The popularity of virtual events has been on the rise in recent years and the growth looks set to continue. With pressures on budgets and time increasing, it's now more challenging than ever to communicate to a globally-distributed workforce. I have a background in the conventional events industry and the difference between a regular conference and a virtual one is not as great as you might think. Both require preparation, planning and a professional approach, and both offer different opportunities for planners and delegates.
Like all conventional events, there are tried and tested methods that can help you produce a successful end product. Here are top 10 tips that will help you plan a virtual event:
1. Don’t Panic
A virtual event is simply an event that you can view on your laptop or mobile device via the Internet. With one or two exceptions, a virtual event and a live event are very similar — with the same kind of preparation, planning and preproduction.
2. Focus on the Audience
This is the big difference between virtual and live: Your audience can log-off, switch to another task, or simply get up and walk away from their laptop whenever they like. There must be a strong reason for the audience to log on, stay connected and remain fully engaged. And you must define that reason — if you can’t, then cancel the event until you can. Also, you need to decide the size and distribution of the audience (where they live). A UK-based event for 30 delegates living in the UK will be less of a technical challenge than a global event for 3,000 delegates simultaneously logging on from every point on the globe.
3. Less is More
A virtual event is much, much shorter than a live event. Thirty minutes is a good length, more than 60 minutes and boy there better be a good reason for the audience to stay watching.
4. Choose a Suitable Technical Supplier
There are two big technical challenges that you need to overcome, and you will probably need to recruit a technical supplier, or suppliers, to help you. The first thing is work out who is going to host the event (the website that your invited audience will log into).
Select a supplier with a rock-solid track record. A reputable supplier will let you contact some of their customers to check the voracity of their claims. The second thing that you need is a supplier who will help you orchestrate all the creative elements (PowerPoint, music, video, graphics, presenters, etc.). If you're clever, then you'll find one supplier who can deliver the whole turnkey package. But be wary: Everybody claims that they can deliver technical and creative excellence, but few can.
Note: Don’t get too bogged-down thinking about the security issues. The days are long gone when unauthorized access to online virtual events was a big problem. There are now loads of easy-to-apply, sensible precautions that any good technical provider will advise on.
5. Define the Delegate Experience and Media Elements
All that matters is what the audience can see, hear or do through their laptop or mobile device. Your approach should be to keep it simple, and do it well. The basic package that you'll need is a branded desktop (branded to your event) with three boxes.
The three boxes are:
- PowerPoint/WMV video box.
- Live Video box (featuring the presenter/presenters).
- Live Chat Box.
Ideally, the audience should be able to move, or resize, each of the three boxes to suite their individual viewing needs.
Concentrate on orchestrating the activity of those three boxes rather than finding a supplier who can supply lots of different boxes.
6. Decide if the Event is Going to be Live, or Look Like it’s Live
Take my advice and make it look live, rather than being live. Most of the programming that you see on your television screen is prerecorded, and for a very good reason: It’s much easier to control the content, quality and creative excellence. Don’t choose the live event as the moment to end your career.
7. Source a Suitable Venue
This is where you can waste, or save, a lot of money. I have two pieces of advice:
- Rehearse the whole event (as best you can) in a meeting room at your offices — miles before you get anywhere near the actual recording venue. Taking this approach will tease-out the gremlins from your planned event and allow you to edit the raw content down into a manageable program.
- Book a professional green screen studio, or virtual studio, to record the entire event: they will have things onsite, such as sound, lighting, cameras, prompt, PowerPoint, video record and experienced crew.
8. Orchestrate Your Messaging Around a Single Creative Theme
Carefully repeat one creative theme across all the communication mediums (invitation email, landing page, video, graphics, PowerPoint, backgrounds, etc.). Remember, you only need to invest in what the audience can actually see, so unless you’re using a virtual studio, only invest in the lighting background/environment that your presenters are going to be standing/sitting in.
9. Use a Host or MC to Link Everything Together
Think of your virtual event as a TV magazine program where the presenter links everything together: A mix of different elements (presentations with PowerPoint, WMV video play out, on-screen demonstrations, discussions, etc.). The better the host, the better the flow, the better the audience engagement.
10. Test, Test and Test Again
Don’t take anybody’s word that “it’ll be alright on the day.” It won’t, unless you make it so. Arrange for a test, several tests, to make sure that your target audience can easily log in, view and hear what’s happening and that there are no glitches, bumps, or lip sync problems. Be aware that you can’t change the world; the Internet speed in Madagascar is awful and it’s brilliant in South Korea, and that won’t change just because you’re running a virtual event on the Internet. Your aim in all things should be to achieve an optimal experience (a compromise between rich HD content and easy-to-view performance).
I hope you have found these tips helpful. If you have any questions, or have any additions to this list, I would love to hear them, so add them in comments below!