Got a conference, workshop or seminar coming up? If you have ever considered transforming it into a virtual event, now is the time.
Many of us are working from home and following strict social distancing requirements when we do venture out, as the world’s governments struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Face-to-face meetings of more than two people were banned by the Australian government in March. But that doesn’t mean your next planned event has to be cancelled.
In fact, many of our clients are finding a greater than expected appetite to attend virtual events among their existing customer base. Attendance for their virtual events often over-achieves compared with average attendance rates for a similar face-to-face event.
With so many of us in social isolation at home, and working remotely, there’s a captive audience online for webinars, virtual conferences, seminars and events of all shapes and sizes: people who might never have considered attending a digital event in the past now have little alternative if the content is of interest.
One customer of Redback’s has doubled the average size of its audience for industry education webinars — and has experienced good uptake for a brand-new digital subscription package that replaces some of the physical event revenue lost in the current climate.
Another customer, which usually holds face-to-face supplier briefings at the beginning of infrastructure construction projects, took its planned briefing online in the space of a couple of weeks — and over-achieved attendance expectations by almost 400%.
There’s no question that there are fewer barriers to attending online events, particularly if an on-demand version is offered as well as a live stream. Geography and time zones are irrelevant, travel and accommodation costs negligible, and where organisations charge people to attend, the cost is usually lower.
With all that in mind, we’ve created a checklist to help you convert your next planned physical event into a digital one. Most events can be converted in six weeks, though big conferences will take longer. The process can be condensed to a couple of weeks if you’re under pressure.
6 weeks to go:
Create your virtual event agenda
Just as you would for a physical event, this means choosing your event format, structure and confirming your speakers. Liaise with your speakers and adjust the content for a COVID-19-impacted world where necessary.
Modify your event structure for a virtual audience
Have a mix of keynotes and panel discussions — and consider pre-recording some sessions so you can access international speakers in different time zones and make them available on-demand.
If your face-to-face event contained breakout sessions or workshops, these aren’t easily translated to an online format. Instead, consider allowing the conversation to continue in private communities and online discussion groups hosted by your presenters to provide the interactivity attendees want.
Shorten everything. Hour-long sessions in a physical conference room might be better done as a 40-minute presentation with a 10 minute Q&A, followed by a break. This also builds in some time to ensure the presenters for your next session are online and have gone through a technical check. Create a hold slide and invite your audience to go grab a cup of coffee or check their email.
Choose a technology provider
This may be a managed digital events partner or webinar platform. Choose a supplier that can not only deliver your online event, but can advise you on how best to host it and handle any technical difficulties that might arise.
Plan your technical support
Decide how to handle local technical support. If your attendees need help joining, do you want them to contact you directly or your webinar provider?
Confirm your locations
Consider if you would like your speakers to present from a studio, at an external location with appropriate social distancing, or online remotely. Ensure your technology provider can help deliver the event you want.
Formulate your pricing strategy
Should you charge? If you would have charged for your face-to-face event, and your content line-up is strong, you should definitely charge for your virtual event. Consider lowering the price to reflect lower travel, accommodation, venue hire and catering costs.
Plan your sponsorship packages
Most sponsorship packages can be translated for an online event. If your physical event was sponsored, your online event can also be sponsored. You may even be able to charge more if your attendance is likely to exceed that of your physical event.
Talk to your technology supplier about the options, which include utilising your on-screen real estate, creating call-to-action buttons and providing digital resource packs.
And think laterally. If you planned an expo hall for sponsors and partners, you can create virtual booths to share product demos with visitors and conduct a virtual Q&A in real time.
Check out our blog on Virtual Event Sponsorship: 21 Ways to Build Value for Brands
4 weeks to go:
Start marketing the event
Launch your event web page, email your database, create your ads. However you usually market your events, the process for your online event will be very similar, with the caveat that physical mail won’t find its way to your audience as quickly as usual, if at all. Consider replacing it with an additional email reminder.
Take the opportunity to ask a question during the registration process to help inform the content or structure of the event.
Plan how to measure success
What information do you need to capture during the registration and event itself? Talk to your technology provider about how you’ll measure and report on the success of your webinar or virtual event.
Film your pre-recorded sessions
Record and edit any sessions that are being filmed in advance. Work with your technology provider to have them finalised and approved well before the event.
Build FOMO with pre-recorded video
Remote presenters are just a click away from being able to record a short video to help generate excitement about your event and create Fear of Missing Out during the registration process. Approach them with some creative suggestions and incorporate the video snippets into your pre-event marketing activity. Use short snippets from any pre-recorded studio sessions to do the same.
