Virtual events are here to stay.
Previously perceived as a pandemic-era alternative to in-person activities, marketers have discovered several distinct advantages to virtual events. Scalability and cost-effectiveness are the most obvious. Simply put, virtual events can reach more people for less money.
But they also allow us to meet the moment in other critically important ways. First, virtual events are more accessible. Digital delivery provides neurodivergent individuals with more flexibility to absorb content and navigate social interactions in ways that best suit them. The online environment also enables the use of assistive technologies such as screen readers and closed captioning, making virtual events more inviting for persons with disabilities. And, of course, virtual events can be accessed from anywhere.
Then there is the sustainability factor. Virtual events eliminate the need for travel, catering, decor, printed signage, physical giveaways, and more, massively reducing landfill waste and emissions.
Altogether, it’s clear why virtual events are a choice option for engaging audiences and delivering information. The question becomes how to make them great. Our tip: Remember the 5 Ps—Platform, Presentation, Presenter, Preparation, and Partner.
With hundreds of options to choose from, picking the right virtual event platform could make anyone’s head spin. A simple Google search for “best virtual event platforms” can offer some strong options, but your choice should be based on your audience and their needs.
At Montage, our platform selection process begins with mapping client needs to platform features in a needs-to-feature matrix. We start by listing all the client objectives and requirements. Sometimes these are concrete, i.e., the client wants a built-in chat function. Other times, they are more amorphous, i.e., the client wants avenues to interact with participants. Using this information, our team identifies multiple platforms that can work well for the virtual event, incorporating those that the client has previously used and liked. We then map each client requirement to the specific platform feature(s) that best meet that need.
By creating a needs-to-feature matrix, we can easily see and eliminate platforms that fall short. Yet, oftentimes, more than one option meets all our client’s needs. So, we go deeper. Our team compares platform costs, visual quality, user experience, and looks at the needs-to-feature matrix on a more granular level to make a recommendation.
TIP: Create a needs-to-feature matrix to determine the ideal platform. Should you or your client have a preferred platform, however, it’s okay to stick with it. Just make sure it has the features they want or need most.
Congratulations—you’ve picked your platform! Now onto nailing the event itself…
There is a lot to consider when preparing the content of your virtual event. Remember this: “If you don’t know what you want to achieve in your presentation, your audience never will.”
Start by revisiting the objectives established in the platform selection process. Don’t try to boil the ocean. The best presentations deliver a limited number of clear, actionable messages in a variety of different ways. During our virtual info sessions for the All of Us Research Program, for example, we focus on the importance of diverse representation in biomedical research. In a typical 15-minute presentation, we tell (verbally explain how participation in research leads to a greater understanding of different populations’ unique health needs), show (provide visuals of medical breakthroughs made possible by participation in health research), and ask (invite attendees to share their experiences and questions) to accommodate various learning styles and reinforce key points. Including multiple avenues for attendees to absorb information and opportunities for interaction is a tried-and-tested best practice.
It also helps to put yourself in the audiences’ shoes. Consider the aesthetic that best reflects and appeals to attendees. Pull elements of that aesthetic into a mood board and use it to shape the design of the virtual environment and presentation content. Herein, you should prioritize visual accessibility. Is the color contrast high enough? Are there flashing elements? Prioritize clean, clutter-free designs that are easy to read and guide participants where you want them to go.
TIP: Look for opportunities to personalize the event experience. For more complex events, take advantage of platform features that display the attendee’s name and specific agenda. Welcome specific attendees during opening remarks or pose a question for them to respond to via chat.
The technology that goes into delivering events digitally is undeniably impressive. But as with in-person events, it’s people that bring virtual events to life.
Presenters play a significant role in maximizing the attendee experience and ensuring the event delivers on objectives. They bridge the gap between digital and physical worlds, and thus, must be adaptable, approachable, and enthusiastic.
In addition to choosing your presenter(s) wisely, there are several things you can do to enhance their connection with event attendees. First, an introduction. Encourage presenters to open with a few quick highlights about who they are and what makes them relevant to the audience. Avoid lengthy lists of accolades. Rather, focus on their relationship with the content they are about to deliver. Add in a fun fact to break the ice and make the presenter more human.
Second, facilitate interaction. From the outset, presenters should invite participants to ask questions, use platform emojis, and chat, if desired. We’ve found success by having two presenters per virtual event session, allowing one to present while the other monitors reactions, fields questions, and interacts directly with participants. Our presenters often trade roles at least once during a presentation to vary the voices heard and maintain attendees’ focus.
TIP: Remember, timing is everything. Nothing throws an event into disarray more than a presenter who goes over their allotted time. Presenters must be prepared to deliver information in the timeframe provided, preferably leaving room for audience questions. Having presentation timing mastered keeps your virtual event running smoothly and keeps audiences engaged.
Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to virtual events. Complex logistics, clunky transitions, technology glitches, and enterprising hackers are just a few of the challenges we’ve run into when delivering experiences digitally. Only by preparing for the worst can you set yourself up to achieve the best results.
Start your preparations by understanding issues commonly associated with your chosen platform. Search online, ask the platform directly, and use the Help Center resources available. Many platforms also provide training for virtual event planners and producers. Take advantage of training opportunities and ask relevant presenters to do the same.
Then, as things come together, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Whether our team is running a 15-minute or a full-day virtual event, we host a dry run to work out issues and identify areas for improvement.
TIP: Invite trusted colleagues outside of your event team to attend your rehearsal. Ask them to tune in, test out various functions, and provide feedback on the user experience and event content.
We’ve established the advantages of virtual events and what you can do to make them great. There’s just one piece missing—a trusted partner to help you make it all happen.
Within the past two years, Montage has designed and delivered hundreds of virtual events for our clients and partners. Along with our extensive experience, we bring our commitment to creating meaningful audience connections and exceptional service to help clients host innovative, engaging, and impactful virtual events.
TIP: If you’re looking to deliver a foolproof virtual event, look no further. Connect with us today to talk through your goals and requirements.