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The global lockdown demonstrated with crystal clarity that event planners need to adapt quickly to the new normal and shift their events online. And this sudden shift created all sorts of new challenges for organisers – from dealing with new technology and having a production mindset to understanding how to create the kind of virtual events that keep people engaged.
Interestingly, a recent poll from Eventsforce found that 53% of event planners don’t feel they have the skills they need to run successful online events. This could be worrying since these events are going to be around for a while – but the good news is that many of these skills have already been gained by delivering live events.
Related reading: 7 skills for running successful virtual events
What organisers really need to do is adapt their skills set to a virtual setting. They need to understand the increasing expectations of delegates that require more and more from a virtual experience. They also need to have a good idea of the kind of things that can typically go wrong.
Unfortunately, a number of common mistakes appear time and again in the creation and delivery of virtual events. We have highlighted some of these below along with some advice on how to avoid them.
Let’s take a look.
1) Not Understanding Objectives
Understanding key objectives (or your client’s brief) is crucial for any type of event. And whilst you may think that you know exactly what your client or stakeholders want, when it comes to virtual events it is best to double check. Make sure that you understand what they think you are going to deliver.
Do they understand what they have asked for? And is it possible and even helpful to them? For example, when using the term ‘chat’ be clear that you and your client understand what is meant by that. If your client thinks that delegates will chat during the session and you assume that chat means attendees typing in a message box at the end, you will have an immediate issue when the event goes live. Overcome this rooky mistake by getting behind the detail of what your client’s brief means.
It’s also good to get clarity on what metrics all your stakeholders will use to assess success of the virtual event. Always be on the same page.
2) Not Managing Attendee Expectations
Managing delegate expectations should be a key focus for your virtual event success. You are probably aware that delegates attending events online have shorter attention spans and they can easily switch off if the content isn’t engaging them. And that is especially true in a society that is always on. To make matters more challenging there are other factors that affect virtual delegates that just do not appear at in-person events. For example, looking after children, pets and parcel deliveries can cause interruptions.
Whilst your content needs to be top-notch, it would be a mistake not to let attendees know what they can and cannot do. How can they engage? If you have a virtual host welcoming and telling them to turn on their cameras and microphones, it is probably going to work well for your extroverts but not so well for your introverts. Be sure not to surprise your attendees. Manage their expectations.
3) Getting Content Wrong
Another key mistake when it comes to virtual events is the programme. The programme is either packed full of content or it is lacking content. There are dangers that your attendees will tune out because there is too much or not tune in at all because there is too little.
Too much content and your attendees will be looking for escape routes of session changes, lunch and comfort breaks. If you believe that most of them will stay online for hours on end you could be in for a shock. Equally, too little content and you run the risk of attendees deciding there is not enough value for them to invest the time to participate.
It’s a fine balance that you need to achieve and that is where good design skills will help. Put yourself in the seat of the virtual attendee and decide what would hold your attention. Less of the 40-minute Powerpoint presentations – and more shorter panel discussions with plenty of breaks and lots of different opportunities for attendees to engage with.
4) Not Running Proper Rehearsals
Not holding rehearsals or rushing through them is a bad idea and one that should be ignored at all costs. Your speakers, host, tech team and everyone else playing a role has to know what to do and when to do it. They also need to be aware of what can go wrong and what they need to do to address it.
Go through the running order from top to bottom. Don’t make the fatal mistake of just talking through what will be happening. It’s not enough. You need to be going through everything as though it were live. Then you can work out where the challenges are. You can discover what is working well and what isn’t. You can adjust sound, lighting and scripting at the rehearsal stage. But once you go live, you are live and you cannot start again.
Run the rehearsal fully, check all the slides, play the videos and take it seriously. You will get better results and greater delegate engagement.
