Since the start of lockdown, the swing to virtual events has been one of the few positive news stories for our industry. There has been a steep learning curve as people scrambled to move their existing events into the virtual world or plan ahead to incorporate them into their future communication strategy. But, what are the secrets to virtual success? In this article, we're highlighting three key factors in hosting a quality virtual meeting.
How to host a successful virtual event
Leaving aside your choice of technology platform, and there are plenty of them, the first consideration is making clear to those wanting to pivot to this option, what a virtual event is; or more importantly, what it is not. If they are under the impression it is their daily Zoom chat on steroids, or that they can just pick up their live event content and deliver it via a virtual platform, then they need to think again.
A fully produced virtual event needs to do more than just deliver content if it is going to be successful. It must create an end to end experience that will engage and involve the audience, especially when you have no control as to what's competing for their attention.
Connect with your audience
Building a relationship with the audience – the human connection, is a very different proposition through a lens than it is face to face. We subconsciously pick up so many non-verbal clues and traits that we warm, (or don’t!) to people very quickly. It’s harder to build that rapport virtually, as you don’t have the luxury of time and physical presence. Making eye contact is impossible when your audience is invisible! Presenting to camera is definitely a skill – why do you think those news anchors on breakfast TV get paid the big bucks? As humans, we want to connect to people not the soulless eye of a camera lens – it is a challenge, but with coaching and practice you can perfect your on-screen presence.
Zoom, Teams and Skype are now so much a part of our daily lives that we have all by now probably relaxed into a chatty, conversational tone and manner. That’s not going to cut it for a professionally produced virtual event. You need to convey the credibility, authority and confidence you would if you were live on the stage in front of 500 people. It’s vital to maintain a strong, clear voice to keep everyone’s attention and focus on you throughout. Especially as you have no idea what else is going on in their world while they watch. Emails, texts, deadlines, calls and home life can all be bubbling up in their environment, so your delivery and content has to cut through those potential distractions.
Learn more in our Need-to-Know Guide to Virtual Meetings
Even the most experienced face to face presenter may struggle when there is no feedback to their delivery, particularly a challenge if you try and use humour. I know someone who injected a little joke into their presentation but the lack of any reaction or feedback wrong-footed them, throwing them off their game for the next minute or two. Presenting into a digital void, you have no idea whether that light-hearted comment has landed; that can be tricky for a presenter.
Utilize a production team
The good news is that a professional production team (meet ours here) will help you through all these potential pitfalls, coaching you in advance of your on-screen debut. They will look at how to frame you on screen, the background and how to move. It is amazing how easily an audience can be distracted if you are you are too close or far away from the camera or make too many flamboyant gestures. How many times in recent weeks have we focused on someone’s bookshelves or curtains rather than listened to what they had to say during a TV interview? Rehearsal time is vital, don’t underestimate the challenge of mastering the technology and presenting to a camera, especially with a producer’s voice in your ear giving you cues, information, cutting to pre-recorded video or linking to other remote presenters. It is well worth the extra investment in time and budget to give presenters confidence and ensure a slick show.
As lockdown continues to ease, we will definitely see an increased use of studio locations for presenters to broadcast from. However, this will still be mixed with the need for people to contribute from remote locations, other countries and time zones. We've worked on virtual events bringing in presenters from various locations including New York, Milan and London, with kit supplied for use at home as well as studio broadcasts.
Incorporate creative content
To elevate the virtual experience, content needs be well thought out and structured making use of creative media to engage and involve your audience. Attention needs to be given to event design in terms of your agenda and keeping sessions to a length that works for people’s attention span. Your presentations definitely need to be more succinct than in a live environment although we recommend you mix it up with more than just talking heads on screen.
Essentials to consider:
Video content – pre-recorded elements can make content more dynamic and break up sessions.
Creative design, animation and visuals to deliver a professional high end produced environment.
Interactivity – include polls, live Q&A and voting as ways to keep the audience involved.
Entertainment – think about breaks and activities that can be included – we’ve done mindfulness sessions, quizzes and even a magic show to give the audience a change of pace.
As previously mentioned, rehearsals are important. It should be priority to do technical run-throughs as well as test content. Also, consider having a small sample audience watch participate and give feedback, allowing for sessions to be refined.
Just as different venues meet varied client requirements for live events, BCD M&E has a range of virtual offerings dependent on each client’s specific needs that will deliver a return on objectives and on budget.
Virtual events are without doubt the “go to” option at present to engage with audiences. In the future, we may see the rise of more hybrid events but whatever happens, live, virtual or hybrid, the need for professionally produced events, in whatever format is not going away. It is all about creating an end to end experience just as you would for a live event but with greater focus required on design, the duration and audience interactivity.