn’t matter if they’re on Zoom, Big Blue Button, Jitsi, Teams or any of the others.

Monique van Dusseldorp in particular has been sharing a ton of insights, and many others have sent great stuff my way: Thanks to Gianfranco Chicco, Iskander Smit, Michelle Thorne and all the others.

To me, there are two key take-aways amid all the experiments and learnings:

  1. In remote events, niches rule. In a conversation, Monique summed this up as a key differentiator between onsite and remote events: Onsite, broad appeal is necessary. Inspiring talks that cross boundaries and disciplines. Teasers, widening of perspective. Broadening, not narrowing the perspective. Economics of physical space dictate a certain relative size, which dictates a relative broadness. (Exceptions apply.) In remote events, the opposite holds true: You can truly focus and zoom in since here, space does not dictate access. Instead, you can get the super niche experts into one virtual room that usually do not get to meet as easily. Rather than broad inspiration, remote events enable deep dives that would at best work as a physical break-out session, but you can invite subject matter experts from around the globe. Lower numbers, higher focus. Niche, niche, niche. Because that’s barely doable in most cases in onsite events. (Again, exceptions apply.)
  2. Successful remote event are easy to dip in and out of. For remote events that are not incredibly focused, extreme flexibility for participants really helps. Making it possible to onboard and offboard and time, to dip in and out as the schedule allows, means that participants don’t have to choose between a day or two of their livelihood and your event, and rather can make both work together. That might mean that most participants won’t be around for 100% of your event, or even 50%. But they’ll be there, and participate more actively. Plan room capacities with incredibly high no-show rates per session. And manage expectations: Communicate clearly what’s ok and expected, and how to join a session. Keep this info updated at all times, and visible in a prominent spot: There will be technical issues and you’ll have to trouble shoot on the fly; make sure that not only those in the remote room can access this info.

The best events I’ve participated have gotten those two right: More focus than onsite events, and a clear mandate to join and leave as participants’ time allows. After all, joining a remote event should not be a guilt trip but be enjoyable, too: Make it easy for participants to enjoy themselves, guilt-free.

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