It’s time to take some notes and learn how to plan better virtual events! So as we all know, the events industry is witnessing a major shift. And many planners are looking to turn their in-person events into virtual events. But because this is fairly new ground, very few people know what it entails. Or even where to get started. And when we’re going in blind, chances are, we’ll be making plenty of mistakes…some of which are more than avoidable.
This is why this week’s Event Brew is all about how to plan better virtual events. Will Curran and Thuy Diep are the two members of the Brew Crew who are about to lay down some wisdom. So if you’ve been wondering exactly what it takes to put together a successful virtual event, then look no further. Grab your favorite drink and let’s get brewing!
Will has been meeting with a lot of people who want to try and understand virtual events. “The most common thing I’m hearing a lot from planners right now is, “I don’t know what’s possible.” Honestly, I have a lot of friends who aren’t in the industry who are like, “I never thought a virtual event could even exist and what this looks like.” It’s crazy how hybrid events have existed for so long, and those were very, very popular. Now, virtual events are taking 100% of this front stage. What I’m seeing is that there’s a lot of people making so many gigantic mistakes”, he explains.
So yes, virtual events are very much possible. And they bring a lot of pros to the table! The thing is, you need to be mindful of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Which brings us to the most common mistakes people have been making.
Zoom Isn’t Going To Save You
One of the scenarios Will heard recently came from someone who decided they didn’t need a Virtual Events Production company. And the solution they went with? Zoom. “People are like, “Yeah, we’ll just do our event on Zoom. Let’s do a webinar. We’ll just put everybody in a room,” and things like that. I think that’s a really bad idea. Guys, people are used to these high-end experiences, going into high end-hotels. You’re saying, “Let’s use the same web conferencing offer that I used for my meeting yesterday to deliver the same level of experience,” that someone may have been spending $400, $500, whatever it is”. And spoiler alert – this is not how you plan better virtual events!
Education Is Your Friend
“There are so many more options out there. Utilize them”, says Will. “And utilize the other event professionals around you. I think the number one favorite thing they’ve been writing it to each other is, “We’re all in this together.” Why is not every single planner out there reaching out to the people that they know? And saying, “What can you help me with?”
“I get it. They might not be the best person at all. But you’ll know when you have a conversation with them. They’ll ask you smart questions. They will not look at this as just, “Yeah. Here’s how you use this tool, and here’s the tool,” and boom, you’re done. It’s not the AV company who says, “Hey, here’s a speaker, good luck. Figure it out.” Or, “Hey. Yeah, you need this speaker and I’ll set it up for you,” and you have no idea how it works. You want someone who’s going to educate you through the entire process”.
The Impact of Better Virtual Events
“So, I definitely feel like the conversations are totally different than they’ve ever been before. And I think partially because everyone’s in kind of in a panic mode. Because people are blank slates and thinking, “How can I do this differently?” I actually, really like it. Because the biggest outcome I think will be the evolution of in-person events. I’m talking to people about, “Maybe you need to cut out more content. Maybe instead of doing three days of breakouts, do two hours of it. Pick your best presentations and put them online.” It’s kind of exciting just watching everybody think really critically about their events. And how it can totally look differently. It’s kind of nice, it’s kind of refreshing actually”.
A Time For More
Thuy reflects on the current situation with a positive outlook. “This is your building time to continue your legacy”, she says. “This is the time for self-improvement, for professional improvement. So, for me, those are the kind of conversations I’m having. I like strategic thinking. I think everyone needs, especially at this time, to be very creative problem solvers. So, for me, it’s not panic mode. It’s more changing and shifting, and being creative in a different way. That’s what I was saying to you. These planners, and even people I’ve had conversations with, we only know what we know”. So this is the perfect time to learn how to put together better virtual events. Because this might just be the future!
“One of the things that bother me is picking a tool because it feels familiar”, says Will. “For example, I’ve seen a lot of people gravitate towards platforms and virtual event tools that feel like a personal event. I can’t tell you how many people are like, “Yeah, could we make it sort of as a show floor and people can click on it and go ‘visit’ vendors?” I’m like, “Do you want to do that? Would you do that at an event?” I think that’s the question no one’s asking. Everyone wants to pick what’s familiar to them. But guys, we all know how to navigate a website. We all know how to see there’s navigation at the top. Click on it to go through different things. Think of it as a website first, not an event. I think that that’s a big problem we’re seeing”.
“I think one of the things that bug me the most is when presenters aren’t prepared with good audio”, says Will. “I think we’re about to see a revolution in remote speakers. It’s crazy how many people show up and do webinars, and they just use the onboard microphone, or they use the headset. AirPods. You know what I mean? Obviously, too, you have a microphone and everything like that because we want to make sure we have you set up for success. And have the best quality audio and everything like that. I think there’s just so many speakers and presenters out there that are just using crappy audio. I can’t listen to it”.
