Katie Perez, Content & Campaign Lead at DRPG shares an insight into how the gamification of virtual events can engage and inspire Zoom-fatigued audiences.

 

“Next slide please!” is a phrase DRPG refuses to condone. With its fifth annual BIGtalk event destined to go virtual for the first time in 2020, the creative communications group decided to go big. 2019 saw its Hartlebury studios transform into a spacecraft and launching pad, building the group’s reputation for pushing the boat out when it comes to immersive live events: “Our Big Talk event is designed to share best practice and position us as thought leaders within the communications industry, so we knew it had to showcase how interactive and engaging virtual events can be.”

“Inspired by the roller coaster of a year we’ve had, our creatives came up with the idea of creating a fully immersive and interactive online experience built within a digitally gamified theme park. BIGtalk World offered attendees locked down at home the opportunity for a bit of welcome escapism and countered the death by PowerPoint webinars virtual events have become synonymous with. It was so completely different to what virtual attendees had become quite numb to – people really engaged with it.”

As a creative introduction to its world, the group sent out invitations in the form an interactive park map detailing the educational thrills and spills they would encounter. In the vein of a computer game, attendees could navigate through the open world platform to experience a variety of content formats couched in rides – from pre-recorded videos to interactive tasks: “One of the big things we wanted to promote was on-demand content – so you could ride a Ferris wheel, each pod hosting a different masterclass while you experienced the park from a bird’s eye view. Or you could visit the Talk Tents to watch bite sized pre-recorded sessions from thought leaders, with different sessions available each day to keep attendees coming back.”

The three-day event also offered live elements concentrated in a virtual theatre, Fusion 360, where keynote sessions were beamed in live from DRPG’s 11 studios across the UK: “We offered lots of Q&A sessions and attendees were able to interact through the portal and address our speakers live. The final day was rounded off with a carnivalesque TV-style broadcast called Step Right Up, hosted by comedy magician Pete Firman, where delegates could participate in quizzes, cook-alongs and challenges in real time to win prizes.”

While the event offered a fine dining networking experience in its Top of the World restaurant, in which attendees could schedule Teams calls, Katie concedes that replicating the face-to-face of live events is always a challenge: “You can’t really compare the ‘I was there’ feeling and the quality of networking. But what the event did do was spark a lot of conversations – our sales team had so many inquiries coming in off the back of it asking us how to create something similar.”

Although live will never lose its shine, the desire for virtual elements that are engaging and interactive is clearly not going away anytime soon: “We’re of the belief as an agency that as people are seeing what they can do through virtual and the benefits in terms of the longevity, sustainability and global reach they bring, the future will be hybrid. Event planners will want to combine the two in a seamless experience, bringing live events in regional hubs under the umbrella of one large virtual experience – that’s the model that’s going to become quite popular to augment the traditional live offering.”

Yet if you’re creating a virtual world but don’t have the valuable content to drive it, Katie believes immersive concepts can quickly turn to gimmicks: “If you approach the event from the right angle which puts content first, then the way that you present it really just becomes background. I think the most important thing for event professionals to consider is to refrain from being distracted by technical capabilities and concentrate on building your event around the valuable content your audience wants. What are their pinch points and how can you use your expertise and that of your speakers to help them?”

For Katie, the true challenge of creating a successful hybrid event is catering to your two distinct audiences without shoehorning live content into an uninspiring virtual medium: “You need to consider how you’re putting that content across, making sure it reaches both audiences in the best way possible. You can’t simply stick a camera at the back of a physical event and expect your virtual audience to be engaged. But with a little bit of ingenuity, you can make some really fun and different events, and I think we have a lot to learn from the gaming industry to make that happen.”