Insights by Marissa Pick, Founder of Marissa Pick Consulting LLC.
The pandemic rapidly accelerated the digitization of events, profoundly changing the live events industry as we knew it. As we’re working towards recovering from the disruption of last year, it’s becoming apparent that, given the Delta variant’s outbreak, virtual and/or hybrid events will be the norm for the remainder of the year.
The good news is that there are several opportunities to keep virtual events as an integral part of fostering connection and engagement among your target audiences. Unfortunately, several common mistakes appear time and again in the creation and delivery of virtual events. I’ve highlighted some of them below, along with some advice on how to avoid them.
1. Outline Your Objectives
At the beginning of any event or project, it’s essential to outline the key objectives. As a consultant, I often work with clients to develop an event marketing strategy to optimize digital engagement before, during, and after the virtual event. I find it’s essential to understand the goals for the virtual event from my clients directly ahead of beginning any plans. It’s helpful to get clarity on what metrics will measure success for the virtual event. Well-defined goals and objectives are vital to the success of the virtual event.
The strategy will be much more focused when the objectives are clearly defined, outlined, and compiled into a measurable set of objectives. Every step you take to outline objectives and communicate what success looks like will bring you closer to your goal of executing a successful virtual event.
2. Develop Great Content
I’m a huge believer in the idea that content is king. When you begin to plan your virtual event, it’s important to remember that content is often viewed hand in hand within the overall program of your virtual event. Take the time to put together a cohesive look and feel and ensure you’ve outlined branding for your online event.
Make sure the content you develop promotes your speakers, sponsors, and every aspect of your program. Ensure your promotional materials are eye-catching and captivate the attention of your digital audience.
When I speak at a conference, I love when the team puts together graphics and text for me to use to promote my session and involvement within the virtual program. From there, I can easily use my digital channels to promote my session and feature highlights of what attendees can expect to take away from the session. Too often, brands ignore their speakers or sponsors as an amplifier of the event.
3. Streamline the Content/Agenda
I’ve found too often that events I’ve attended have either way too much content and I’m easily overwhelmed, or there’s not enough, and I lose attention and tune out. When planning the schedule for your online event, make sure you include changes, lunch, and comfort breaks. Often people tune in and out, and you want to ensure that your attendees deem your event full of value as they’re evaluating whether they want to invest the time to participate.
4. Setup a run-through or rehearsal before the event
Too often, brands forget to hold a rehearsal ahead of their event. It’s important that your speakers, event chairs, extended team (including freelance support), and anyone/everyone playing a role within the event knows what to do and how when they’re expected to do it. It’s essential to understand what can go wrong and quickly address it if needed during the live event.
I’ve found it helpful to hop on a quick 10-minute tech check ahead of the live event as a speaker at numerous virtual events over the past year. It’s beneficial to review the Wi-Fi connection, sound, lighting, and sharing of the PowerPoint (if applicable) ahead of the live virtual event. I like to know how to chat with the team if problems were to arise, and I set up reminders of time cues towards the end of my presentation.
One helpful tip I learned this year is always to keep a cell phone nearby if the wireless connection goes down. I’ve had to turn on my hot spot before and connect to my hotspot to save a presentation several times. Once you’re live, it’s impossible to start again, so take advantage of your rehearsal time.
Brands should play any videos running in the background and run rehearsals seriously, focusing on getting a better day of results and driving engagement around the virtual event.
5. Prioritize Comments and Questions
I’ve found that some of the most helpful virtual events include a field to add questions for speakers to address during the registration process. This helps speakers ensure the content they’re developing will address the audience’s concerns surrounding a specific topic. Virtual events which run on a platform to encourage live Q&A I find the most engaging and dynamic.
It’s helpful when attendees submit a question and see that it’s been received and acknowledged throughout a session. If left unread or unanswered within a chat, your attempt to boost engagement can easily backfire. Brands must ensure they have systems and people to facilitate questions and comments in real-time.
It’s essential to determine what happens when someone sends in a question or concern during an event. Where does it go? Who receives it, and what are they doing with it? I find it helpful to have a moderator assigned to virtual sessions to monitor the chatbox and answer common questions/concerns or elevate to the moderator/host as needed to get questions in front of the speaker. This critical aspect of facilitating attendee engagement is too often ignored. This is an excellent example of something which should be covered and tested within an event run-through with each speaker/guest.
Additionally, the best virtual events I’ve attended this year leave time for speakers to address questions. Whether they’re submitted at the time of registration, throughout the live presentation within the chatbox, or developed by the event team and given to a moderator, it’s important to leave time for the speaker to address and provide live interaction with your audience.
6. Respect Time
Agendas are set up for a reason; they help events stay on track and succeed, whether in person or virtual. Timing is crucial, and letting time run away is a big mistake if you’re planning a virtual event. People tune into virtual events often at a specific time to view a session or hear a speaker, and they expect you to be on time. Think of a virtual event as a production. People tune into the news at a particular time because it’s consistent and starts and ends on time every time. You must deliver the same attention to detail to leave a positive impression on your attendees.
I’ve found that the best virtual events I’ve attended or spoken at having a virtual host to keep things running on track and on time. A virtual host can act as a conduit between your production team, the speaker, and the attendees. They’re able to walk your attendees through the event platform and demonstrate how the technology works to optimize their experience.
Additionally, a host can review comments, set up and review any polling results and keep things on track to ensure an on-time and engaging session.
Final remarks by Marissa Pick
I’ve been working within the digital event space for quite some time throughout my career. Over a decade ago, I worked in-house to setup up virtual programs, digital tradeshows and developing strategies to drive digital engagement within the virtual world.
While the traditional concept of networking at a conference by handing out business cards needs to be updated, social media, email, and other communications channels should be consistently utilized to nurture relationships or streamline communication and engagement during a virtual event.
For those of you who are new to running virtual events, I hope the tips featured within this article are helpful to avoid simple mistakes. It’s essential to apply the same diligence and professionalism to a virtual event as you allocate to an in-person one. People often think that they’re easier to create just because an event is virtual and takes less time. Virtual events require advanced planning to avoid simple mistakes that your attendees will see because there are no distractions, meaning they’ll be watching closely with anything going on.
The past year has altered how we’ve thought about, marketed, and executed virtual events. The silver lining is that it’s opened opportunities to connect and reach new audiences. I’ve been able to tune into virtual events that I’ve wanted to attend but previously could not travel to and attend because of family or work commitments or cost and time barriers.
Virtual events break down barriers to entry and allow you to create and reach new audiences. I think event professionals should feel optimistic about the road which lies ahead. The future of events is bright, but for now, the one final piece of advice I’ll leave you with is the reminder to keep your virtual event as a channel for fostering connection and leveraging engagement among your target audiences.
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