Conferences offer a wealth of opportunities to wow attendees, as they provide a fully immersive experience that prevents boredom and lack of engagement. Elements such as spontaneous interactions, tasty catering, and new locations maintain people’s interest throughout the event.
Planning a virtual conference, on the other hand, is tricky. The absence of sensory experiences, such as smell, taste, and touch, makes it difficult to hold your attendees’ attention. And, although you may send them swag and gift packages before the event, nothing can replace the feeling of physically attending a conference. As a result, people can easily become bored during virtual conferences.
While you can’t replace those sensory elements that make in-person events enticing, you can put extra effort into building an engaging conference agenda to avoid boring your attendees.
The Conference Agenda Elements You Should Consider
Your virtual conference agenda is the program or schedule that includes all event activities. Simply put, it’s the core structure of your virtual conference. As such, its design can make or break your attendees’ experiences.
After all, your conference agenda isn’t a simple list of activities you’ve prepared for the event; it’s the structure or, better yet, the storyboard of your event that comprises the ways people will experience your event. When beginning to plan your agenda, ask:
- Will your attendees have the opportunity to engage with each other?
- Does your virtual conference provide time and space for entertainment or leisure?
- Will you create moments for engagement?
These questions and more are crucial for creating a virtual conference agenda that won’t bore your attendees.
With this in mind, let’s pin down the elements a conference agenda should include.
➡ Activity type
The great thing about virtual conferences is that you can choose between a wide variety of activities, such as:
- Knowledge activities – roundtables, keynote speeches, fireside chats
- Entertainment activities – online concerts, wine degustation, culinary or drawing classes, yoga, meditation
- Networking activities – scheduled meetings, ad-hoc networking, group meetings
- In-between activities – breaks, during which attendees can engage with other assistants, take a few minutes to get away from the screen and stretch, or hang out in the virtual lounge areas.
An engaging and immersive virtual conference should include all four types of activities.
➡ Activity duration
The length of each activity varies depending on its type and purpose. For example, you could effectively dedicate 10 minutes to virtual meditation sessions. However, networking dynamics require longer than that. The length of your networking activities will depend significantly on your purpose.
If you’re planning a networking-centered virtual conference, you’ll want to provide time and space for connecting demand and supply. Let’s say you intend to run a virtual conference on startups, and you want to connect young founders with pre-seed investors. Apart from knowledge activities, you’ll have to book lengthy slots (one to two hours) dedicated to networking.
If you plan to let your attendees get to know each other, you can schedule brief networking dynamics that are 30 minutes long.
Once again, it all depends on the purpose of your activity and how it aligns with the greater vision of your virtual conference.
➡ Activity combination
Finally, there’s no right or wrong number of activities to include in your virtual conference agenda. It simply has to fit the overall length of your event.
However, it’s crucial to combine your activities correctly. For example, avoid scheduling two knowledge activities back-to-back. If you do, you’ll tire your attendees, making them disconnect or lose focus.
You should combine your knowledge activities with breaks, networking, or entertainment dynamics to break up the heavier segments and give attendees a much-needed change of pace.
How To Create Your Virtual Conference Agenda
Now that we’ve discussed the individual components, let’s walk through how to design an engaging virtual conference agenda that won’t bore your attendees.
✅ Decide your virtual conference’s duration
It’s common for in-person conferences to extend over several days. However, virtual conferences normally last no more than two days. Notable examples of such events include:
- LevelUp by ClickUp
- Celebrate by Gong
- No-Code Conf by Webflow
- Kustomer Now by Kustomer
- Accelerate by OutplayHQ
There are some exceptions, though: For example, Miro’s 2021 edition of Distributed, a virtual conference, had a three-day activity agenda.
Opinions vary on how long a virtual conference should last. Some say you shouldn’t plan lengthy conferences, as they may bore your attendees. (Who has the energy to be connected and attend a virtual event for two or three days in a row?)
