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Content, Context, and Container: The 3 Systems that Define A Virtual Event

The three primary systems defining a virtual event are its Content, Context, and Container. All three are critical to an event's well-being. Without content, there's nothing to see. With no context, there's no understanding. With no container, there's no interaction.

In many respects, Virtual Event Producers are like surgeons.

A virtual event is a living, breathing, organism. Like the human body, it is composed of interconnected systems. While these systems have their own distinct responsibilities, they also rely on each other in order to function.

The three primary systems defining a virtual event are its Content, Context, and Container. All three are critical to an event’s well-being. Without content, there’s nothing to see. With no context, there’s no understanding. With no container, there’s no interaction.

Like talented surgeons, virtual event producers know each system’s roles and responsibilities. They must diagnose issues and resolve aches before they become real problems.

Understanding the purpose of each system turns good producers into great ones.

Content

Content is the heart of an event. It’s often the first thing a producer thinks about, and rightly so. But there are many ways to deliver content. Is it live? Is it scripted? Where does it occur? What’s the scene?

A CEO address coming from a disheveled room sends one message, but if it occurs in a composed room it indicates something different. More on this later.

Content lives on a continuum between scripted and unscripted. When the audience can influence the content, it becomes more unscripted. Unscripted content can feel unpolished, but also feels more "real.”

Scripted content provides greater control over messaging. Unique camera angles, exciting b-roll, and compelling animation curate your audience's emotional responses.

Good content weighs the expectations of the audience against the constraints of production. If an audience needs to understand something, script it and record it. If they need to connect to someone, do it live–even if it feels unrehearsed.

Audience-centric content questions a producer should ask include the following:

  • What’s the most important takeaway? If the audience remembers one thing, what should it be?
  • How long should it take?
  • Should it be live or pre-recorded?
  • Should it be scripted or unscripted?

Context

But how does an audience learn about the content? How do they know what they’re being invited to watch, or why it matters? For that, we need context.

Context informs the audience about what’s on screen. To borrow terminology from film production, it can be either diegetic or non-diegetic.

Diegetic context appears during a program, often existing in the same space as the content. Lower-thirds show who's talking and why they matter. Captions convert audio speech into visible text. During a virtual fundraiser, the thermometer ticks up when a viewer makes a donation. These examples of context help the audience understand why the content matters: It shows what’s happening, or what’s at stake.

Non-diegetic context exists outside the physical boundaries of the video player and the time frame of your event. This context makes its way to the audience before an event begins. It helps your audience decide your event’s value. Is this event worth an hour of my time? Do I need to be there live, or can I just catch the recording?

Pre-event communications also set an audience’s expectations about participation. If you want an audience to have their cameras turned on during a meeting, that needs to be communicated up front.

When producing an event, consider the following:

  • How will the audience learn about the event?
  • What feelings do I want my audience to have about my event? Excitement? Curiosity?
  • What expectations will the audience have coming into the event?
  • Where am I likely to lose my audience’s attention? How do I get it back?

Container

A virtual event must have a home. An event’s container defines your audience's experience as much as the content itself.

The role of the container is to deepen the audience's connection to the content by enabling meaningful interactions. The container must be simple for your audience to use. It should feel like a meaningful extension of your content.

Platforms such as Zoom, Hubilo, and Hopin provide end-to-end solutions that create a unified experience from registration through post-event surveys. Other platforms, such as 6Connex, wrap around a container, offering increased interaction or interaction at the expense of complexity.

Events may also break out of those containers by streaming to YouTube, Facebook, or other social media platforms. While multicast streaming was en vogue for a few years, it’s generally a bad idea to intentionally split an audience across multiple platforms. Viewers and presenters alike will have a better experience if they’re all in one location.

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Virtual event venues like Hubilo create a different experience. Rather than related content, you interact with other content watchers. In virtual venues, content lives inside a community instead of a sea of content.

When booking a virtual event platform, consider the following questions:

  • Is this platform an all-in-one system, or will I need additional components to create the experience I desire?
  • What difficulties will this platform cause for my audience?
  • What does this platform look like on mobile, desktop, or tablet?
  • Does this platform meet the accessibility expectations (such as captioning, language interpretation, transcription, post-event archive access) that my audience expects?

Putting It All Together

The glue that binds your layers together is the audience. Great producers make decisions from their perspective.

Consider an example from recent history:

Better.com laid off 900 employees in a Zoom webinar. Described as “abstruse” and “dispassionate,” the recording went viral as an example of how not to treat your employees.

A massive layoff is not an easy message to send, but could it have been delivered more effectively? Without a doubt.

The content reeks of not giving a damn. The CEO, Vishal Garg, sits at a disheveled table in an unflattering room. He tells them how the last time he had to do this, he cried. But his actions do not match his words. It creates a dispassionate atmosphere.

Later accounts from employees on the call say that context was lacking. There was little information given about the nature of the meeting. It took hours before anyone received vital information about severance.

What about the container itself? Was Zoom the right platform? This depends on how producers wanted to define the audience experience. The CEO could have leveraged Zoom to address concerns from the audience. They could have pulled in HR to go over severance information right away. They could have done it as a meeting instead of a webinar, and launched breakout rooms as safe spaces for departments to commiserate.

Instead, this was a one-way broadcast.

It could have been a pre-recorded video.

It might as well have been an email.

As virtual and on-site events continue to merge, producers need to adopt mental shortcuts that lead to good decisions. Breaking down an event into its Content, Context, and Container will help us all achieve better outcomes.

Nick Bacon, virtual and hybrid event producer, does his best work behind the scenes. An avid people-watcher, his passion for elevating the people and communities around him led him to launch the creative agency Mainstream in 2013. Based in Chicago with offices in Virginia and California, Mainstream produces hybrid, virtual, in-person, and on-screen experiences that build, strengthen, and educate communities across the country.

 

 

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