Let’s start by thinking of a memory: What’s the best virtual event you attended in the past year?
Picture the elements you appreciated about this specific event. What sort of event was it? Was it interactive, and did you get to make new connections during it?
Maybe it was a big event: Something hugely meaningful and entertaining, like Porter Robinson’s Secret Sky virtual concert. “Secret Sky was just bursting at the seams with meaning. Players congregated on rocks, jumping and running around to signal their satisfaction. I really felt that sense of presence and community that I’d been missing,” writes Jordan Oloman.
Or perhaps it was a more subtle online gathering that provided some much needed genuine connection with friends or colleagues: For instance, many utilized proximity chat platforms to spice up their happy hours, and encourage more natural conversation with a small group of people. Proximity chat platforms tend to recreate the feeling of a real life environment more than using videoconferencing software. “I used Gather to host a work happy hour and it turned out super well! For an event of our size, it was important that we could socialize in smaller, manageable groups while still being connected in a larger space, so Gather was a perfect fit. We recreated our office (with a few extra bells and whistles) using the map editor. It was so fun to feel like we were back in that space and to see coworkers that we don't work directly with. For our summer interns, it was their first time seeing what the office looks like,” writes Paul Choi.
In either case, you were engaged while attending the virtual event, and that ended up making it memorable for you. Let’s now go through different specific types in more detail, and what ties them all together...
3 Engaging Types of Virtual Events
What do all of the below types of virtual events have in common? They are interactive in a meaningful way with other people. Granted, not every virtual conference, concert, meeting, or networking event turned out to be a great success — but we’ll bet the memorable ones encouraged some sort of natural communication and fun with other attendees.
And what’s the best way to facilitate that? Being able to clearly converse and feel immersed in the virtual environment, no matter which platform you’re using. Spatial audio is a major component that helps attendees achieve this particular feeling at all different types of virtual events. But more on that later...
1. Virtual Conferences
“Virtual conferences might lack the intimacy of a physical gathering, but it’s still possible for attendees to connect with each other,” writes Chris Woolston in Nature’s "Learning to Love Virtual Conferences in the Coronavirus Era".
Take Hubspot’s INBOUND virtual conference as an example. It offered unique Q&As with the breakout speakers, interactivity with keynote speakers, and creative opportunities to network — and even a ‘meet by chance’ option to better mirror real life. All of these elements help attendees feel genuinely immersed. Kim Darling, VP and Executive Producer of INBOUND, says: “The audience has to be our hero — their energy, conversation, connection, and passion is what makes the in-person event so special. [Virtually], we have to find a way to create space for that energy to be created by them.”
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2021 took “virtual conference” to another level, too. Their party truly recreated the serendipity of CES' typical in-person mingling. "Given the hunger we've had from clients to find virtual avenues for networking at CES, our goal is to recapture that feeling,” said Michael Kassan, chairman and CEO MediaLink.
How did they capture it? The experience was powered by a company called SpatialWeb. SpatialWeb “brings the depth, richness, and spontaneity of real life into the virtual realm. You’ll experience digital environments that are custom-built and fully 3D with best in class spatial audio powered by High Fidelity.”
At 4 p.m. PT, CES switched gears from networking to focus on an interview between Dua Lipa and Ryan Seacrest. Afterwards, Billie Eilish performed. “Bob Pittman, chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia, said the event draws on lessons learned from throwing virtual music events during the pandemic, combined with an appetite to provide ‘remote togetherness in a time where actual in-person gathering is limited.’”
Check out SpatialWeb’s video of CES 2021...
Related reading: Best Practices For Virtual Conferences
2. Online Music Concerts
As of two months ago, there is now actually published research on so-called Corona Concerts that have been especially popularized over the last year and a half.
In “Corona Concerts: The Effect of Virtual Concert Characteristics on Social Connection and Kama Muta,” they “aimed to examine how the characteristics of virtual concerts and the characteristics of the participants influenced their experiences of social connection and kama muta (often labeled ‘being moved’). We hypothesized that concert liveness and the salience of the coronavirus would influence social connection and kama muta.”
The authors of this research explain: “The distinction between live and pre-recorded performances is important because research on live concert experiences at real-world concert venues suggests that audiences engage differently with live and pre-recorded performances. Understanding the effects of virtual concerts is important because research suggests that live musical events are beneficial to health and well-being (Fancourt and Williamon, 2016; Fancourt and Steptoe, 2018).”
