In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, technology has proven to become everyone’s new best friend. Our typical in-person meetings, events and activities have completely shifted to rely on today’s advanced technology and virtual platforms to get the job done. Whether it is classrooms for students or celebrations to honor milestones in proper social distancing fashion, 2020 has proven to be a year where all of us, young and old, have pivoted to learn the ins and outs of remaining connected through a screen.
In the public relations industry, event management is a huge part of our typical year-round business and as we know, in-person events were non-existent this year. In a time where we had no idea what three months down the road would bring, we ultimately had to learn how to plan and manage events that were no longer in-person, but 100% virtual. Learning the nuances of virtual events definitely brought challenges, but our goal was attained in helping our clients stay connected with others, during a time when in-person connection was limited. One of the most important takeaways that we learned over the past nine months is to ensure your virtual event stands out by engaging and interacting with attendees before, during and after the event.
Below are some of the main components we have found to be helpful for planning virtual events in the age of COVID-19:
- Hosting Platform – The format of a virtual event or meeting affects not only the attendees’ ability to interact, but also the general feel of the event itself. It is important to discuss the overall goals and objectives for your virtual event with your client prior to making the decision on which platform to utilize. For example, if you want to be sure attendees can interact and talk amongst each other, your best bet is Zoom Meetings. This is probably the most popular platform as it is user-friendly and boasts a variety of interactive features that allow people to virtually connect with one another. If your event is more informative and educational, Zoom Webinar is probably a better fit. This platform is more limiting with its interactive elements that may be a distraction and is intended for more formal, educational purposes. There are many other available platforms, so it is very important to determine what best fits your specific needs and choose the best “venue” based off of that.
- Audio Visual Team –With virtual events being reliant on the performance of the hosting platform and other elements that are sometimes out of our control, it is critical to hire a professional audio visual (AV) team. This will ensure your event is seamless from start to finish. Most AV teams have the technology and equipment such as cameras, lighting and staging to make your event appear like a true production to all viewers. It is much different than setting up a Zoom call and having the backdrop be your living room. This allows you and your client to really make an impact with visual and audio elements that would not have been an option without your go-to AV team. Also, in the case of a technical glitch or emergency it is always nice to have a team at your side to combat any problems that may arise during the event.
- Interactive Elements – The best way to keep an audience engaged during a virtual event is through direct interaction. You can set aside a specific amount of time for your gathering’s audience participation, or you can interact throughout. Some ways of creating opportunities for attendees to participate are through chats, polls, and Q&As. You can share discount codes, downloadable links to information regarding your event, or surveys to hear the attendees’ feedback, which can be extremely valuable for future events. Through live tweets and Instagram stories, you can promote your event and create external engagement as well. Maybe determine a few “surprise” elements that will be certain to keep attendees tuned in for the event duration such as concerts, videos, shout outs and more.
- Registrant and Sponsor Mailers – Another creative way to get people excited about your upcoming event is to send complimentary event swag in advance of the event date. For example, a package with items that viewers can use as they watch your event such as a snack, bottled beverage, nametag or custom sign. Anything that can make attendees feel like they are also a part of the event program will generate excitement and make this event stand out from others. If your event has sponsors, make them feel appreciated by sending them a VIP “Celebration in a Box” that can be enjoyed amongst the company. Mimosas, party hats, sweet treats and more, make it fun for everyone! Remember, hold your attendees accountable by sending them items that they can keep nearby to serve as a reminder. As the event host, you have to keep them on the hook because it is much easier to avoid hitting play than it is to not show up in-person.
Virtual events offer a unique experience for both the hosts and attendees. Before the world went digital, virtual events were on the incline due to budget and accessibility reasons. Now, in a more technologically advanced world, hosting virtual gatherings has been taken to the next level through interactive features and upgraded design. While online gatherings may seem like a necessity at the moment, they seem to also be the future of events, so it is a good idea to get a head start in virtual event planning as it becomes the new normal.