COVID-19 has easily disrupted everything in your life, but it doesn’t need to mean cancelling your large event, conference or summit. With the right strategy, tools, and creative team behind you, you can carry on virtually with just as much success.
As our team has been navigating this shift and producing several successful virtual events for our clients, we’ve been studying, experimenting, and learning quite a lot. Yes& has provided annual meeting support to ASAE for more than 16 years. That’s why we reached out to our colleague Reggie Henry, Chief Information and Engagement Officer at ASAE, to get his insight on using Zoom and special nuances to consider to make your virtual event a success.
In this deep dive into the details of just what this platform can facilitate, you’ll discover how you can best make it work for you. We’ve done the research, talked to experts, vetted the technology, and executed large scale virtual events for our clients; and these are the top takeaways:
# 1. Map Your Route to Success & Plan for Detours:
First things first: what are you hoping to accomplish with your webinar or virtual event? What are your goals and objectives? How are you measuring its success? And, what do you want your audience to be knowing and feeling when they ‘x’ out of your window? “We tend to change things to fit the technology, but you don’t have to, and you shouldn’t,” urges Henry. He continues, “If you know what you’re trying to accomplish logistically, the technology is secondary.”
For example, Zoom allows you to conduct multiple sessions in unison, create breakout rooms, control timing for speakers and breakouts, and add and subtract panelists with the click of a button. However, undeveloped answers to the above questions, as well as disorganized and monotone presentations will cause your attendees to glaze over and lose interest. “All these technologies do more or less the same things. Don’t get overwhelmed, and don’t lose sight of what people are there for in the first place,” says Henry.
Once you’ve determined what the skeleton of your event looks like, drafted out timetables for sessions and panelists, and developed a firm grasp on what you need to achieve, you can enable a practice session. Using Zoom’s webinar mode, as an example, you can easily keep attendees in the “virtual lobby” while your presenters do a quick tech check. Until you hit broadcast, your attendees will be none the wiser—and, as a bonus, you can build excitement watching numbers rise while attendees wait for the show to begin. An experienced creative agency can act as your sounding board, iron out the wrinkles, and help you avoid any pitfalls you may be too
distracted to see.
#2. Meeting Mode vs. Webinar Mode:
Now that you’ve decided what you want to achieve, you are better equipped to make decisions regarding what will serve you best. Zoom, for example, has two options: Meeting Mode vs. Webinar Mode.
Meeting Mode is ideal when your desire is to hold a more interactive session with your attendees. It allows for smaller breakout groups and gives the host the power to organize up to 50 separate rooms and split and move the attendees around to cover various topics throughout the course of the event. This mode can offer the ability to organize an event for as many as 1,000 people, and gives the host maximum mobility to move in and out of various rooms. “You’re able to set timers on rooms for further control and combine the private chats in each room into a single resource that can be used to gain further insight and potentially help guide you in creating follow up materials for your attendees,” suggests Henry.
You can also broadcast things to breakout rooms, and pair an Excel or CSV file with Zoom in advance to enable breakout sessions to begin automatically. Make sure the session names in Zoom match those in your CSV or Excel file to assign attendees correctly to the sessions they requested when they registered for your event. This mode allows you to take polls and provide panelists with individual URLs for more precise control. Although the participants will have control over their video function, this mode gives hosts the ability to set all the participants to mute and un-mute as desired. Alternatively, the participants can easily mute and un-mute themselves to facilitate more participatory breakout sessions. Given the more intimate nature of Meeting Mode, your attendees will be able to see all the other participants in the meeting; so this feature may serve networking opportunities better.
Webinar Mode is ideal for larger-scale events that are open to the public. It can welcome up to 10,000 participants. The three main roles include host, panelist, and attendee. Only the host and the panelist will have control of their microphones, while attendees will be automatically placed in “listening mode” only. In this mode, only the panelists and the host’s cameras will be active. “The biggest fail here is when one person tries to do too much,” warns Henry. “You really need a full, and well versed team behind you to pull this off successfully,” he continues, “Make sure to have a designated producer, to supervise and coordinate the various components, a moderator to keep the flow going and parse out questions and topics with the appropriate timing, someone to monitor the Q & A section, and someone who is actively combing the chat for valuable participant input and insight.” If you see something interesting going on in the chat section you have the option to promote an attendee to panelist status briefly to contribute to the broadcast and then redirect them back to attendee status at your discretion.
#3. Envelop Them in Experience:
Remember that whatever you decide works best to reach your goals, it’s important that people realize the value that you provide through every touch-point in their journey—from registration, to pre-event materials, event content, and post-event follow ups. “While it may be tempting to brand your virtual event, remember that it takes up valuable real estate to do so, and you may be better off depending on your pre- and post-materials to get your brand messaging across,” suggests Henry.
Partner with a creative agency to ensure you weave compelling storytelling and entertainment value into your virtual soiree. You could plan to compile stats and facts about your panelists, like their backgrounds, years in the industry, and perhaps even their Linkedin connections. Your creative agency could put a video or interactive microsite together that allows attendees to learn about their speakers, see their mutual connections, register, sign up for break out sessions, write in some questions they already have, and see who else will be in attendance. Offer up some fun activities like trivia, downloads for useful content, or sign-ups for one on one audits with a few of the panelists or the companies they represent.
To keep the momentum going for the day of, you can work with your creative agency to make sure people can use your microsite throughout your event to get the information they need, download or engage with the things they want, and see some recorded content from the breakout sessions they couldn’t attend. The important thing here is to keep things engaging, interactive, and interesting.
After you’ve blown people away and the buzz around your event circulates on everyone’s social channels, be prepared with valuable follow-up. Perhaps you opt for notes and highlights of each panel from that day, or keep things interactive and send out a quiz to see how much they learned and get some valuable feedback about what content made the strongest impressions.
A virtual event worth attending and paying for requires a highly motivated and diligent production team. Henry reminds us, “Whatever you do, don’t dumb down the experience out of fear of the technology. The technology is user-friendly, and it’s here to help you engage effectively.” Know what you want to accomplish, choose the right path needed to navigate to your end goal, get creative with the experience, and most importantly, do not underestimate the human power required to pull off a successful virtual event. Just like a live show, your virtual one also has a ton of moving parts and full-time jobs that need to be filled to make it come together. Whether it’s pre-recorded materials, custom animations, fun special effects, interactive and modern microsites, or real-time polls or games, there’s no limit to what you can pull off with the right team.