Is Now the Time to Switch Event Formats?

It will soon be one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Although the world’s biggest vaccine rollout is now underway, organizations are struggling to decide whether to move forward with a virtual event or postpone. Last year, many pushed in-person events back to 2021, and are now realizing this year may be no more conducive to hosting an in-person event.

If the purpose of your event is to build business relationships, it may not be in your company’s best interest to delay making the switch to online any longer. After all, failure to keep doing business through the pandemic may leave you without it on the other side.

Here’s what my team has learned since hosting our very first virtual event last June.

It’s Not a Solo Show

Organizing a virtual event is a team effort. We easily have four to six people working full-time for weeks to prepare for a live production and flawless execution.

Key to the team is our graphic designer. Although the online platforms are user-friendly and we can technically upload colours and images ourselves, the quality of the show is so much greater when working with graphics designed for the platform and custom-made for our client’s brand.

Just as important are our audiovisual (AV) members. The production run sheet requires even further detail as every minute must be accounted for and movement planned, especially when working with a mix of live and pre-recorded content. Our AV partners are now an active part of the virtual management team, not just a subcontractor, as they’re needed leading up to the event in addition to on the day itself.

Speaker management is much more involved than an in-person event as the approach to delivering a memorable presentation and keeping the audience’s attention is very different. To set speakers up for success and ensure the best experience for delegates, dedicated team members work with them to ensure they’re well-prepared and comfortable with the digital format.

Companies participating in a virtual event for the first time also require guidance. This is where our marketing specialists come in. They can coach companies on how to interact and do business in a virtual way, and help them look their best on-screen.

Make Time for Additional Training and Q&A
Exhibitors and sponsors do not always read directions in user guides, so providing demo and training videos is helpful. However, even then, you’ll need staff who are readily available to answer their questions and talk them through the process over the phone.

Most clients have not hosted a virtual event before, so you’ll need to show examples, share explanations and present suitable options. This also makes the intake meeting extra important, during which we review up to 180 critical path elements.

Don’t Underestimate the Workload
Planning a virtual event can be just as time-consuming as an in-person one and perhaps even more challenging given the learning curve.

For any given event, there are countless tasks to tackle, including the conference agenda, production run sheet, building and managing the virtual platform, graphic design and creative, marketing and branding, and the list goes on.

Then there are all the unexpected issues you’ll need to troubleshoot. For instance, we’ve learned that relying on speakers to record their own presentations (on time) and transfer them to us is a huge ask. If they are local, we now record them in studio and then edit their presentation.

Stay Organized and Focused
There are so many event collaborators (speakers, exhibitors, sponsors, attendees) and the back-and-forth e-mails between the various parties can be overwhelming. Take control of your inbox and implement a process to collect information in an organized and streamlined manner. This way you won’t be stressed about missing something critical.

It’s also important to stick to deadlines. At a certain point, an unengaged exhibitor can hold up an entire event. Should this occur, it’s best to enforce the deadline, which means cutting some participants off from the event.

Whether big or small, in-person or online, the most important thing to remember when hosting an event is quality matters. Ten months ago, most people were understanding of technical glitches or incompetence in operating a digital platform. The expectation is much higher now. So, while it may be your first virtual event, it’s not your client’s and a subpar experience won’t cut it.

Sara Robinson is president of Host Event and Association Management. Based in New Brunswick, Sara and her staff plan and manage corporate events, meetings and conferences worldwide, and have recently developed their expertise in virtual events. She has 25 years’ experience in the hospitality and events industry, and currently sits on the board of directors for the Friends of the Moncton Hospital. Sara can be reached at [email protected].


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