Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in UC Today [uctoday.com] and has been republished with permission.
When the world’s largest mobile tech conference, Mobile World Congress (MWC), cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, that’s when it really hit me: business life was about to change beyond all recognition. After MWC’s cancellation, a raft of other leading, in-person technology events inevitably followed suit. Others, like the Red Hat Summit and Microsoft Build, went virtual.
Before the lockdown, we had long been championing virtual events primarily as a way to promote products or extend live events to those unable to attend in person—the former aptly taking shape in the form of webinars, and the latter often referring to the internal company ‘town-hall’ meeting, where executives and project teams share news with employees. But when it came to hosting customer, prospect and user community events, outside of livestreaming keynotes, companies had been somewhat reluctant to change the format of their conference – until now.
In the same way business leaders have changed their mindsets on working from home, many are now attending and even running virtual events. I find that people are often pleasantly surprised at the audio-visual quality, how well attended they are, and how easy it is to share content during and after the event. Beyond this, when done right, virtual events ease some of the burden that comes with attending conferences live—think no commute or trekking back and forth across convention centres all day long.
But virtual events, especially those organised during a lockdown, require different planning, skills and best practices in order to run smoothly, look professional and ensure the safety and privacy of hosts and delegates. Here are my top ten tips:
1 – Plan virtual events with the same rigour as physical ones
This means doing everything from choosing an exciting, timely theme and agenda to attract delegates and sponsors; communicating well to all stakeholders and prepping speakers in advance. Virtual events lend themselves very well to community building and content sharing, so remember to follow up afterwards with links to things like presentations, recordings and speakers’ LinkedIn profiles.
2 – Make it social
Virtual events lend themselves very well to social media amplification. For public events, always create and share a unique event hashtag so you can create buzz ahead of, during and after the event. Remember also to share the Twitter handles and LinkedIn profiles of all the speakers in your communications, on the event website and on presentation slides so delegates can more easily connect and socialise content and quotes.
3 – Set up host and unique passcodes for each attendee
Do not publish passcodes anywhere in the public domain, including on social networks! This important safeguard helps ensure that only registered delegates attend your event. For the safety and security of all participants you should only use a system that has this capability.
4 – Give a detailed brief to all speakers presenting from home
This should include advice to help speakers look and sound their best over video; what to show (and not show!) in the background; a reminder to ask family members not to interrupt and minimise background noise (mobiles on silent); and how to test audio and visual settings and equipment (speakers’ laptops or PCs should ideally connect via Ethernet cable rather than Wi-Fi). It’s also very important to get the lighting right – for example a bright sunny window behind a speaker can cast a dark shadow.
5 – Assign multiple moderators
Speakers should never be asked to also moderate at the same time. Slides will fill up their screens, obscuring the moderator controls. Events with more than 100 people should have two moderators to keep up with all the action. The moderators will be responsible for monitoring who is joining the event, muting/unmuting speakers, pushing the optimal video layout at the right time, promoting attendees and responding to Q&A.
6 – Hold a ‘dress rehearsal’ before the actual event
This ensures things run smoothly on the day. Not only will your speakers appreciate the opportunity to work out any flat moments and other kinks in their presentations, it allows the moderators to get comfortable with all of the controls at their disposal in the videoconferencing system and IT to do a sound check on the network and devices being used.
7 – “Mute on Entry” is your friend
This capability ensures new presenters start on mute, allowing moderators to decide when to unmute them. Most people who have been on videoconferences run by newbies will have witnessed the chaos that ensues when Mute on Entry is not enabled: various attendees become the presenter in quick succession, often triggered by background noises in home offices. When delegates are muted, the presenter stays in the main viewing window. Delegates can ‘raise their hand’ or send a chat message to the moderator, who can temporarily transfer presenter controls or just read and answer questions.
8 – Stimulate high engagement
When hosting an event, there’s nothing more painful than delegates who don’t engage. Part of this can be solved by reminding delegates of the speakers and topics that will be covered ahead of time and urging them to bring their questions. Some people might be shy about asking questions on camera so make sure the host explains up front how delegates can ask questions by posting them in chat windows. You can also invite people to ask questions on Twitter using the event hashtag.
9 – Nail the details
Don’t let poor attention to detail let down a beautifully designed event site or interesting, creative agenda. Create a checklist off all that needs to be done leading up to the event—which includes sending at least two reminders with the joining instructions to your delegates ahead of the event and another one on the same day. These reminders should also inform delegates if the event will be recorded. If you are recording, remember to hit the record button at the start! Some systems let you automatically record by default through the event settings. Hosts and moderators should join the event 30 minutes prior to start time to review the game plan, test and resolve any technical issues, and answer any last-minute questions. Make a checklist for all the logistical and technical details to avoid missing any important steps.
10 – Make an extra effort to thank your sponsors
This is especially true if your sponsors have remained committed through a transition from a live to virtual event. Make sure their logos are prominently displayed and the host thanks them during and at the end of the event.
Conference season, as they say, is right around the corner—and while only time will tell whether technology companies decide to go back to hosting showy, in-person events once life gets back to some semblance of “normal,” for the meantime, it couldn’t hurt to become somewhat of a virtual event savant.
Don’t get me wrong, I very much look forward to the day when we’re allowed to meet, shake hands, socialise and sign contracts again in person. There will always be an important place for live, physical events.
However, having taken part in some excellent virtual events during the lockdown and seen our customers hosting their own, we’re not likely to return to the status quo. So whether you’re planning a small meet-up or a large, global industry conference, these tips will help ensure your event gets remembered for all the right reasons.