So it’s time to host your virtual event? Take a deep breath. The good news is there are many tools to help make it a success. At M&C, we help organizations market and launch fundraising and educational events. And, it’s been a busy six months! Here are some tips from the trenches.
1. Choose the Right Platform — No matter what kind of event you host, the platform is key. Zoom is a common go-to, but there are others to consider. GoToMeeting/Webinar and Crowdcast are gaining in momentum. Other platforms are emerging as well. The advantage of Zoom is that people are relatively used to it, so part of the learning curve is solved. The downsides are it can feel like another ho-hum meeting, and some corporate environments are banning Zoom due to security issues.
When considering a platform, be sure to answer these questions.
- Can it handle the volume you need? I heard a nightmare about a huge educational event causing an entire platform to crash. The platform couldn’t handle the users or the heavy video file size, and attendees simply gave up. It’s best to find a platform that has handled an event much larger and more sophisticated than yours.
- Do they offer good support? Better yet, is a dedicated technical person assigned to you? There is nothing worse than needing answers and waiting 24 hours for an email response. Live chat support is good, but a live human is what you need.
- How do you handle registrations and data? Does the platform integrate with your current CRM/database or can you download/upload relevant data after the event?
- And lastly, cost. It can be tempting to pick a free or low-cost option because you don’t know what results the event will generate. In my experience, this is a misstep. Having the event go well technically with more customized branding (especially an inaugural event) usually outweighs any perceived cost savings.
2. Be Creative in Format — Many people are feeling more serious and somber these days. Consider ways to lighten up and change the pace of your virtual event. We’ve seen great success with organizations hosting virtual music breaks, surprise guests, interactive games and comedy routines. What can you do that is unexpected?
3. Test, Test, Test — The best laid plans, you know. We recommend having every speaker do a dry run to make sure they understand how to log in, when to log in and where to log in. Take nothing for granted. Check the experience from the users’ end, not just what it looks like when you are logged in.
4. Have Contingency Plans — What happens if your Internet goes out or a speaker can’t log in? No one wants to think about it, but it can happen. Consider having messages written in advance for these crises that you can quickly send out, even from your phone. Another great idea is to have prerecorded videos ready to launch in case of a problem with a live speaker.
5. Pump Up Your Marketing Before and After — Virtual events don’t seem to have the same anticipation that live ones do, but that doesn’t mean that buzz can’t be created. Power up your communications schedule. Remind people why they want to attend. Use testimonials from people who have already signed up in your social media. After the event, recap the highlights, so you build the foundation for even greater success next time.
6. Honor Your Sponsors — A logo on a screen may not be enough to appropriately recognize important sponsors who are feeling disappointed because your live event was cancelled. Stay in close communication with them to let them know they are still a priority. Many organizations overcome sponsor problems by inviting them to pre-record quick videos to be held throughout the event. You can also spotlight sponsors heavily in your communications leading up to the event.
7. Learn from Others — Reach out to others who have pulled off successful events. You can learn from their mistakes and failures. Attend other organizations’ virtual events to spark ideas. Make the most of your professional associations and online groups. Camaraderie is king when it comes to virtual events. In that spirit, check out a great success story from one of Kansas City’s most beloved events, turned virtual, on the M&C podcast!
Truth is, there will likely be a few snafus. Don’t be too hard on yourself. The learning curve is steep, and the timeline is probably shorter than you’d like. But as is so often said these days, we are all in this together.