Yet, the experiences of companies such as Miro and Webflow show there’s nothing wrong with lengthy virtual conferences — if done well.
Ultimately, the duration doesn’t matter. However, you need to be aware of how the length affects attendee behavior.
When running a virtual conference longer than half a day, people will continuously connect and disconnect, attending only the most exciting sessions, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Few individuals have the patience to attend a virtual conference from start to finish.
When creating your agenda, you should start by deciding how long your event will last. As we previously discussed, you have several options:
- A few hours
- Half a day
- One day
- Two days
- Three days
Your vision should help make this decision. For example, you may need a three-day virtual conference because your agenda will focus on three different topics (one topic per day). Or, you might want to run a half-day event because you’re building your agenda around a niche topic.
✅ Build simultaneous tracks to provide choice
Virtual events can accommodate two activity formats:
- Sequential activities, or planning consecutive event tracks, one after another
- Simultaneous activities, or scheduling concurrent tracks attendees can choose from
Most activities are sequential. However, marketing managers may schedule simultaneous roundtables or keynote speeches in some cases.
Here’s an example from VirtuallyLive by Kaltura.
The event includes five tracks, meaning attendees can choose between five simultaneous keynote speeches.
Of course, this practice may induce a degree of FOMO, but you can eliminate this feeling by communicating that you’ll store and send everyone the video of all activities.
Also, this practice may fail if you’re unable to attract plenty of attendees (you don’t want to book five simultaneous activities and have only 10 attendees per track).
If you struggle to get people to attend your virtual conferences, check out Reach, one of the best online event planning tools. It’s a state-of-the-art audience acquisition platform that’ll help you connect directly with your event’s target audience and get butts in virtual seats.
Let’s return to our simultaneous tracks. Why should you include them in your conference agenda, and how will it keep your attendees from getting bored?
Scheduling simultaneous tracks will:
- Provide your attendees with several options they can choose from
- Allow people to switch between tracks in case they feel bored
- Keep your guests highly engaged, as they’ll want to attend as many tracks as possible and get the most value from it
As a result, your attendees won’t have the time or inclination to feel bored.
✅ Design your knowledge sessions thoughtfully
Knowledge sessions are the hardest to follow. These activities require the highest level of focus, which can drain your attendees. That’s why thoughtful design is needed.
First, be careful about the knowledge session formats you include in your virtual conference agenda. Although you can choose to plan roundtables only, it’s better to combine multiple knowledge session formats, such as:
- Keynote speeches
- Fireside chats
- AMAs (Ask Me Anything)
- Expert battle
- Leadership panel
Combining knowledge activity formats will reactivate your attendees’ attention and interest. How? You’ll reduce the monotony of the same session layout and introduce novelty with each new activity.
Related article: 7 Reasons People Hate Webinars (And How to Host a Webinar People Love)
Second, make your knowledge sessions “digestible” by:
- Accompanying each activity with engaging slide decks. This visual support will enable your attendees to follow the conversation and memorize the information
- Offering handouts, such as assessments, eBooks, and research papers
- Scheduling engagement marketing activities, such as live polls, Q&A sessions, games, and quizzes
To incorporate all these elements, you’ll need the best virtual event tools, such as Demio. Compared to other virtual event planning tools, Demio was made by and for marketers, and ensures a consistent engagement with your attendees throughout the entire event.
You'll need the best virtual event tools to incorporate and easily launch these engagement elements. Demio is one such option, and a powerful one. Compared to other virtual event planning tools, Demio was made by and for marketers, enabling and ensuring a consistent engagement with your attendees throughout the entire event.
✅ Be purposeful about activity combination
You may feel tempted to pack your conference agenda with knowledge activities to provide maximum value. Although we’ve previously discussed the need to combine knowledge session formats, you’ll also have to be thoughtful about implementing different types of activities.
A virtual conference agenda needs more than knowledge activities alone. You also have to add dynamics such as entertainment, networking, and breaks.
To achieve this, add a different activity type after each session.
