Over the past few months, event planning has taken a shift in direction as virtual events become the new normal – and we’re here for it! From webinars to livestreams to Twitter chats, our Jackson Spalding Events team has been planning and managing virtual events for years.
When it comes to virtual event planning, our approach is similar to how we’d plan an in-person event. If you’re taking your event online, here are a couple things you should consider during the event planning process:
Virtual Event Planning During COVID-19
Choose Your Leader
To have a successful event, choose your event lead carefully. This team member will manage and keep track of every last detail. They will be responsible for creating a timeline, assigning team roles and responsibilities and ensuring your event is seamless and stress-free.
Develop an Event Concept
Begin planning your virtual event by determining the goal and objective. To get here, we typically like to kick off with a brainstorm. We can all agree that the best and most creative ideas often emerge from gathering a team together, harnessing collective brain power and sharing different perspectives and experiences. Jackson Spalding has been hosting effective, interactive brainstorms for as long as we can remember, and our team of trained facilitators knows that the key to success is having the right people in the room. Include individuals who have planned an in-person event in the past, as well as ideators and digital experts who will help think through how to promote your event online.
Sometimes, clients or other key stakeholders like to join initial brainstorms so they can be part of the creative process and provide feedback upfront. Be sure to take stock of all who can contribute big ideas as well as those who will be making vital decisions about the event. And after your brainstorm, make sure to walk away with a clear definition of your goal, audience, event format and event theme.
Implement Your Event Theme
Just because you won’t be hosting an in-person event, doesn’t mean you can’t have a prominent, compelling theme. You still need to develop a strong message and visuals to set the right tone and leave a lasting impression. Consider your invite, landing page, presentation, collateral, custom digital background and digital/mailed thank you cards as opportunities to carry your theme forward. Finally, be sure your theme serves the event purpose and remains consistent across all components of the event.
Choose Your Vendors
One benefit of virtual events is the limited number of vendors needed to pull it off. However, you will still need to research digital vendors and determine if added support will help you meet event objectives and reach your audience. As you may have guessed, for virtual events, the main vendor you will need to choose is the digital platform provider.
Some of our recommended platforms include:
Additional vendors to consider include printers and promotional companies. Why would you need these for a virtual event? To stand out in the (virtual) crowd, it may be good to invite contacts to your event with a traditional mailed invite – especially one that’s personalized and nicely designed. Similarly, you could also send a post-event gift to your attendees since they likely will not be receiving any event swag.
Determine Your Speakers
For virtual events, securing charismatic, engaging speakers will be key. These individuals must be able to engage with an audience they may not be seeing, be comfortable in front of a camera and roll with any technology challenges that may come up. In addition to speakers, also determine if you will host the event solo or partner with another individual, company, industry publication, etc.
Regardless of the type of event or who is involved, we always prepare our speakers by hosting a training session in advance. This session allows us to refine the presentation, practice talking points and test technology. Particularly if this is your first time planning a virtual event, a pre-event training can go a long way to smooth out any kinks in your process and bring to light the challenges you may face when it’s finally time to kick off your event.
Prepare Your Tech
Speaking of technology, it’s always best to be prepared for any tech challenges that may come up... and they will. Below are our top tips to consider:
- Ensure internet connection is strong and secure. When possible, encourage all hosts and presenters to use a hardwired internet connection. If a wireless connection must be used, make sure you and your speakers are in an area with a very robust and reliable WiFi signal.
- Log into the platform in advance. Never wait until “go” time to work out the audio and video bugs. Log into the platform you will be using for the speaker training session at least an hour before your event. This will help ensure your event starts on time and runs smoothly.
- Encourage all parties to close all other programs on their computer. To prevent meeting reminders or chats with colleagues from popping up in the middle of your event, remind your speakers and event facilitators to close all applications and mute any notifications.
- If the event is taking place on camera, direct speakers to place their laptop on a higher surface so the webcam is at eye level. This will help your speakers look much more buttoned up and prevent them from hunching over when speaking to the camera.
If, during rehearsal, you determine that any speakers need a higher quality webcam or microphone, consider shipping them an A/V equipment kit. And as a little motivator and thank you, have a delivery scheduled for them with a nice treat on event day – Chick-fil-A milkshake or cookie, anyone?
Engage your Attendees
Finding creative ways to engage attendees should be part of your initial event planning brainstorm. From the beginning, let them know what they will learn and tease upcoming information. The content you plan and present should be visually appealing, and the presentation should be clean with limited text and high-quality images.
Utilize your platform’s engagement options – are there comment boxes, polls or survey capabilities? And prepare questions in advance to share during your event. These will serve to break the ice and provide some fun interaction without derailing the rest of your event.
Lastly, who doesn’t like a little competition? If your event and content allow, think about hosting a giveaway or raffle to keep everyone on their feet. Consider extending this portion onto your social channels by having attendees post photos with your hashtag sharing where they are working or what they learned! For prizes, consider something you can send immediately, like a digital gift card that goes straight to their email.
Hosting a virtual event may not have been in your plans this year, but we encourage you to embrace it and try something new! If this isn’t in your wheelhouse, feel free to contact us. Our Events Team is ready to help!