Some Thoughts on Virtual Event Fatigue

With the news of WordCamp US cancelling it’s virtual event due to fatigue, and subsequently the WordPress cancelling flagship (major/regional) camps in 2021, I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do about virtual event fatigue. I noticed it with my own webinar series, which I started when the pandemic hit the US. There was a stark drop-off in interest in May.

So what can we do to continue putting out good content without people getting virtual event fatigue? I have some ideas.

The Problem

I think the problem with virtual events in general is you’re sitting in from of your computer at a specific time to watch something and maybe do some light interaction…but it can be exhausting. As someone who hosts webinars, managing content, the chat, and questions, is super draining. You don’t really get the same adrenaline bump you get from taking a stage.

At at in-person event, you go to the venue, attend some talks, chat in the hallway track, grab some food, and stretch your legs a bit when you can. At virtual events you might be doing all of those at the same time.

You tend to lose the personal touch you get a in-person events, no matter how hard virtual events try. Click To Tweet

Plus you lose that personal interaction. I go to in-person events for the networking aspect. You can do that at virtual events, but it’s definitely not the same, and it doesn’t happen as organically.

All of our Communication is the Same Now

Not to mention…you hop on Zoom for meetings. You watch YouTube or another screen for entertainment. You text/chat with people to have casual conversations. Now you do FaceTime or Zoom Happy Hours with friends and family in the evenings.

Virtual events start to feel like the rest of our interactions, from meetings to hanging out with friends. Click To Tweet

Virtual events feel just like this. So when it comes to dedicating part of my work day to doing more of the same, or even worse, part of my weekend where I might actually spend time in my yard, it’s become a much harder sell.

How to Solve the Virtual Event Fatigue Problem

I think the main way to solve virtual event fatigue is by making the events asynchronous and more portable. If people don’t feel like they need to be tied to their computer at a specific time, for hours on end, they’re more likely to consume the content at their leisure.

Prevent virtual event fatigue by making events asynchronous and portable. Click To Tweet

Time Windows

Dave Shrein at Campaign Donut held Unleashed Summit in 2019 and had time windows for each talk over a few days. This allowed him to keep the event free without locking people to specific times for specific talks. Then he was still able to sell the replays.

Self-Paced Event

Chris Badget talks a lot about “Just in Time” learning. People learn the thing they need to learn when they need to learn it. In that case, without the personal interaction, events are a lot like self-paced courses. Attendees access the content and then consume it when they need to.

A few benefits of this:

  1. You still get to capture event registrations
  2. You can charge for an “event ticket.” You can even introduce a little scarcity. If you want your event to be October 20th, only sell tickets until then. Whoever buys gets lifetime access to the talks
  3. This is pretty easy to standup using an LMS, or even a simple membership/content restriction plugin for WordPress

YouTube Playlist

If you’re doing a completely free event, you can just use a YouTube playlist. You can even live broadcast the talks or use YouTube’s Premiere functionality, then have the content live on as replay-able on YouTube. To “lock it down” for the premieres, you can have it on a password protected page that you send to people who register.

Podcast your Event

If you want a completely portable, self-paced event, you can also try podcasting. I wrote about this back in May, but podcasting offers you several benefits:

  1. You can restrict access to the RSS feed, meaning you can still sell tickets
  2. You can have a combination of free “event” on YouTube and sell access to behind the scenes stuff
  3. You can use episodes to highlight sponsors

What About Interaction with Attendees and Sponsors?

This bit is a little trickier because people will consume the content at different times. But there are a few things you can try:

  • If you go the LMS route, you can open the comments section for discussion and add some other features to help site members (attendees) interact.
  • You can create a “pop up” Facebook group for the event. Basically it’s a Facebook group you close after some amount of time (like 3-6 months).
  • You could create a long-term Facebook group, forums, or Slack/Discord.

And of-course, you can stay in communication with everyone using a mailing list. I’d use that to funnel people to one of the options above. You can have talk-specific questions, allow sponsors to “take over” for some limited time, and more.

Slack, Discord, or forums feel especially appealing for stuff like this!

It’s All About Experimenting

Really, it’s about experimenting moving forward. But putting out good content, giving some way to interact with speakers and sponsors, and of-course some virtual swag, are good goals to shoot for. Giving people flexibility on how and when they consume the content will go a long way.

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