5 Avoidable Mistakes When Planning Your Virtual Event
YOUR PLANNING DATA IS SILOED WITH MULTIPLE VERSIONS FLOATING AROUND.
Planning a virtual event is fundamentally different from a physical event in that the output of the process is data, not a physical space. All the production that happened physically now has to be accounted for in the data. Planning for virtual requires cross-functional teams. You’ll be collaborating with Marketing, Technology and Customer Support more than ever before. But it’s hard to collaborate when planning data is siloed on the Meetings team shared drive and other teams have multiple, out-of-date versions scattered throughout their inboxes. Solve this with an online planning tool or collaborative documents like Microsoft Office 365 or Google Docs. Ensure there is a single source of the truth that is easily accessible by all the teams that have input into the planning process. Use access control to allow only the right people to edit and version control to recover when someone inevitably makes a mistake. A virtual event is data so getting this right from the start pays huge dividends down the road.
YOUR PRESENTERS SKIP THE HANDS-ON TRAINING SESSIONS.
With all the experience we gained in 2020 participating in virtual events, it might be tempting to think your presenters can join 5 minutes before their session and wing it. They can’t.
There are many variables involved in a successful virtual presentation: internet connectivity, browser compatibility, good lighting, quality audio and “remind me how I present a video, again”. All of these details are easy to resolve but it’s far less stressful to do it in a training session instead of in front of thousands of online attendees.
Schedule several training sessions the week before your event. Give each and every presenter the opportunity to test-drive presenting on the platform rather than just observing. Make sure they’re on the same computer and in the same location that they will be on game-day. For presenters that can’t be persuaded to attend a training session, set up “green rooms” each morning before the event gets going to catch the stragglers.
Many “technical issues” are actually unprepared presenters. Avoid them with hands-on training.
YOU UNDERESTIMATE THE VOLUME OF ATTENDEE SUPPORT.
At a physical event, most attendees never need support, outside of initial check in and registration; they have had their whole lives to practice navigating a physical space. A virtual event and the specifics of your event platform are likely new for many of your attendees. Technology can represent an additional challenge.
Expect up to 50% of your attendees to interact with support during your event. Most support interactions are quick and they quickly become repetitive but the sheer volume can overwhelm an unprepared or understaffed support team. Ensure you have enough support resources, especially on the first day of the event, to handle requests in a reasonable amount of time.
YOU PLAN SESSIONS AND EXHIBITS BUT FORGET THE CONNECTION.
People attend events to expand their knowledge and find solutions to problems. But equally, if not more, important is the desire to meet like minded people and industry peers; to connect. And maybe, to have some fun. Directly recreating a physical event in a virtual space usually doesn’t work—who else got tired of “parties” on Zoom a week or two into the pandemic?—but it is possible to create social and networking opportunities that take advantage of the virtual environment. Create events that connect people by interests and hobbies outside of the main focus of your virtual event. Aim for formats that encourage a deeper connection in a smaller group of people then say, an opening party with thousands of attendees. Get creative with a chef-led cooking class or a storytelling hour. Make sure you have a moderator or an MC to get the conversation started and keep it going smoothly. The social and networking events are what will make your virtual event an experience that people feel.
“ I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou
YOU DON’T DO A RETROSPECTIVE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE EVENT.
Many organizations have years of experience producing physical events. Processes were slowly refined and improved to where it feels like second nature. A virtual event will feel foreign and uncomfortable and teams with years of experience will suddenly feel like it’s their first day on the job.
Accelerate the learning curve by planning retrospective meetings with all the stakeholders as soon as possible after the conclusion of the event. The retrospective is an opportunity to acknowledge what went well, celebrate victories and identify what can be better next time. Make sure this feedback is documented and used to improve the process for your next event
Gabe Casey, VP Success, JUNO (Former CTO, ACEP)