How to Choose the Right Virtual Event Formats
You know the feeling...you're in the thick of planning an upcoming event and are trying to come up with ideas for new, engaging formats to excite your guests. But a wrench has been thrown into the mix: this event is virtual. Now, you have to think about what fun virtual event formats are available, will they be engaging enough, and will attendees participate in them?
Trust us, you’re not alone. As the popularity of virtual events rage on, planners are forced to be quick on their feet to create memorable and engaging events that will be just as impressive as their live ones. Shaking up your session formats for virtual events is arguably one of the most important aspects of planning successful engagement sessions. Not only are they an excellent way to get people’s attention and draw them to participate, but they are also a great tool to promote learning, career growth, and networking during your event.
The question is: What is the perfect event format for your event?
Try out our "Event Format Matchmaker Quiz" to find out.
Now that you have found your perfect match, take a look at all of the event format options you may want to throw into the mix to customize your event.
We like to categorize our format options into the following: Presenter Formats, Thought Leadership Formats, and Collaboration Formats. This will come in handy when you are planning out the types of engagement activities for your events.
1. Keynote Presentation
Keynote presentations are typically a single speaker in front of an audience, often with the intent to deliver a message with a main underlying theme. They are there to establish the framework of your event and to generate enthusiasm among your attendees. Choosing the right keynote is imperative for a successful presentation and kick off to your event. When choosing one, it’s traditional to choose someone who is well known for his or her expertise in a particular field, or who has popular name recognition or accomplishments. Overall, keeping in mind of the personality, presentation, and message of the keynote speaker in the selection process will result in an exciting kickoff to your event, full of happy and inspired attendees.
2. Town Halls
Town hall presentations are typically run by one or more presenters in which political or other figures of leadership answer questions from the public or a particular audience. They are best used as a tool for open dialog between leaders in the workplace or political figures and their employees or public servants to ask questions, address issues, and generate new processes. Even if your virtual event isn’t a political address, town halls can be used as a great tool in sales summits, training workshops, and more to address the state of the company, new processes, and to announce new leaders.
Thought Leadership Formats
1. Fireside Chat
Don’t worry, you don’t need a bonfire to produce an amazing virtual fireside chat. This event format is excellent for informal conversations between a moderator and your attendees. Switch up the common powerpoint presentation by creating a two-way conversation that can allow the moderator’s personality to shine through and allow some of your less experienced speakers deliver content in a way that feels more comfortable to them. These conversations can also bring forward more audience participation, excite attendees, and remove the oftentimes unnecessary use of slides.
2. Panel Discussion
Incorporating panel discussions into your virtual event is an excellent way to offer a moderated conversation between a host and multiple panelists who can offer differing viewpoints and expertise on a specific topic. It’s important to plan your panel discussion wisely and choose the right participants for the job. Having a coherent storyline thought out ahead of time alongside prepared questions that have been reviewed by the panels BEFORE the discussion is the key to a successful session. Panel discussions are often heavily moderated and will oftentimes let attendees know when it is acceptable to participate and ask questions. The moderator will be your most important tool for guiding the conversation and digging into the panelists’ answers in order to keep the conversation alive and relevant.
3. Roundtable Discussions
Similar to a panel discussion, roundtable discussions are moderated sessions between 4 or more subject matter experts that discuss a topic or theme. They are typically the most successful when the topic has been agreed on ahead of time and conversation is opened up with the interest of light debate. Each participant in the discussion is typically given the same amount of time to speak and share their thoughts on the topic, all while guided by the moderator to ensure continuity. If all goes as planned, roundtable discussions are typically incredibly valuable to attendees and can bring forward energy and fresh perspectives on topics that are important to them.
4. Q&A Discussions
It’s as easy as it sounds! Q&A discussions are a question and answer style of discussion between a presenter and live attendees. Q&A discussions can be done either as part of your presentation or a stand-alone event. They are an amazing tool for audiences to find out more about the topic and get the opportunity to ask questions they may not normally have the time to ask. When you are planning your Q&A session, keep in mind to build in enough time in your session to allow for the discussion to flow for at least 10 minutes. If you’re worried about keeping things on track, use a moderator to ensure the questions that are being asked are appropriate and that the conversation keeps moving forward to new questions after a certain period of time. As a rule of thumb, always prepare a couple of “safety net” questions ahead of time in case the audience is hesitant to participate right off the bat.
5. Fishbowl Discussions
Not unlike panel discussions, fishbowl discussions involve a small group of participants who sit together and discuss a topic while those outside of the “fishbowl” listen to what they are discussing. The fun part about this engagement activity is that when those outside of the fishbowl have something to contribute, they can enter the discussion and act as an contributor. This is an excellent exercise to promote contribution and listening amongst your attendees, as well as ensuring equal participation within a discussion.
1. Breakout Sessions
Breakout sessions are when a large group of attendees split off into smaller groups to engage in conversation on specific topics. Of course, all of these topics are based off of the larger theme of the conference. To plan a successful breakout session for your virtual event, it’s always best practice to prepare special team building activities ahead of time to encourage team bonding and active discussion. For the most effective breakouts, provide specific instructions of what the session will entail, if there are any team leaders, and how long attendees have to complete their discussion. Doing so will ensure organized thought and keep everyone on track for success.
2. AMA Sessions
AMA or “Ask Me Anything” sessions are based purely on an audience asking questions to a one or multiple speakers. They are a great way to present your attendees with a whole session experience that is dedicated to asking important questions. These sessions are highly successful for leadership figures to present themselves to their staff and open the floor to answer questions their employees may have or resolve any underlying issues that may be occurring. They are a great exercise to encourage candid conversations across peers and leadership and oftentimes result in a much happier and more educated workforce.
3. Flipped Learning Sessions
Flipped learning sessions work best when learning material, such as videos, articles, or books, are made available to attendees prior to the session. Doing this allows attendees to be well-versed in the subject ahead of time and come prepared with questions, thoughts, and opinions about the topic. In addition, this keeps the attendees from being a passive audience and transforms them into part of the discussion as a thought leader.
4. Birds of a Feather Sessions
Birds of a feather sessions are not unlike breakouts, but they have one major differentiator: they do not offer a pre-planned agenda. Attendees are invited to gather in an informal atmosphere and group together based on shared interests. Once your groups have formed, attendees can carry out discussions without the bindings of an agenda. They are an excellent networking tool and can offer a place where like-minded attendees can congregate and discuss issues, themes, or common questions. Like any session, they can be a tool to discuss hard topics, but they are oftentimes a fun way to deep dive on a topic without making it too formal.
5. Themed Happy Hours
Staying on the trend of informality, themed happy hours are an excellent tool to bring your attendees together in an informal environment to touch on important topics. Kick your session off by stating the theme of the happy hour, what you would like to accomplish, and how long attendees have to discuss. Afterwards, simply allow attendees to mix and mingle with one another to get the conversation started. If the room is hesitant to get to talking, have a couple backup icebreakers to help attendees feel more comfortable.
No matter the virtual event, there are endless opportunities for you to incorporate engagement activities that attendees will find truly valuable. Remember, one shoe does not fit all, so mix and match the types of engagement activities you see here to create a great event experience for your attendees.