It’s clear from research and our own experiences, that there’s a difference between memory and memorable. We know that facts and figures, images we see, and of course events we hosted or attended, are in our memory. If you ask for specific information about any of those things, I can recall from memory and share that information. That’s different from when we’re asked to choose based on our own unconscious biases of favorites or other criteria. What makes them stick out, and be memorable in our mind? What makes for a memorable virtual event so that it stands out over all the other Zoom calls, webinars and summits we’ve attended?
And by extension, what makes the hosting or sponsoring brand memorable?
As a concept, memorability is still something of a mystery that psychologists continue to study. They understand how memory works, but when they ask individuals to look at images and select which ones might be the most memorable, we’re terrible at it. We essentially have a 50/50 shot at predicting correctly.
Interestingly, as scientists involve AI more and more, computers are able to predict with greater accuracy which items and images a person is more likely to find memorable, and if AI can identify memorability, that means it can be computed and manipulated. If we can identify traits of memorable virtual events, we can replicate those traits in our own virtual summits and webinars.
Wouldn’t it be useful to know how to make your next virtual event memorable?
Put another way, as my friend Stephanie Liu always asks, how will you stand out in the sea of sameness?
So I asked some pretty smart people, “What’s the most memorable virtual event you can recall, and why?” I wanted to explore some specific examples of virtual events that these folks… marketers, event professionals, SaaS founders, business executives… found stood out to them, and look for clues and patterns.
As you read through their recollections, take note of aspects that stand out to you. Perhaps even consider what the most memorable virtual event in your own experience was, and what you think made it so?
We’ll compare notes at the end.
EDITOR’S NOTE: These responses have not been guided or edited in any way, and the contributors were given the freedom to answer the question however they saw fit, for the purposes of raw authenticity.
- Brie E. Anderson
- Kate Bradley Chernis
- Chris Carr
- Anne Cheng
- Dan Currier
- Andrew Davis
- Jason Falls
- Katie Fawkes
- Judi Fox
- Mike Gingerich
- Ann Handley
- Erika Heald
- Yvonne Heimann
- Jenn Herman
- Kyle Kocinski
- Vanessa Lovatt
- Andrew & Pete
- Farzad Rashidi
- Amanda Robinson
- Anthony Vade
- Dennis Yu
Brie E. Anderson
Owner, BEAST Analytics | @brie_e_anderson
In July of 2021 I spoke at and attended MozCon Virtual – a previously in person event. Because we were all used to networking with each other between sessions and during meal times, MozCon Virtual had a special emphasis on connecting attendees.
During sessions (which were pre recorded) attendees had a live chat playing next to the video. This chat allowed attendees to connect with each other AND the speakers in real time. In addition to the chats, between sessions there were different “breakout” rooms where attendees could join with either video and audio or just audio and speak with each other about certain topics. In all of the virtual events I’ve attended, I never felt so connected to the other people participating in the event.
Kate Bradley Chernis
Co-Founder & CEO, Lately | @LatelyaiKately
With the compounding crush of COVID, the war in Ukraine, insane-o inflation, the unpunished raid on our capital (that one still floors me), Roe v Wade, mass shootings of children, for Godsakes, children, the Mickeyest-of-Mouse politicians (of whom the very thought of makes me turn purple – sorry, Mickey), plus the seemingly endless layers of related frustrations, compromises, ailments and you-gotta-be-kidding-me’s across family, friends and human beings at large… honestly, I can’t choose a specific event (in my case there have been hundreds) because all I really remember or think of is this: we’re still here.
We’re still surviving, dismissing, overcoming, reacting, living, blaming, imagining, deflecting, breathing, accusing, loving, cursing, healing, being…. We still go on.
And we do it together.
