Webinar. I know – you shudder as soon as you read the word. Holding still within our little Zoom/Teams/GTM meetings is fatiguing. And although we all know we shouldn’t multitask, EVERY SINGLE distraction possible is right there, accessible during each meeting – email, work projects, Amazon, social media, Uber Eats. It is like telling our kids they don’t get dessert and then leaving them in front of a buffet of pie.
That said, there are some experiences that are truly captivating – and in the name of research, I set out to check them out. Pay no attention that two of the three mandated wine, with it strongly encouraged for the third. After all, virtual experiences for fun are booming – with people paying to play. What elements make these experiences fun, sticky, and increase the chances we will return?
It started out with The Purple Teeth wine tasting club. A fellow member of a business organization noted that her vineyard was experimenting with virtual tastings and gave us a generous discount on the wine. I opened my box of three bottles, did the mental math of being the only adult of drinking age in my house and in the interest of science, personal development and…drinking wine, logged in. It was really engaging – the ability to be in a group of around 20 people, having both a trained sommelier and the wine producer walking us through each vintage was an experience we would usually not have even if we were touring vineyards IRL. It really demonstrated the power of the access to experts.
And once my former college roomie and I tasted wine, another bar pastime – trivia – seemed a logical next step. She put together a team of a few friends from college and a few friends of friends. We quickly named ourselves “Spicy Tuna” after the thing one member was missing the most during quarantine and competed against teams from all over the country. It has become one of the most fun hours of my week – we convene on the front end in our team Zoom channel, discussing what we are drinking, then we use a separate device to watch the questions come in. There is no way to focus on anything else – the questions and response time are fast, and we must gain consensus in a team of folks that didn’t know each other prior to this experience. So far, we have landed second, eighth and third (amongst more than 100 teams competing, I note modestly.) Shouting “there are 17 cumulative syllables in a haiku!” to people in six states wasn’t part of my Friday night prior to this experience, but I hope we will continue it. (Best other team name so far: Trivia Newton John.)
My friend and colleague Carrie Hartin challenged me to join her in taking an online experience so we could evaluate it for how we could apply some of the elements to our association clients. After a lot of discussion and calendar wrangling, we signed up for a “Sip and Draw” course offered by . (Side note – check out to see an amazing pivot from curated spaces to experiences.) We signed on and met our instructors – two artists, one in England, one in Portugal. Our classmates included couples from Montana and Amsterdam, and solo “artists” from San Francisco, Paris, and New York. I was skeptical about my ability to focus for 90 minutes, but this class demanded absolute focus. We had a limited amount of time to complete each drawing exercise and we then had to show our work. We then moved into portraits of others on the call – “pinning” their Zoom video on our screens so we could do so. It was incredibly engaging and a great mental break. I have already signed up for a different class (no wine) to do with my kids in the next few weeks.
So, as always: how can we apply these experiences to the work our association clients deliver?
Hosting is an underrated skill: The best experiences included a personal welcome by the host, a comment on the virtual (or actual) background, and an opportunity for brief introductions.
Icebreakers, as much as we all claim to hate them, are effective: In my drawing class, we each did a quick study and shared it with the class. Some of our clients have been doing “mug shots” where people bring a quirky mug to show it off as a fairly painless way to show some personality. (My Wonder Woman mugs have been in heavy rotation as a result.) We need to do some work to break down the virtual “walls” between our Zoom squares.
Intermissions are needed: Zoom just introduced a feature that allows you to show a little coffee cup if you need to take a break. Each of the experiences outlined above include a scheduled break, with music playing. It really makes a big difference.
Leverage experts: This is our chance to invite leaders in the field, previous popular keynoters, authors of the articles with the most clicks on your site, etc. It is a neat opportunity to see people in their natural habitat – guest room art, kid and pet interruptions, and all. It is incredibly humanizing and creates a stronger connection as a result.
Show our work: Rather than talking heads, what can you have people work on – in breakout rooms, etc., that they can share on screen in a way that is more engaging? How can you incorporate constant calls to action – polls, open Q&A, sharing opportunities – so that people don’t drive over to email or checking on a grocery delivery window?
There is so much going on, and each week we learn new ways to better connect, engage and learn in our virtual environment. Many of these formats won’t fully go away – online trivia, I am looking at you. I encourage all of us to try something new that is low risk and outside of our comfort zone as a way to experience some of the innovation and new opportunities emerging from this unique period.
Erin Fuller is president of MCI USA Association Solutions and was frustrated that she and Carrie couldn’t make the timing on the “opening champagne bottles with sabers” work as our online experience. It is still on our list.
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