How to Run an Online Event using Behavioural Science – Part One


Part one – Keeping it simple 

The past year has presented extraordinary challenges for every organisation. We’ve had to rethink how we conduct our most fundamental business tasks within new constraints – namely, moving online. 

Last year, during my second term as Conference Dean for The Association for Business Psychology Annual Conference, I faced the same issue. Six months before the event and halfway into our third monthly meeting, I had to come out and say, “We have to do the whole conference online“. Going online meant throwing away all our plans, including most of what we knew about delivering a successful conference. 

You might have heard that ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’ are both part of the word for ‘crisis’ in Chinese. Although thoroughly debunked, it’s not a bad metaphor for what happened. Going online meant that people across the world could join, speakers wouldn’t have to travel, we didn’t need to rent a venue, etc. Switching to an online event brought plenty of unknowns, but luckily, we had a versatile toolbox to handle the challenge: behavioural science

We used the following guiding principles to design our first online conference: 

  • keeping it simple 
  • bite-sized 
  • experimental 

Over the course of these three blogs, we’ll be looking at each of these in detail. We used plenty of the biases included in BVA Nudge Consulting’s ‘The Drivers of Influence’ for inspiration. As we go through the three guiding principles, you will see individual references to these. 

Keeping it simple – aka reducing friction. 

If you’ve organised an online event in the past 12 months, you’ll have heard of Teams, Zoom, WebX, Adobe Connect and many others. Which one we should choose was one of our first problems. After reviewing more than 11 options, we went back to our principle and decided to use Zoom. Why? Because we wanted to keep it simple.  

For better or worse, Zoom had become a synonym for online meetings. Other platforms offered integrations with external services, 3D-rendered virtual show floors, forums and chat systems. But, above all, we needed to ensure one thing – that our delegates could reliably connect and watch the sessions. A key behavioural science principle that we call ‘Easiness’ stresses the importance of reducing friction between intention and the desired behaviour.

If you want to exercise, but the gym is one hour away from home, you are less likely to go before work. When the platform you choose is unknown to attendees, they will need time to learn how it works before connecting to a session. Those running late will have an unpleasant experience trying to create an account, remember their password, figure out where to go, and so on. 

The top priority for any online event is ensuring attendees can access sessions, meaning you and your attendees should be comfortable with the platform of choice. It should be stable and easy to use. We heard horror stories of how fancy webinar platforms had crashed badly during online events – and since they were less popular, few people knew how to troubleshoot them.  

To ensure our delegates knew where to find our details, we created a simple website using WordPress. After logging in, we greeted them with a big blue rectangle containing two instructions: a password to remember and a link to the speaker session. Details were updated for each session and reinforced by email an hour beforehand. For this section, we chose this size, icon and colour to increase its ‘Salience’, ensuring our users wouldn’t miss the most important details. 

The results: Our delegates spontaneously messaged the conference team saying the ” … structure and the technology are both working very well – great design, very impressive. Very slick.” We had no delegates asking for zoom details to connect, and the stream was smooth as butter, except for when our website went down – something almost inevitable. This ties in neatly to our next point – keeping your event bite-sized. You can find part two here.

If you’d like to learn more about how salience and easiness can impact behaviour in the mean time, you can learn more from our blogs, check out our podcast, or get in touch directly if you have any questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts.