The Future of Gatherings, Experiences, and Connection
From virtual events to socially-distant gatherings, how we connect has changed.
By Kindra Mason
Last Updated: April 14, 2021
Published: July 23, 2020
Venture capital is a relationship-based industry. As a firm known for its consumer focus, LA ecosystem, and overall community of experts and influencers, M13 puts a lot of effort into bringing brilliant minds together. In the last three months of sheltering in place and remote work, we quickly learned as much as we could about digital events and hosted 14 digital events for our community.
As we planned and researched for the digital world, we thought about what the future of gatherings may look like.
Our experimentation and planning led us to four areas that require new considerations:
Content: Creating and sharing meaningful content will continue to be prioritized.
Hybrid environments: The intersection of virtual and in-person events will continue.
Serendipity: In a fully-remote environment, there are no lunch lines where guests can bump into people. Let's create those serendipitous connections.
Surprise and delight: Creating positive and human moments is more important than ever.
In a traditional conference environment, guests show up for one of two reasons: networking or content. Often, compelling content is largely driven by the speakers you attract. In a physical world, convincing a highly sought-after speaker to participate can be challenging due to the time commitments of travel.
The benefit of a virtual environment is that speakers no longer have to sacrifice three days of travel for a 60-minute session. With the click of a button, a variety of speakers from different backgrounds and locations can share their knowledge with your network. For example, we’ve had speakers join from New York, California, South Carolina, Florida, and Berlin without leaving their living rooms.
When creating your speaker slate, remember that compelling speakers are diverse speakers. M13 seeks to highlight as many women and people of color as possible, because their expertise is incredibly valuable.
Hybrid environments will become a permanent fixture of gatherings. When building content and programming, you should assume that you will need to simultaneously have in-person and virtual experiences. For the in-person component, demonstrating to guests your focus on health and safety should be an important consideration Hayday at the start of your planning to ensure the physical and psychological safety of your guests. Below are a few of the many other considerations for creating a compelling hybrid experience.
If your guest has the option to click a button and listen to the content from the safety and comfort of her home, why would she be compelled to attend in person? Personal time with the speaker? Access to content that isn’t broadcast? Pre-arranged in-person meetings? A physical gift? Live demo? When producing events in a hybrid environment, think strategically and creatively about what it would take for your guests to want to show up in person.
Zoom fatigue is real. In a hybrid environment, your online audience will probably be larger than your in-person audience, so your event format needsto be adjusted accordingly. We've shortened all of our sessions to last no more than 30 minutes, provided tips and tricks to our moderators about how to engage a panel in a virtual world, and strategically woven energy boosts into any program over two hours. We're confined to a certain format so we're considering ways to keep both in-person and virtual guests engaged.
Why can we watch eight straight hours of Netflix with no problem? Because the content is compelling and the production quality is high. With hybrid environments, the production quality of events has become a differentiating factor. Those able to produce compelling content and experiences will be able to attract the best quality of guests and speakers. YouTube’s production of Dear Class of 2020 is an excellent example.
In-person events are powerful because you can meet new people and reconnect with acquaintances. I’ve heard many stories of entrepreneurs closing a deal while waiting in the lunch line or investors meeting a founder while grabbing coffee. We certainly don’t achieve that level of serendipity in a virtual environment. Plus, with the social-distancing requirements of COVID-19, we may even miss out on serendipity in physical environments.
Cultivating serendipity starts by recreating the physical circumstances that stimulates conversation where people can naturally gravitate and connect. For example, instead of rows of theater-style seats, create socially-distant pod, S-shaped seating, or cluster seating, which can create spontaneous connections that are also socially distanced.
In hybrid environments, strategically introducing guests via tools such as an event-specific Slack community or Donut can inject "planned" coincidence into your event.
Surprise and delight
Surprise and delight starts with supporting your speakers and moderators. Given that most speakers are participating from home, consider providing a high-quality light, microphone, and webcam so they can be seen and heard clearly. Knowing how unstable the internet can be, we have also sent ethernet cords to speakers to reduce the risk of their internet cutting out in the middle of a panel.
For your virtual guests, think about connecting the online and offline experiences with physical gifts, offerings, or surprises. For example, we have sent out cocktail (or mocktail) kits before gatherings.
For your in-person guests, surprise and delight can manifest in several ways, including how you say hello. Traditionally, greetings and handshakes are efficient ways to form connections. In a contactless world, think through how to train everyone on the same greeting. Can you create a no-touch secret handshake? Can you draw from your community who knows ASL? Planning and communicating these new social norms can go a long way toward improving the overall guest experience.
The changing nature of gatherings will challenge us to evolve how we think about content, hybrid environments, serendipity, and surprise and delight. Now is the time to get creative, experiment, and draw learnings. When in doubt, test ideas in your internal meetings and gather feedback from your peers. Remember, people crave human connection in general and authenticity in a digital-only world, so it’s important to provide them where appropriate.
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