Previously on this blog, Jim authored a post titled “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” In the post, Jim raised the question of whether it was still appropriate for virtual platforms to mimic the experience of attending an event in person. Jim asked, “I really think we need to at least offer a option to get us away from a 'literal' view of an exhibition hall, conference centre, networking lounge and so on.”
Let’s Focus on the User Experience
Jim, my good friend, I couldn’t agree with you more. I happen to love physical conferences and trade shows. They have a certain “user experience” and it works great. On the web, we don’t need to mimic that same experience.
On the web, I like to say that “E(X)perience is the X Factor in UX.” In other words, to create a great virtual event, you need to focus on the experience. And for many virtual events, the two most critical elements are content and brands.
My INXPO colleague Sean Keen wrote an excellent post titled “How Virtual Event Platforms Can Allow Content and Brands to Take Center Stage.” I encourage you to read this post, as he lays out the case far better than I can.
Make Navigation and Content Discovery Easy
At INXPO, we’ve moved precisely in the direction that Jim inquires about in his post. With our INXPO VX Platform, we’ve eliminated many of the “3D-like” images of lobbies, auditoriums and exhibit halls. We’re left with “spaces” that bring content and brands to the forefront.
Some ways you can make navigation and content discovery easy:
1. “You had me at hello.” To quote the memorable line from the movie Jerry Maguire, focus on the “entry area,” commonly referred to as the “lobby.” I’d argue that if visitors are not “sold” within the first 2 minutes, they won’t have a meaningful visit – or, you’ll lose them entirely.
2. List featured content right away. Visitors shouldn’t need to navigate “one level down” to find featured content. Give it to them on initial entry, in the same way a supermarket hands you the day’s sales circular the moment you step foot in the store.
3. Minimize clicks. Related to the point of giving visitors content right away, don’t let navigation get in the way. Put more content into fewer spaces. I once read a comment from an online event attendee who said, “Get me to the content I want. Fast.” Well said.
4. Provide automated recommendations. Amazon taught us that automated recommendations work (for us and for them). Match interest categories (in an attendee’s profile) with topical categories in your event’s content. Let me tell you, it can be a match made in heaven!
The world isn’t “black and white,” and I’d never argue that the simplified, 2D experience is the right solution for all occasions. In fact, I believe there are some experiences where 3D and 3D-like experiences are appropriate. And that’s a case where the core value proposition is defined by the experience itself.
Let me explain by way of example. If I were designing a “Virtual Disney World,” which afforded visitors a digital experience that simulated the in-person experience, I’d look to use images directly from the physical theme park. I’d want the entrance, the rides, the characters, etc. to provide you with the same emotional connection you get when you visit the park in person.
And I can accomplish that (in theory) by incorporating the look and feel (of the park) into the digital experience. However, if I was designing a conference for Disney World partners and suppliers, I’d focus more on the 2D look, so that the content and brands take center stage. I’d incorporate imagery from the theme park, so long as it didn’t take away from the core content of the event.
My mother has an account on Facebook and never required training or instruction on how to use the site. Can my mom navigate most virtual event platforms today? I’m not so sure. For digital events, we need to make the user experience so intuitive that my mom could find her way around. In fact, she’s already told me that digital theme parks suit her just fine.
About the Author
Dennis is Director of Product Marketing at INXPO and author of the book “Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events.” At INXPO, Dennis is responsible for go-to-market strategy and execution, and for shaping product and platform evolution via the “voice of the customer.” Dennis has managed virtual event campaigns for Cisco, HP, Oracle and Microsoft, among others. Dennis blogs about virtual events at INXPO, and on his personal blog, “It’s All Virtual.” Dennis can be found on Twitter at @dshiao.