5) Not Prioritising Comments and Questions
It’s great asking your attendees to submit questions and comments but just don’t forget that you need a mechanism as to how they will be answered and in what time frame. The attendees has posted a comment but it hasn’t been read out or acknowledged. Similarly, another attendees had a burning question which also hasn’t received a reply. If that pattern were to continue, your attempt to boost engagement could easily backfire. Make sure it doesn’t happen to you by having systems and enough people in place to deal with questions and comments.
Work out what happens when someone sends in a question. Where does it go? Who receives it? And what do they do with it? In most instances it will be a ‘moderator’ that checks the questions or comments coming in and their job is to arrange for them to be displayed or passed to the virtual host. Work out the mechanics and you will be fine. But don’t leave this important aspect of attendee engagement to chance as that would be a mistake.
6) Letting Time Run Away
Letting time run away is a big mistake if you want your virtual event to be a success. You need to be in control of time, not be governed by it. After all, you are making a production. Think of a TV show and you will understand why timing is critical. The News at 6.00pm comes on at 6.00pm and finishes on time every time. You need to deliver the same exacting attention to detail.
Whilst at an in-person event, speakers may be able to stretch the timing a bit, it’s not the case in the virtual world. One of the ways to avoid this is to use a virtual host to help keep things on track and to time. Remember your virtual audience will be tuning in to see what they need as specified in your programme and they will expect you to be on time.
7) Forgetting the Value of Sponsors & Exhibitors
Forgetting to involve exhibitors and sponsors would be missing an opportunity. Not only for you to generate revenue but also to provide added value for your attendees.
Get your sponsors and exhibitors involved early on. The earlier you get them involved, the more money they tend to spend. Get sponsors involved with a swag bag with promo codes and use adverts for transitions between sessions.
You could arrange for your exhibitors or sponsors to be presenters as part of the programme. This adds new people for your attendees to see and learn from.
In addition, you could encourage attendees to check them out. You could interest them in 1:1 video meetings, personalised matchmaking, curated VIP roundtables or focus discussions. Some virtual event platforms like Eventsforce VCD can support in-platform video calls, either for 1:1 or group calls, which can be great for product demos etc. There is no limit to how you can involve your exhibitors, sponsors and delegates so that everyone benefits.
On-demand webinar: Choosing virtual event platforms – how to get it right!
8) Not Using a Virtual Host
Not using a virtual host for your event means that you would be dependent on all other speakers knowing exactly who to pass the baton to, who should introduce sponsors etc. and who should deal with any audience questions and comments. There is a lot there that a virtual host can take care of.
A virtual host acts as the conduit between the production team, the speaker and the attendees. He or she can demonstrate how the technology works to enable attendees to get the most from their experience. In addition, a virtual host can look at questions and comments coming in and they can also scan poll results.
9) Replicating Your Live Event Experience
When Covid-19 put a halt on in-person events, a number of event planners immediately decided to pivot their live events to a virtual setting. Whilst this was ok for a few events, it didn’t work well for the majority. It’s best not to try and replicate your in-person event for a variety of reasons.
For example, there are some key differences in engaging people at in-person and virtual events. Attention spans are a lot shorter online and of course we can’t have random chats with people. Also, the serendipity of in-person networking is not something that can be replicated online. But worse than any of these are trying to take a 3 day in-person conference and make it into a 3 day virtual event. Only the strongest would survive. It would be better to take the 3 days, cut down the content and break it down over a number of days.
Conclusion – Changing Your Mindset
Virtual events are events in which you can use some of the same techniques as for in-person events. But you have to make adjustments as the audience are only looking at their screen. They have no other distractions which means they will be closely watching all that is going on.
You need to apply the same diligence and professionalism to your virtual event as you would to an in-person one. Just because it is a virtual event it would be a mistake to think you can create them quicker. You are making a production which takes more time.
More importantly, take note of the mistakes you make. Understand lessons learned and share them with team members so that you can make the improvements you want the next time round.
Enjoyed reading this post? We have plenty of COVID-19 related resources on our blog which event planners may find useful right now. You can also sign up to our weekly newsletter for tips, updates and research reports on all the latest event trends.