This year taught us a lot about our aptitude for online events. Whether it was transitioning from a physical event to an online space, or creating a virtual event from scratch, online performances have been taking center stage this year, with mixed results. As we plan for 2021, one thing remains strikingly clear: our need for structured and seamless virtual events.
In the past 8 months, Saint Rock Media put on over 50 virtual events and met demands of companies that were not initially set up for this immersive, digital experience. With a dedicated team of producers and tech engineers, we were able to create a collaborative, visually exciting, and user-friendly experience that catered directly to a virtual audience.
Looking forward to 2021, here are some things your organization can do to ensure a successful virtual event:
When you start programming your virtual event, start with the end in mind. Take a step back and ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is attending the event?
- Who are your stakeholders?
- What is the purpose?
- How does this program achieve this purpose?
If you’re putting on an industry conference, for instance, you’ll make a list of everyone involved while figuring out what part of your programming you must modify for a virtual audience. If you have keynote speakers, and then breakout round tables with thousands of people, you’ll need to transition from a virtual stage to a smaller group-like setting for a more intimate group conversation.
If you’re hosting a nonprofit event, you’ll likely have different needs that may involve an auction, a panel of guest speakers, one-on-one discussions, a platform for donations and more.
Depending on the scope, writing up a desired outcome will let you see the foreseeable needs you’ll need in a virtual space. This will help you pick out the best virtual platform for your event, and give the people involved time to work with the technology.
Now that you’ve created a program to achieve your goals, what platforms and services are currently available to execute your vision?
Consider the different environments that each of these segments would take place. Common areas would be one-to-many environments (main stage), break out sessions, classes that involve multiple people on screen, conferences that enable a networking opportunity, or expo environments that may include highlighting sponsors or award ceremonies.
For all of this, you need a distribution platform. There are a variety on the market, each with its own price point and uses. If your aim is to do a simple livestream with minimal programming, you can use free streaming services like Facebook live, Youtube or Vimeo. If you have higher expectations or charge more for an event, robust platforms are Hopin, Brella, Hubb, and Run the World.
This year we rose to the challenge in putting dozens of in-person events online. With a global pandemic, budgets were cut and belts were tightened, clients were still able to achieve high quality productions. There are always various levels of production quality in these instances, and the readiness and breadth of knowledge our team had definitely helped our clients transition online.
It comes back to the question, what is your purpose? If it’s an internal event for your organization and it’s not public-facing, maybe your production value isn’t as high of a priority for your event. If you’re a medium to large organization like Nike, regardless of if the event is for internal use only, you’d consider the event like it’s public. Sometimes, reflects poorly on a brand if they do not invest in production value.
Here are the three main levels of production:
- Entry Level Remote Production: Everyone is offsite and not physically where the live stream takes place. Because this is entry level, everyone is responsible for their own audio/video setups and sending in their feed to your studio. For this level, the best practices would include having a high quality camera and audio equipment, and a headset to minimize feedback noise.
- Intermediate Media Kits: To create the best viewing experience, sending high definition cameras to each speaker, a prosumer microphone, and a light source or ring light. All of these are often user friendly, and really easy to set up. The speakers can just plug these into their computers or an outlet.
We typically send our clients this media kit:
- Advanced In Studio Production: The highest in production quality, the in studio production has an entire production team involved. This means video with multiple camera angles, audio, stage manager, lighting, custom set, and hard line internet. The in studio option provides an extra level of polish, which can include motion graphics and transitions, and video production options of pre-recorded video that are nicely packaged and flow nicely.
- Hybrid Events: With 2021 still unclear, there will be more virtual and hybrid events available to offer flexibility in events. Hybrid events allow for a live audience as well as live online options. These events give more considerations and camera angles of the audience and may require additional staff.
If there’s one thing I’d want event organizers to understand about online production, is to understand that just because something is online, it doesn’t mean the production costs will be less. Moving into 2021, many clients will see that in order to orchestrate a well thought out event with visual interest, high-profile speakers, and audience coordinators, it may cost just as much as a standard in-person event.
Pre Recorded Vs. Live
When you’re doing live production it can feel like you’re flying a plane or performing open heart surgery. Needless to say, it’s a stressful and sometimes risky experience. With virtual live events, you are bringing in many opportunities for quirks that are seen for the first time during a live feed. Most of the time, virtual events are often relying on someone’s internet, video quality, speaking skills and so on.
Live production can wreak havoc even after you’ve practiced. An example that happened earlier this year was a speaker prepared really well in the practice run, but going live brought on nerves. She was bouncing her knee, and it resulted in shaking her camera the entire time of her presentation.
