The pivot from in-person events to virtual events has helped event marketers rediscover video as a tool to not only augment, but define, event experiences. Undoubtedly, the past few years have revealed that virtual events are able to reach a broad audience, lower physical barriers, and encourage both connection and engagement.

Digital fatigue has made it increasingly hard to hold the attention of event attendees. In the past, it was common that virtual events would span hours or even days. In the current reality, however, remote engagement is more tenuous. In fact, more than 70 percent of virtual event attendees report they want event content to last less than an hour.

Hybrid events and virtual events will still play an important part in event marketers’ repertoire, but refreshed and refined event strategies will need to directly confront feelings of fatigue, disengagement, and mental fragmentation that comes from firing at all (digital) cylinders.  

The following 8 tips will help you design virtual events and webinars that combat digital fatigue.

What is digital fatigue?

Digital fatigue is the hazy disorientation you may experience as a result of overexposure to web-based content. Think: prolonged screen time, toggling between devices or browser tabs, and multitasking across channels. 

New data shows the impact of digital fatigue on the global workforce. For example, 2021 survey data from Deloitte reveals 32% of US consumers report that technology and connectivity has taken a toll on them. Those numbers are higher for parents with children at home (43%) and professionals who work from home (40%).

How to combat digital fatigue at your virtual events

1. Know your audience

How well do you know your audience? To combat digital fatigue, it’s important to distinguish between what keeps your audience captivated and what doesn’t.

Think deeply about who your audience is, what their interests are, and what types of experiences, speakers, and content captures their imagination. 

Take a listening tour of your existing customers for additional insights into who your audience is. You may be surprised at the types of insights you get! 

Some brands may even find that they have to completely shift gears or need to course correct to make sure their audience is aware of their brand.  To help you get started, here are a few questions you need to ask:

  • Are you listening to your audience?
  • Are you collaborating with your audience to deliver meaningful events? 
  • Are you choosing the best digital platform and tools that fit your audience?

2. Think like a TV producer

Events are a lot like the entertainment we find on tv. Think binge-worthy tv series, big budget films,  late night talk shows, live sports, and other videos that capture cultural high and low moments.

Reframe your event planning and start focusing on high quality productions and video quality. Design sets that embody visual experience and tone you want to communicate to your audience. 

You may consider inviting a live audience to create a hybrid event experience that can also “guide” the audience participating remotely. Surprisingly, live audiences can help direct the remote audience at home to laugh, clap, and ultimately engage. 

You’ll also want to think about the live vs. pre-recorded debate. 

Audiences know when productions are live and when they are pre-recorded. Think about what kind of information or narratives you’re trying to explain with your event content to best determine how you want to produce your event content.

For example, if you have an event to promote solutions or offerings to a bunch of marketers, you may want to go live. If your event is purely informational – pre-recorded will do just fine. 

Just remember, that pre-recorded content doesn’t mean your virtual event will be a snoozer. The way in which you deliver content will determine that.

3. Level up presentations and speakers

Gone are the days of basic powerpoint presentation. To combat digital fatigue, the bare minimum simply won’t do. You want to create a presentation that’s exciting and memorable.

To create eye-catching presentation designs and video be sure to think about:

  • Maximize your presentation layout to best communicate your message
  • Add a personal touch to your presentations and visuals
  • Weave video into relevant segments of your event or session
  • Consider how to make each slide or visual ‘screenshot worthy’

Don’t forget to prep your speakers! You may want to recruit speakers from big brands, but you also want to make sure they can capture your audience’s attention. Digital fatigue can set in when audiences feel disengaged in your content.

When recruiting, inviting, or hosting event speakers, consider evaluating them on several layers: 

  1. Industry/Brand: Ensure your speakers are from a relevant company or industry that your audience will recognize and peak their interest.
  2. Expertise: Think about the level of expertise, roles, and leadership positions your speaker has had in their industry. 
  3. Charisma: Make sure your speaker has the ability to engage an audience and deliver a presentation that holds their attention.

