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The Future of Gatherings, Experiences, and Connection

Venture capital is a relationship-based industry. As a firm known for our consumer focus, our LA ecosystem and our overall community of experts and influencers, M13 puts a lot of effort into convening brilliant minds. In the last three months of sheltering in place and remote work, we quickly began learning as much as we could about digital events and hosted 14 digital events for our community

As we planned and learned for the digital world, we also began to think about what the future of gatherings may look like

Our experimentation and planning have led us to four areas that require new considerations:

1. Content: Creating and sharing meaningful content will continue to be prioritized.

2. Hybrid environments: The intersection of virtual and in-person events will persist.  

3. Serendipity: In a fully remote environment, there are no lunch lines where guests can bump into someone and create a serendipitous connection -- so let’s architect it.

4. Surprise and delight: Creating positive and human moments is more important than ever.  

Content

In a traditional conference environment, guests show up for one of two reasons: the networking or the content. Oftentimes, compelling content is largely driven by the speakers you can attract. In a physical world, convincing a highly sought after speaker to participate can be challenging due to the time commitments of travel. 

The benefit of a virtual environment is that speakers no longer have to sacrifice three days of travel for a 60 minute session. With the click of a button, a variety of speakers from different backgrounds and locations can share their knowledge with your network. For example, we’ve had speakers join from New York, California, South Carolina, Florida and Berlin without leaving their living rooms.

When creating your speaker slate, remember that compelling speakers are diverse speakers. M13 seeks to highlight as many women and people of color as possible, and their expertise is incredibly valuable. 

Hybrid environments

Hybrid environments will become a permanent fixture for the future of gatherings. While building content and programming, you should assume that you will need to simultaneously have an in-person and virtual experience. For the in-person component, demonstrating to guests your focus on health and safety will be important - consider incorporating Hayday at the start of your planning to ensure the physical and psychological safety of your guests. Below are a few of the many other considerations for creating a compelling hybrid experience.

The draw

If your guest has the option to click a button and listen to the content from the safety and comfort of her home, why would she be compelled to attend in person? Personal time with the speaker? Access to content that isn’t broadcast? Pre-arranged in-person meetings? A physical gift? Live demo? When producing events in a hybrid environment, think strategically and creatively about what it would take for your guests to want to show up in-person.

The format

Zoom fatigue is real. In a hybrid environment, it’s likely that your online audience will be larger than your in-person audience, and your event format will need to be adjusted accordingly. We have shortened all of our sessions to last no more than 30 minutes, provided tips and tricks to our moderators about how to engage a panel in a virtual world, and strategically woven energy boosts into any program over two hours. We are confined to a certain format so we are considering ways to keep both in-person and virtual guests engaged. 

The production

Why can we all sit and watch eight hours of Netflix straight? Because the content is compelling and the production quality is high. For hybrid environments, the production quality of events will become a differentiating factor. Those who are able to produce compelling content and experiences will be able to attract the best quality of guests and speakers. YouTube’s production of Dear Class of 2020 is an excellent example. 

Redesigning serendipity 

In-person events are powerful because you can meet new people and reconnect with acquaintances. I’ve heard many stories of entrepreneurs closing a deal while waiting in the lunchline or investors meeting a founder while grabbing coffee. We certainly don’t achieve that level of serendipity in a virtual environment and given the social distancing requirements of COVID, we may miss out on that serendipity in physical environments as well.  

Redesigning serendipity starts by recreating the physical reality that stimulates conversation -- places where people can naturally gravitate and connect. For example, instead of rows of theater style seats, creating socially distant pod seating, S shaped seating, or clusters can architect serendipity that is also responsibly socially distanced. 

In hybrid environments, strategically introducing guests via tools such as an event-specific Slack community or using Donut could help introduce planned serendipity into your event. 

Surprise and delight 

Surprise and delight starts with supporting your speakers and moderators. Given that most speakers are participating from home, consider providing a high quality light, microphone and webcam so they can be seen and heard clearly. Knowing how unstable the Internet can be, we have also sent ethernet cords to speakers to reduce the risk of their Internet cutting out mid panel.

For your virtual guests, think about connecting the online and offline experience with a physical gift, offering, or surprise. For example, we have sent cocktail (or mocktail) kits out before gatherings.

For your in-person guests, surprise and delight can manifest in several ways, including how you choose to say hello. Traditionally, greetings and handshakes are an efficient way to form connections. In a contactless world, think through how to train everyone on the same greeting. Can you create a no touch secret handshake? Can you draw from your community who knows ASL? Planning and communicating these new social norms can go a long way towards improving the overall guest experience. 

The future of gatherings will challenge us to evolve how we think about content, hybrid environments, serendipity and surprise and delight. Now is the time to get creative, experiment and draw learnings. When in doubt, test ideas in your internal meetings and gather feedback from your peers. Above all else, people crave human connection and authenticity in a digital-only world, so it’s important to foster that when and where possible. To learn more about M13’s digital content and events, sign up for our newsletter here.

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