It’s no understatement to say that we are living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 virus has brought the world economy to a screeching halt, leaving many businesses and industries grappling for substitute methods of operation. And for many of those industries that rely on the nuances of interpersonal connection, forced quarantine has caused a lot of heartache and struggle.
We are a people that overcome. We always have, and now is no exception. Despite the difficulties, entrepreneurs and companies are finding and creating innovative ways to continue to stay afloat during this difficult time.
You would think that event planning would have been an industry that completely stopped in light of COVID-19. But this has been a time of tremendous opportunity and as a result, the virtual event planning niche became commonplace overnight.
Now, nobody would argue that a virtual event has quite the same synergy that is created in a live one. It is not always ideal, but as a alternative solution, it can fill the gaps until we can meet in person again. Virtual events are different from live events in many ways but one thing stays the same: The human connection. We have adapted to this change, but we still crave connection. A virtual event can be done in a creative, professional, and engaging way for participants, even though many participants are probably still on lockdown.
So, how can a business or company plan a successful virtual event in the age of COVID-19? Below are ten tips for hosting a memorable virtual event.
1. PLAN, PLAN, AND PLAN SOME MORE!
It may not seem like it on the surface, but planning a virtual event is as complex as planning a live event. While some elements are the same, the way that they are executed is not. You’ll find that you’ll trade time normally spent on logistics for venue coordination, food/beverage, housing, etc. for technology, content and engagement planning. You can expect about a 1:1 time-tradeoff for the amount of time it takes to plan a live event as compared to planning a virtual event.
2. START WITH THE “WHY”
Just like for live events, you need to know your “why” in order to build out an appropriate strategic plan.
Why are you holding this event?
What are your goals and objectives?
Who is the audience and what are their motivations, triggers, and needs?
What do you want the audience to Feel, See and Do during and after the event?
Once you have the goals and objectives defined, then you can build out the strategic tactics to get there.
3. DO I NEED A THEME?
Even virtual events need branding! Just like for a live event, you will want to have a theme that carries forward through all touchpoints. From the save the date, to registration, to the content shown during the event, and post event survey, the entire event should look cohesive.
4. WHAT IS THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY PLATFORM TO USE?
If you are not a technology guru, engage your trusted AV partners and Technology Directors for input and recommendations. Do you want a low-cost platform like Zoom, which has the ability for 1:1 interaction, breakout rooms, etc., but may lack the quality and security you need?
Or is security, control, and the quality of the signal more top of mind, in which case you want to go with Hosted Live Stream technology? Research the platforms that are available that best fit your particular event, budget, and client needs.
5. CONSIDER YOUR TECHNOLOGICAL HARDWARE
What sort of technology do your attendees have? What kind will they need? Will they be participating from a mobile device, laptop, tablet, or desktop computer? Make sure that whatever platform you choose will work easily on any device.
Also consider: Do you need to ship any devices out to your speakers because they don’t have what they need at home? Do you need to send any of your speakers a light so that they show up well on screen? Do your speakers have a good microphone integrated into their device? And what about a quality camera? If not, plan to ship them equipment ahead of time.
Make sure everyone presenting is well equipped to do their part well. And once they have the equipment, make sure to set aside time early to test, rehearse, and mitigate for any platform, hardware or navigation issues before you are live on screen.
6. WHAT ENVIRONMENT DO YOU WANT TO CREATE?
Think about the environment you want to portray. Just like in a ballroom, the event environment matters, and it sets the tone for the entire attendee experience.
Are your speakers sitting on their living room couch with a bookcase in the background (or as the case may be, piles of stuff?) Are they sitting in the home office with a branded physical or virtual background? Or are they coming to you from a professional stage location that looks like a live event “set”?
Consider your branding, your audience, your purpose, and come up with a suitable background for your speakers to use that will create the environment you desire. You could even mail them pop-up branded banners to use as a backdrop.
7. CREATE ENGAGEMENT AND MAXIMIZE YOUR CONTENT
I recently heard that most people have a 7-minute attention span as it relates to watching online content. Knowing this, what are you doing to keep people who are viewing online active participants? Is your content engaging, or just “death by Powerpoint” with a talking head?
Consider integrating in a mobile or web-based app that allows your attendees to engage with living polling, Q/A, chats, word clouds, social timeline engagement, and other fun elements to keep them paying attention! Include engaging presentations with movement, animations, video, etc. Switch up colors to create different moods. Use music to add energy throughout the meeting.
Consider a “host” for the event… a terrific speaker that can thread takeaways together throughout the event. Can you play a game? There are content providers out there that can create games like virtual Jeopardy to reinforce key learning. You can even do virtual Escape Rooms these days to encouraged team bonding!
8. GIVEAWAYS – ARE THEY DEAD?
If your group enjoys giveaways, send them a gift box before the virtual event that is either useful or fun. Useful items like water bottles, mugs, coffee cups, comfy socks, chargers, journals, and great quality pens are always good. Fun items could include hand clappers so that you can do a group virtual video clap, goofy hats and glasses to do a group online photo, fidget toys, coloring books and other things to keep their hands busy while they listen and think.
Now, there are some people who are anti-giveaway. They perceive that we are just filling up landfills with junk. If that is a concern, you could consider telling attendees that in lieu of giveaways, you are making donations to a charity and allow them to vote on which charity they want their donation to go to during the virtual event.
9. FOOD AND BEVERAGE – CAN YOU STILL INTEGRATE IN FOOD?
You bet you can! Send out snacks in branded gift boxes (popcorn, power bars, tea bags, ground coffee). Provide a discount code to a national food delivery service so that everyone can place an order for lunch delivery.
Over the lunch break, break people out into smaller virtual meeting rooms of 6-10 people for roundtable discussions. Have some open-ended questions prepared and a moderator assigned for each “room” to help guide the discussion.
You could work with a wine or mixology service to deliver a bottle of wine or cocktail mixers and have a virtual happy hour at the end of the day. This is a great way to include networking in a virtual event!
10. POST EVENT REPORTING AND ENGAGEMENT – ISN’T THE EVENT OVER WHEN IT’S OVER?
No! Learn from what you do at your online events, and expand your reach to your audience beyond the initial engagement. Many technologies will provide you with reports after the event. You can get a list of attendees, and see how long they spent on each page, which sections got the most engagement, etc. This helps you plan better for the next virtual event. You should plan to engage your attendees with a survey after the event to find out what they loved, what they hated, and what you can do better next time.
Record all of the content. This can be posted later for attendees that were not able to attend so that you can expand the reach of your event. You can also parse out recordings into segments that could be posted on a website as on-demand educational content for customers or prospects as appropriate.
While live events are not happening right now, there is no reason why you cannot produce a very compelling virtual event to engage with your audience. The key, just like with live events, is to plan, plan, plan. And think through the entire user experience to deliver a flawless, magical event.
Now is the time to plan your Virtual Event! Contact us now to schedule a free 30-minute consultation about your event needs. Learn more at www.wendyporterevents.com or contact us at email@example.com.