It’s hard to believe ten months ago we pulled the trigger on going virtual due to a global pandemic. The months of April and May were spent learning, researching, partnering, pathfinding, and building a plan on how to produce quality virtual events. In June we launched big with an International 2-day virtual trade show. From that moment we've responded to more inquires for new business than ever before. We have learned a little more with each event and we built a skillset that is unmatched in our region. No one is more surprised than us!
The struggle is real for organizations who need to decide if they are going to move forward with a digital event or simply postpone. While many decided to postpone their 2020 events, they are now realizing that 2021 may not be any more conducive to hosting an in-person event. If the purpose of your event was to build business relationships, it may not be in your company’s best interest to delay any longer. Remember, everyone is in the same boat, so they understand that business must be conducted in creative ways. If you don’t keep doing business through this pandemic you may find yourself without a business on the other side of this. It may be time to consider your virtual options.
The important thing to remember is the quality of your meeting still matters. If you are hosting a conference or any type of corporate showcase, be prepared. By this point most people have experienced a ‘good’ or even ‘excellent’ virtual event. Where most people were likely quite understanding of technical glitches or incompetence in operating a digital platform back in June, the expectation now is much higher. It may be your first virtual event, but it’s not your client’s and if you produce a subpar experience, they actually know better and expect a higher caliber.
When we were traveling to events, hours were spent on making travel plans, deciding what to wear, choosing comfortable shoes to walk the trade show floor, traveling in a day or two early, networking and socializing with other delegates, recovering from jet lag, etc. Hours and dollars were spent on attending these in-person events. We are now attending events virtually, but there is still a time commitment and for most of us, a learning curve. You've likely attended some virtual events in the past year where it was clear that the organizers were committed to producing the best experience possible for their delegates. On the other hand, you have likely also experienced underwhelming meetings, leaving the audience disappointed.
Now more than ever, the first impression you make at a show is so very important. This impression is being made only a couple of feet away from your potential client’s face, on their computer monitor, where you cannot read their non-verbals. The quality of your digital introduction and interactions is going to be the lasting impression. How do you come across on screen?
A virtual conference built with all the elements to keep the audience engaged is a massive undertaking. We will easily have 4-6 people working full-time for weeks to prepare for a live production and flawless execution. Aim for the result your audience is looking for.
What have we learned so far?
With every event we have become better. Our takeaways have been the key to our success.
This is not a one-man show. Build the team you need for quality virtual events!
After our first event we learned we needed to add a graphic designer to our virtual event team. Although the platforms are user-friendly and we can technically upload colors and images ourselves, the quality of the show is so much better when working with graphics designed for the platform and custom made for our client’s brand. This is now a service we have built into every 3D Virtual event we host. At the end of the day…..it just has to look good!
After our next event we learned that our AV team needed to be part of our Virtual Management team in a bigger way, not just on the day of the event. The production run sheet needs to be even more detailed than ever before. Every minute needs to be accounted for and every movement needs to be planned, especially when working with a mix of live and pre-recorded content. Our AV partners are now an active part of our team and not just a sub-contractor.
When working companies who are participating in a virtual event for the first time we realized they need coaching and guidance. We now include marketing specialists on our virtual event management team who can give our companies the guidance on how to interact and do business in a virtual way and to help them look the best they can on screen.
The Speaker Management team's job is much more elaborate than an in-person event. We've developed tips and tricks for our Speakers to deliver the best presentation they can. Just like you would not allow your presenter to deliver their talk in a sloppy way at an in-person event, we have strict guidelines we ask them to follow to ensure the best experience for our delagates.
2. Don't assume participants know what to do!
It did not take long for us to learn that exhibitors and sponsors do not always read our directions. We've had to develop clear and helpful user guides, demos, and training videos. Even then, we need a team of staff who are available for calls for those who just need you to talk them through it. We've also had to enforce deadlines. At a certain point an exhibitor who is not engaging can hold up the entire event. For the good of the event and all the other exhibitors we have had to enforce deadlines even if that means some participants get cut from the event. The critical path for virtual events is essential, as is sticking to it.
We then learned that relying on speakers to record their own presentations (on time) and to transfer them to us is a huge ask. If they are local, we will record them in-studio, that’s a no-brainer, but if they are not local, we have had to find solutions for these speakers to make it more effective. This change has made it easier for everyone!
There are so many event collaborators (speakers, exhibitors, sponsors, attendees), and the back-and-forth emails between all these individuals who have questions can be overwhelming. We have now implemented a process to collect information in an organized and streamlined manner, cutting back on email craziness!
Clients don't know what they want yet when they book a virtual meeting.The intake meeting is extremely important. We have a proprietary list of over 180 critical path elements to review. Most clients have not hosted a virtual event before so it’s up to us to show examples, share explanations, and present suitable options.
And after all this, even though it looks like we have ironed out the kinks, we find new efficiencies after every event. Team meetings are so important and at every debrief our team finds new ways to improve the virtual conference experience. We all recognize the need to continue raising the bar.
Don’t underestimate the work of a virtual conference
If you are planning your own virtual conference there are countless tasks you will be responsible for. On any given event you will need someone taking care of:
Executive overview of the project
Conference agenda, production run shee, and Speaker management
Virtual Platform build and management
AV, tech, pre-recording, and editing
Graphic design and creative
Marketing and branding
As you strategize for 2021, consider what activities you decided to forego in 2020. How are you going to make up for them this year? Be creative. Don’t try to wait this pandemic out, it’s too big of a risk. I think about all we learned in 10 months and I can only imagine how much more we will know in 10 months from now. And once this has passed, the new skills we gained the past year will only equip us for the next phase, whatever that may be.