This year, South by Southwest hosted their annual conference virtually, but they strayed far away from the typical Zoom conference: instead, they organized a never-before-seen, complex, immersive VR experience for attendees. We’re looking back on what the SXSW organizers did well, and added a few extra tips to help you create the best virtual experience for your next online event!
- Use the latest tech. SXSW used the virtual platform Swapcard, and allowed participants with compatible desktop PCs and Oculus Quest/PCVR headsets to immerse themselves in the VR-recreated, gamified streets of Austin. Those in attendance could visit several gamified venues (that exist IRL) along the streets for events, music, and panels. Make sure you also prepare for technical difficulties before the event: run a rehearsal, prepare backups for your presentations/visuals, test your Internet connection, etc.
- Make it user-friendly and all-inclusive. Remember that not all your attendees will be completely computer-literate. Because of this, it’s important to make it super easy to access the event, find important information, find help, etc. Consider a FAQ page or a guide you send to attendees prior to the event. Also think about the display: use high contrast, easy-to-read fonts, clear language, captions for audio, descriptions for visuals, etc. SXSW designed a main landing page where people could access all the different aspects of the event, and they were able to tune in through laptops, tablets, smartphones, or smart TVs.
- Allow attendees to interact with each other. One of the biggest challenges for online events is how to replicate the natural mingling that occurs at conferences; watching people through a screen makes it difficult for attendees to connect with one another. Networking is a huge component of SXSW, so they encouraged guests to complete their profile with a bio, profile picture, social handles, and their company info, as well as select their ability to chat each day! Attendees could then search a full list of everyone else there and request to meet with someone, or they could visit the Networking & Special Events tab for virtual meetups.
- Encourage people to engage. It’s important to include activities for attendees to do while at your event! This can be as simple as asking viewers to submit requests and questions, using a chatting tool, encouraging them to live-tweet. Get creative!
- Think outside the box for programming. One of the greatest things about digital events is that anyone can tune in from anywhere, which means you aren’t limited by travel needs! SXSW was able to snag some A-lister keynote speakers, like Oprah, Richard Branson, President G.W. Bush, and Willie Nelson. Reach far and wide—the possibilities are vast!
There are many great ways to make your virtual event a success! We hope that these tips help you in your event planning. You can also check out our other blog posts at www.starevents.com/blog.