1. Design for Virtual
To maximize the opportunities virtual events present, they should be designed from the ground up as an online program. You shouldn’t take an in-person event and try to change it as little as possible. Some event elements like an auction can pivot to virtual fairly easily. Other elements such as providing a keepsake photo require significant modification. Some will be less appealing online such as live background music. Clearly, still other program components are not at all possible. The opportunity is that you could create innovative program elements you would have not considered for in-person functions. Delivered gourmet food baskets, or one-on-ones with celebrities are examples of program components you could add to a virtual event. Likewise, you don’t have to limit yourself to simply finding ways to take in-person events online. Instead you could develop brand new virtual events.
2. Be High Touch
Talking about making virtual events high touch might seem like a contradiction. In this context, high touch means providing a significant level of personal attention and service to your audience. If your organization has a reputation of pampering your clientele, you should find ways to do so virtually as well. This might include luxuries you send your event participants. High touch could also mean providing opportunities to interact with others via multi-way Zoom calls, Q&A sessions, one-on-one video chats or personalized video messages. For example, if you have someone with a great voice, you might send your supporters messages they can use as ring tones or voice mail greetings. Because of their novelty, virtual high-touch strategies can make a big impression. When the Old Spice Man recorded at least 185 personalized messages on YouTube, it set the internet on fire and is considered part of one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time.
3. Tie to Mission
If your organization provides services to children, your virtual event should involve children even if your event is something fancy for your top supporters. Indeed, you should always look for ways to tie your event back to your mission and operations. This is especially important in an increasingly online world when it can be hard to standout from all the excellent streaming content competing for attention. When you remind your audience why they value you, they are much more likely to turn-up virtually to support you. Some will show up because of your past work even if your current event would not normally interest them.
4. Leverage Champions and Partners
Anyone who has ever had to organize a large event can tell you how labour intensive they tend to be. Volunteers, whether than be staff pitching in or members of community, can make a huge difference to event success. While virtual events have different logistics requirements than in-person functions, volunteers are still a valuable addition to the process. They can help plan and present ‘the show’. In particular, volunteers can act as champions or ambassadors for your efforts. They can help sell tickets or encourage viewers. They can get the word out. Partners can also be incredibly helpful. They can be collaborators who lend their talents to the presentation of your program and reach out to their own audience. Partners can be other organizations, traditional celebrities or internet creators and influencers. You can partner with collaborators in your community or beyond. Engaging champions and partners should be one of the first things you do. It can multiply your efforts many times over.
5. Extend Time and Place
One of the challenges of a virtual event is that you have to compete with all the other online activities people can select. However, one of the opportunities is that you can reach far beyond your traditional audience if you have the right content. For example, collaborating with someone in another community could help extend your reach. So, consider creating your own strategy for reaching further. To increase your impact, you can also extend your event from a time perspective with activities before or after your main event. Preliminary activities can be used to promote your event. Meanwhile, follow-on activities can be used to provide premium content or services to your best supporters.
6. Mix Mediums
When putting together your virtual events, consider using a variety of mediums and tools to present to your audience. For example, you should consider using a combination of recorded and live content. Live content creates immediacy and gives your audience a reason to tune-in live. Recorded content can be polished in a way that is more difficult with live content. It also gives you a break while it is playing. You should also look to interactive tools. These can allow people to ask questions, donate, make comments or vote. Interactivity helps turn your program from just another video to a true event. Finally, you can also use multiple channels to maximize your exposure. For example, there is nothing stopping you from broadcasting a live video stream to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube at the same time. The three key goals when mixing mediums is to increase engagement, broaden your audience and provide special perquisites for your best supporters.
7. Tech the Tech and Rehearse
When using video to present a virtual event, you must make sure everything is working in terms of video and audio. You need to check that your main presenters and anyone else that will be on camera has proper setups. Ideally, you should run through everything you are going to present. In terms of audio and video presentation, you should review the following:
- Cameras should be at eye level. They should check their backgrounds and try to avoid distractions such as things that look like they are coming out of their heads. Presenters should not be too close or too far from the camera — unless standing, a presenter’s head and shoulders should somewhat fill the screen.
- People should be front lit with either natural light or prepared lighting — standard overhead lighting does not do. If you are presenting in the evening check the lighting in advance at night. You want to avoid someone being lit primarily by their computer monitor.
- To avoid audio feedback, all presenters should have earphones or headsets. Typically, laptop microphones are not appropriate. Headsets or quality microphones are preferable and should at least be used by your main presenters. Guest presenters can use cell phone earphone/mic combos if they have nothing better. Presenters should try to have a quiet location to use. If a room sounds boomy (ie. it echos), a duvet/blanket can be placed on the floor, on an off camera wall or elsewhere to cut down on the reverberations.
- Make sure to test your own setup with someone in another location to make sure both your audio and video are good.
- Have a plan on what you are going to do if someone’s audio or video fails. Know in advance on you will fill-in their content.
8. Don’t Forget Immediacy and Interactivity
Finally, remember that what turns your program from a streaming video into an actual event are the steps you take to create immediacy and interactivity. We attend events to interact and see live presentations. So, you need to ensure such elements are prominently featured in your virtual events if you want them to be of interest and memorable to your audience.