Much like in-person conferences, virtual conferences are built around a live, complex agenda that includes keynotes, sessions, breakouts, and more. Virtual conferences include multi-session content and can involve community engagement tools. While not as effective in terms of lead capture and networking as an in-person event, virtual conferences allow attendees to view keynotes in real-time, build their own agenda from relevant, on-demand content, and interact with other attendees.  Remember, all that matters is what the audience can see, hear or do through their laptops, mobile device or event site.

The game plan

Whether big or small, offline or online, every event should have a strategy. Start with a key goal and concept, then take it from there.

Before hosting a virtual event, answer the following questions:

  • What kind of experience do you hope to deliver?

  • Will the event be live, on-demand, or both?

  • Where do I want the content to be seen?

  • Will access be gated or free?

  • When is the best time for the event?

  • Will you require event registration?

  • How will you promote the event?

  • Do you plan to work with an advertiser or other partner?

  • Will people still have access to the event once it’s over?

  • What KPIs and data do you plan to track?

Understand your audience

You need a good understanding of your audience's general psyche.  Are they inclined to take part in virtual events?  Will they 'find the time' to sit down and engage?  If logging in from their laptops or mobile devices, how tech savvy are they?  Will they be happy to travel to a venue that is not the main hub so they will be watching on a screen. The big difference between Live and Virtual is that your virtual audience can log off, switch to another task or simply walk away if they are not fully engaged in the event.  It is even more important at a virtual meeting to entertain as well as inform.  Mix it up a bit.  One straight presentation after another can become a bit monotonous.  

Linking your presentations

Think of your event as a TV magazine programme where presenters link everything together.  This included introducing and interviewing presenters as well as linking the whole show together.  A key opinion leader or influencer with media experience can create a better show that will help with audience engagement.

Designing content for the virtual meeting

You’ll need to think about how consuming your content is different on a screen than it is live. Live events and on-demand viewing on a computer are very different experiences demanding differing content and formats.  While people might be able to sit and listen to a 30-minute or even 60-minute keynote live, they will likely not be interested in or able to sit and watch that same content on a computer unless it’s incredibly engaging.  Sessions likely need to be much shorter; formats need to be adapted and varied, and stage and sets may need to be redesigned — all of which will likely impact your programming and could impact your speaker lineup.

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Sourcing the right venue for your presenters

There are two options:  An event space that accommodates an audience, or a studio space that often does not or at most has an option for a small audience.  If you organise events there are a million things to consider.  One of them is the main presentation room.  The size of this space is usually based on the number of delegates you are expecting, the proximity to amenities and the support you receive from the venue.  If you intend to have a live audience as well as a virtual audience, this will be the route you take.  If your audience is virtual, a studio space may be a better option.  These are smaller, more manageable spaces that are usually set up with the right lighting, camera and audio equipment and all the necessary support options for a 'TV broadcast'.  Even small meeting rooms can quickly become your presentation studio.

Actually Live or looks Live

If there is no intention for audience feedback while the event is happening, there is the possibility of recording the event first and then putting it out as though it is live.  The trouble with Live is that, if mistakes are made, there is nothing you can do about it, except swallow a bit of pride, get over it and move on.  If pre-recorded, all these mistakes can be edited out to produce a slick finished production.  Just like they do on TV!

The Internet is NOT always your friend

For all your meticulous planning and the pre-planning of the Production company you have chosen, we are all at the mercy of the vagaries of the internet.  But we can all help to reduce the problem of poor internet services.  Choose a venue with a dedicates network service for your event.  Plugging into the hotel's public WIFI is not acceptable.  You are at the mercy of other hotel users overwhelming the network at their coffee breaks.  A client who wants to run meetings from there head office which is beautifully located on a small island off the main coast may not have the network speed you will be happy with.

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