Shifting from Attention-by-Default to Attention-by-Design in Digitising Events
Updated: Aug 12
We explore the new horizon of attention-by-design and how a shift in thinking and approach based on data-driven insight and accessible technology can significantly improve attention and engagement for online events.
In-person events exist in the attention-by-default world. The audience has invested in being there. We create 'track traps' in conference programmes, so even the most unremarkable presentation gets a shot at a packed room courtesy of 'attention-by-default.'
But how you acquire, retain, and nurture an audience when moving to blended or online event executions needs reexamination. It has long been a question why the events industry does such a lousy job delivering digital events, and the answer may be that when you have grown your craft in the world of attention-by-default, attention-by-design is a massive shock.
How to Implement Attention-by-Design in Digitised Events
The online world is brutal. I experienced running a webinar with an excellent starting audience, then saw it drop to less than ten after the guest speaker's most extended company history introduction ever.
It is one of those salient lessons that 'walking out the door' is physically hard but digitally easy. Compound this with the fact that content and how it is delivered is the most significant factor that engages the audience at an online event; nothing else comes close.
In-person events exist in the attention-by-default world. So even the most unremarkable presentation gets a shot at a packed room.
When you look at how presentations get created -- and while this is slowly changing -- the assertions from my personal experiences I am sharing here still hold a powerful grip.
The more senior the person, the more scripted it is. Not because they are boring people but because in a hyper-connected world, what you say can impact the bottom line. Elon Musk may be an exception to this rule.
With marketing-approved scripting and the volume and velocity of online events, marketing departments are in overdrive to keep things on message and brand, which while not intentional, can have a significant impact.
For example, in one organisation, the target audience was electric utility engineers, and the delivered webinar presentation spent considerable time explaining what a substation is -- the need to explain what a substation is displayed a significant misunderstanding of the intended audience.
How to Use Data to Create Engaging Webinar Content?
Challenging content is tough, especially if the challenge is subjective, for example, based on experience, which, even if correct, still needs to be qualified. Particularly when effort has been put into it either by the creator or the collective 'approval chain'.
One way of creating an evidence-based feedback loop is to use the organic awareness phase, as shown in this Webinar Acquisition Blueprint.
In this phase, you know the exposure of the webinar content to the intended audience is 'organic', with each webinar starting in the same state. Suppose the content of a webinar does not achieve an expected engagement score. You now have a non-subjective barometer to open the content conversation.
The content creation process for webinars and virtual events must break free from the 'attention-by-default' paradigm. But how?
Designing questions and polls on registration or into the automated reminder chain gives you information for the presenters up front. You could even run them through a Large Language Model like Chat GPT and provide the creators with a fantastic summary of what the audience wants to hear to inform their presentation content.
The content creation process for webinars and virtual events is stuck in the 'attention-by-default' paradigm and needs to break free.
What are the Five Foundations for Attention-by-Design?
Focusing on the following five areas will significantly shift outcomes and engagement for online events.
1) Real-time content adaptation
Feeding back information from questions in the registration process, relevant behavioural signals, and intent scores to the content creator in real-time can help these subject matter experts to tailor their presentation to the audience's needs.
Creating original or modifying existing content can take time, so a real-time dashboard the creator can see is incredibly beneficial.
2) A systemic acquisition framework
The benefit of a systemic acquisition framework is predictability. Too many moving parts make it hard to find the problem.
Using the predictability given by an acquisition framework, you can quickly identify audience and content disconnects and allow you to fix those in good time.
3) Behavioural automation
In B2B, job titles and structured data do not usually correspond to interest. For example, the larger the business, the more team-based any buying decision is, and just because you are a Marketing Director, you are not by default looking for a new marketing system.
Most modern marketing automation systems can ingest behavioural signals when tagged and connected correctly. It allows you to tune in to interested audiences in the Active Acquisition Phase in a systemic and ongoing way.
4) On-site personalisation
In a world where attention spans are short, your website should be able to adapt enough to show the right messaging to the intended cohort, which is particularly important when testing content resonance in the Organic Acquisition Phase.
It gives a degree of veracity to demonstrate that the intended cohort received the content.
Furthermore, you can use site personalisation to show the right messages to the interested audience during the active acquisition phase, reducing concentration on direct messaging channels in your acquisition strategy.
5) Content scoring models
When someone has put a significant amount of effort into creating content, or if they work in a large company, have had to ensure a series of 'content Politburo' meetings to get something approved, challenging it is tough without content scoring models.
These models become even more critical when you are delivered a price of content which 'worked well' in the attention-by-default world because everyone clapped perhaps more in relief than appreciation.
They need to be robust and quick because you need time for this challenge to play out when there is a disconnect.
For example, when applied to content scoring, A/B testing can be too wasteful and time-consuming. A better method to combine content scoring and resonance testing may be Tompson Sampling, as described in this excellent article.
Inverting Our Thinking for Virtual Events
When your experience is from running physical events -- attention-by-default -- paying significant attention to the 'last mile' is essential. Can everyone see the screen? What will the layout be, and what colour carpet do we want? How big do we build the theatre? Will lunch be sit down or canapes? And so on.
Rightly so, because the physical experience is essential to the event's 'feel' and effectiveness; however, this ingrained and disproportionate focus on the 'last mile experience' needs to be corrected for online events. Polling people to death on a webinar will not make them any more engaged or stay to the end.
What is exciting is the technology is affordable and within reach. For example, it is so easy to embed Chat GPT into a no-code platform like Bubble and create an 'app' which generates a credible speaker briefing from audience questions. It's ridiculous.
Or, in our case, when building out The DiG, access to the computing, warehousing and data modelling tools was not an issue. The most significant barrier was finding the skills.
We must break our attention-by-default models to deliver beautiful and effective online events. The reason for creating these events is not to shuffle content around and hope but to deliver the CVO of a high level of attention and information exchange -- in a predictable way -- providing value to all participants and hitting the bullseye of the CVI-CVO IAEK Radar.
If we look at the five foundations above (and you may think of more), the most challenging problem is not the tech but figuring out how to drive it and fuel it with the right content using the right technology.
The observations arrived at have been informed by analysing and presenting at over 1,000 webinars, and trust me, the delivery platform you choose does not matter. Pick one. They are in a feature arms race. Just make sure they have an open API so you can hook in your models and other enabling microservices and platforms.
Remember, all content creators want their content consumed, giving them an evidence-based feedback loop to increase that outcome will be welcome and move us towards the new horizon of attention-by-design.
Attention-by-Design: A Necessity for Digitising Events
Shifting from 'attention-by-default' to 'attention-by-design' is necessary in the evolving landscape of digitised events. As we transition from physical to virtual spaces, we must rethink our strategies and adapt to these formats' unique challenges and opportunities.
The five foundations for attention-by-design -- real-time content adaptation, a systemic acquisition framework, behavioural automation, on-site personalisation, and content scoring models -- provide a roadmap for this transformation. They challenge the status quo and offer a new, data-driven approach to engaging audiences and delivering impactful online events.
As we continue to explore and innovate, we must remain open to new ideas, technologies, and strategies. We must also remember that the audience is at the heart of every event, digital or otherwise. Our ultimate goal should always be to provide them with valuable, engaging, and relevant content.
The future of Digitised Events is exciting and full of potential. By embracing 'attention-by-design', we can create experiences that capture our audience's attention, enrich their knowledge, and inspire them to action.
Let's seize this opportunity and shape the future of Digitised Events together.