Here’s how your virtual conference agenda could look:
- A warm and energetic welcome
- Knowledge activity
- Knowledge activity
- Knowledge activity
- Entertainment activity
- Knowledge activity
- Closing notes
- Entertainment activity
As you can see, this example mixed the activity types without repeating one after another.
Following this layout, you’ll provide your attendees with a delightful virtual conference experience while keeping the engagement rate high.
✅ Add immersive multimedia experiences
Boost your attendees’ interest by encouraging them to participate in and enjoy new multimedia activities. Below are some examples of multimedia experiences you can try at your next virtual conference:
- A photo booth – Ask attendees to take a selfie and share it with the event organizers. Subsequently, you can build and share a photocall through your virtual room based on your guests’ selfies.
- Emojis – Although simplistic, allowing people to share emoji reactions during activities creates interaction and a higher sense of participation.
- Build something – Imagine partnering with a luxury car brand and launching an immersive car customization page. This lets your guests personalize and create their own imaginative luxury car and share it with the others.
- Virtual city tours – You can partner up with a virtual tour provider, pick a city, and engage your attendees with an immersive tour experience.
Whether it’s a virtual tour or an augmented reality experience, you can innovate and add new experiences to amplify your conference agenda.
✅ Offer generous entertainment
In-person conferences are often based on both knowledge and social programs. These programs usually include activities such as cocktail dinners, concerts, degustation tours, and more.
Virtual conferences can and should follow their lead. You can do that by being generous about your social program or entertainment offer.
Instead of including one big concert in your conference agenda, sprinkle small entertainment activities throughout the entire event. You can schedule activities such as:
- Magic hour – Invite a mentalist to engage live with a small group of attendees and surprise them with real-life illusions and magic tricks.
- Dance classes – Partner with a dance professional who can teach your attendees some smooth moves.
- Mixology classes – Show your attendees how to prepare a tasty cocktail or mocktail.
- Drawing classes – Get your attendees to relax with a few drawing lessons.
- Small concerts – Find a musician who can create a two or three songs-based program for quick, energy-boosting breaks.
- Yoga sessions – Help your attendees decompress with some yoga moves.
- After-party cocktail – Who said you can’t have a party at a virtual conference? Invite a DJ and get all of your attendees moving in one party room.
Get creative and explore activities you’ve never tried before to provide top-notch entertainment.
✅ Combine scheduled and ad-hoc virtual networking
Lavish your attendees with networking thrills. Adding networking sessions to your virtual conference agenda will increase people’s desire to stay connected and follow through with your event.
You can feature different types of networking sessions. For example, you could encourage attendees to schedule one-on-one meetings with each other (or your speakers) before the event. Or, you can allow people to connect ad-hoc for a brief chat.
✅ Schedule and design breaks
Breaks are usually embedded into the virtual conference agenda as part of the networking or entertainment activities. For example, during the Distributed 2021 virtual conference, Miro’s organizers combined the break and networking sessions.
However, it’s better to avoid merging the break moments with other activities such as networking or entertainment. If you combine the breaks with other activities, you’ll keep your attendees staring at their screens, preventing them from resting. Five or 10 minutes of in-between breaks are enough to refresh your attendees.
Ideally, you would add a five-minute break for each hour. If you do, remind your attendees to look away from the screen, rest their eyes, get up, stretch, drink some water, and give attention to their pets.
These small breaks will keep your guests engaged and focused on the virtual conference activities, as well as give them energy to make it to the end.
Your virtual conference agenda will make or break your attendees’ experience. This means the success of your event depends on your agenda’s design. To craft an engaging virtual conference agenda, follow our guidance by:
- Deciding the right length of your event
- Building simultaneous tracks to allow your attendees to choose what’s most exciting to them
- Designing your knowledge sessions thoughtfully
- Being purposeful about combining event activities
- Adding immersive multimedia experiences
- Being generous about your entertainment offer
- Combining scheduled and ad-hoc networking sessions
- Scheduling and designing breaks for your attendees