2020 has reinforced that people crave authentic interactions and human connection alongside sophisticated digital solutions. Virtual events and hybrid communications offer a bridge to bring people together through these disruptive times.
We have been cultivating digital engagement solutions with brands for years. Many as an online or virtual event to hundreds of people around the globe, others as smaller activations and more intimate experiences.
Here are a few things we have learnt along the way…
Set Objectives Early
Ask yourself; What are you hoping to get out of this online event? What will define its success? These are the starting blocks for any conversation we have with our clients looking to brief an online experience.
Setting objectives early guides the appropriate use of technology for the virtual event and instructs a bespoke build that directly reflects our client’s vision. As an agency, we use these success markers to keep our creative aligned, harness brand strategy and measure overall event performance.
Allow for Additional Lead time
There are key differences in planning phases for a virtual event compared to a live experience and understanding these nuances is crucial. A virtual event requires different timescales, disciplines and the most obvious one, technologies. Pre-production periods are critical: poor or failed technology can put the entire event at risk. Allow significant time for end-to-end testing and full tech rehearsals.
We have a rigorous process to ensure all technology is tested and that every stakeholder fully understands how it works well before the event begins. Our contingency plan actually has a ‘What Ifs’ column to mitigate any and every possible technological obstacle.
Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse
Never assume that attendees are well-versed in using the technology or speaking in a virtual environment. This may be the first time they have used a platform, or perhaps they are new to hosting in a virtual environment. Speakers should be coached on how to engage with people online and address the audience through their camera. It is a very different skill to physically presenting and practice is vital to ensure the right level of speaker engagement is delivered.
In an online space, delegates demand a speaker’s full attention and authenticity. Any distractions tend to detract from the overall quality of guest experience and information retention. We have developed guidelines to amplify our presenter’s performance and their delivery of content. It takes into consideration gestures and body language our speakers may not normally think about, including their presenter location and relationship to the platform or medium on which they are being seen.
We designate time for all presenters to have a full show rehearsal, where our team advise on and work out any presenting kinks.
Employ the Right Roles
If the virtual event includes live streaming, tradition live show running roles should shift to reflect a broadcast format: floor managers to manage talent, studio managers to run the show, streaming technicians, vision mixers and so on.
Building a team with reliable experience in broadcast and streaming can be instrumental in the success of a virtual event. A lag of even 5 seconds feels like 5 minutes in a virtual space. Having an in-ear, designated contact to cue and instruct presenters reduces technical feed congestion, keeps the show running to time and puts presenters at ease.
Create Opportunities for Interaction and Engagement
Your online audience is craving clever opportunities to network or engage with peers and content, the same as in any live setting. Start by designing the virtual event around accessible and interactive touchpoints. For example, integrating a chat bar functionality, live Q&A, interactive workshops sessions, or networking modules could be the difference between audience retention or dropout.
The objectives set from the brief will help inform the right kind of interaction needed. One favourite example is our ability to bring any delegate who is watching via their laptop or mobile “live to screen” to ask a question as part of Q&A. By dropping them into the session it becomes a truly live interaction, involving guests in direction of the event.
Digital experiences like virtual events are an exciting and evolving communications strategy many brands are embracing with vigour. Unbounded by physics, creativity and with the right people at the helm, therein lies refreshing opportunity to reach audiences in a new way.
—Alicia James, Senior Project Manager