Having less points of failure means providing at least some of the content ahead of time. This means creating pre-recorded material. Pre-recorded material not only minimizes the risk, it gives a little more time to up the production value. Combining pre recorded video with live video can create a fun interactive experience while making sure the event goes off without a hitch.
Creating the right team means focusing on each aspect of your program and making sure you have the right person for the job. Here are some of the core members of a virtual event team:
- Event Director
- Event Producer
- Platform Producer
- Creative team (This could mean graphic designer and video editor)
- Technical Director
Here are some auxiliary roles needed if you’re performing a larger event:
- Video production team for pre-recorded content to play during the event
- Moderators to help speakers navigate tech, advance presentation slides, and to facilitate Q and A’s
- Event support staff to manage attendees
Now that you have the program fleshed out, the platform and your team ready, what should your timeline be on a virtual event? Back in Q2 and Q3 of 2020, we were getting a lot of last minute requests because everything was an urgent nature. “Last minute” in virtual events was less than two weeks. Let’s not do that in 2021.
Depending on where you are in the planning stages in your event and how large your event is, know that this process will take at least a minimum of 3 months, and ideally 12 to 18 months. There is definitely flexibility in virtual spaces, but it doesn’t mean that you still don’t have to promote the event, gather talent, book a production stage, platform and so on.
Here’s a template timeline for your event team to consider:
- Come up with event branding (theme, dates) – 12 months out
- Choose your registration platform: Ideally, make the registration platform and event platform that are one and the same. Choose it early on in the process so you can launch registration. – 11 months out
- Get your programming/headlining talk booked first so you can continue building your program in tandem with promoting it. Once you have that talent booked until you get your registration set up. – 10 months out
- Depending on how large your event is, this is how much time you give yourself to promote. It also depends on how much you’re charging for that event. Free events don’t need that much time for promotion, but if you’re looking to have thousands of people and expecting 100s of dollars per ticket, your attendees need a lot of time to make a larger purchasing decision. – 10 months out
- While people are registering, you can fill out the rest of your program. Who is serving as the undercard? This is the time to fine tune production elements and details. At a higher level: 90 days of creating/executing production, in studio, speakers, camera angles, graphics package and more. – 4 to 6 months out
- Build out your virtual platform – 8 weeks out
- One to two weeks out before the event, have a dress rehearsal to make sure that all presenters feel comfortable giving a presentation with the tech set up your event wants them to use. – 2 weeks out
- The week of the event: Make sure attendees know best practices for attending the event to help reduce or mitigate support requests. We have a Know Before You Go video that we send with registration to show how to get the most out of the event. – 7 days out
- Day of the event
- After the event wrap up: This is the time to debrief and send out feedback surveys to the attendees, speakers, exhibitors, and different stakeholders It is critical to get attendee feedback to see if your event was valuable.
One of the things that needs definition in the virtual event space is how to make it clear that your virtual event is high quality. You want to show exactly why you have a price tag on it. In a world where so much content is free, this can be a huge hurdle. When you promote your event, you have to communicate that it is a unique event with high value. This can be illustrated from the performers you hire, the graphic design you promote with it, unique features like 360 cameras, explore worlds, VR/AR, creating avatars and more. Also, make sure it’s indicated that this is a live event which makes it “once in a lifetime”, versus free on demand content.
Another key piece of virtual event promotion are the people you work with. Everyone involved in this event is a promotional partner. Whether they’re a presenter or performer, they are strongly encouraged to promote the event you put on to the best of their abilities. If the event organizers want to make this easy for the partners involved, create a media kit including the social media and email copy so all they have to do is publish it.
Lastly, building partnerships we’ll go back to our initial question a final time: What is the purpose of your event?
If your event has a modest budget, you can do a lot of these tasks on your own. It can be time-consuming to learn and execute, but if you give enough leeway, you likely can pull off an entry-level or intermediate program without too much hassle.
If it is to showcase something special or with a high price tag, consider partnering with firms that are experts in producing virtual events. If your budget allows for it, partnering with an organization or vendors in any of these areas will take off the pressure of putting on this event. Choose a partner with experience specifically in virtual events, similar to the one you’re looking to execute. Making sure the event company is geographically based in a similar location as you are, as even though most virtual events are done remotely, time differences could create less efficient communication. Find an event company with domain expertise that can handle the whole thing or specific areas of the event so you can focus on the bigger picture.
If you’re looking for a partner in any of these areas, keep Saint Rock Media in mind. Request a demo with us so we can show you what your event is capable of!
We hope you have an incredible virtual event!