We live in a very different world to what we did before the global pandemic took over all aspects of our lives. In the last year, the team at Cynergy have had to adapt to completely new and fairly unknown ways of running our events (shout out to Zoom and Microsoft Teams!).
We may have dabbled in hybrid events before but like many event professionals have discovered, this is a whole different ball game.
However, the great thing about Cynergy is that we can rise to any challenge, and so we greeted virtual events with curiosity, wonder and an eagerness to learn more and discover what opportunities they can bring. Fast forward and yes, we have learned A LOT.
1. Always have a Plan B, Plan C, and a Plan D
Although there’s no programmes to design and print, accommodation to book for delegates and speakers, back and forth liaison with venue event managers, it may be hard to believe that virtual events require just as much planning and preparation as a physical event. This might not be the case in five years’ time when virtual events are more the ‘norm’, but as it is unknown territory for most, there will be hiccups along the way. When working with our clients, we make sure there are multiple contingency plans in place: What if a speaker has a bad connection? What if delegates don’t participate in the Q&A?
2. Know your platforms (what they can and cannot do)
Whether it is Zoom, Microsoft Teams or any other webinar platform, do your research and understand what they can and cannot do. Make sure to check out all the features available and the limitations. Your choice will depend on the level of interactivity required – for example, Zoom Meetings and Microsoft Teams Meetings are great for interactive workshops, whereas Zoom Webinars and Teams Live Events are best for one-to-many sessions and low level interaction with the audience through Q&A and Polls. You should also take into consideration what your organisation’s IT provider will allow in terms of GDPR compliance and licensing.
3. Prepare your speakers
You may have booked a wealth of experienced keynote speakers, however there will be some that are not used to delivering their presentations virtually. Provide them with a detailed speaker brief outlining the event objectives, expected audience, information about their session and what support they will have in the run up and on the day. Cover all bases and schedule in rehearsals and run throughs of their sessions to ensure they feel confident and reassured ahead of the event.
4. Make it inclusive
Unlike a physical event where your audience would be sat around a table of 10 looking at a big screen, virtual means they will either be sat looking at a desktop monitor, mobile phone or tablet. Generally, smaller the screen, bigger the text. Therefore, take time to consider how presentation slides are formatted and provide clear guidelines to speakers who will be creating their own slides. Even more importantly, you should also invest in a stenographer to ensure closed captions are available for any live webinars and that for on-demand content they can be enabled on the platform you choose to upload to (e.g. YouTube uses automatic captioning through its speech recognition technology). Ahead of the event, you should ask your delegates if they have any additional needs so you can prepare any extra support they will require. It’s also a good idea to share as much information as as possible in advance so you can help put people at ease by letting them know what to expect.
5. Think about your audience
It is definitely worth getting an idea of what your audiences’ expectations are in terms of when the session will take place, how long for and how it will be delivered – you could send out a survey or post a poll on Twitter! You need to get a feel for how long they expect the event or session to be, the level of participation, their experience with and access to the likes of Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
6. Spur on engagement
There is a risk of losing your audience when running virtual sessions because they can get easily distracted if they are just listening to speakers (and we have all been there this year!). Consider mixing up your session formats and make the most of engagement tools like Microsoft Live Events’ Q&A function, Zoom webinar polls or Sli.do to encourage your audience to get involved. There are also collaboration platforms such as Miro which are great for interactive workshops as they allow users to work on tasks together or share and expand on ideas.
7. Record everything (if appropriate)
Not everyone will be able to access your event when it is live. The great thing about going virtual is you can easily record everything and make it on demand for those who want to watch at a time more suitable for them.
8. Get delegates excited
Make sure your event is in their calendars as a must-see event. Unlike a physical, face-to-face event, there isn’t as much of a commitment required to attend – for example, there’s no need to buy train tickets or book a hotel. People can very easily opt-out on the day. It’s therefore important to crank up your comms around the event. Let everyone know about the event and emphasise ‘why’ they should attend.
Don’t forget we’re all in this together and we should be learning from each other. Do your research and take some time to look into the lessons that other have learned from delivering virtual events – what mistakes were made, what do they wish they could do better next time, what are their tops tips?
It’s important that everyone involved has the opportunity to run through their sessions and roles ahead of the event. From your own team to the speakers, you need to ensure everybody’s tech is working correctly and they are comfortable with whatever platform the event is being delivered from. Ensure your project timeline has a period before the event dedicated to scheduling run-throughs and rehearsals.