As Published for Meeting Planners International: Link to Blog
Is it just me, or does it seem like every event under the sun is pivoting to virtual right now? While this is an important survival tactic to keep the industry strong and connected until it’s safe to meet face-to-face again, virtual events come with their fair share of challenges for planners. With people spending more time on video calls and online meetings (did you know that Zoom fatigue is actually a thing?), keeping attendees focused on virtual content can be trickier than face-to-face.
To combat waning attention spans and keep people engaged, it’s important to provide your virtual attendees with time to clear their minds, get energized and reset their focus. That’s where entertainment and wellness breaks between sessions can play a key role in enhancing the overall virtual experience. Fun, lively and interactive activities help people stay focused and pumped up for your next round of programming. They also help participants stay motivated to return to your virtual event rather than check out on their phones. In other words, you must give your participants a compelling reason to tune back in or risk losing them altogether.
A good rule of thumb to follow is that for every hour of a live presentation that holds an attendee’s attention, only about half that time will work in a virtual setting. For example, a typical one-hour keynote should be condensed to 30 minutes, while the other 30 can include a virtual break activity and a timed intermission to allow people to make important phone calls, use the bathroom or grab refreshments.
But before you start brainstorming tons of creative ideas, consider one of the most essential elements of your online event: a virtual moderator. Besides helping to establish an upbeat tone and convey your event message with finesse, an experienced moderator can also create smooth transitions between speakers, panelists and educational sessions, field responses or questions from the audience and yes, lead your break activities! Make sure you select the right person by enlisting the help of a reputable talent and speakers bureau or agency.
Let’s look at some fun break ideas to help energize and inspire your virtual audience. First and foremost, these activities should be interactive and encourage participation. Here are some examples:
Fitness, sports or yoga sessions led by experienced instructors who can get attendees moving, stretching and practicing skills such as putt-putt golfing or other virtual gaming moves.
Dance lessons with professional dance teachers who can lead simple, easy-to-follow dance steps to fun music.
Karaoke-style sing-a-longs to popular or patriotic tunes such as the National Anthem, led by a bandleader or singer.
CSR activities such as hygiene kit building, school backpack stuffing or water filter building to benefit well-vetted charities (with components sent to attendees in advance).
Virtual reality trips to a concert, a scenic destination or another unique experience using a VR mobile app that attendees can access on their phones.
Interactive mentalist or magic tricks performed by professional talent.
Chef-led cooking competitions where attendees create a tasty dish simultaneously from the same recipe and vote on whose came out the best.
Home talent shows (organized and pre-screened by the event planner) that allow participants to show off their skills or hobbies, from playing an instrument to sharing a fun TikTok home video, to posting beautiful photos from a pre-pandemic vacation.
Fireside chats with celebrities who attendees can engage in conversations and ask questions. These can be inspiring, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and with many celebrities and entertainers stuck at home, they are more accessible and reasonably priced than ever!
Whatever you choose, make sure your break activity translates well in the virtual space. Consider turning to a seasoned event entertainment company or speakers bureau that not only offers a range of ideas in a variety of price ranges, but one that also works with talented performers with a proven track record in the virtual space. Request sample tapes in advance to select the best-produced, most engaging performers you can find. Sometimes the most affordable act will surprise you with their creativity and the high production values they can offer from their home studio locations!
Humans are not machines. To stay alert and engaged while absorbing information online, our brains need time to decompress and reset, just as they would at any face-to-face meeting or conference. That’s why your virtual break offerings should be just as important as your education and speaker content. Plus, weaving in fun and entertaining activities into your virtual programming also shows that you care and appreciate your audience’s needs – and that can go a long way in transforming your virtual event from valuable to unforgettable!
What about you? What kinds of break activities are you trying out with your virtual events? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below or reach out to me on my LinkedIn or Twitter pages!
About the author: Nancy Hays is the president of Nancy Hays Entertainment & Speakers, Inc., VirtualCelebrityTalent.com and DanceWithNancy.com. Nancy specializes in producing celebrity talent and speakers for meetings and events and dance programs for virtual participants. In addition, Nancy works through NancyHaysSpeaks.com as a virtual moderator, professional dance instructor and musical entertainer. Nancy's products and services have received critical acclaim in major publications including LA Times, Washington Post, Variety and others, and she has made appearances on major network news and talk shows. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org