When the ‘New Normal’ is Far from Normal

New normal

Fend off the Zoom fatigue and keep your audience wanting more

Nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, online events, meetings, and conferences are pretty much part of our lives. Most of us have even had enough by this point, with Zoom fatigue setting in deeply. 

Though we may all be a little tired of online conferences, we don’t have much of a choice in the format, with travel remaining restricted globally. However, thanks to this surge in online events, video-conferencing platforms are reaping significant benefits. 6Connex’s virtual events business grew by 1000% during the pandemic. Zoom’s daily active users had spiked to over 300 million by April, compared to 10 million before the pandemic.

While it is easy enough to set up a Zoom call, it is far from easy to meet the long checklist of requests from speakers and presenters, and harder still to match up to audience expectations.

The “new normal” has us doing more with fewer resources owing to layoffs and budget cuts. A higher number of items need to be accomplished, and despite the audience being aware of the restrictions of online events, their standards are still increasing. 

In November 2020, Kwan emceed and supported the organization of the Cyberport Venture Capital Forum (CVCF) 2020. Photo courtesy of Melody Kwan.

“We are basically competing in an ocean of online events fighting for audiences’ attention,” says Melody Kwan, the Founder and Director of Speak Up Event Coordination, and a well-known event curator in Hong Kong.

In our previous articles featuring Kwan, she spoke about the crucial role of event specialists and emcees amid the pandemic, as well as her online course on conducting meetings, conferences, and other online video engagements without compromising on quality

Kwan, an experienced emcee, TV host, online event choreographer, and public speaking coach, says that while audiences are looking for edutainment, they also want solid user experience, better choreography or event flow design, better timing, and succinct scripts, among other factors.

“We basically need to keep everyone happy, entertained and informed, and [prepared to take] action after one short talk,” Kwan explains. 

Furthermore, as online sessions have the capacity for a higher audience number than a traditional physical event, this also means that organizers need to cater to a wider range of audiences. 

For instance, when doing an online pitch, speakers have to be even clearer and more concise, while at the same time accounting for any technical glitches that might set them back. An additional hurdle in such cases is that pitches are usually timed, Kwan explains. Those who are pitching have to rely mostly on facial expressions and voices to convince the judges as they deliver their ideas, which, she says, is harder than it sounds.

Kwan emceeing at the JUMPSTARTER 2020 Global Pitch Competition, hosted by Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, which won Intrado’s “Did the Most with the Least” Digital Media Award. Photo courtesy of Melody Kwan.

Taking another example, Kwan says that speakers need to find creative ways to grab audiences’ attention and keep them engaged. It’s much easier for people to tune when they are sitting in front of a computer, away from any scrutiny and able to exit with just the click of a mouse. In contrast, sitting in a conference hall almost forces the audience to sit through a panel or pitching session (though ideally, it should be engaging enough that they don’t feel coerced!) 

The case of today’s oversaturated online events market is akin to YouTube today versus YouTube when it first became popular. When YouTube first started, around 16 years ago, all you had to do to succeed was shoot some mediocre video and pair it with a few relevant tags and poor-quality thumbnails. YouTubers weren’t a big deal yet, so there was little to no competition. 

However, once a few people managed to make it big, everyone wanted a shot at building a following on the website. YouTubers now need a much more sophisticated marketing strategy, combined with good production value and good presentation to stand a chance.

Similarly, while online events might be still in their infancy now, the speed at which things are accelerating due to COVID-19 should serve as a good reminder that if we amp up our game in advance, we will have a better chance at beating our competitors to the audience. Some may believe that this isn’t important, but there is a clear distinction between those who ‘do it well’ and those who are “just getting it done.” 

The current environment, Kwan says, also pushes organizers to “go big or go home.” 

“When we meet all the requirements from this ‘new normal,’ we not only deliver a good event, presentation, or speech, but also build our personal brand, gain credibility, have audiences reciprocate well, and provide valuable content and experiences to them,” she explains. 

Kwan knows this firsthand: she worked with Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund on the JUMPSTARTER 2020 Global Pitch Competition held early in 2020, when most events were getting canceled as the pandemic spread. Rather than calling off an event that was months in the making, the organizers, with support from Intrado Digital Media and Kwan’s expertise, pivoted expertly to a digital format. The event ultimately received the “Did the Most With the Least” Award in the Intrado Digital Media Awards, in recognition of the event’s superior quality even with limited resources at hand.

On the other hand, if organizers mess it up, they are left with more than just a bad performance. In the worst case, they may have to take down their brand or irrevocably damage their reputations with audiences.

As harsh and difficult as it might sound, the plus side is that this offers a great opportunity to make it big in a short period of time if things are handled well. As the saying by Thomas Jefferson goes: “If you want something you never had, you have to do something you have never done.” 

This article was written in partnership with Melody Kwan.

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