10 Steps to Planning a Successful Virtual Event
21st March 2011 by Sean Malone
We plan Virtual Events for companies in the UK and around the world. The technology being used by us and other Virtual Event suppliers is constantly evolving and there have been huge improvements to both the user experience and event outcomes in recent years which is great news for any company looking to take their events online.
A lot of our customers ask for advice on how best to plan a Virtual Event, often concerned that the skills and planning needed will be too complicated or difficult for them to carry out compared to conventional events.
The reality is that this is not the case and a lot of the principles between a conventional conference and an event based on the internet are the same. I have created a list below of 10 Steps that will help anyone thinking of organising a Virtual Event.
1. Don’t panic. A virtual event is simply an event which you can view on your laptop, or mobile device via the internet. With one or two exceptions, a virtual event and a real live event are very similar – with the same kind of preparation, planning and pre-production.
2. Focus on the audience. This is the big difference between virtual and live: your audience can log-off, switch to another task, or simply get up and walk away from their laptop whenever they like. There must be a strong reason for the audience to log-on, stay connected and remain fully engaged – you must define that reason, and if you can’t, then cancel the event until you can. Also, you need to decide the size and distribution of the audience (where they live). A UK based event for 30 delegates living in the UK will be less of a technical challenge than a global event for 3,000 delegates simultaneously logging-on from every point on the globe.
3. Less is more. A virtual event is much, much shorter than a live event. 30 minutes is a good length, more than 60 minutes, and boy there better be a good reason for the audience to stay watching.
4. Choose a suitable technical supplier. There are two big technical challenges that you need to overcome; and you will probably need to recruit a technical supplier, or suppliers to help you. The first thing that you need to do is work out who is going to host the event (the website that your invited audience will log-into). Select a supplier with a rock-solid track record. A reputable supplier will let you contact some of their customers to check the voracity of their claims. The second thing that you need is a supplier who will help you orchestrate all the creative elements (PowerPoint, music, video, graphics, presenters etc). If you are clever, then you will find one supplier who can deliver the whole turn-key package. But be wary: everybody claims that they can deliver technical and creative excellence, but few can.
Footnote on technical stuff: don’t get too bogged-down thinking about the security issues. The days are long gone when unauthorised access to on-line virtual events was a big problem. There are now loads of easy to apply, sensible precautions that any good technical provider will advise on.
5. Define the delegate experience and media elements. All that matters is what the audience can see, hear or do through their laptop, or mobile device. Your approach should be to keep it simple, do it well. The basic package that you will need is a branded desktop (branded to your event) with three boxes. The three boxes are 1: PowerPoint/WMV video box. 2: Live Video box (featuring the presenter/presenters). 3: Live Chat Box. Ideally, the audience should be able to move, or re-size each of the three boxes to suite their individual viewing needs.
Concentrate on orchestrating the activity of those three boxes, rather than finding a supplier who can supply lots of different boxes.
6. Decide if the event is going to be live, or look like it’s live. Take my advice and make it look live, rather than being live. Most of the programming that you see on your television screen is pre-recorded, and for a very good reason: it’s much easier to control the content, quality and creative excellence. Don’t choose the live event as the moment to end your career.
7. Source a suitable venue. This is where you can waste, or save lots of money. I have two pieces of advice. 1. Rehearse the whole event (as best you can) in a meeting room at your offices – miles before you get anywhere near the actual recording venue. Taking this approach will tease-out the gremlins from your planned event and allow you to edit the raw content down into a manageable programme. 2. Book a professional green screen studio, or virtual studio to record the entire event: they will have things on-site like sound, lighting, cameras, prompt, PowerPoint, video record and experienced crew.
8. Orchestrate your messaging around a single creative theme. Carefully repeat one creative theme across all the communication mediums (invitation email, landing page, video, graphics, PowerPoint, backgrounds etc). Remember, you only need to invest in what the audience can actually see, so unless you’re using a virtual studio, only invest in the lighting background/environment that your presenters are going to be standing/sitting in.
9. Use a host, or MC to link everything together. Think of your virtual event as a TV magazine programme where the presenter links everything together: a mix of different elements (presentations with PowerPoint, WMV video play out, on-screen demonstrations, discussions etc). The better the host, the better the flow, the better the audience engagement.
10. Test, test and test again. Don’t take anybody’s word that “it’ll be alright on the day”. It won’t, unless you make it so. Arrange for a test, several tests, to make sure that your target audience can easily log in, view and hear what’s happening and that there are no glitches, bumps, or lip sync problems. Be aware that you can’t change the world; the internet speed in Madagascar is awful and it’s brilliant in South Korea, and that won’t change just because you’re running a virtual event on the internet. Your aim in all things should be to achieve an optimal experience (a compromise between rich HD content and easy to view performance).
I hope you have found these 10 steps useful. If you think I have missed any out please do add a comment below, it would be great to hear from you.
You may also like these posts and pages:
- Virtual Events are the Future!
- 10 Reasons Why Your Company Should Host a Virtual Event
- 10 Reasons Why Some Virtual Events Fail
- How to Plan, Host & Run a Virtual Event - 5 Tips
- How to Increase Audience Engagement During a Virtual Event
- Visit the Virtual Events page of our website
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