So, it’s not any one single event or speaking engagement, it’s the mindset of how I’ve learned to approach them all:
- not as an expert on artificial intelligence fueled by the neuroscience of music,
- nor victim of sexual harassment pervasive throughout the radio industry,
- nor complainer of venture capitalists who repeatedly unfurl the thickest carpet of time-wasting bullshit ever manufactured,
- nor female entrepreneur with a partial permanent disability preventing me from ever typing again
- but instead as conduit, as catalyst and perhaps occasionally as mirror.
What I’ve learned is that when you take the stage with the goal of giving others the permission to discover themselves, you change the channel – you flip the switch. The one-way street becomes two ways. Even though you wield the mic, they have a voice. The conversation can happen. And that’s the precursor to every memorable moment.
Side bonus: you don’t need to sell a dang thing because the thing you’re selling starts to sell itself. (In case anyone thinks this is grande malarkey, Lately has a 98% sales conversion with no paid ads, no cold calls and no emails – 100% organic lead-gen coming only from speaking engagements.)
I had the privilege of being the Keynote Speaker for SEM Rush’s Annual Event entitled: Content Marketing Conversations. At first, I was really disappointed that it was a virtual event (Due to Covid). However, I was blown away by how well it was handled and it really shifted my perception of virtual events.
My presentation lasted about 40 minutes, followed by a breakout session where companies and individuals were able to ask me questions on how to implement some of the topics I just discussed.
After that, I participated in a panel discussion on the impact of content on SEO. As a result of my speaking engagement, I was able to generate several leads for my company. But more importantly, this event served as a springboard for me to speak at future conferences and panels.
Although speaking live in person has obvious benefits, the technology that can be implemented in a virtual environment allowed me to have an easier time connecting with individuals and companies in the breakout rooms. Something that I learned is that in a virtual environment, attendees felt far less intimidated to ask questions than at a live event.
In fact, I have done the exact presentation for a live audience on several occasions. And nearly each time I had a lot of people come up to me after and said that the presentation was wonderful, yet nobody asked me any questions. My response was, “Wow, I spent 21 years building our marketing system, and you don’t have a single question about anything I presented about it for the last 40 minutes?”. It is very important to me to ensure my audience truly understands what I’m trying to convey. And so it has been interesting for me to see how audience engagement changes in a virtual environment compared to live.
Ultimately I have learned to enjoy both opportunities for what they are.
My most memorable event would be the podcast with Tessa Sproule, co-founder of Vubble. I enjoyed talking to her about how she started the business and how Vubble came a long way from research project and cognitive contextual information on videos. We discussed about news and broadcasting, and some challenges they faced in the industry. We definitely had a great time together and I’m excited to host my next podcast soon.
Creative CEO, Creator Fundamentals | @CreatorFundies
My most memorable virtual event is actually an event I hosted. We planned the first People of Video for May 2020 and as we all know the world came to a screeching halt right about that time due to COVID. Rather than cancel our event, we opted to pivot to a virtual event.
In a short time we were able to organize and coordinate an event that stayed true to the mission of People of Video, to make human connections for online video creators.
We implemented live streams and a Zoom call for the entire event, plus we added breakout rooms and hosted a speed networking session which allowed attendees to meet other attendees in a virtual setting.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and it proved to be a great origin story for People of Video.
Author & Keynote Speaker, AskDrewDavis.com | @DrewDavisHere
It’s no secret that people are busy. That’s one of the main advantages of a live event. You can pack a lot of stuff into a day or two because your audience is completely immersed in the experience.
But when you’re doing a virtual event, you won’t have this same level of attention. So, try to embrace the constraints. Think about extending your 1 or 2-day event over more than just a few days.
One of the awesome virtual events I keynoted in 2020 was called Atomicon. And they did a fantastic job of extending their event. Rather than a single day of programming, they spread out the fun over the entire month of April.
Every single day, five days a week, there was something to participate in. Attendees had the chance to engage with the content over a longer period of time instead of trying to cram it all into one or two days. Then, on the last day, there was a big final live full day of the event. More time to engage, more time to connect, more time to learn. (Excerpt from “The Ultimate Virtual Engagement E-Book” used with permission.)