Pro tip: Consider holding a few rehearsals with speakers to prep them before the event. Send speaker kits in advance to help them put their best foot (or face) forward.

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4. Hire a host, moderator, or emcee

Just like an awards or talk show, a host guides the audience through the event keeping spirits up, adding additional commentary, and introducing each stage of the event. Just like your speaker line up, a host should possess a high level of charisma to keep the attention of the audience. 

Much like a comedian that can tie together narratives on the fly and tell a story, a virtual event host should connect the dots of your content to invoke more conversations. Think of them as a modern day moderator.

For example, if your event addresses two sides of a topic, have two speakers, one representing each side, and a host to moderate their discussion. Your host can also manage and remind audiences of all interactive opportunities. It helps if they’re familiar with your industry, but they don’t have to be relevant to your brand at all. Again, know your audience to determine what works best.

5. Shorten event programming

How long should a virtual event be before it becomes victim to digital fatigue? While there are a lot of debates and discussions among event planners and managers, the short answer is, it depends. You want to first understand your audience, their expectations, and any limitations you may have. 

In 2021, a report from SplashThat found that only 7% of attendees wanted virtual events to last longer than an hour. A recent survey from Vimeo found that a whooping 70% of respondents believe an event should be an hour or less.

Location and time zones also matter. Say you have a virtual event taking place in New York, with audiences tuning in from the west coast and the UK. You’ll want to be mindful of when your event is produced and broadcast to ensure everyone is able to attend.
With all that in mind, your virtual event does not need to last the whole day. Let your content determine the length of your event.

Take a note from the writer’s handbook and kill your darlings. Be ruthless in your edits, leave out the fluff, and strive to get to the heart of your topic to make sure only the best content reaches your audience. If you have a lot of content, consider running a virtual series that’s more digestible over time and has the added bonus of keeping your audience engaged for longer.

6. Plan for interaction

Many would argue on the specifics of what interaction is or means in the virtual space. The basics are polling, Q&A and networking chats. But take it up a notch. Bring remote audiences on camera to elevate Q&A and contribute to conversations. Create niche breakout environments that connect audience members to each other. 

Think of audience interactions in a virtual environment as contributions. Interactions add to the conversations, challenge speakers, or maybe just add more excitement and momentum to the moment. When approaching your strategy for interactions, just focus on how you want your audience to contribute and the ideas will follow.

7. Surprise your audience

In the case that you are live, leave some room for surprise. Consider how your remote audience can contribute to the event. Arrange the content to be both scripted and unscripted. Scary right? But it doesn’t have to be!

Add an element of surprise to your programming by:

  • Create a poll and ask your remote audience to pick the next topic.
  • Delight with a surprise giveaway or gift to select viewers at the end of the event. 
  • Zero in on any interesting discussions in chats and talk about them in real time. (Too often the chat goes unnoticed)
  • Have a surprise speaker and time their appearance midway or close to the end of the event.

We’re all humans that love a good surprise element. Focus on how you want your audience to feel and that will dictate the surprise element you desire.

8. Extend the life of your content beyond live

When it comes to in-person events, when the event is over, it’s over. Virtual events on the other hand can live on…and you can edit them! 

So take advantage of the medium by reusing event content for highlight reels, speaker quotes, bloopers, snippets of content that can be reimagined for new digital experiences. Edit the entire recording to get the right momentum and gate your content for evergreen viewing on demand (VOD).  Extend those key moments for social media or get inspired to convert digital event content into vlogs, ebooks, podcasts, and more. 

Sometimes when we feel overworked, tired and fatigued, or lost in a multi-tab, multi device world — it’s a sign to take a break and re-evaluate. The pandemic put the event industry in a digital frenzy and fatigue was bound to occur. After some much needed rest and a bit of re-strategizing, I think it’s safe to say the event industry can come back better than ever.

Combat digital fatigue at your next virtual event