Plan your interactive elements
One of the big advantages of online events is the opportunity to run live polls with your audience, and get some audience engagement going with a Q&A with your speakers. Your online stream should be one-way communication with the ability for your audience to ask questions via a private or open chat box or vote via online polls.
Ask your technology supplier how best to incorporate interactive elements into your virtual event.
Confirm your presenter formats
If it’s your first time running an online event, work with your technology supplier to test each session format to ensure it works the way you expect. Include breaks between sessions to give you time to test the tech for your next session.
Apply your learnings and adjust your agenda to avoid making format changes on the day.
2 weeks to go:
Establish your on-screen look and feel
Presenting from a studio? Liaise with your technology provider about how best to utilise green screen backgrounds. Work with your webinar provider to establish visual branding during each session, making the best use of the on-screen real estate.
Liaise with sponsors to incorporate them where possible.
Brief your speakers and test remote internet connections
Confirm your speaker content and presentation formats. Will all your presenters use video? You or some of your speakers may wish to present from an office environment. Check with your provider about meeting social distancing requirements while filming.
If speakers are presenting from a remote location, test their broadband connection and switch to audio-and-slides if the video feed is unreliable, or presenters are uncomfortable on camera.
Consider remote presenter equipment and set-up
If using video, your remote presenters will need to consider lighting, background, and the quality of their camera and microphone as well as their internet connection.
Consider investing in webcams and microphones if quality is essential. You can lend them to your speakers and re-use them for your next event, or they make a nice speaker gift.
If they’ll be using their laptop camera, ensure they elevate it to eye level for a better shot.
Don’t forget to brief your remote speakers on using telephone audio as a back-up if their internet drops out.
Plan your on-demand presence. Two-thirds of attendees typically watch sessions on-demand. Consider if you’ll host it on your website, or liaise with your technology provider or a third-party to host it elsewhere online.
1 week to go:
Train your presenters
If your speakers are presenting remotely, either from home or from an external venue, they will need to know their way around the webinar platform you’re using so they can move their own slides and, if your webinar is being broadcast live, respond to questions. Where appropriate have a facilitator who can also manage questions and polls.
Rehearsal and content run-through
Rehearse the structure of your digital event as you would for a face-to-face event.
Set up calls to run through panel sessions. Pay particular attention to how you manage transitions between remote speakers and how you keep your audience informed as you move through the event and through each session.
Encourage your speakers to rehearse in front of a camera if they’re using video.
What’s your back-up plan?
For each remote session, have a back-up plan in case of connectivity issues. Ensure your speakers know how to phone it in if necessary.
Send out event reminder and login information
Ensure a reminder is sent to all attendees with login information the day before or morning of the event.
Pre-prepare your social tweets
To maximise interest on social, it’s worth posting on your social channels during the event. Pre-prepare your posts where possible and schedule them to appear during the event to save time and stress on the day.
On the day:
Run a technical test in the hour prior to the event to ensure your presenters’ internet connection is up to the job, and their webcam and audio are clear.
Remind your remote presenters to lock the door if they are socially isolating with kids and other family members to avoid on-camera interruptions. Ask them to have a phone handy in case they need to be called into the event, but ensure it’s on silent. They may want to put a Do Not Disturb sign on the front door.
Troubleshooting and contingency plans
Have IT support on standby and monitoring the remote experience so they are available to troubleshoot if required. Most attendees don’t mind if speakers switch to slides-and-audio, as long as the stream remains smooth.
Rate your sessions
Remember to make your virtual event as engaging as possible via your interactive elements throughout the day.
Don’t forget to ask your attendees to rate each session and to rate the overall event via a closing poll.
After the event:
Send out links to your on-demand sessions for those who didn’t attend live but may wish to watch your event when it’s convenient for them.
Promote and share your content
Slice and dice your content and get as much mileage out of it as possible. Share it with your presenters and sponsors and utilise your combined networks to maximise reach.
Check your attendance and engagement data. Liaise with your webinar platform provider or check your online portal to track the success metrics of the event.
Report to sponsors
Communicate attendance and engagement data to your sponsors. Liaise with them about the response they received.
Return on investment
Consider what the event cost, compared with the value generated for your business. Set a date for assessing the ROI. Bear in mind that attendance will increase over time as not everyone will view it on-demand on the day of the event.
Conduct an after-event review to gain learnings while the event is fresh in your mind. Liaise with colleagues, speakers, sponsors and attendees to get a broad perspective. Make your recommendations for how to improve your next virtual event!