Going virtual? Think differently about your event

By Jen Neumann | Guest Column

As organizations are forced to retool traditional events, nearly everything has gone virtual, with varying degrees of success. By now we are used to the bad audio, the glitchy delays and the exhaustion that comes from Zoom meetings.

The first mistake that many businesses and organizations make is to try to keep the format the same as their traditional in-person events. In order to adapt to how people view and interact in a virtual environment, you must step back and release the expectations you’ve had, set new goals and allow for the creativity to engineer an event that stands out.

The date and time
If your event has taken place at a certain time, consider whether that time is ideal for a semi-virtual world. If your event is an all-day event, consider dropping it to half or a third of that time. The virtual event can be more efficient but also draining to pay attention to.

Set the scene
As you think about the transitions and settings, be sure to consider whether music and graphics can bridge transitions or times when the audience is waiting. Additionally, set your speaker and participants up in ways that look and feel more natural for a virtual setting. The traditional podium set up will feel awkward and distant as well as create audiovisual difficulties. It’s also acceptable to have multiple guests on screen, but it’s important to use a platform that allows you to control when and who is on screen, and whether and when they can be heard or not.

Your branding matters. Having your logo or information as a part of the screen background is helpful, but using an event production platform that allows for lower thirds (names and titles), and clear streaming of different types of media is not only engaging, but eliminates some of the awkwardness of the virtual participant who isn’t lit well, is at an awkward angle, or is not in an ideal set up.

Your platform should be able to stream and to broadcast to various sites without audio issues or awkward delays. Depending on the purpose and audience, choose the destination for your event carefully to be sure to have the right audience attending and to maximize engagement. Work in advance to eliminate these issues for a seamless production.

Pick your platform
Zoom has become a go-to platform for virtual events thanks to its ability to livestream, allow for break-outs and to control some aspects of the virtual event, but it’s clunky for larger-scale events and has difficulties when it comes to streaming media without delays and sharing screens, not to mention unforeseen fumbles like muted microphones and background noises. If you think of your event as a production, rather than a webinar, choose a platform that supports the level of control and flexibility you need.

Platforms run the gamut in functionality and price. Pre-producing events and running them as live premieres on the Facebook platform is one way to control the user experience. Zoom has its place for webinars where audience participation and interaction are allowed, as well as the ability to lock down the platform once attendees are on the call.

More sophisticated platforms may require additional software or licensing, but offer varying levels of security and scale for everything from a virtual job fair to a produced event that feels more like entertainment than another webinar.

BeLive.tv is a platform that allows for a higher level of production and control, while adding in-screen graphics and allowing for participant and host chats. Enterprise-level programs such as Aventri allow for more flexibility for virtual and hybrid events.

Practice, practice, practice
It is important to run through everything, check microphones and troubleshoot issues. With virtual events, you have opportunities for technology failures, bad camera angles, and the dreaded audio feedback issue. Practice with participants, create an event outline and script with all your transitions to follow, discuss background imagery for off-site participants, and have everyone mic’d and tested, online and ready to go in advance of the moment you go live.

Virtual events have become a part of our information and event delivery system for the foreseeable future. While I’m looking forward to the old “rubber chicken circuit” when normalcy resumes, I’m hoping that the lessons we’ve learned from a virtual experience make events a better experience overall. •

Jen Neumann is owner and CEO of de Novo Marketing in Cedar Rapids.