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Breaking the ‘Fifth Wall’: How You Can Connect Your In-Person & Digital Audiences

Today’s events & brand experiences blur the line between online & in-person attendance, but many still don’t effectively connect online audiences with on-site participants.

John Woo, Spiro’s SVP, Executive Creative Director North America, said that disconnect is so common that it’s a kind of “fifth wall” separating audiences.

“They say ‘the fourth wall’ is between the audience and the story, or between the story reader and the story itself. The fifth wall is between the online audience and the in-person audience,” John explained in “Harnessing Serendipity,” where his insights are featured among fellow collaboration artists across industries.

John said the “fifth wall” barrier is frequent and undermines the event experience appeal.

“Humans crave connection to each other,” he said. “It is our job as experience designers and creators in this post-Covid era to facilitate the fifth wall connection, to meet the audiences where they are.”

So, how can you bridge the gap & facilitate connection at your next event? Check out these three takeaways:

Know Your Audience

Just like in-person audiences, virtual attendees crave event & experience interaction. Deloitte’s 2023 Digital Media Trends revealed that a third of U.S. consumers—and roughly 50% of Millennials & Gen Z—believe “online experiences to be meaningful replacements for in-person experiences.” Many use them as their primary way to socialize & connect.

Simply having your event available online isn’t enough to reach audiences on that emotional level. Your attendees have different ways of interacting online—and satisfying your audience means understanding those preferences to impactfully create & deliver content.

“You need to know how your audience is consuming [content],” John said. “Consumption patterns are really import to creatives & strategic thinkers in our business – if we know what they eat, we’ll know what experiences they have cravings for.”

Figure out your audiences’ tastes by interacting with them & researching their social media feeds. Examine how they interact with content & build specific buyer personas. Some prefer to engage with your event passively while multitasking on their device. Others will be 100% focused on the event & hang on every word.

“Simply put, get involved and get beyond the demographic,” John said. “Be part of the way your brand is actually consumed in reality. Pull in diverse thinkers from outside the norm to get a fresh perspective, but always be grounded in the reality of your customer and community needs.”

Integrate Technology to Connect Your Brand & Customers

Your next event or brand experience needs specialized technology to bring a digitally connected event to life, including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) & artificial intelligence (AI) tools. And the newest, shiniest tools might be a draw, but you shouldn’t choose technology based on novelty alone.

“You shouldn't let your technology drive what the experience is,” John advised. “You really need to get back to the core of why you're doing an event, who it's for, and then build from that point.”

At its best, your tech should reflect ingenuity & interaction.

“You know how when you went to any event in the past, there was typically a big photo op area at the start of the experience?” John asked. “What if you had a large wall there that was actually made up of iPad screens, and on all the iPads were the faces of the online attendees who were welcoming the in-person audience?”

Integrate first-party research & think outside the box to reach & amaze your audience. How well you connect your brand & customers—and your customers to each other—will define how well you used your technology, no matter what tools you selected.

Create Engaging & Interactive Content

When planning & crafting your event’s in-person & digital content alike, keep interactivity top-of-mind. Don’t look at your sessions as just a way to deliver information. As much as possible, encourage audience engagement & active participation from your attendees, no matter how they’re tuning in.

Greater speaker spontaneity is a fantastic way to build that interaction. Encourage panelists and presenters to go off-script when the mood strikes—or, even better, when prompted by the audience. Don’t forget to shorten sessions to boost engagement & keep attention.

“Audiences seem to have even less attention span,” John Woo explains. “They are seeking more conversation and less top-down lectures or messaging than in the past. They want to be able connect with your true POV, vs. traditional marketing.”

Go back to the basics & focus on your attendee in your event design for ultimate success, no matter the channel or format they participate in. Use sincerity & authenticity to further drive connection & strengthen relationships between your brand & your customers—both at your event & long after it’s over.

“The attendee journey really hasn't changed at all,” John said. “Whether it's a hybrid or a virtual event, IRL or fully remote, they're all live experiences with and for someone.”