“You have to think far beyond simply the “content” to make a virtual event successful!” – Mike Gingerich
Digital Strategist, JasonFalls.com | @JasonFalls
Without a doubt, the most fun virtual event I’ve done recently was a private, corporate talk I did for a social technology company that also included a bourbon tasting. I’ve done 4-5 of these in the past because of my experience working with many bourbon brands and being a connoisseur of America’s Native Spirit myself. The most recent one was done perfectly, in my opinion.
The event was for the 40-ish person sales and marketing team for the company. They ordered 40 home kits for Old Fashioned cocktails that included everything you need to make it other than the bourbon. I then shipped each of the participants a cocktail kit, a signed copy of my book (Winfluence – Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand), and a recommendation of 2-3 bourbons for them to purchase in preparation for the event. We spent 30 minutes talking through the concepts in the book, then did 30 minutes of a bourbon tasting. We had so much fun the tasting part wound up being more like an hour, but it was wisely planned for the end of the day, so we all wound down a day with both learning and fun.
Director of Marketing, Ecamm | @EcammTweets
One of the most memorable virtual events that I’ve had the pleasure of attending (and sponsoring) was Expand Your Reach, hosted by Live Streaming Pros. Luria and her team went above and beyond in focusing on the attendee experience. The event itself was hosted in Zoom, but was accompanied by a portal that included a guide with notes, additional resources, promo offers from sponsors, and more. The entire event was gamified so attendees could win prizes if they participated. Because the event was hosted in Zoom, attendees were encouraged to turn on their cameras and microphones to ask questions, engage, and participate. Beyond that, the LSP team created these really incredible overlays and animations so that attendees could react to sessions and speakers. For those who weren’t technology savvy or didn’t have software like OBS or Ecamm Live, there were reaction paddles you could print out and hold up and even a mobile option. All in all, the content was great, but it was the little things that made this event feel inclusive and special.
Founder, LinkedIn Business Accelerator | @JudiWFox
I spoke at the Agorapulse Social Pulse Summit LinkedIn Edition during 2020 and really appreciated the community that Agorapulse brought together virtually and one of my favorite parts was seeing how the conversations continued beyond each presentation.
After attending and speaking at over 100 virtual events during the past 2 years I’ve noticed 3 ways virtual events can guarantee more success for their attendees.
1) Niche Virtual Event Topics – When online events offer niche topics the event community can bond more easily over a specific conversation.
2) Opportunities for Engagement – Great ways to get more event attendees to interact including poll questions, voting on presentations to show support for the topics they loved, and break out rooms to continue the conversation.
3) Encouraging Collaboration – Both before the event and afterwards the event host and attendees created online livestreams, podcasts, and video collaborations to create more buzz and create more relevant conversations for the audience leading up and after the event.
Virtual events are more memorable when the audience is invited and even incentivized to take action, including live tweeting, commenting, asking questions, generating conversations with the event hashtag, and overall staying engaged.
Overall, we want to spend time with each other and if we can’t always gather together in person the next best option is to attend great virtual events to connect with people you know and meet new connections.
President, Mike Gingerich Global | @Mike_Gingerich
In 2014, I planned and hosted a 10-day virtual summit called “The Doable Social Summit” with the aim to take the mystery out of social media marketing and have experts present about how to make marketing “doable” on the various social platforms. It was a memorable virtual event because in 2014 live webinar events were pretty leading edge! It took a ton of planning and coordinating but I had a tremendous line-up of awesome speakers to work with. In the end, I learned that the event itself is only part of the overall success. The emails ahead and after, the social interactions ahead and after, and the engagement with the audience within the event were so very important to true impact and lasting results. You have to think far beyond simply the “content” to make a virtual event successful!
Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs | @AnnHandley
My most memorable virtual event was Kevin Carroll’s incredibly soulful, important closing keynote at the virtual MarketingProfs B2B Forum in October 2020 (mpb2b.marketingprofs.com).
