A few months ago, in the wake of the pandemic, the entire meetings and events market became fully virtual, a remarkable shift that happened almost overnight. Rather than cancel or postpone, many Yes& clients decided to give virtual events a shot—and now they’re glad they did.
Since then, Yes& not only produced several big and complex virtual events (including the largest-ever ASAE Annual Meeting with 14,000+ attendees!), but also numerous award shows, recruiting events, and other meetings.
What have we learned? A LOT. Here are just a few examples:
- You can’t simply take a live event and put it online. You have the opportunity to create an entirely different experience, something designed to exist online. Once you begin thinking this way, you’ll be less frustrated by the limitations and more excited by the opportunities.
- The value of the content is the same. So as long as your audience is willing to listen, you have the opportunity to reach them more effectively than ever. Use the virtual opportunity to bridge the gap.
- Leverage the opportunity for additional media coverage. More reporters cover virtual events; whereas for many live events, only local press would attend physically. Expand your media outreach accordingly.
- Reach to far-flung speakers! Not only can you reach a broader audience, but you also can bring in speakers from around the country/world who might not have been available for n in-person event. Case in point: the ASAE Annual meeting typically has 5,000-6,000 in-person attendees, but this year drew 14,000.
The shift to virtual events has knocked down a lot of misconceptions, and identified challenges in the virtual event space:
- Moving to virtual doesn’t necessarily decrease your budget. What you save in physical space and in-person logistics must be applied to delivering a better event experience. That means investing in a great platform, and engaging a great production company that can be your thought partner in pushing the boundaries of what's possible.
- Virtual events are not less work. Virtual events can require more work for you as an organizer, due to the amount of research, testing, and prep required. That includes advance calls with speakers, troubleshooting technical issues, platform setup, etc. Day of, there can still be technical issues, even if everything worked fine during rehearsal. Staff accordingly, and have a plan for when speakers get disconnected, the platform goes down, there are WiFi issues, and the like.
- Unlike the captive audience of a live event, the audience for a virtual event has a lot of distractions. You cannot fully shape their environment or the circumstances of their participation. So, accept and embrace the potential distractions from kids, spouses, pets, and roommates. Think how can you bring those environments into your event and make them part of the experience. Use disruptions by turning them into event elements or sessions (Whole Family programming, Let’s Grab Lunch sessions, etc.) rather than try to fight them.
There’s no question that virtual events are here to stay—and this kind of pivot is what’s going to make our clients prosper in this new economy. Below, we’ve gathered some best practices and real-world advice from Yes& events team members, who range from AV specialists and videographers to show flow strategists and script writers.
Explore the benefits of prerecording
Our team found that the more you can prerecord, the better! Though it's important to have some live components for engagement (such as chat, Q&A, and networking rooms), prerecording can prevent technical headaches and produce a polished event.
For the ASAE Annual Meeting, we prerecorded the officers’ speeches using a professional camera crew, lighting, teleprompter, and a green screen background that let us put a consistent conference brand behind the speakers. We didn’t approach it as an online version of a live speech, but rather as its own medium.
Take advantage of prerecording to:
- Keep scripts tight and short. Three to four minutes is optimal, focused on the essential, most engaging content with no fluff and no meandering.
- Let speakers record multiple takes, ensuring a solid, polished performance (even from amateur presenters).
- Make speakers look good, thanks to the professional lighting and background; and sound good with professional microphone placement. A good setup gives speakers presence and immediacy and affords more intimacy than they have in a live environment.
- Keep costs down and improve safety by bringing the speakers to prerecord their presentations with a single crew in a single location.
- Pull together a variety of presenters and content so they are presented seamlessly to the viewer, with animation and transitions between each speaker, eliminating any awkward gaps and delivering a highly polished sequence.
- Maintain a smooth flow and steady pace with no stumblings or ramblings, awkward silence, or waiting for people to reach the stage, or A/V or tech issues. Your audience is more likely to stick with your program from beginning to end, as the variety of speakers, visuals, music, transitions, etc. keep them focused on the content.
Remember those distractions for a remote audience? The more you give people something to do, rather than just watch, the more engaged they will be.
- Give speakers someone to play to by having someone else physically in the room for live elements and recordings. Having another person present creates energy that is difficult to muster in isolation. Speakers also benefit from real-time feedback from the other person, who’s laughing (quietly) at humor, nodding at good points, and providing physical response that is so lacking in the virtual realm. (Be sure to check out our 3-part blog series on speaker's tips for virtual events.)
- Moderate engagement! Whether it is a chat room, video networking, or another format, use a facilitator to keep people engaged. If attendees go to a networking room and there's nothing going on, no one to greet them, or no one talking, they'll just leave. Have a plan for engagement and assigned moderators to create an environment that gets people excited to take part.
- Keep networking breaks near the beginning and the end of the program, but lock down those rooms and keep breaks to less than10 minutes. You lose people’s attention VERY easily in a virtual setting, so keep the content moving and engaging! Keep breaks short and sessions under an hour.
- Think of your audience as participants rather than attendees. Your audience is used to engaging online through active participation. It’s important to remember that.
Add sponsor value
Sponsors are generally willing to pay the same amount for a virtual event as in-person event, so long as the packages are matched in value. Here are some tips for keeping sponsors happy:
- Find out what is important to your sponsor (Exhibit table? Leads? Sending a gift bag to the attendees?) and make it work for your event.
- Since virtual networking isn’t the same as in-person at an exhibit hall, you need to have other opportunities for sponsors to get in front of the audience. Smart sponsorships may include the ability to introduce speakers, provide ads or videos to be shown during the program, or moderate breakouts and small groups.
- While your on-screen options will vary with your event platform, bottom screen messaging is a popular option, appearing for a few seconds to thank the sponsor without disrupting the content.
Adapt promotion for virtual events
Rethink how you communicate with prospects and attendees.
- Send registration for reminders (especially if it’s a free event). Showcase the event’s value and benefits and program elements to look forward to multiple times in the run-up to the event. Make it easy for participants to log in by sending a calendar link to their inboxes the morning of the event.
- Invest in paid social media promotions outside your normal target audience, to engage with people you wouldn’t normally reach. Especially if your events are normally local, you no longer have a travel barrier.
Just like an in-person show, a virtual event has a ton of moving parts and full-time jobs that need to be filled to make it come together. Whether it’s prerecorded materials, custom video, interactive engagement, or A/V wizardry, there’s no limit to what you can pull off with the right team.
Need more virtual event advice? Download our comprehensive virtual event checklist and our speaker's tips for virtual events.