Managing virtual events requires a different set of skills from event planners – from filming and broadcasting to writing scripts and dealing with new tech. But according to a new poll from Eventsforce this month, 53% of event planners do not feel they have the necessary skills nor experience in running successful online events. This could be very worrying, especially as these events are going to be around for a while.
Is delivering successful virtual events just about having good broadcast production skills? Is it more about IT or audience psychology? And is it as overwhelming as many seem to think?
The good news is that many of the skills needed by event planners have already been gained by delivering live events. So these can be easily transferred across to help deliver a virtual production. However, there are a number of other key traits and skills that would also help in running successful virtual events. Let’s take a look.
1) TV Production Mindset
Event planners need to transition their thinking. No longer are they effectively stage-managing live events, they are now producing a virtual one. The planner has become a producer, making a programme – not running an event.
This approach highlights some key differences that need to be addressed. For example, at a live event, delegates may not worry too much if the schedule slips and runs late. After all, there are other delegates they can talk to. However, that is not the case with virtual productions. When things don’t run on time, you risk the chance of delegates leaving.
The mindset trait for successful virtual events is that the planner has to be production focused. Watching a news programme or an online talk show enables you to see the techniques used to keep viewers. You can adopt some of their tricks and tips and replicate for your virtual event.
2) Listening and Data Analysis Skills
Listening and analysing data skills have long been needed for live events, so using these for a virtual production should not present experienced planner with any issues. You always need to be looking at the analytics, listening to what your audience want and improving the ROI of your event.
In your fact finding: establish how long attendees are prepared to stay online, find out how they like content to be delivered and ascertain any nuances such as whether they really want to do group networking. There are numerous clues in how to produce a great virtual event when you take the time and trouble to understand what your audience and the data is telling you.
3) Visualising Skills
Visualising what an event will look like is a skill that event planners already have. And it’s this skill which then needs to be used for your virtual production. You will be a long way ahead of your competition just by understanding that not all content is capable of being delivered virtually. Some activities just do not work.
Let’s say you are going to produce a virtual conference and one of your speakers wants to deliver group team building. Your job as the virtual event producer is to decide whether the idea is practical or not and whether it will enhance the delegate experience. Only recently, a speaker was arguing with technology companies about the fact that they hadn’t come up with a solution he needed for his group exercise. Whilst his exercise works well in a physical format, it wasn’t going to work in the virtual world.
Being able to visualise how activities could work virtually is super important. If they are not going to work, then alternatives need to be found.
4) Design Skills
Design is another key skill needed for your virtual production to be a success. You need to consider session length, maximising audience engagement tools and most importantly how your audience will benefit. All of these skills are already known to event planners. However, the challenge that trips up a lot of people is the speed with which time evaporates with virtual events.
Once you have decided on the main elements of content, you need to drill into each specific session and design appropriately. For example, you have a 30-minute slot for a session. The session needs to include: an introduction from your host, time for the speaker to deliver their presentation, time for questions and polling and time for the host to close. Suddenly that 30-minute slot looks quite tight. This is when you need to decide whether to expand the time or re-design the session.
You need to design virtual events from the ground up. They are not something you can instantly throw together.
5) Attention to Detail
Whilst event planners are pretty good at dealing with detail, this skill becomes accentuated to a whole new level when producing virtual events. There is a lot more testing to be done.
With virtual events you can never do too much testing. The user experience has to be checked on different devices, different web browsers and of course the right versions of any apps have to be interrogated. Web links and audience interaction software must also be thoroughly checked out. If you are not 100% comfortable with how the polling works, don’t expect your delegates to figure it out.
Whilst attention to detail is not the most glamorous element in the life of a virtual producer, it is absolutely essential. One of the easiest ways to work out whether you are providing a great experience for your delegates is to sit in their seat. Try it out before going live and make improvements. Your event will be a whole lot better for taking time and getting the detail right.
6) Speaker Management
Directing speakers is a new skill for some, but a vital one for virtual productions. Usually at live events, a planner may allow speakers to do their thing, without much involvement. After all the speaker is the expert and that’s what the planner wants. The planner will have briefed the speaker and that’s the end of it. However, sometimes things can go wrong. For example, speakers run over time, ignore the audience or spend too long talking about themselves. For a virtual production, you cannot afford for any of those things to happen.
You need to direct your speakers. You need to produce thorough speaker briefing notes. You need your presenters to do rehearsals with you. There is a lot more to go through: checking their presentation capabilities, how they look on camera, if the sound quality is good and where they are positioned are just a few of the things that planners need to direct speakers on.
7) Responsiveness and Proactivity
Having a ‘Plan B’ is useful for any event but even more so for a virtual production. What will you do if one of the speakers can’t be seen or heard? What if they cannot turn up because they have a personal tragedy to deal with? You need a solution and you need it quickly. One of the answers is to have them send in their pre-recorded presentation in advance. If you engage the services of a ‘virtual host’ you can solve other issues as they crop up.
Getting ahead of potential issues is well advised. However, not everything can be predicted. At a live event you may have more time to consider and deal with issues. But, for a virtual production you have to be able to problem solve much quicker and in the moment. You need to be making decisive decisions or else your viewers will log off. Don’t forget that TV production mind-set we talked about at the start.
Next Steps – Where to Find Skills and Resources
Some of the skills and traits highlighted may feel overwhelming. Or you may already have them in abundance. But, whatever your situation, it’s a good idea to be honest about what you and your team members are good at.
There are many options for developing skills through learning programmes and courses developed by associations, film schools and other providers. Many of these are available on-line which means you can learn in your own time.
If you need to call in external expertise, then do so. It will be an invaluable investment especially if you are short on people and time. And at the same time, you can be taking courses to develop your own virtual credentials.
Whether your organisation should acquire the skills or outsource will be determined by many factors. But it’s worth bearing in mind that the answer to this depends on the overall production values needed for your event. If your stakeholders or clients are happy with a home-grown approach, you may be able to do without the need for extra help.
Running a virtual event requires a very particular set of skills. Many event planners will have some of these skills and some will need to be acquired. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 a lot of organisations have been willing to accept less than perfect virtual experiences, but as time goes on that will change and they will expect better and more polished virtual events that demonstrate a strong ROI.
Need help with your virtual events? Eventsforce can help you deliver all your event content online and engage with remote audiences much in the same way you would for your in-person events. Click here for more information or get in touch for a chat.