This was a rough time for us all… 2020 of course was a isht-show. Lockdowns. Covid. We were all reeling emotionally from social, cultural, political events that felt like everything was happening everywhere all at once. (Some days it still feels that way.)
In 2020, Kevin did a masterful job acknowledging the current reality but also offering a beacon of hope and light for the future.
He used no slides…. other than a few hand-drawn doodles on paper. (I call these analog PPT!)
My most favorite moment of the keynote was toward the end… when he reached for a stack of books (Books? What’s he gonna do with the books?!). He lifted each one by one–and wove the titles together in his powerful closing message: Speaking to them, calling them up on “stage” as a way to shore us up, realign, let everyone know we are going to be ok. Not a dry eye in the virtual house.
I think of Kevin’s keynote at least once a week.
Maybe the broader message is this: A successful virtual event isn’t about seamless technology, or a box of branded merch mailed to your house, or a tricked-out platform.
Instead, it’s about bridging the gap between the computer screen and the attendee.
At a live event with a live audience, you’re delivering an experience to an entire group of people at one time.
In a virtual program, that “audience” is one single person in front of one single screen. The distance between the speaker and the viewer is literally a few feet of holy ground; the experience more intimate.
So as a speaker or an event producer, don’t just pick up your offline program and plop it into a virtual platform. Instead, use that intimacy to your advantage!
Communicate in more subtle, indirect, nonexaggerated ways that viewers might miss from the stage.
Content Marketing Expert, ErikaHeald.com | @sferika
The most memorable virtual event I’ve attended was this year’s MarketingProfs B2B Forum, and not just because I got to explain why I think anonymous case studies are actually a great opportunity and not a sad occasion. What I liked most about it is they have the speakers record their sessions in advance, but then the speakers are there, live, to host the watch party for their session. This allows speakers to engage with the audience in real time. The overall experience is so much better than talking into the void non-stop for 20+ minutes and waiting to see if anyone has any questions. What made this event memorable for me was how engaged everyone was, and how Ann Handley and her team cultivated a collegial atmosphere where people feel safe to ask questions and share their very best tips for getting work done as a B2B marketer.
As a Business Efficiency Consultant, I look at summits and events often from a different perspective.
I have to admit, I always dig into the host’s processes – no matter if I am a speaker or attendee.
- Are things easy to find?
- Happening too fast or too slow?
- How do they encourage engagement?
- How easy do they make the process for their speakers to be at their best?
Just recently I was invited to be a speaker at Scale Your Business Summit.
I’ve been a speaker at many summits of all sizes, different setups, and approaches.
Many of the organizers really put the work in – and some of them didn’t.
You could say I’ve seen a lot. My efficiency-loving heart full of processes dances every time a host has their workflows ready and makes it easy for their speakers to be at their best.
Destini Copp, host of the Scale your Business Summit, and her team have taken their commitment to their audience to a whole new level!
Their communication with speakers, asset management, check-ins, and updates – I’ve never seen that good a process before. Not only that, they tested every single resource of every speaker – ensuring their audience will have the best experience throughout the summit and after.
She engages with speakers and attendees alike in a slack channel, offers mobile summit alerts through text messages, sessions are made available as audio-only through a private podcast feed, as well as transcripts of the talks for the ASL speaking audience.
It’s been a joy to work with them and I can’t wait to see the attendees feedback.
Social Media Strategist, Jenn’s Trends | @jenns_trends
I’ve had the pleasure of participating in multiple virtual events over the years and so many have been done really well. One of my favorite events though, was Social Media Day San Diego in 2020. It was great for a couple reasons – first, the speakers for the virtual event were the same professional level as you would get at an in-person event. The quality of the content and the caliber of the speakers was not sacrificed for the virtual event. And the second thing that made it a memorable virtual event was the networking component included. Between each session, all of the attendees (and speakers) were randomly moved into small breakout rooms with less than 10 people per room and it allowed for meeting new people, having chance conversations, connecting with old friends – just like you would at an in-person event, maybe even more so! And finally, Tyler, the event coordinator, brought in an improv coach and a bunch of us got to hang out and do improv. It was scary and hilarious! But it was also a great opportunity to again connect with more people and do so in such a casual way that is uncommon for online events. This event definitely set the bar for virtual event expectations!
