Just because your event has to go online doesn’t mean you do anything much different to normal when you come to planning your production. Your delegates still need an “experience”, but the experience can only be delivered when you get two things right: first, the flow and the production which needs to be seamless, and then by engaging fully with delegates in a quality way.
The production and the flow.
Where you are running a relatively large virtual event, as with a physical event you need staff to run it properly and get the flow right. For your virtual event you are going to need at least:
• Technical / Production Project Manager
• MC / Host
• Speaker Support Manager
• Social Media & Networking Manager
• Event Helpdesk Manager
Technical / Production
Just as you would do with a medium to large physical event, you need to set up the tech properly. Scheduling the type of daily Zoom call, or using a WebEx, Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting session that you normally use for meetings will not cut it.
You need to take a “broadcast” approach that will transform your event into a digital delegate experience that delivers live streamed content and on-demand experiences but decide which one is your focus up front – pick a lane and stick to it.
Both have pros and cons. If you choose live streaming remember to plan your setting well; is it going to be a roundtable chat, or an on-stage line up, for example. Remember also that with live streaming “what you see is what you get” – there’s no editing post-production.
If you choose content on demand the virtual delegates can choose a good time and place to consume that content, but you may not achieve full engagement and you won’t be able to control that fully; you’ll have to focus more on an all-round communication plan.
One good approach is to create an event app as you normally would, with an agenda and 1:1 engagement opportunities, and communicate around that, including using the event app platform to host your pre-recorded content and your social media feed.
Live Streaming and live Web Conferencing both need good technical support when you are dealing with medium to large events. It’s essential that you appoint a Tech Manager for your production elements. The Tech Manager can come from any of the web services mentioned above where you have a modicum of technical knowledge and know-how to brief in your event. If you don’t, then it’s a good idea to use the services of your existing event production company who will be able to support you.
Just as you cannot successfully deliver a physical large corporate show without a Showcaller, you can’t deliver a serious virtual corporate event without her either.
The Showcaller is your producer who will lead rehearsals pre-event, make the run of the show technical file, make decisions during the event and communicate to the technical team and all contributors with the aim of making the show seamless.
In terms of your show running order, you need to prepare this in the same way as for a live event, including the music. Each speaker should have a dedicated music track in association with their session, just like they would if your event was a physical one.
Engage your Showcaller as normal for your virtual event and expect the brief to be the same as for your physical event.
MC / Host
The role of the MC/Host is to bring it all together for the delegate experience at the front. Don’t underestimate the need for this role with a virtual event, and just as you would with a live event you need to think about the host as a facilitator. Someone who publicly introduces the event, the speakers and all the event elements including the housekeeping. You can provide a script, of course, but more often than not, you will choose an MC who is spontaneous and entertaining.
The MC’s role can also include Q&A moderation. The Q&A is normally at the end of the session or the event and is often rushed or non-valuable because time has run out. Try to get questions in advance to the MC where possible – use your LinkedIn Group as a tool for this, or have the questions posted into the chat box by the Speaker Support Manager. You could also organise for the person who has submitted or asked the question to ask it live. This takes a bit of organising with regard to cameras and microphones but gives much better value.
Speaker Support & Content Manager
Just as you wouldn’t ignore this support role for a live event, you can’t ignore it for a virtual event. The standard rules of pre event briefings and content management will be just the same for a virtual event and the pre-event role includes allowing the speakers to test the platform before they present on the day, making sure they know how to access the event and turn on their cameras and sound. The slides should be checked, and the theme of the conference or event together with your hashtag should be clearly present alongside those slides.
During the event the Speaker Support Manager should be watching for speaker entry to the session, usually 15 mins before their agenda time and liaising directly in the background with the speaker to ensure their timely arrival and delivery. Once the speaker is on, then the support manager can chat privately and ensure all is under control and giving last minute tips about the progress of the event so far.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t keep content standards as high as physical events. Why not have a live note-taker present during your event sessions? The live note-taker has their own video screen during the event where participants can watch what is being captured. This is a great way to engage people during and post event with a memorable summary or out-take of each of the sessions they’ve watched or participated in. You can host these notes or video sessions on your event app or send them out separately, or post into your LinkedIn group, for example.
You should set up a separate Helpdesk with an email address or phone number and have someone dedicated to answering technical issues or any other question related to joining or participating. The chat box of a virtual event or meeting is not the place for “help!” It’s distracting and wastes other people’s time.
Social Media & Networking Manager
This role is crucial, regardless of the type of the event you are delivering and there are two distinct roles here; one is the initiation and continual management of your social feeds and the other is the face to face or virtual support for delegate networking.
The networking experience is important to delegates, and it’s second only to content as the reason that people attend. When you are running a virtual event, you should not use the virtual event chat box as a networking tool; it’s just too busy and non-coherent and mostly delivers “interaction” rather than “engagement”, and people can’t keep up with what’s going on in the chat vs what’s going on in the event. To fill the gap, one idea is for the Social Media / Networking Manager to set up a related LinkedIn Group for delegates and use this to support your pre-event communications and it’s a great way for people to use your event as a platform to connect with others on LinkedIn and make comments that position themselves as experts or contributors.
I normally put one person in this role because the link from the virtual social and the interaction with people delivers tangible outcomes like quotes and questions, feedback and endorsements that can be used in social media and in evaluation of the event which contributes towards assessing ROI.
Virtual events can be just as engaging as physical events if you do it right. Getting the engagement right is essential during this period of global turmoil. In the longer term, when the world returns to some semblance of normal, as it will, I think virtual events will have their place and the experiences we have now will be very valuable. However, there’s nothing like face to face and I believe that companies will see the need for getting their staff and customers and prospects together personally so we look forward to delivering real live events for corporates once the dust has settled.