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A lot of conferences these days aren’t worthy of the title. They don’t know how to craft a memorable experience.

A lot of these “conferences” have come to represent an item on the calendar and nothing more. They’re obligations, commitments. They come and go and come again and that’s it. They happen, and then they pass.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, brands have been forced to shift their in-person events online, but a lot of them aren’t worth transitioning. The end result is just a long, awkward, redundant Zoom call. That’s surprising, considering the fact that these conferences are supposed to instill a positive impression of the host company in attendees’ minds. The event is supposed to generate brand awareness and turn intrigued prospects into customers.  Who’s going to come away from a poor experience like that impressed?

Instead of delivering a conference—an obligation—deliver an experience, something that’s powerful and memorable. Here are four steps to help you craft a memorable experience, whether it’s IRL or URL.

Nail the first impression

Simple enough, right?

The first impression is everything and it’s crucial to set the right tone from the very beginning. What most people don’t realize is that that first impression can actually happen way before your experience begins. There’s an opportunity to make a positive impression in the days leading up to the main event. A simple gesture like a thoughtful email a few days before or a piece of direct mail (more on that in the next section) can get your community primed for the upcoming experience.  

Engage all five senses

Your experience should be a sensory delight: colors should pop, music should establish an upbeat, excited mood, etc. Now, to be sure, this was an easier task when all experiences could happen in-person. IRL experiences can—and should—check all five boxes.

But that doesn’t mean this is an impossible ask in the age of social distancing. And getting these things right, can set your experience apart in a really meaningful way. If you’re hosting a virtual experience, your sights and sounds will still resonate virtually, so it comes down to delivering something virtual attendees can still touch, smell, and taste from their own homes. Consider mailing all registrants something the day before the event is supposed to begin. Maybe that means a snack to enjoy during a break, or a candle that helps to set the mood, or a meaningful keepsake that reminds them of the experience long after it’s completed.

One of our favorite examples of direct mail came from the WWF in the Philippines. For its annual Earth Hour, during which the WWF encourages corporations and individuals to turn off non-essential electric lights, the WWF mailed a yellow candle in a black box that resembled the facade of a commercial building. When the recipient removed the candle from the box, it appeared to turn off the lights in the building.

No matter what you do, deliver a unique, tactile, on-brand experience that still feels complete, even if it’s different than before.    

Get the group talking

This is what people really attend events for. It’s not about the insights—frankly, those are a dime a dozen. Every event has expert insights, and oftentimes, the insights from event to event are pretty similar.

No, the most valuable part of an in-person experience is the community—like-minded people coming together to celebrate, commiserate, and communicate. That is the biggest draw of an in-person experience, and that is the most important thing to replicate when you take an experience virtual. Encourage collaboration. Make introductions for 1-on-1 conversations—put attendees’ names into a random matchmaker like Elfster (it’s good for more than just Secret Santas!) and invite the pairs to chat over the phone or Zoom.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the biggest draw of your experience is a keynote sharing re-hashed insights. That’s important, but that’s not primary. Make the community feel like, you know, a community.     

Deliver a powerful takeaway…

… In both the metaphorical and physical sense. For example, there has to be a definitive conclusion, something that resonates. When people think about the experience a year or more down the line, that has to be what pops into their minds.

And for the latter, deliver something the audience can hold or hang up somewhere that reinforces the message. 

Curious to learn more about how to deliver powerful experiences for your audience? Check back soon for our full guide on crafting memorable virtual experiences!