by Morgan Truncale
Since the start of the pandemic, associations and event organizers have been experimenting with different ways of engaging their audiences. As we all know, online gatherings have become immensely popular, and they’re clearly not going away any time soon. These events can range from small question-and-answer sessions to large-scale conferences with thousands of attendees.
Even while some are moving back to face-to-face meetings, keeping some of your events online can reduce costs, lower company’s carbon footprints, and even make attendance accessible to a wider audience. From tweeting to livestreaming, businesses and organizations are hosting virtual events across the web. So, is your company ready to get digital?
Picking the Right Platform
Big or small, every event should have a strategy. Start with a key goal and concept for the event, and then take it from there. The earlier you can get planning, the better!
Before choosing your virtual platform, be sure to answer the following questions for your association:
- Will the event be live, on-demand, or both?
- Will the even be hybrid?
- Where do I want the content to be seen?
- Will access be gated or free?
- How will you handle event registration?
- How will you promote the event?
Consider Long-Term Goals
While it is integral to think about how the platform fits into your company’s immediate goals, it’s also important to weigh your organization’s long-term goals. Consider asking these strategic planning questions for the future: Does this virtual events platform integrate with in-person events? Does this virtual events platform have the capacity to continually grow my company’s online audience over the years? Will this virtual events platform provide my audience with an engaging, consistent user experience for years to come?
Timing Is Everything
Regardless of the size of your event, choosing the right date and time for your event is integral! Before sending out any “save the dates” to your network, it’s helpful to do a little research.
First, be sure there are no competing events or holidays that would interfere with your attendance.
If the data is available to you, run some analytics to determine when your community is typically active online. For a firmer consensus, your association might want to consider sending out or posting a poll to record your members’ preferred dates.
Also, depending on the locations of your community members, you may want to take time zones into consideration as well. If your association plans to go global, try your best to pick a time that works for as many of your customers and followers as possible! If that doesn’t seem possible, then make sure content is still accessible after the live presentations for those who couldn’t make it. It may also be worthwhile to plan multiple networking sessions and different virtual events for different time zones.
Preparing your Presenters
Once you’ve determined your event goals and selected the appropriate program to support it you will want to choose a moderator. Selecting the right moderator or group of moderators will set the tone for your entire event. It would be best to have internal staff or a board member who is well versed with the material, and who will hopefully maintain a cool composure should you encounter any issues during the program.
To best ensure a smooth flow, you will want to prepare detailed scripts for your moderators to follow. Warning: this task can be time-consuming for larger events! For instance, if your program will last around four days, then you will need to carve out at least a day or two to construct a full script. If you have multiple moderators, then you will want to consider multiple scripts specific to their portions to lessen any confusion.
It’s also important to do any test runs with your moderators or presenters prior to the event to be sure their computers are compatible with the program you will be using, and so that they will be comfortable with their roles when it comes time to shine. Speaking of shinning, your presenter’s lighting in their room is integral to maintaining a clear picture. Be wary of presenters using low end photo-shop backdrops, as they can be glitchy in large scale programs. Also, tell moderators or presenters to be mindful of any unintentional background noise or motions that may be disturbing, such as a fan spinning on ceiling.
Unlike many in-person events, people can register the day of a virtual event. This heavily changes advertisement schedules, and you may be posting invites the day of the event which is uncommon.
To ensure people show up to your virtual event, you may want to incentivize signing up early. Rather than monetary commitments, you might consider offering pre-conversation opportunities for attendees to chat with presenters or leaders prior to the actual engagement. You may also consider releasing some content to this group before the live presentation to get people tuned in. This can be done via email, website, or social media.
Get Ready for Breaks
Being in a virtual setting allows for some creative advertisements, or interludes. Depending on which platform you are using, you may have the option to choose between posting video or static slides during breaks. There are a handful of different content opportunities such as, a Waiting Room, Organizational Advertisements, Sponsor Advertisements, Announcements, or Leads to websites.
Remind your sponsors or partners early on that they will have the chance to display advertisements throughout your virtual event, and, depending on your platform’s abilities, you may be able to have the ads link to “spaces” within their virtual event or even link to sponsors. Use these breaks or “spaces” to create a sponsorship space where attendees can visit and learn more about the event’s sponsors.
Your main concern for managing these break spaces is that they are not always at a set time. Lengths of breaks can change based on presenter’s own timelines, so be sure to remind your presenters why it is important to adhere to their time periods or have a moderator that is prepared to remind your speakers of their time if they are risking running over.
Keeping Participants Engaged
Maintaining your viewer’s engagement is harder since people are one tab or text away from distractions. If you make your production feel like more of a story setting than a presentation, it may help to encourage consistent viewer focus.
Your association may consider planting discussion starters or leading questions from presenters or moderators to the audience. It’s simple. If you create opportunities for engagement, your audience will be more engaged.
For example: Ask your viewers to submit questions or comments or through a chat tool. Chances are the people who ask questions are going to stick around to see if they get answered. If you do this, then make sure to have a moderator assigned to the task of fielding questions!
Additionally, most online platforms have interactive features. Ask your participants to participate in polls or quizzes, encourage live tweeting, or simply shout-out names as people tune in. At the end of the event, don’t forget to ask for feedback!
No matter how prepared you are for your online event the chance of error is always right around the corner. For virtual events, the chances of technical errors are much higher than at an in-person event. Your presenter’s microphone input could stop working or maybe your keynote speaker or attendees signal dwindles mid-presentation. That’s why having a plan in place to offer live troubleshooting for presenters and participants is a must.
To help alleviate those technical issues, post a FAQ email or page to answer common issues with logins or registrations. Determine who in your team will offer live troubleshooting if possible. If the time is available, offer teaching sessions on how to use the platform to both staff and attendees.
Enjoy Your Virtual Event
Online gatherings are here to stay, and organizations need to be prepared for an uncertain future. So, is your association ready to get digital?
Do you need help planning your association’s virtual event? Contact IMI Association Executives today! We’ve helped numerous clients plan and execute successful online gatherings. Contact us today!