Many organizers have spent their careers perfecting the art of running live experiences. With a global upsurge in hybrid and virtual models, planners must swiftly shift their mindsets and broaden their skill sets. So, what do they need to adapt for digital-first events?
Number One: Timing
Running a virtual event is not like running a physical event in terms of timing. A better comparison would be with producing a TV news broadcast – you've got to be split-second accurate on timing. Thirty seconds can feel like an age if nothing's happening on the screen. The ‘run of show’ for live events may be separated into 15-minute segments, whereas a virtual setup demands a minute-by-minute breakdown.
Number Two: Audience engagement
Audience engagement is the greatest challenge in the shift from physical to virtual experiences. A live event template cannot be replicated online. It isn’t normal to sit in front of a computer to watch a conference for hours on end – you must continually earn the attention of your audience. Historically, planners probably didn’t care as much about audience engagement as they should have. As long as auditoriums were filled, little attention was paid to those dozing in the back row or the ones scrolling through Instagram feeds on their phone. For virtual delivery, compelling content and a seamless experience is king. Consider reshaping a multi-day conference into shorter sessions across several weeks. People learn and absorb information more effectively when delivered in bite-sized segments.
Number Three: Back-up content
For technical hitches, insert a short pre-recorded video, eye-catching visual slides designed with your key messaging or a poll to encourage interactivity and keep engagement high. Even a simple slide informing your audience of a glitch is better than a blank screen.
Number Four: Professional emcees
A mediocre host will fall down if unfamiliar with a virtual events platform. Commenting aloud on the tech or saying things, such as: “Can everybody hear me?” will cue eye rolls from your audience. The answer is to splash the cash on a professional emcee with experience in live TV presenting. A live host is more engaging, and they will put speakers at ease, breeze through the Q&A and fill any unexpected gaps with icebreakers or captivating conversation. Industry knowledge simply isn’t as important for online presenters because questions from the audience come in typed and can be easily moderated by an expert behind the scenes.
Number Five: What replaces the radio?
At live events, the organising team are either all in the same room, or have radios, making communication easy. Newbies to virtual events must remember that event teams may no longer be in the same building, let alone the same hemisphere. Establish an extra comms channel in advance, such as WhatsApp or Slack, for when things go wrong.
Number Six: Take back control
When a keynote tunes in from a remote location, organizers can feel they have lost control over half of the technical delivery. AV technicians become reliant on the quality of the speaker’s tech and Wi-Fi connection. Run test after test to iron out problems and take back control. Rehearse with speakers in the room they will be using. For example, if a speaker rehearses at home and then switches to their office on the day, hard floors and large rooms can create a significant echo – and one for the event disasters list.