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4 Lessons Learned in Planning for Virtual Events

Josie Smoot, Vice President, Marketing, Iron Bow Technologies

January 12, 2021  |  IT Modernization  •  What We Do Matters


In both our personal and professional worlds, this year’s lack of in-person interaction may have been one of the most understated challenges that came with the pandemic. Family holidays, catch ups with friends, vacations and most professional conferences and meetings moved online. Like any other business strategy developed this year, the ability to be agile separated the dying from the thriving. While we all strive to think outside the box on how to continue professional connections and communications while driving business virtually, we have gleaned four key lessons from this year’s pivot to all virtual meetings and events.  Here’s what we gathered:

#1: Don’t try to run your event like it was in-person

This seems counterintuitive on first glance but when you start to dig into the details of event production and execution, you realize that it’s pretty hard to replicate an in-person interaction via a computer screen. So don’t! Lean into the online experience and think of ways to make your content easily digested through the screen. For starters, know your audience and their time commitment and attention span. Screen fatigue has become a real challenge; staring at a computer screen all day while keeping a 100% focus is doubtful, even with great content. Instead, condense your content and shorten your sessions. Having a virtual event provides a unique opportunity to give your attendees the most important messages in a more compact and efficient way. If you’re running a larger conference that would normally last 1-2 days in person, break up your sessions into smaller blocks with breaks that include entertainment to keep attendees captivated and allows them the freedom to check in on their daily work demands. This consideration will help retain your attendees and ensure that they absorb your message.

If you don’t have a production company in-house and have the means, hire a virtual production company. If you’re like most organizations, you’re used to having venues or conference rooms to host your meetings and outsourcing audio/visual (A/V) through the venue or through your preferred provider. With everyone online now, you may not have streaming capabilities, video or true production tool sets at your disposal in your home office. Third party virtual/studio production companies do this day-in and day-out and can help determine the right platform for you. List your requirements when you go out to search and come to the table with your must haves, this will help you in choosing a partner and enabling seamless transitions of content and speakers throughout your event. They can also share event best practices and may have access to virtual planning tools, engagement apps, dashboards and metrics to measure your participation and provide you the analytics needed for post-event reports.   Having professionals handle the small details like this can potentially make or break your event so in the end, it’s worth the extra spend and should be a key consideration with budget planning.

Lastly, prepare your presenters and speakers for presenting in a virtual environment. Virtual events do not have the same look and feel of an in-person event which can be tough for some presenters who are used to running their energy and materials from the feedback of a live audience. Dry runs and extra practice sessions are a good way to ensure success with this.

#2: Test, Test, Test

We cannot stress this enough. Testing is the most critical part in running any event but especially a virtual one. We have all run into complications of “well it was working last time!” so the best way to avoid these surprises is to test everything prior to your go-live. You’ll want to have multiple test calls with all your speakers and presenters as well as a dry run rehearsal the day before to test audio/visual, aesthetics like lighting and background, as well as connectivity and internet speed.

Ensure your meeting is easily accessible for the attendees and presenters. Log-in confusion will leave you with low attendee numbers, wasting your time and efforts.  Plan a good communication timeline for attendees with the information needed as far as registering, agenda, logins and passwords. For connectivity, ensure your host and presenters have multiple ways of signing on in case WiFi goes out or bad weather suddenly appears to tinker with your connection.  The use of VPN is a standard security measure for many organizations and a key component to user access to many platforms. Testing VPN connectivity and security requirements of your platform is a must, as well as assessing if your infrastructure can handle the bandwidth needs when all attendees are online and streaming.  When planning, also ensure your green room areas for presenters support day of testing as well as the number of presenters for the day of the event.  Always plan for the “what if’s” or worst case scenarios so you can easily pivot to plan B if and when something fails.

Any event planner knows that Murphy’s Law comes with the territory. If something can happen, it will happen – and this usually comes in the form of some sort of tech issue so a good rule of thumb is to have a dedicated resource from your IT department standing by to troubleshoot any issues before or during your event. Having an expert around can help mitigate delays, frustrations and/or problems that were not accounted for.

#3: Employ a variety in content delivery

Audience engagement is key to running a successful virtual event. To do this, providing various content delivery methods are a great tool to have in your belt. Hosting a virtual event gives you a unique opportunity to play with mediums and content presentation. Examples include pre-recorded messages, videos, live surveys, polling questions, chats, and contests in addition to your live presentations. Adding in music and imagery where you can will help shake up the event and provide dynamic content. Incorporating a mix of live and prerecorded presentations with varying sets, as well as including panel discussions helps to provide different settings and engaging content to your audience. Finding your balance and comfort level between live discussions and pre-recorded presentations or simu-live adds an authenticity to your event that can be pretty tangible to your audience and drives engagement and participation throughout the conference. If appropriate, gamification and trivia is also a fun way to test attention and reward those who are following along.

#4: Authenticity

As we mentioned before, authenticity can make a huge difference in the success of your event. Your audience can tell the difference between an authentic event and an event that came out of a box. Be genuine, conversational and straight forward. You have requested not only your audience’s attention and focus, but their time, too. Make it worth it! Have fun with your sessions and remember – talk to people, not computers.

Great examples of gauging your crowd’s temperature are surveys (before, during and after your event), polling questions (throughout presentations to keep them involved and provide real-time feedback to incorporate into your discussions), and contests (can be silly or serious). These add an element of fun and competition. Use this feedback to strengthen your current event and let it provide the data you need to make your next event even better.

The pivot to virtual events this past year has not come without its challenges but if you start thinking outside the box and take these hard-earned lessons learned to heart, you may even be able to create events that are just as good (or close) to the real thing. If you’d like more information on the virtual events landscape, contact us.


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