Some of you may know by know that I have a day job working for a nonprofit association. There, I have my hand in event planning, marketing, and membership functions. These last 7 months have been especially hard for us, because we rely on member dues (which usually are paid by cities whose budgets are now impacted due to COVID-19) and the income we bring in from our annual conferences in September and October. As my team watched the pandemic progress, it became apparent that our events this year would have to be drastically different. We went through different phases of planning for hybrid events, until we came to the conclusion that it was inevitable that we jump on the virtual bandwagon. Luckily, if you are in the process of planning your virtual event, I have been there before you and have done a SIGNIFICANT amount of research in the virtual event arena. I've compiled my findings here in the hopes that I can help other organizations keep their events going (and income flowing in) during this unprecedented time. Our event began on September 1st and I am proud to say it has been a huge hit!
Speaker Best Practices
Most virtual events rely on the speakers who present the content. Whether it's a keynote speaker, subject matter expert, vendor plugging about their product, or a CEO/company superior giving a motivational speech, the speakers make the event. This is why extra focus needs to be on making sure that the speaker is captivating and set up for success. Certain measures need to be taken to ensure that the speaker looks good and can deliver the content in an entertaining and successful manner. Here are some virtual speaker best practices:
Make sure that the speaker has proper lighting. I HIGHLY recommend that you urge the speaker to splurge on an LED ring light (or that you provide them with one). These are easy to get, and there are quite a few options on Amazon- ranging from full tripod stands to phone camera selfie ring lights. I use a LED ring light stand and it is AMAZING! Make sure that you get a good quality product and it WILL make a noticeable difference. It gives the effect of studio lighting, and will illuminate the speaker to look very professional.
Make sure camera and speaker work well. If during your test runs with the speaker you notice that the camera quality is not great, it is your job to send the speaker a better camera if you want them to use one. Sending a microphone is nice too if the speaker asks for it. At a MINIMUM, you need to make sure the speaker has good lighting, video, and audio, because these components all come together to make the whole virtual experience.
Make sure wifi is reliable. This is HUGE! Shaky wifi does not keep viewers' attention. You want the wifi to be strong enough to seamlessly stream video for an hour plus.
Send speaker a speaker agreement outlining your expectations of the content, how long it should be, anything you don't want to be discussed, payment (if applicable), etc.
Send the speaker a speaker best practices list to let them know you want to help set them up for success.
TEST. TEST. TEST. You and your speaker need to set aside the time to test everything. Spend 30 minutes to an hour on your streaming platform to check the quality of the lighting, audio, video, and wifi. It is important that you spend more than just 20 minutes on video, because the short term performance is not necessarily indicative of what the long term performance of all of those aspects will be.
Contingency plan. With everyone switching to virtual events and working remotely, there are bound to be bandwidth and wifi issues, which could make your session spotty. Do you have a plan in place in case the speaker cuts out? Maybe you have a copy of their powerpoint, or maybe you have a copy of their lecture that you could throw up if something goes wrong.
If your event relies heavily on sponsorships and your company's vendor partners, then you will want to find ways to incorporate them and foster relationships between those companies and your attendees. But how can you do that in a virtual environment? Here are several suggestions:
Commercial breaks- break up your speaker content by offering 5 minute bathroom breaks, where you have the opportunity to play a short video from the sponsor/vendor. This can either be pre- recorded and someone can share their screen and play it, or it can be live. If live, you must make sure someone is appointed to communicate with the vendor when it's time to come on.
"Swag Bags" to registrants- one of the best things about going to a conference in-person is collecting fun swag. Bring that same swag to your registrants in a new way. If your budget allows for it, send each registrant (or each registrant with a certain type of registration package) a conference package including some fun swag contributed by your company and your vendors.
Virtual networking mixers- why not host a virtual mixer as part of your conference? This is a great way to let vendors and attendees interact.
Product Demos- bring the tradeshow to your viewers! Similar to commercial breaks, but have time slots where vendors can pay to showcase their product for a short amount of time. During their slated time, they can show videos, demo their product, and answer viewer questions.
Not Another Virtual Conference
Here are ways to set your conference or event apart from all of the other boring virtual conferences going on right now
Spread the material out over the course of multiple days
Don't have 8 hour long days of content. When dealing with the distractions of being at home, people will not be able to pay attention for that long
Interactive activities scheduled during breaks (think minute to win it or other contest, virtual trivia like Kahoots, virtual games like Jackbox TV, Mixology demo, etc).
Ways to Stream
Live stream- speakers are streaming their content in real time
Pre-recorded- speakers record their content and submit it for playback during the event.
Talk show- Live interaction/ Q&A between a host and the speaker(s)
There are many, many more besides these two- too many to list! These were just 2 platforms that I have looked into personally and thing they're really great for hosting a virtual tradeshow AND sessions.
Try adding a virtual reality component!
Hold a panel discussion by putting all panelist side-by-side on spotlighted video using the Zoom recently updated features
Send all attendees a fun virtual background to use. Free branding!
Or have a "most creative Zoom background" contest
I hope all of these tips give you a good start in planning your virtual event! Virtual events can be a lot to take on, so for any further help please hire an experienced planner (like me!). I can help make your event seamless, from the registration process to the actual event itself. Until next time,