August 30, 2021
Your event agenda's not just a schedule - so don't treat it like one.
When you’re knee-deep in event planning, you’re probably too busy scoring speakers and sponsors to think about where they best fit into your event schedule.
But your event’s agenda isn’t just a list telling people where to go at what time. It dictates the overall flow of your event, which impacts the way your attendees experience your content - and the traffic your speakers and sponsors receive.
Creating the perfect agenda is both art and science. But with smart strategy, you can create an agenda that drives higher attendee participation, session attendance and even better ROI for sponsors and exhibitors.
But before we share our best practices on agenda planning, it’s helpful to see where agendas can fall short. The biggest mistakes we see among event organizers include:
1. Not scheduling enough downtime. Two words: Screen fatigue. That aside, you need to give your attendees time to network, experience other event modules and consume content at their own speed in order to see the best ROI on your event.
2. Not imposing enough structure. Sounds contradictory, considering what we just said above. Hear us out.
If you’re turning attendees loose for an hour with zero context, they might not know about your other event amenities. So when you’re scheduling longer breaks between sessions, tell attendees how they can spend the time, whether it’s going to a networking session, sponsored experience, or a chat room, etc.
3. Not programming enough breakout sessions/social experiences. While planning a fully remote experience, you might assume people can’t or won’t be willing to interact remotely. You're wrong and you’re missing out, boo.
4. Not scheduling speakers strategically throughout the day. In a dream state, you’d have a full day’s worth of industry-leading speakers with a seven-digit follower count. But in other words, don’t play your good cards too early.
In our experience, 45-60 minutes is the sweet spot for session length. Long enough to provide substance, but concise enough to keep people paying attention. Within that, plan for 30-35 minutes of content delivery, followed by 5 minutes to make an offer or pitch, then 5-10 minutes for a Q&A. (Pst, we go way deeper into session design and deliver in our Webinar Marketing eBook.)
But as anyone who’s stuck around that meeting that’s “gonna wrap up in 5 minutes, sorry!” knows, the challenge isn’t planning a concise session. It’s usually keeping to time.
So encourage speakers to submit an outline of proposed topics, along with proposed time limits, at least two weeks in advance. Also consider having a moderator supervise the session and, if necessary, move things along.
But shortening your sessions is only one way to improve your audience’s engagement level. Captivate your audience with our best engagement strategies here.
This gives attendees time to go to the bathroom, refill their coffee and, yes, fight off their screen fatigue. This also gives organizers the opportunity to answer last-minute questions from upcoming speakers - or iron out any minor issues - before the next session begins.
Use targeted push notifications or an event-wide message to let guests know that the next session is about to start. (We recommend a slightly better delivery than Dwight, though.)
Guests are most likely to attend and actively engage with sessions held first thing in the morning and right before the event ends. Putting your best presenters in those time slots will give you the best chance to put your best content in front of the most people.
Remember that you can pre-record sessions and then use automation to run the session as if it’s live, so if your best speaker can’t make the coveted 9:30am slot? No problem! Just record their session, run it on event day, then use automation to roll videos, multimedia, and offers/polls at the desired time. Have one of your team members on hand to monitor the event platform and respond to comments and issues so the session still feels interactive.
Event attendees experience the 2:30 crash, too, especially if they’ve been sitting behind a screen all day.
Anticipate that some people will log off during these downtimes and plan accordingly. But for those who stay on, use breakout sessions to get people talking and raise the energy level in the room.
Breakout sessions are more participatory by nature, which will wake people up and encourage them to form real connections with the event programming and other attendees. Also consider providing breakout guests a $5 credit that they can use to buy a coffee or snack of their choice, so they’ll enter the session recharged and refocused (and happy with you!).
Note: Expect less participation during these times, but don’t settle for it. During these times, you can also use push notifications, product demos, gamification and other engagement strategies to send more traffic to under-visited event modules. Learn how to drive traffic to your sponsorship spaces here.
People don’t miss in-person events for the crowds and the smell of stale convention centers (anyone else missing the smell of industrial grade lemon scented cleaning materials!? Yeah, us either). They miss the spontaneous conversations that took place over coffee breaks - being able to discuss the day’s programming with a stranger and leave with a connection - or even a new cofounder.
By scheduling your virtual networking sessions during lunch, you’ll most closely replicate this dynamic for your remote audience. Lunchtime networking sessions also keep attendees from logging off for lunch and then staying offline in the afternoon, which increases full-day engagement.
Want to create networking experiences that attendees truly love? Learn how to facilitate networking at a virtual event here.
Who binge watches a show for the commercials? Exactly. Since they’re not physically strolling past sponsorship spaces at a virtual event, attendees may not think to visit these event locations unless they’re reminded to do so.
We recommend scheduling these times during the mid-afternoon or mid-morning lulls, when people are less likely to attend sessions. Or if you don’t want to schedule a specific time for these activities, at least sprinkle reminders to visit sponsor spaces within your event agenda page.
Here, include a link to the specific space so guests can move from agenda to sponsor booth in just a click.
Now that you’ve created an effective agenda, extend its value by letting people experience it on their own time. After your event, upload its content to an on-demand video gallery or media hub, so that registrants who couldn’t attend live can still access and share your content.
Since attendees will still need to register to start viewing, you’ll still receive their contact and other marketing information, just as you would any live participant. And if you add additional relevant content to this space, you’ll further establish your credibility and attract not just one-time viewers, but longtime advocates for your brand.
Want to learn more about how the world’s most innovative companies use virtual events to crush their marketing goals? Request a demo from our sales team or join us Sept. 22 for Impact@Home, our virtual summit on hosting better virtual events.
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