Forget about the platform

By Christopher Bo Shields, Chief Creative Officer and Co-founder, Totem.

Perhaps one of the most unexpected outcomes of the last year of unexpected outcomes is the fact that virtual event platforms have become a huge point of discussion.

But I’m going to say this: forget about the platform. At least, to start with.

That might be an unexpected statement from someone with an events platform to promote, but I say it with good reason. The technology is not, and will never be, the great panacea.

I’m going to recommend a wholly different approach: think about the delegate experience first, before anything else. Think about how you are going to orchestrate the event in order to help the delegates to navigate the experience, friction-free. Because the potential for distraction is huge.

There are three ingredients to achieving a friction-free event: Thematic, dramatic, and fun.


As I’ve already mentioned – technology cannot solve your problems. What engages people at an event is the content. Content needs to be rewarding, and it needs to have value. All that you need your event platform to do is to be able to make that content sing.

By focusing on the user experience, things will be made much clearer. In particular, are there ways to create thematic content? Can you tailor your content to attendees, and run sessions that are as specific as possible?

When it comes to the format of your event, challenge yourself. Deconstruct the average nine to five event and consider new ways of using time. It is also very difficult to instantly move 300 people to another part of the event when they are attending physically. But with a virtual event you can guide that number of people almost instantly, at the push of a button.


People engage with online events in a very different way to how they take part in real life events. There may have been certain touchpoints that were a regular feature of your physical events – perhaps you would make a big ceremonial deal of the registration process. But the likelihood is that these features won’t hit the spot anymore.

But you still need to instil your events with drama, to maintain people’s interest. So how do you do it? My answer is to look to TV for your guide, because your virtual event is going to be a lot closer to TV as a medium than to those physical events you once organised. So, develop a channel strategy that emulates your favourite TV channel.


No matter how serious your subject matter is, you can still have fun with your content.

Look for ways to break up your content into digestible nuggets. You may have always opened your event with a one hour slot, but as we already know, what works for real life doesn’t necessarily work for virtual. So, chop up that presentation into three sets of 20 minutes and throw in a round of quick-fire questions for each presenter.

You can also bring the fun by providing delegates with engagement and control. Give them the opportunity to curate their own content. Ask them what they want in the morning and give it to them in the afternoon. You could event allow them to completely create their own experience, which can be extremely powerful.


My final thought is this: there is no silver bullet. Just as there is no perfect format for holding a real-life event, there is no formula for the perfect virtual event. It is ever-changing.

That’s why you need to be able to constantly adapt to the needs and whims of online attendees.

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