Addressing Your Audience
When you’re a speaker in a virtual event, you have to make sure you acknowledge your audience. They’re still there, and they’re a paramount part of the whole thing! “I think far too often speakers don’t address what’s going on in the chat rooms”, says Will. “My number one tip as a speaker for better virtual events is to tell everyone at the beginning of the webinar: “Post where you’re coming from right now. Just put it in the chat, put it in the question to me. Just post where you’re coming from.”
“It’s an opener to get people to start using that platform and using the chat, or using the question panel”, he adds. “Giving shoutouts to people. I do that, and what’s funny is it blows up really fast. Because everyone sees that you are live and you are actually engaging with people. Just quickfire through it. And it just shows you’re a live, real person. It makes them go, “My contribution to this chat or into this question panel matters because he’s going to look at it.”
“So, the way that I envision people being able to do breakout rooms, it’s as simple as the ability for you to create almost a page that people come to. And it’s like a hallway. We’ll use the in-person physical tendency. You have a hallway, and that hallway has doors. This is the same thing as a webpage that had just a bunch of different boxes you could click that say, “Go into this room”. You click on that room, and then you enter within that room via video, or chat, or whatever it is. That’s the simple aspect of it. So, totally doable. Then you ask, “Do I have the ability to invite people for one on one chats from that point?” I would say, that’s how you recreate breakout rooms”.
“If you want to recreate the in-person networking experience, I think there are tools for that. For example, I think you should set up profiles. Because I think attendee profiles are even more important. Before it used to be badges and you walked around and dressed professionally. That’s how people recognized that you were here, that’s how they knew to interact with you. Or maybe they bumped into you in the hallway, or maybe you were just sitting at a booth. I think the profile is the equivalent of the badge now for virtual events”.
Hoppin In & Out
Thuy is curious to know whether or not it would be possible to hop from one chat room to another. “Yeah, totally. I mean, think about YouTube Live right now. You can hop on YouTube right now, click on, “Show me all of the live streams that are going on,” and you can choose. “Oh, hey. This band’s playing live at this concert, let me watch.” And everyone’s chatting with each other. Then you leave, and you’re like, “Okay. Let me watch this person who’s live streaming their video games.” Same exact concept, essentially, along there. I’m giving shout outs to a lot of entertainment companies who’ve been hitting me up who are like, “We want to survive this. How can we go virtual?” People are figuring out how to use entertainment virtually as well”.
The Next Step For Audience Engagement
“So, this is where virtual event companies don’t really stand up”, says Will. “Let’s say, for example, someone’s giving a presentation. All of a sudden we want to make it so you can see everybody who’s watching, and see their webcams, and allow them to talk, and walk up to a microphone. It’s not necessarily the easiest thing to be done”.
“The way we would do it is we use some proprietary live streaming systems. And some switchers, and a lot of broadcast TV level stuff that we use. We could bring in a Zoom call and allow people to do it. I think the next step is if I could have the ability that you’re sitting in the audience, and I can just drag you in and put you on screen and allow you to ask your question… And allow people to engage that way. Super awesome. I think that’s a huge level of engagement. The software’s kind of there, but a lot of systems aren’t 100% there. It’s going to need a little bit of customization. I mean, that’s where you talk to your supplier partner, at Endless, or another virtual event company. We’re a virtual event production company. That’s where we come in to be able to help with that sort of thing”.
Make Better Virtual Events, Be Part Of The Change
“As much as I want to bag on people doing virtual events poorly and them not working very well, there’s now the wide-open field of opportunity for these better virtual events. We get it. Not everything’s just going to be perfect. But guess what guys? By us making this evolution, we are going to all work together to make this even better as well. If no one’s setting the rules, set the rule and say what it is. Stake your claim. We realized very, very quickly that we’ve been doing virtual events for a long time, but we were primarily an AV company. Well, people need help with this virtual stuff, so we’re saying we’re a virtual event company now. No one’s stopping you, guys. You can make the evolution, and you can make this happen as well”, says Will.
“My favorite thing right now is a lot of people are pushing out content. There’s a lot of crappy content going out there right now. If their blog post has five bullet points, and it’s like, “Here’s how to do a virtual event in five simple bullet points.” Disregard that. Making better virtual events is complex, but it’s also not complex. For people to come out and give very surface level stuff like, “Think of the message.” I’m like, “Guys, we’ve been talking about this stuff for events for a long time. Don’t take any surface value stuff that applies to normal events. Take all the stuff you’ve learned from your events and now apply it virtually in what you have learned 100%.” So, I think that’s one of the first things I tell people who want to learn more about this”.
And that’s a wrap on this week’s episode of the Event Brew! Hopefully, now you’re less hesitant about taking the leap into making better virtual events. And if you need guidance, make sure you chat with us! Plus, don’t forget to tune in next week for another incredible edition of the podcast!