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Ever seen a futuristic movie where the hero tries to promote robot domination? Didn’t think so.

Technology inherently takes a lot of the humanity away from our shared experience. And while life as we know it might not be at stake right now, that statement also applies in the virtual event world. Saying hello and watching a keynote speech through a Zoom window will never be the same as finding your seat in a conference room, laughing along with thousands at a joke that lands especially well, or nodding in recognition when the speaker makes a great point. 

That inserted technological layer separates people from each other, physically and emotionally, weakening the connection of the event. So how can you try to get some of that connection back? We talked to some event experts who are finding ways to do just that. Here are a few tips for maintaining the human element of events when you take your event online. 

Lead with empathy

This is paramount. You want your event to feel human? Don’t overthink it—you are human, after all, and so are your attendees. So, then, consider shaping every aspect of your program with empathy. Don’t cut corners because it would save money or time when it risks alienating your attendees. Jason DeLand, founding partner of creative agency Anomaly, said as much during a recent AdAge Virtual Pages discussion

“Having empathy, being human, trying to understand, pause, reflect, be calm in the face of chaos—these are the things that I think people are looking for,” DeLand said. “Brands can play a role there.”

Jeff Bardin, vice president and experiential marketing director at creative agency Giant Spoon, agrees that the way event organizers shape their message is key—not just what is said, but the way it’s said. “For me, (maintaining humanity in virtual events) is all about the message,” Bardin said. “What is the person saying? Will it connect with me?”

It takes two to talk

On a more practical level, event marketers can facilitate empathetic communication with their attendees by making sure that they’re heard. Promote the ability for those who attend your event to engage with speakers and experts—invite them to talk back. 

On a larger scale, that might look like a Q&A session after a keynote—there are existing tools, like Pubble or Slido (or even just the chat function in Zoom), to help you accomplish that. Perhaps you can reserve a virtual place for attendees to leave individualized feedback on sessions, too. 

On a smaller scale, two-way conversation might be accomplished in highly-curated breakout sessions, or a “speed dating” function where attendees can have quick conversations with their contemporaries. Those “social lubricant” conversations at events—waiting in line at the bar, taking the elevator down together, eating a quick lunch—are a very important part of the experience for a lot of people. Try to create situations like these where attendees have the chance to communicate informally with other people.

There’s an elephant in the room. Address it.

Making your virtual event feel human doesn’t mean that you have to pretend your virtual event is exactly like an in-person event. All of this—the global pandemic, the daily fear-mongering, the fact that we haven’t seen most of the people that are close to us in over a month—isn’t normal, and you don’t have to pretend that it’s normal. 

Allude to the fact that you’re a human, too, and you’re trying your best to recreate a cool, exciting, beneficial experience online. Helping your audience understand you by being genuine, forthright, and honest might help you to understand them better in the long run. And a mutual understanding will go a long way for maintaining the humanity in virtual events. 

Interested in getting more tips about how to conduct killer virtual experiences like still feel like, you know, experiences? Check back soon for our full guide on virtual events!