To use an expression from my youth, ‘my phone has been ringing off the hook’ these past few weeks with inquiries about Virtual Events we are currently planning. Much like phones no longer live on hooks, recommending event software is not as simple as giving out a phone number.
As soon as all our in-person events were cancelled we were quick to pivot and explore our virtual options. Our first task was to outline our goals and define our audience, which are the first two steps for any online event before you even start to consider a platform. I lead the exploratory project myself, engaging my staff throughout the process, because I wanted to make sure I personally had a good grasp and understanding of what we were about to do.
For our first event we decided on a Virtual Trade Show and Conference platform. This allowed us to bring in all the elements of a physical trade show, with the biggest difference being an online venue. There is an auditorium for presentations, a networking room for chatting with other attendees, a resource room, a virtual swag bag like what we would receive at any other expo, and an exhibit hall with as many vendor booths as you need. The one-on-one chat interaction with booth representatives who are showcasing their product or service makes this a unique online event experience. When hearing about our planned event people are intrigued. I have spent A LOT of time explaining the concept to my clients, executive committees, exhibitors, and people we are hoping will attend the show. As the word gets out we have been getting more and more inquiries from people asking me ‘how does it work, what is the name of your supplier and can I get the contact information, can you share all your information so we can also do this’.
So all of this to say, these questions, as harmless as they sound, are a big ask. And not because we don’t play well with others, but because it’s not that simple. I can’t give you my Account Manager’s name, you need to go through the queue like everyone else. These software companies are swamped, and many are not able to keep up with demand. Gathering the information has been a long process. If you are considering a virutal event, these are not the first questions you need to ask.
This exercise has been all-consuming but extremely important considering I am running a business, trying to stay afloat during a global pandemic which has shut down our entire events industry. We have worked hard to become skilled in Virutal Event Management, a service we can now provide with confidence.
Our knowledge has not come easily and is a result of hundreds of hours of work. Here is what we have invested the past ten weeks:
Hours on researching various platforms including multiple conversations, building comparative charts, watching demos and videos, reading reviews, etc.
Finally getting assigned an Account Manager with the supplier of our choice who, before we would sign a contract, needed to answer dozens of our questions, get back to me with answers she did not know, and finally presenting me with enough information and answers to make me feel comfortable about choosing this software.
Contract negotiations with the supplier based on our legal teams’ recommendations.
Ongoing reporting to our client who has agreed to be our first test event with this type of platform.
Finally signing the contract and making the financial commitment to purchase a license.
Staff training on navigating and building the platform from the back end.
Hours of reading dozens of how-to documents and viewing videos about how to build the event, manage the software, and tips on hosting a successful online event
Realizing we will need a bigger team to make sure the event is a success, so putting a marketing team in place to ensure a positive user experience and participate in brainstorming sessions with us.
Create user guides and demo videos for exhibiting companies and for attendees.
Learning that the production value is not to be taken for granted, so bringing on our AV team to help with tech and production.
Throughout this entire time, I have been taking a Virtual Event Management Certificate course to make sure we are setting ourselves up for success and not just relying on our own expertise. I have learned a lot.
Participating in dozens of industry webinars and information sessions to bring me up to speed on what is happening in the digital event world.
Engaging in a network of hundreds of planners who are going through the same process and sharing best practices with industry.
Taking part in a weekly live session every Thursday evening with peers and subject matter experts.
Trial and error, learning from mistakes and making changes to our build, perform ongoing troubleshooting.
Regular sessions with the software support team, a service we paid extra for.
We have spent hundreds of hours with hundreds more to go.
So there is no wonder that many people have questions because there is a lot to consider and it can be an overwhelming process. I have started this series of blogs because so many people had questions about what we were doing and wanted guidance for their own projects. These posts are my way of sharing what I know and my expertise so far. My previous blogs have touched on virtual events in general and things to think about. Now, if I have learned this much in ten weeks, so can anyone else, but this investment of my time and my staff's time coupled with dozens of years in the events industry has given us confidence that we are on the right track.
I love talking to clients about their upcoming projects but to recommend the right platform you need a proper discovery meeting. Deciding to host a virtual event is a big commitment and takes a lot of preparation. If you don't have people on your team who are skilled and have lots of time for a project like this, hire help. For the sake of your own project, engage in the right process for success. The solution you see someone else using may not be right for your event. Remember to choose the online platform to match the event, not the other way around. Know your audience, know your goals, engage your partners. Do your homework.