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Temporal engagement events: harnessing the unique possibilities of digital

By Harry Sharman

Unfortunately, if you’re organising an event like a sales convention or conference, you can’t simply swap an offline venue for an online platform. The simple fact is, live online events aren’t great at replicating offline immersive speaking experiences. It will never be the same as being in there in person. So, we want to argue that if an event has to go online, we must get maximum impact from the virtual mediums we employ.

Online – and off-putting

If you’ve ever been (un)lucky enough to attend an online event which is attempting to simply replicate an offline event, you’ll recognise all these situations. Speakers – sitting stiffly at their desks – dryly present PowerPoint slides, with their screen dominated by boring bullet points. You desperately strain to keep your attention, as their laptop microphone drops every eighth word.

You are one of many, sometimes hundreds, of generic delegates listed in a sidebar. Most of them have their cameras turned off and are probably also working through their emails. When it’s finally all over, you don’t leave the event uplifted and inspired. Instead, you’re left wondering ‘was that time well spent?’ So, why is recreating offline events online so difficult? Here are the big four factors you’ll come up against.

1. Retaining attention

Grabbing and keeping your audience’s attention is difficult, especially when they have so many things to distract them during the presentation under the umbrella excuse of ‘multitasking’. (Only around 1/100 people can actually multitask effectively – and that is only for minor processing tasks, not big thinking and concentration.)

2. Making things interactive

Even at the largest offline speaking events, speakers can ask their audience to stand up, spin around and have a 30 second dance party. And, of course, speakers could ask the audience to do these things online too. But, realistically, how many would join in? It’s a fact that interaction at online events ranges between limited and non-existent.

3. Generating emotion

Great speakers let emotions ebb and flow when they present. Great speakers command how the whole room feels – manipulating highs and lows – using social contagion to its optimum and sweeping the audience along on an emotional rollercoaster. During online talks, that social contagion is absent and the rollercoaster is flat.

4. Distracted by technology

Technology often gets in the way of the experience – with each loss of sound, delay between slides and buffering of the speaker’s face, we’re reminded this talk is distant and impersonal.

Time for some positive news

Looking at these challenges, you may start to wonder whether it’s worth doing online events at all? Or simply resign yourself to the fact that your online events and their content will, by necessity, be grey and dull.

We don’t accept that. We know online platforms can be used to create brilliant, engaging and imaginative events – they just have to be used in the right way.

What is a temporal engagement event?

Temporal engagement events start with the simple premise that online events don’t have to happen at the same time, or for the same amount of time, as an offline event. This means we are suddenly liberated from the constraints of trying to mirror offline events.

We no longer need to cram in presentations, plenary sessions, (in)formal networking, industry booths and drinks into a couple of days! Instead, the whole ‘event’ can be spread across days, weeks, even months.

As well as splitting the event into phases, we can also choose and use the digital mediums best suited to delivering the event content. Planned correctly, temporal engagement events not only work better than the classic offline-to-online swap, they can actually work better than offline events!

The 1, 2, 3 of temporal engagement events

To make the most of the content being communicated, and elevate the delegate’s experience, temporal engagement events have three distinct phases:

  1. The absorption phase is (usually) the first phase – when delegates can download and take in the information we want to communicate.
  2. The second phase is the immersion phase – it optimises meaningful interaction and explorative learning between delegates.
  3. The final phase is the application phase – with structured tasks and activities, it helps delegates apply and expand their learning.


If we liberate ourselves from thinking of an event as a two- or three-day discrete episode, we can start thinking about engaging over a longer and more personalised series of experiences. With a bit of creativity and an imaginative approach, temporal engagement events can deliver without compromise.

Harry Sharman is Head of Strategy at Ashfield Digital & Creative

In association with

16th June 2020

From: Marketing


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