Creating online experiences: How associations are avoiding virtual fatigue

Creating online experiences: How associations are avoiding virtual fatigue

Jennifer Jenkins, our association champion, shares her thoughts.

Recently, I visited a virtual tradeshow. My first mouse click launched me onto the platform. My second, took me to the networking area. My third to the keynote address. And there I virtually sat as nothing happened and nobody came. In the comfort of my own home, very real – not virtual - panic set in.

In my personal lockdown library is a print off of this article by McKinsey & Company A leader’s guide: Communicating with teams, stakeholders, and communities during COVID-19 and this statement stands out. 

“At a crisis’s onset, audience attention is finite; new, disruptive inputs overwhelm a person’s ability to process information. High levels of uncertainty, perceived threats, and fear can even lead to “cognitive freezing”. Put simply: the more complicated, abstract, or extraneous information is right now, the more difficult it will be for people to process it.”

Associations always think members first. Associations, particularly trade associations, are working flat out to support members who are either working at the front line of the COVID19 response or directly impacted by the financial fallout and trying to keep businesses and livelihoods afloat.

Associations need to take the empathy and practicality of what they ordinarily deliver face-to-face online in an authentic way. Attendees, read members, are likely to be much less able to receive, process and re-call information at this time. Their attention is divided and they are focused on multiple-tasks. They are one-step – or mouse click – away from being completely overwhelmed.

The concept of “feature fatigue” applies as much to the new virtual event worlds that we are creating as to the products we use in everyday life. I remember having the concept explained to me. Do you have 16 different programme settings on your washing machines but use only one ? The same could be said for the virtual events we are creating. For most of us, juggling home and work means that much of what we can access online is just redundant functionality and not useful at all.

One more thing to learn, one more thing to possibly misunderstand, and one more thing to search through when looking for the thing you want. 

Jakob Nielen

So, let’s design virtual experiences that are relatively feature free and welcoming. Let’s design virtual experiences that allow us to convey and receive the message that is being communicated and no more. Let’s leave the user to decide if they want to chat, poll, network and breakout. After all, these are choices available to us in real life that should not be taken away from us when we go online.

Let’s continue to innovate in the virtual event space but remember that we are translating a live experience into a virtual environment out of necessity and not always out of choice. And that the virtual environment is a tool – a platform – to enable the best bits of what a live experience might still be.

While planning more complex virtual events I re-learned to keep things as simple as possible. Filter features out, reduce complexity, make the platform lean, eliminate extra emails, minimize hours to what is really needed. Results: Better experience. Less issues.

- Julius Solaris

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