Pandemic #Covid19 Virtual Events

COVID-19 Crisis - A Producer's Perspective on Canceled Events Going Virtual

Let me guess. The situation goes something like this. You have been planning your company’s 2020 annual meeting since the last attendee walked out of the ballroom at last year’s meeting. All the presenters are booked, flights, room blocks, catering are all set, presentations are finalized. And just now, your CEO announced that the meeting must be cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. WHAT DO YOU DO?!

 

Honestly, where do we even begin? It goes without saying that all industries, healthcare, financial, travel and trade are seeing devastating impact from the rising fear and uncertainty around the potential spread and impact of COVID-19. It’s unfortunate that we have to be concerned about the dangers of gathering together for a common purpose, aka the underlying purpose of any event. Events being able to harness the power of human connection, and face-to-face interaction is an unfortunate casualty that stems from a health crisis, like this one. As events around the globe continue to be cancelled, any marketing expert or executive will tell you there is simply no substitute for in-person, and the international loss has already proven to be far reaching — from plummeting sales projections for billion dollar organizations, all the way to the cab driver’s wallet. In fact, the number of events cancelled nationally and internationally are exponentially growing by the day — (seemingly faster than the number of actual coronavirus cases.)

 

There are many events that simply have no good alternatives, either. Most trade shows, product demos, user conferences, etc are a hands-on model, and this can not be replicated virtually. However, other types of events like internal sales conferences have event teams hastily searching for “better than nothing” alternatives. Some mega corporations like Google (with their cancellation last week of Cloud Next ‘20) are able to seamlessly transition their events into an online-only format due to their robust process for hosting hybrid events, while other smaller companies more unfamiliar with the use of live streaming are having to drink through a firehose. They now have to research and try to migrate their committed event scope, agendas, speakers, sponsorships and communication strategies into an online format while mitigating the loss of their overall event impact [financial, strategic, benchmark growth, etc.] No small feat.

 

Live stream components have been well established as a useful event tactic with solid ROI, becoming an expected event offering by event attendees, even before the looming pandemic. But now, within the confines of the health crisis, several event planners and organizations are having to hurriedly turn to an “online only” format for the first time.

 

With all of this turbulence in mind, I thought I would go over a few considerations from a technical producer’s perspective when migrating over an event (last minute) to a virtual conference. Here are a few prompts that will get your (emergency) event streaming team strategy session off in the right direction.

Audience Journey is EVERYTHING:

Think of the entire event from your attendee’s perspective. This should be standard practice for ALL events, but it is particularly important for virtual events. Your audience is usually immersed in your event design and strategy as soon as they walk in the door, your entire event can be carefully curated from linens to background music, and they can simply find a volunteer for any unanswered questions. A broken link in an email might be a small nuisance when signing up for a VIP networking breakout session, but a broken link that should be providing access to your entire event would be catastrophic. Have your team white board EVERY touchpoint for your event attendees making sure you are in control of the narrative. Think email drip cadence to white-labeled registration pages, to follow up surveys. These usual “cherry-on-top” considerations matter exponentially more for the attendee with virtual events.
Covid-19 Crisis 3

Content is King:

This one is the easiest to wrap your head around, as it has probably been ironed out in the initial event strategy phase. But the event team and suppliers will benefit from an overview of your high-level content strategy, then discuss things like – what content you will be streaming at your event, how will the audience perceive it, how will this message be distributed, and how do you want the content to be used post-event?

Actual Livestream Platform Considerations:

How many viewers will be attending the event? Where do you want people to access this stream? Do you need it to be password protected? Will attendees need to have on-demand content access later? How will this be captured? Where should it be hosted? Are there any additional “features” like closed captioning, simultaneous translation, polling, Q&A, or real ‘face-to-face’ networking opportunities needed?

Put your Techie-hat on:

Designated internet and power sources are best practice. If your stream has a physical in-person component, will you have full access to the “main” venue’s internet and power sources? If the in-person event was not previously designed to be “filmed” you are likely going to need additional lighting and video equipment that wasn’t in your original scope of work. Do you need I/T support for the internet at each remote presenter’s site? Do all sites have enough internet bandwidth for a live stream? Are the people watching likely to have good bandwidth? Are they international where the stream may be blocked? Have a technical producer sit at the table with you to walk you through these what-if scenarios.

An Extension of your Brand:

Your virtual event’s branding should seamlessly reflect your company’s brand, regardless of whether this event is internally or externally facing. Make sure that you choose a platform that can support custom colors, logos, and other signifiers that adhere to your brand VIS. Make sure all remote presenters are aware of your brand identity standards. (Even consider avoidable mishaps where a competitor’s logo happens to be on their desk during their remote presentation. Yikes!) Quality of the overall event stream is a perceived representation of your brand. Keep in mind, if your event doesn’t look or sound good, if it feels like a last-minute thrown together operation, your message’s impact on the audience will be less than ideal.

In summary...

If you don’t do live streams regularly, bootstrapping the technology together can be very difficult. Especially if you want it to look like a well produced live broadcast with highly engaging graphics, good sound and lighting, and polished video transitions, all last minute. And when it comes to live streaming platforms, there is an overwhelmingly wide range of quality and price depending on your needs. My suggestion? Find a true, unbiased partner to hold your hand through the process! After all, you are probably overseeing the entire event scope, and there are countless issues that your event team will have to overcome when cancelling an event last minute. This quick overview from a producer’s perspective will hopefully frame your conversation to get you going in the right direction.

 


 

Published: March 9, 2020

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