“In a virtual program, that “audience” is one single person in front of one single screen. The distance between the speaker and the viewer is literally a few feet of holy ground; the experience more intimate.” – Ann Handley
Implementation Manager, Endless Events | @kocinski23
My most memorable virtual event was REvolve: From Events to Communities. It was a one-day virtual event for event planners hosted by Swapcard in the Swapcard platform. I felt they did a phenomenal job with creating an agenda filled with attendee-generated content. They kept sessions short and kept the audience involved in the chat and Q&A.
Their platform was easy to navigate and they sent out swag boxes to attendees as well!
The coolest part to me was that there were some panel sessions that the audience got to decide between 2 topics that they would then discuss right before the session started. They let the audience pick what they wanted to hear the experts talk about most.
In July 2021 I worked on Hybrid Events Ignited, which was a multi-hub hybrid event with in-person audiences in New York and London, and also a huge online audience, all about how to run a hybrid event. Everything was synchronized and interactive between audiences, and we had panelists physically present in both locations as well as joining online too. It really truly worked. Each of the three audiences had both a unique experience that was tailored to them depending on where they were, as well as a collective experience that really helped them to feel like they were part of something greater than the sum of the parts. For me the memorable moment was right at the end, when we asked all audience members at the same time to answer this question: “Do you now feel able to run a hybrid event yourself?’ and almost everybody answered with ‘Hell yeah!’.
Andrew & Pete
Co-Founders, Atomic | @andrewandpete
We hosted an online conference called Let’s Do This: LIVE, which was a mix of practical challenges throughout the week, and every day was bookended by an opening and closing keynote. We asked our keynotes to have zero slides, and instead we got each presentation professionally edited to have: cutaways, effects, music, etc. We wanted to create a “keynote” feel in an online world, and each presentation felt special. It was super engaging and our attendees loved that it wasn’t death-by-powerpoint.
Co-Founder, Respona | @The_Farzad
My favorite was probably the recent Visme webinar on Video Marketing, called “How to Grow Your Business YouTube Channel to Over 500k Subscribers.” It was a great mix of informative content and eye-catching visuals. I also loved the fact that I could attend from the comfort of my own home – no travel required!
What made it a memorable virtual event for me was the quality of the speakers. The main speaker was Neal Schaffer, an expert in the field, and the event was hosted by Payman Taei, founder and CEO of Visme.
They both shared practical tips from their own experiences, instead of simply repurposing content from the web, making the content very practical.
There were also no promotional pitches throughout the presentation. Those were left to the end, which was refreshing.
Founder, The Digital Gal | @TheDigitalGal
Agorapulse’s Agency Summit is one of the most memorable virtual events as a speaker because it was so smoothly organized with what I needed as a speaker.
Everything from providing a custom referral link and including it in subsequent follow up emails so I don’t have to search for it, to providing custom graphics dedicated to my brand that I can use in social posts, and including prompted snippets that I can use in social posts that have the event hashtag and @ mentions ready to go made working with this event such a breeze as a speaker. The communication from organizer Mike Allton was just the right amount and it was clear and concise. I have participated in other events where the communication is fragmented, has me searching for the assets in past emails, or is over-communicating with irrelevant information. Mike’s approach to giving the speakers exactly what they need made this event so easy to participate in and gave me the ability to put more focus into my presentation.