And indeed, their research found that live, as compared to pre-recorded virtual concerts, facilitated more social connection. Additionally, research suggests that audio quality is important for musical enjoyment, especially when listening to new music (Schoeffler et al., 2013).
Other main results included: “The improved social connection during livestreamed concerts likely reflects how shared experiences produce feelings of togetherness (Peck and Shu, 2018; Miller, 2020). Previous research on how technologically mediated communication can foster social connection during the coronavirus pandemic suggests that shared online virtual experiences foster a sense of togetherness (Miller, 2020). While video conferencing was the most popular form of interaction during the pandemic, shared online virtual experiences such as virtual exercise classes or concerts were the second most popular form (Miller, 2020).
"In today’s world of fear and unease and social distancing […] I don’t know when it will be safe to return to singing arm in arm at the top of our lungs, hearts racing, bodies moving, souls bursting with life. But I do know that we will do it again, because we have to […] We need moments that reassure us that we are not alone” (Grohl, 2020).
Here’s an example from Terra Naomi, performing in spatial audio powered by High Fidelity:
Most importantly, despite the slow return of concerts and music festivals mid-2021, surveys indicate these virtual events are here to stay. Of the three out of four people who attended an online event during the pandemic, 88% said they plan to do so again even as in-person gatherings return (according to a survey of 1,000 consumers by UTA IQ). And of those 88%, “75% of consumers surveyed said they plan to attend virtual music or gaming events post-COVID-19. The findings are somewhat surprising given that the survey also found a high level of pent-up demand for the return of in-person events after the pandemic canceled or delayed music festivals, stand-up shows and blockbuster movies for more than a year,” writes Ryan Faughnder.
Another thought from Ryan: “Livestreamed shows can be a benefit for fans who can’t make it to the actual concert in person because of timing or cost, and they also allow for a certain amount of interaction between the audience and the artists.”
Here’s another great example of a virtual concert hosted by Soundstage.fm where the audience and artists can closely interact with each other:
Consumers have come to see the value in these virtual concerts. And enjoying a sense of presence, good audio quality, and interactivity with others during them is paramount.
Related reading: The 3 Best Virtual Experiences For Groups
3. Networking Events and Happy Hours
These events are perhaps more subtle than huge, entertaining virtual concerts, but equally important for connection.
“Happy hours give employees a reason to set work aside and hang out in a casual setting. They’re also a fun icebreaker, build team camaraderie, and strengthen bonds with coworkers,” writes Gather, a proximity chat platform designed to make virtual interactions more human.
Read more about proximity chat platforms here.
It goes beyond just meeting with your colleagues, though. “Individuals use it to host games nights; groups of friends throw parties on it; universities use it to create virtual campuses…” The list goes on. “Serendipity actually happens here,” says James Bore in an article written by Rebecca Seal titled “Can Virtual Meeting Spaces Save Us All From Zoom Fatigue?"
Actually, the first people to use some of the new proximity chat platforms were gamers — not only Discord, but those playing Among Us popularized the use of proximity chat while in-game. Research also finds “voice chat users often played twice as much as non-voice chat players. Voice chat keeps us engaged, helps with communicating strategies, can be combined with proximity chat to deepen immersion.”
Related reading: How To Host An Effective Virtual Networking Event
Enjoy Your Next Immersive Virtual Event…
Going back to the beginning — it starts with feeling genuinely connected and immersed at your virtual event, no matter how huge or subtle the actual event is.
A great way to foster that connection and immersion is good audio. We mentioned earlier the concept of “spatial audio”, and now we’ll explain a bit more.
What does spatial audio actually do to foster such engagement at virtual events? Here are five main points:
- Powers more natural conversations
- Participants feel more present and engaged
- Many conversations can take place together
- Speakers are more intelligible
- No ducking or clipping speakers
Keeping these five points in mind, check out this video to hear the difference. Wear headphones for the best experience.
Spatial audio recreates the way sound is heard in real life. If you’re interested in implementing spatial audio in your virtual events platform, check out High Fidelity’s API — it’s free to create a developer account (you can do so below) and get started.
Not sure where to begin with using the API? Check out these step-by-step guides and code examples.