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Four Tips For Not Losing Your Virtual Event Audience To 'Zoom Fatigue'

Holly Mulcahy
Wichita Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Holly Mulcahy keeps a pair of sketched eyes by her webcam to remind her where to look during virtual events.

Six months in a pandemic has meant six months of virtual events.

That’s also led to a lot of “Zoom fatigue.”

While in-person events are slowly returning, large gatherings like galas and festivals are still regulated to online-only. Here are four tips from Wichita organizers about how to draw attention in the saturated virtual world:

Public speaking skills

The Wichita Symphony Orchestra holds weekly zoom recitals, often with Concertmaster Holly Mulcahy taking the lead. The free events — a mix of music and conversations — often attract more than 60 people.

Mulcahy said getting an audience to come back weekly comes down to basic public speaking skills. Physical body language matters even more when keeping things virtual. That’s especially true for eye contact. And on Zoom, that often means not looking at the eyeballs on your screen, but staring into the webcam.

“If you try to look at the camera always,” Mulcahy said, “it makes it a little more sincere.”

For event planners struggling to do that, Mulcahy has a tip — take a maker, draw some googly eyes on sticky notes and put them around your webcam.

“That’s my own hack,” Mulcahy said. “It reminds you where to look.”

Word of mouth still matters online

Marketing for virtual events looks a lot like advertising before the pandemic, including a lot of emails and social media posts. But the Wichita Symphony’s marketing manager Arleigh McCormick said she’s had a surprising amount of success with one of the oldest forms of marketing — word of mouth.

There used to be a lot of steps between someone suggesting you go to the symphony and actually being there. You had to do your research. Decide if it was worth buying a ticket. Pick an outfit. Physically drive to the hall. But now a friend can just send a link and a minute later you’re attending without leaving your sofa.

"It might not be that they’re out at brunch with their friends and saying they experienced this really cool thing,” McCormick said. “But it’s almost easier for people to try things out right now.”

Good virtual events still need a good team

The exhaustion over online events is not directed at all events. Just the bad ones. At least that’s the theory of Ed O’Malley, the president and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center.

“If you had boring meetings before and now you try to do these on Zoom, they’re going to be even more boring,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley said the Kansas Leadership Center has consistently been getting strong numbers for its events since March. Some special events have been getting more than 300 viewers.

He said the center has learned about virtual events since March. One of their big early mistakes was thinking that virtual meant less staff.

O’Malley now realizes that a smooth virtual event needs even more hands. That really shows up on the tech side. By letting other members of the team focus on keeping the event running, the presenter can focus on content.

“If it’s an in-person event and the mic goes, somebody can yell for a few minutes until the mic gets fixed,” O’Malley said. “In a virtual event, if something goes wrong technology-wise, you're down.”

Short and sweet

No matter how engaging and smooth your online event is, meeting online is still exhausting.

“They are very tiring," said Dawn Monroe, who provides virtual event training in Wichita. “They tax us in a different way than if we are in a conference room or a large auditorium listening to an event.”

There’s also a good chance your audience has several other virtual events on their calendar sapping their energy. Because of that, Monroe said one of the best things a host can do is end things early. An hour virtual event that ends 45 minutes in gives people time to recharge for the next item on their calendar.

“Give people that 10-minute window to get ready for their next thing,” Monroe said. “They will appreciate it.”

Stephan Bisaha reports on education and young adult life for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha or email him at bisaha (at) kmuw (dot) org.