Event Experience Strategy Director, Encore | @AVConnecting
My two most inspiring Virtual Experience during the Pandemic were:
What made them special was the simplicity, the intimate connections and the peer based learning. What helped them be successful was how the attendance was curated. You needed to apply to qualify which helped to make the attendees really engaging. There was no complicated platforms (only zoom). the sessions were mostly short and non-stop engagement / workshopping. With small groups from 5-25 people, depending on the content being discussed or the workshop being activated. Plus the community continued over after the formal event programming (still to this day). They are fully functioning communities of practice that meet and communicate regularly online about our specific area of interest (innovation, event design and creative thinking).
Chief Technology Officer, BlitzMetrics | @DennisYu
The most memorable virtual event I attended was also the only event I paid to attend in the last 10 years. And I’ve spoken at 800+ events in the last 25 years.
It’s Caleb Guilliams’s Better Wealth Workshop.
What made it memorable was that the host, Caleb Guilliams, made sure to thoughtfully and meaningfully call out each participant, which generated greater involvement.
His team put together personalized books for each participant, an impressive logistical feat I’ve not seen done before.
And the final day, Caleb hosted a dinner at Fogo De Chao, which was also an awards party. Everyone had a chance to speak, sharing their highlights of the event.
I’ve not seen anyone get a room full of people to feel like family by the end of the 3 days.
Memorable Virtual Event Conclusions
First, I’m curious, of the stories and opinions shared above, what stood out to you? Did any of those events, or the aspects that made them memorable, stand out to you? How did that compare to your own most memorable virtual event?
Feel free to share your own most memorable virtual event in the comments below.
Personally, I took notes as I read each story… Jason Falls and his experiential event… Vanessa Lovatt and her winning hybrid approach… Jenn Herman and her memorable breakout rooms… and I started to see recurring themes.
Over and over again, I read stories about connections, conversations, and cultivation. What really drove it home for me was Ann Handley’s story about communicating intimately. Because she’s right, a virtual event stage is nothing like an in-person stage, and rather than see that as a weakness, virtual event planners should consider how to lean into the intimacy of the fact that each and every attendee and speaker (not counting hybrid events of course) is sitting alone in front of their computer.
We’re all staring into our screens at the same time and almost no one I talked to spoke about the content they learned at this or that event. That was seldom what made the event memorable.
Have you sensed what was memorable about these events?
Real-time chat. Asking questions of speakers. Conversation. Connections. Breakout rooms. Audience generated topics and questions. Cultivated attendees. Experiential.
Engagement is the common thread among all of those aspects.
Engagement in virtual events at the levels suggested here is still the exception rather than the norm. The majority of webinars and virtual summits today are still limited to unengaging presentations of content, with little to no opportunity to have engaging conversation with the presenters or other attendees. And yet there are many types of virtual event sessions we can schedule to encourage and facilitate engagement. Incorporate these kinds of activities into your virtual event plan, just make sure you’ve thought through your virtual event strategy first so that you aren’t creating engagement just for the sake of it.
Psychologists have long documented a phenomenon called the “mere exposure” effect. “If you’ve seen things before, you like them better,” Lisa Fazio, a Vanderbilt memory researcher, explains. “For more memorable things, you’re more likely to get the mere exposure effect and then have more positive viewpoints toward it.”
As marketers, we know that our consumers who are exposed to our brand a sufficient number of times are more likely to recall our brand when the need arises or there’s a choice to be made, and make a purchase in our favor. What if we’re able to make our marketing more memorable and take advantage of mere exposure to convert audiences at a higher rate?
Would it be worthwhile to convert after three touches instead of seven? Wouldn’t that lower your CAC?
This is a concept we will be digging into at Agorapulse, and I encourage you to do the same. Take a look at your prospect and customer data and compare the average touches to conversion of attendees of your past events, against those who did not attend. And then compare revenue, LTV, and other data points. I think you’ll find the conclusions to be fascinating. I will share my own findings and conclusions in a future episode of my Virtual Event Strategist Podcast.
The bottom line though is that building engagement into our virtual events creates opportunities for Magical Moments, and that’s what makes our events, and our brands, memorable.