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


Part two – The benefits of bite-sized

Like so many people, last year I found myself in the position of having to move a large event – The Association for Business Psychology Annual Conference – online. For those that missed the first blog in this series, you can find it here.

Last time, we talked about keeping it simple. As mentioned, our website went down during the event – something uncontrollable that is hard to predict or avoid. However, by keeping the event bite-sized, we minimised the impact of both the website crash and other potential tech issues. This is how…

‘Bite-sized’ – aka don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Historically, ours was a two-day event, including 20+ speakers in three simultaneous timeslots. Our first reaction was to replicate the same structure online, but we stuck to our second principle: bite-sized.

We decided to have two speakers per day over two weeks, essentially breaking it into smaller, more manageable parts, a strategy we call ‘One step at a time’. This structure provided us with a long list of benefits: 

  • Avoiding Zoom fatigue: After six months of working from home, people would surely be tired of online meetings. Sitting through 8 consecutive hours of speakers in a day would break our delegates – and us! With an hour in between, two speakers per day was a successful tool to fight screen fatigue.
  • Provide time for knowledge to be ‘digested’: All-you-can-eat buffets might seem attractive for some, but if you see them as a challenge to overcome, you will probably feel full and a bit sick. When it comes to training or conferences, we know an attendee’s attention span is limited; it’s better to stick to sessions lasting an hour or so, with a break in between. Having up to two one-hour sessions per day – with a sizable gap in between – allows delegates to think about what they’ve heard and even sleep on it.
  • Content works around work schedules: Even if some people were willing to watch everything at once, their work, family and life could still make it hard to commit the time. Before COVID, you could go to a venue and disconnect for a day. Under the circumstances, two sessions per day gave attendees the flexibility to schedule important meetings or tasks. Even if that was still too restrictive, they could watch recordings of the sessions during our evening reruns.
  • No conference-ruining tech issues: One of the most stress-inducing things that can happen at work is hosting an event and having technology fail at the last second. In face-to-face meetings, we develop a plan A, B, C, and D because we have one shot at success. However, an online event hosted over two weeks gives you ten times to get it right! If something goes wrong, only two speakers might be impacted, who you can easily reschedule later on. Additionally, you can tweak and improve things as you go based on what worked.
  • No need to choose between speakers: I always hated choosing between speakers due to scheduling issues. Our approach meant each session had a unique slot and thus never competed with one another. For the first time, our delegates could watch the entire conference if they wanted, and our speakers had the entire audience available.

The results: we had an unseen number of delegates attending our sessions. Between 50-70 watched live and 30-50 during the evening reruns. In face-to-face conferences, delegates had to choose which session to attend, so speakers typically had 20 people per session. Our post-conference satisfaction survey showed how happy our attendees were: “I didn’t think I would be able to attend many of the sessions due to work but so far I’ve managed to watch every session and even join some discussion. It was a great idea to spread it over a longer timeframe, and really helps to balance commitments “. We also managed to attract delegates from the US, South Africa, and many European countries – something we certainly couldn’t have pulled off before.

It wasn’t something we expected, but we’ve learned for future conferences to attract a greater audience with online content. That’s the benefit of trying something new – experimentation yields optimisation, which we discuss in more detail in part three of the series.

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.