PLANNING YOUR SUCCESSFUL VIRTUAL EVENT
As event professionals, we have all been required to navigate the landscape of current restrictions, creating our own path as we go. Many of our clients have been forced to reschedule—or cancel altogether—meetings and occasions that had been months in the making. We, here at BESTAgency, are no exception. Event Designers, Planners and Producers at BESTAgency have worked on a number of events recently and here is what we learned: although there is no substitute for an in-person event, especially when relying on telling intimate stories and making connections, virtual events do have the ability to entertain and set a tone that allows attendees an escape from reality for a short while.
We will use an event that BESTAgency had the honor of producing for our examples and discussion— a virtual variety show fundraiser benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The virtual show was hosted by Jeff Civillico –a juggler, entertainer, comedian, and philanthropist who recently celebrated a 10-year run as a headliner with Caesars Entertainment. He was joined by an exciting line-up of performers including Justin Willman from Netflix’s show “Magic for Humans,” Murray the Magician, twin tap dancers from Speigelworld’s Absinthe Sean and John Scott, aerial performers Duo Dragonwing, illusionist Jackson Rayne, Kyle & Mistie Knight from Knight Magic, Lorena Peril with the cast of Fantasy, and quartet Red Penny Arcade.
In addition to the entertainment, this Zoom event featured a silent auction. The event raised over $27,000 and counting for JDRF!!
Celia Wheeler, Executive Director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Nevada, reported that the biggest difference between in-person and virtual was the type of audience engagement. It can be very difficult to come through the fourth wall of the television or computer screen while maintaining a connection to the audience, although some prefer it that way. As a virtual attendee, Justin Micatrotto, JDRF Board President and owner of Floyd’s 99 Cuts and Color, said that the experience of viewing a virtual event was a great way to hang with his family on a Sunday afternoon. He enjoyed not having to get overdressed to go out—“It was come as you are.”
SUGGESTIONS FOR PLANNING YOUR VIRTUAL EVENT:
WRITE A SCRIPT! Organize everything minute to minute. Don’t forget about videos, slides, introductions, panels etc. Include all host material, videos, graphics, talent, and auctions/fundraisers. Use this to help develop a run of show for the production team to follow.
BUILD IN ADEQUATE REHEARSAL TIME. This is a new world and it takes longer than you think to build everything out. In addition to hosting JDRF’s “Together for a Cure” virtual variety show, Jeff Civillico has done over 100 events since February 2020, including Zoom hospital visits, longer format conferences with breakout sessions, and teaching juggling online. Jeff recommends at least a walk-through the day before the event, and a full dress rehearsal with all assets (slides, videos, speakers, etc.) in place. During the first rehearsal, you find out what needs to be worked out, i.e. if any videos are in the wrong format or content is pixelated. Then you have the full dress rehearsal to iron out any last minute snags. According to Jeff, “Virtual events take just as much work to plan as in-person events. It is different and new, so take it seriously and don’t phone it in.”
CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT. Successful virtual events tend to be ones that are driven by LIVE content. People don’t want to be in a virtual room with a hundred others watching and commenting on pre-recorded material for an hour. If it’s a virtual event, keep it as LIVE as possible. At least the host should be live, so he can interact with guests and hold their attention. Some pre-recorded video is fine, but the host should still be active on the chat window to make sure guests are interacting with the event. Also, make sure that all content is compelling and relevant. The second viewers feel that the momentum is slowing down, they go to the fridge and you lose them. Keep the event moving and interesting.
WORK WITH AN AMAZING TEAM! Do your research and put together a team that is dedicated to making your event a success. Communication between the team is key. Establish your goals and the message that will be sent to your audience in the early stages of planning. It is important to have someone on site acting as a producer, watching the time, cuing the videos, and calling the show. This takes the pressure off your virtual host, so he can focus on interacting with the guests and the client can relax!
HIRE A PERSONABLE, ENERGETIC HOST OR EMCEE! He/she will make or break your virtual event. Chris Johnston, owner of Truthful Studios, LLC, has been running the production operations with Jeff Civillico since February. A host can keep thingsrunning on schedule, ask questions that can’t be asked by the client, and segue from one speaker or video to the next. Plus, s/he can help to elevate the client’s value and reach fundraising goals. The host is the person that can reach through the screen to make sure audience members feel included. Chris said, “If there is anyone who can pull you closer into the action it’s Jeff. We’ve had 200+ people in a non-profit fundraiser and Jeff would ask everyone to share in the chat box where they are watching from. The avalanche of responses came rolling in and he is like an automatic gun firing right back at the audience live! It is a site to witness.” The difference between a virtual event and an in-person event really comes down to the engagement level of the host.
IDENTIFY YOUR ATTENDEES. The biggest challenge of planning your virtual event is how to get people to actually show up. It’s easy to sign up and blow off a virtual event, and if you do attend, it’s simple to leave. Don’t assume that all who signed up will attend or stay the whole time. With this in mind, is your audience primarily current clients or donors? Is the event to raise awareness of the organization, relying on new followers? Once you have identified your audience, you can format your marketing efforts as well as the event content and the way the host interacts with those individuals. This will make your audience feel like the event is relevant and personalized, which will hold their attention for longer than it takes to eat a bag of microwave popcorn.
ALL CONTENT SHOULD MATCH. One of the challenges BESTAgency faced with “Together for a Cure” was combining live video with pre-recorded content. When working with pre-recorded material, remember to leave time for editing and rendering videos. Check that sound and video output will match that of any live content. You do not want viewers reporting back that the pre-taped segments lacked the sound and video clarity of the in-studio live content. In our variety show scenario, this could make the event seem more like “America’s Home Videos” and less like “America’s Got Talent.”
TECHNOLOGY. Make sure you use a stable internet connection. Research the internet capabilities and upload speeds so you can render your videos appropriately. The recommended resolution for high-speed internet with encryption is HD 1920 x 1080; however, if the internet is not fast enough, go down to 1280 x 720.
CHOOSE A WORKABLE PLATFORM. We used Zoom to broadcast our event, because that allowed us to charge admission and send each attendee their own access link. Zoom lets the host interact with attendees in their chat windows, providing an opportunity to call out supporters and donors. Zoom also makes it easy to encourage the audience members to participate. Although, we encourage you to have a backup plan available, if possible, because no platform is perfect. If you encounter a problem and you can’t solve it through a web search, Chris Johnston says to “prepare yourself when contacting Zoom for a long wait… I’ve experienced more than a month of waiting to get a response as a paid, pro account user.”
Your virtual event can be a huge success with the right planning and research. It will pose similar challenges as an in-person event, like picking the best day and time to get the biggest audience. But, if you have relatable content and an energetic host, it is a great alternative for guests to interact with your organization. We hope that this proves to be a helpful guide in planning your virtual event. BESTAgency’s Event Designers, Planners and Producers are here to support your business or organization from conception through the development and filming to execution, so your only task is to enjoy a successful event and send your thank you messages to a very satisfied crowd!
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