Faced with the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), many professionals are looking to mitigate the impact it may have on them and those around them in the weeks and months ahead.
As domestic and international travel is increasingly limited and more communities practice social distancing, organizations worldwide are rethinking their events, both internal and external. As the long list of postponed or canceled events continues to grow, event organizers have some tough decisions to make.
Instead of canceling, many companies are opting for virtual events. Adobe Summit and Facebook F8 have both gone this route, along with many others, canceling the in-person aspect of their conferences and moving the event 100% online.
Whether you’re planning an internal all-hands, customer meetup, or an industry conference, virtual events can help you stay connected with your employees and customers, even if you can’t bring them all to the same place.
Live video truly is the best option, next to face-to-face interaction, to make sure that your people feel like they are ‘in the know’ in an increasingly digital world.
The pivot to virtual events in 2020
We’ve recently heard from many event organizers who are looking to spin up virtual events, fast.
Morgan Laskey runs events for email marketing platform Klaviyo. She recently decided to cancel Klaviyo Live, an upcoming customer event in Amsterdam — and is looking into virtual events.
“Our staff and community’s health and safety is our top priority.” she said. “Canceling something that is intended to be fun, social, and educational is a huge upset. You work incredibly hard to make your events perfect for your guests. But it happens, and all we can do is be prepared.”
“I think virtual events are our best plan B for right now,” Laskey continued. “They can be fairly simple and quick to coordinate, relatively cheap, and a good tool to still provide a sense of the event being ‘live.’”
Are virtual events right for your organization?
Virtual events have always been an effective way for event marketers to extend their reach and augment their in-person strategy. Here are a few reasons they might be the right solution for you:
- Virtual events expand your reach. We’ve seen customers increase their reach 50x by simulcasting a conference stream to social channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, and more. Live streaming your conference helps you reach people who can’t attend for all kinds of reasons, including health concerns.
- Virtual events democratize your experience. Anthony Rudolf, partner at creative agency Co.create NYC, leverages live video for their annual Welcome Conference for hospitality workers. “We’ve used live video at the Welcome Conference since day one. Restaurant and hospitality workers are overworked and underpaid, so the likelihood that they would have the time or finances to attend was small. We looked at video as a way to really democratize the talks that were happening.”
- Virtual events extend the shelf life of your content. Your content doesn’t stop being valuable once the online conference is over. Videos and talks can live on as a branded, searchable experience that can continue to drive engagement.
- Virtual events allow you to get creative. With an online-only experience, you can play with content formats, bring in additional speakers as remote guests, and engage your audience in a measurable way.
- Virtual events are a better option than canceling. Event cancellations can mean revenue loss, disappointed staff, and upset attendees. Virtual events help you mitigate impacts to your business while providing a safe, enjoyable experience for your guests.
There's an interesting dynamic and feedback loop that you can create through live streaming that brings you closer to your audience outside of the room.
How to host a virtual event
Great virtual events start with a great content strategy, backed by solid execution. We caught up with Vimeo’s Live Production Lead, Tom Gott, to share his top five tips for planning an amazing online conference that is built for live.
1. Plan stream-worthy content.
If you’re pivoting from an in-person event, then you’ve already done the groundwork here.
Content dictates everything when producing your live event — how you shoot it, what type of cameras you’ll use, how to light it, and even some of your encoding and technical choices.
When planning your content, keep these four components in mind:
- Relevance: Make sure the content you’re live streaming aligns with the interests of your intended audience, and your content matches your brand voice and targeted prospects and customers.
- Interest: Have you ever watched an event with lulls in action? It’s a drag. Keep it interesting, and your audience will keep their eyes on your content!
- Consistency: If possible, turn your live event into a series (either annually or otherwise). “Keeping your events consistent is a guaranteed way to increase brand awareness and brand equity, while engaging meaningfully with your audience,” says Gott.
- Actionability: What is the call to action at the end of your virtual event? If you want to convert your audience, you will need to facilitate viewer interaction after the event is over.
2. Stream everywhere — or create exclusivity.
“Choosing where to live stream depends on how your audience watches video online and who you want to be able to see your stream,” says Gott. “Your live stream can be embedded on your website, shared via social media, and/or viewed on a live streaming platform.”
If you’re streaming a private event like a town hall, it is best practice to secure access with single sign-on or password protection. If you are streaming a public event, the more eyes, the better. Your content should live on multiple platforms and websites.
We looked at video as a way to really democratize the talks at the Welcome Conference.
3. Mimic the magic of an in-person event.
If replacing or adding live streaming to a physical event, make the viewing audience feel like they’re at the event, without harming the experience of the in-house audience (if there is one!):
- To make sure the in-house audience is happy, plan ahead and test everything. If there is an in-house team, make sure to coordinate with them so everyone is aware of what equipment will be where. Your job is to be as invisible as possible to your in-house guests, while creating an incredible online experience for your viewers.
- To impress your online audience, make the online event match the level of quality you’d expect from an in-person event. “I always like to remind myself I am in a people-first business and to put myself in the attendees shoes when planning anything,” said Laskey. Create an engaging experience with tools like Q&A, live polls, and live graphics.
4. Test everything.
First rule of live streaming? Test. EVERYTHING.
The best thing you can do to prevent mishaps during your online event is test everything, but most importantly, your stream. Test primary equipment workflows, backup equipment workflows, audio quality, video quality, internet connection, and any and all redundancies. Perhaps most importantly, confirm your upload speed by testing your connection at a website like Speedtest.net. You should schedule time to test all of your video production equipment both off-site and on-site.
5. Prepare for “Murphy’s Law.”
“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” Gott says. But don’t let that scare you off! If you identify the things that might go wrong, you can create a plan for how to handle them. Go in with a plan, a solid technology platform, and the right support, and you’ll be prepared for anything that comes your way.
5 next steps to take
We know this is a sensitive topic. Here are a few final tips on how to navigate the next few weeks and months:
- Stay informed. Follow the latest updates about coronavirus from the World Health Organization and the Events Industry Council here.
- Communicate. It’s disappointing to cancel or change an event, but most attendees will appreciate your putting their safety first. Share information early and often, and don’t be afraid to be authentic — we’re all in this together.
- Rethink your policies. If your events are further out, you may be in “wait and see” mode. Consider extending your early bird ticket window, or crafting a more lenient cancellation policy, if promoting a future event during this time.
- Be prepared with a Plan B (and C, and D). Plan for a virtual event now, so that you can take the time to do it right. Best-case scenario, you can do both online and in-person, and reach even more people.
- Get the right tech. Live streaming a virtual event can seem intimidating if you’ve never done it before. “Live streaming alone actually gives me some anxiety — more so than a live event if you can believe that,” Laskey said. But with the right platform and support, live streaming doesn’t have to be stressful.