There’s a myth that virtual events are easier to produce, manage and execute than live events. This myth must have been started by someone who has never produced, managed, and executed a virtual event!
I have successfully served as virtual emcee and virtual producer for dozens of virtual events including PrideStaff’s Virtual PAC, Thrivent Financial’s Virtual Awards Show, and Breville North America’s Virtual Holiday Party. This wealth of experience has made me well aware of the challenges that come with transitioning from a live/in-person event to a virtual event. There are technical hurdles to overcome, shorter attention spans to deal with, and attendee interactions to manage. When beginning to plan your first virtual event, keep these guidelines in mind.
#1 Match Your Event Vision with Your Event Platform
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, most people were only familiar with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and WebEx. Now there are dozens of virtual event platforms to choose from, each with its own features and benefits. There’s Hopin, Shindig, Hubilo, Attendify, vFairs, Socio, Airmeet, the list goes on and on! Before choosing the right platform for your virtual event, it’s important for you and your client to get on the same page about the vision of the event experience. Do you want all of the attendees to be on camera or do you prefer a one-way stream? Are attendees joining from different time zones? Will you need real-time translations into different languages? Is there a virtual expo hall for sponsors? Are there virtual roundtables? Virtual breakout rooms? Virtual networking activities? All of these elements are possible with virtual events, but thinking through the details before choosing a platform is essential.
#2 Keep it Short
Brevity is key for virtual events! Keep your sessions short, and keep your overall event short. Remember, most of your attendees are logging on from home where they often have other responsibilities. Offer frequent breaks for attendees to stretch, grab a coffee, respond to an email, check on a son or daughter doing online school, let the dog out, or anything else they might need to do while working from home. At a live, in-person event, attendees are forced to move around quite a bit. Conference hotels and convention spaces are notoriously massive. As an emcee, I’m used to making jokes about how far away everything is! Attendees need to run back to their room, walk from session to session, go to social events and activities. They certainly get their daily steps in!
That’s not the case at a virtual event where you’re sitting in front of your computer all day! I recommend shortening every individual event element: 60-minute keynotes become 25 minute talks. 50-minute fireside chats become 15-minute rapid fire Q&As. Even your entertainment at a virtual event must be shorter and punchier. You’re not going to watch a live band play for an hour and dance along by yourself at your desk! A magician coming on to to do a 5-minute “WOW” spot between presenters might just be the perfect way to break up your content and add some more attendee engagement.
The result is that your 3 day, all-day conference is now condensed into a jam-packed 1 day, 4-hour virtual event. You can ask people to give you their full virtual attention for 3 or 4 hours with several breaks built in. Asking them to give you their undivided virtual attention for 8 hours a day, for 3 days straight is nearly impossible.
#3 Focus on the Content
A live event comes with a lot of “extras” in addition to keynote talks and executive presentations: fancy hotels, extravagant buffets, pool parties, concerts. So if one speaker at your live event doesn’t knock it out of the park, the impact on the overall event experience for attendees is not as drastic. A virtual event, however, is ONLY content. Attendees are logging on almost solely for the content: the speakers and the presentations. So all speakers need to be confident in their ability to present over virtual, compelling with their message, and engaging with the virtual audience. Don’t forget about one of your most important speaker hires for your virtual event— your emcee.
#4 Choose An Engaging Virtual Emcee
A strong emcee is a great idea for any corporate event, but a strong emcee is ESSENTIAL for a virtual event. Your virtual emcee should be dynamic, high energy, funny, and have experience hosting virtual events. The same emcee who “worked the room” well at your live event might not be the best choice for your virtual event, where audience feedback and interaction is limited. Find a virtual emcee with an entertainment background(comedian, magician, juggler) who can fill in the dead space that often comes with virtual events with tried-and-true performance “material.” There are many professional virtual emcees who have a proven track record hosting countless virtual awards shows, virtual conferences, and virtual events. I recommend Scott Bloom or Jon Petz… if I’m already booked 🙂
#5 Rehearse More Than You Think You Need To
Let me say that again: rehearse more than you think you need to! Remember, people mistakenly think virtual events are easier than live events. For the first 6 months I was hosting virtual events, the production company would often hold only one rehearsal that wasn’t even really a rehearsal, but more of a brainstorm/talk about the event. Way too late for that! Everything must be finalized well in advance of rehearsal: the run of show, the scripting, graphics, slides, and presentations. Rehearsals are not the time for questions like “should we have a countdown timer on the welcome slide?” And “do you think the ELT should join from the home office?” Everyone on the production side and the event team should know their role ahead of time, and come prepared.
I suggest having at least two full rehearsals in studio where everyone is exactly where they’re going to be for the event itself. First do a tech rehearsal, known as a “cue-to-cue” in the event world, where you check everyone’s AV and technology and walk through the entire program. The ideal timing for the walk-through is about a week out, so you have time to adjust for the next run-through. Then about 2-3 days out from the event, do a “dress rehearsal” where you go through the entire program start to finish without stopping. By the third time through it – show time – you’ll feel confident and the result will be a polished program.
Keep in mind, virtual events are challenging because they’re still relatively new for all of us – planners, presenters, and attendees! Navigating the choppy waters of the virtual world is a challenge for meeting professionals and event producers everywhere. Follow these six, simple strategies when organizing your online event, and you’ll be able to pull off an impressive show that your clients and attendees will find impactful, meaningful, and memorable.
Planning your first virtual event? Let me help!
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