In March 2020, as I adjusted to the immense toll COVID-19 was having on the event planning industry, I was faced with the decision of whether I should postpone or cancel my annual, flagship event, The Signature CEO Conference. During this uncertain time of closures, cancellations and social distancing, it became evident that my creative community still longed for ways to stay inspired, engaged and entertained.
I saw this as an exciting opportunity to think outside the box; to re-imagine how I could satisfy the needs of my community, by re-aligning to a virtual event experience.
With 4 months to re-organize my initial plans, the biggest questions I faced were:
- How to seamlessly and successfully pivot from a large-scale, in-person conference filled with speakers, networking opportunities, breakout sessions, and engaging activities, to a fully online event?
- How do I accomplish this transition, while maintaining the brand integrity I built over the past 5 years, and without sacrificing attendee experience – not even in the slightest way.
As I journeyed through this re-alignment, I realized that many of my business partners with event programs were facing the same challenges I was overcoming. Now, four months later, as I celebrate the success of my first-ever virtual event, I emerge on the other side with valuable insights.
If your business is re-aligning an in-person event to a virtual experience, here is a list of my tried and true techniques. These tips will not only save you time and help you avoid pitfalls, they will serve as a guide to transition your event with skills and confidence.
- Design an Experiential Event: Great events have always connected people in unexpected ways. The hallmark of exceptional event planning is cultivating experiences that delight in ways no one else would ever dream of.
Virtual events require the same experiential design as in-person events:
- Start with an inspiring theme that will tie everything together and create cohesion from the first experiential touch point to the last.
- Each touchpoint should be intentionally designed to create a memorable experience.
- These memorable experiences should take place before, during, and after your event; from small highly-personalized touches to exciting elements of surprise to inspire that wow factor.
- Keep it Engaging: Fortunately, modern technology has made it possible for businesses to host dynamic and engaging virtual events. Curate every element of your agenda to maximize experience.
- Consider bringing in an emcee/moderator to welcome attendees, set the tone and facilitate discussions in between sessions. Your emcee should act as a co-host, with a spirited personality, for the main presenter to play off
- Use platforms such as Zoom breakout rooms or Mixtroz (a black-owned company) to separate attendees into smaller groups for networking activities
- Incorporate a live DJ to play theme music as speakers are announced and “brought to the stage”
- Kick off lunch hour with live musical performances
- Bring each day to a close with live music to end on a strong note.
These lively interactive touches will maintain momentum throughout your event’s lifecycle. The more engaging your event is, the more engagements and connections you will inspire.
- Have a Best-in-Class Support Team. Aside from ensuring you have the appropriate technology solution to facilitate your virtual event, the most important thing you can do is have the right support team behind the scenes. An all-hands-on-deck support team should be in place to:
- Oversee the logistics and technical backend
- Spot-check live sessions to verify the audio and video tools are functioning properly
- Keep an eye on the audience side
Having a team with the technological experience to provide oversight and troubleshoot is critical to your success. Re-aligning to a virtual event is challenging, but would be an impossible feat without the proper support team.
- Shine a Spotlight on Sponsors: Like in-person events, virtual events provide great opportunities for businesses to build awareness amongst a relevant and targeted audience. Highlighting corporate sponsors throughout your virtual event is a great opportunity to drive impact.
Raffling sponsored gifts is a fun and thrilling touch point to further engage and grasp your audience’s attention.
*Bonus Insight: During The Signature CEO Conference, various sponsors provided lunch to our team. This allowed me to showcase their products and present their brand to our online community. If budget allows, you can enlist the support of a meal sponsor to send lunch to your attendees. *
Offering unexpected gestures like this will make a long lasting impression for both guests and sponsors.
- Ship Virtual Event Swag: Enhance your virtual event by shipping SWAG to attendees 5 days prior to the event. A special package filled with personalized products before the event date is essential to showing guests their partnership matters and is truly appreciated. Fun items will keep attendees energized and motivated before, during and after the event.
The Signature CEO Conference SWAG packages included a wide variety of memorable gifts, such as:
- An assortment of high-quality snacks
- A conference branded coffee mug and gold pen
- A Coca Cola Bottle personalized with their name
- An elegant journal to inspire attendees to take notes…and so much more!
Encourage attendees to rave about their swag via Social Media channels. Thank sponsors by tagging them in social media posts. Sponsors will appreciate the third party endorsements, bask in the likes and shares, and return the “favor”.
- Document the Details. Although you’ll have a support team facilitating the actual execution of the event, it’s also important to have a behind the scenes camera and video team to capture every moment. Photography and video have the power to draw people in and tell the story of your event in a way that resonates with character and finesse.
Your image content can be synthesized in so many impactful ways:
- Create a full-scale highlight video (see our 2020 video, here)
- Share images and showcase video snippets on social media. This creates shareable content to broaden your reach.
- Use video clips to advertise next year’s event. (It’s never too early to plan for next year.)
Create long lasting memories for current attendees to reflect on, while keeping prospective attendees in anticipation of your upcoming events.
- Practice Makes Perfect – Re-aligning to a virtual event requires the same care and attention as planning an in-person event The difference between an ordinary and extraordinary virtual event is practice.
Perform test runs of your virtual event beforehand with your entire team and all of your presenters. Here are some things to run through in advance:
- Check for timing and pace of the agenda
- Make sure everyone is familiar with the functionality of your technology
- Test everyone’s Wi-Fi connection.
- If possible, have all of your presenters wear headphones, use a portable USB mic or professional audio equipment. Be sure to check audio levels.
- Make sure presenters’ presentation decks and webcam display properly.
The Signature CEO Conference virtual experience attracted hundreds of creative professionals and kept them captivated over the course of the 3 day event.
Using the strategies listed above, I was able to execute a virtual event that rivaled the in-person format, with a level of expertise that belied the fact that this was my very first attempt.
If you are in the process of developing a logistical strategy to re-align to a virtual event, Perfect Planning Events has the skills and experience to manage each detail with precision. I will be focused on transitioning your event to the virtual world with care and intention in every detail. I am ready to assist you in executing your next virtual event flawlessly.