This is a guest post written by Jordan Schwartz, president, and co-founder of Pathable, an event app and website platform for conferences and tradeshows. He left academic psychology for the lure of software building and spent 10 years at Microsoft leading the development of consumer-facing software. Frustrated with the conferences he attended there, he left Microsoft in 2007 with the goal of delivering more value and better networking opportunities through a next-generation conference app. Jordan moonlights as a digital nomad, returning often to his hometown of Seattle to tend his beehives.
A lot goes into event planning and management. From the conception of the event’s big idea to everything leading up to the day of the event (and even after), different event logistics are deployed to make the event a success.
When you have put all the required logistics in place but then a disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic strikes, you can either choose to cancel your event or look for an alternative. Thankfully, many event organizers are finding pivoting to virtual events as the best option to save costs and retain their audience.
When you have decided to pivot, you have to go back to the drawing board to restrategize and decide which of your event logistics will be relevant to your virtual event production. The following are some ideas of what can stay or can be adjusted in order to have a seamless pivot:
- Event Technology Requirements
- Event Stage Reservation and Production Management
- Registration and Credential Management
- Event Content Collection/Retrieval and Management
- Event Activities Scheduling
- Event Promotion and Marketing
- Sponsor and Exhibitor Management
- Event Customer Service
- Event Communication Channel
- Travel / Accommodation / Entertainment for Event Production Crew
- Contingency Plans
- Post-Event Logistics
Continue reading to learn more.
Event Technology Requirements
Technology is required to produce any kind of event and your technology requirement depends on your event type and budget. Some solutions often deployed for events include:
- Event planning software
- Registration automation
- Facial recognition and check-in apps
- RFID badges for audience verification
- Credential Management and Payment Integration
- 3D Projection and displays with spatial augmented reality
- Live streaming and On-demand event video platforms
- Live translation
- Lead retrieval, etc.
Whatever technology plans you have made for your event will require an overhaul when pivoting. While you might still retain some of the solutions mentioned above if you had them in your plans already, an all-in-one software is most appropriate for pivoting.
Event Stage Reservation and Production Management
You will need an event stage if you do not plan that your speakers will live stream from their own base. This might be an actual stage in an event hall or a studio from where you can produce and live-stream your event.
This will also include other things you need for your stage set up such as decor, background (if not using a virtual background), seats for speakers, a podium (if necessary), screen, sound production, and any other requirements that suit your event plan.
If you have chosen to use a live stage, you will also need the services of your onsite production crew. The team will include people managing the stage, audio-visuals, and other support required to produce and live stream high-quality content.
Registration and Credential Management
You will have to retain some of your registration logistics such as your online registration platform. However, some other aspects of credential management strategy such as on-site check-in, etc will have to change. Your registration data should be integrated with or migrated to the virtual event platform to facilitate easy attendee login and use of attendee data that will be required on the platform. These features can be used to create community and facilitate networking.
Event Content Collection/Retrieval and Management
Whatever means or platform being used to collect, retrieve, and manage your event content such as PowerPoint presentations, keynotes, videos, ads, and other prepared content can be retained. This content should be readily available to feed into your virtual event platform anytime.
You can talk to both your content management platform provider and virtual event platform provider to work out modalities for data integration or migration.
Event Activities Scheduling
Your event activities schedule can be retained with some adjustments. Keynotes, panel discussions, and breakout sessions can remain as planned, but you will have to be mindful of timing. The activities should not be longer than an hour because of the short attention span of online audiences.
The tea breaks and meal breaks can be retained. While there may not be actual dining, people can use the time to do whatever they like or even have a meal at their own location.
The networking and happy hours can also take place on the virtual event platform. Attendees can participate in the activities using your mobile event app.
Event Promotion and Marketing
Some parts of your event promotion and marketing plan will remain while some will have to change. You can retain your event website and sustain the momentum of your publicity on social media. However, additional promotional content should be created to portray the new virtual experience, so that prospective attendees can begin to anticipate the event.
In addition, rather than you or your partners producing branded items, the attention should be shifted to producing branded hashtags, images, and short promotional videos that can be publicized on social media.
Sponsor and Exhibitor Management
Your initial plan to give sponsors and exhibitors maximum brand exposure during your live event should be implemented for virtual. Your team should provide guides to sponsors and exhibitors on size and resolutions for branded images and videos. Your team should also work with the virtual platform provider to determine how and where to strategically place the promotional content from sponsors and exhibitors.
You can also create time slots on the platform for attendees and sponsors to manually book appointments with one another. This can be done when all attendee data has already been collected and integrated with the virtual event platform. You can set aside some time before the event when attendees and sponsors are allowed to log on to the platform to book such appointments.
There can also be a virtual exhibit hall where partners display video showcases and other promotional items that attendees can view.
Event Customer Service
For in-person events, situations arise where attendees require assistance and there are standby customer service desk points to attend to such. This aspect should be properly preserved for virtual events as well. Attendees will certainly need assistance for a variety of issues that may come up while using your event platform.
You can provide virtually manned customer service points on your platform or have chatbots to handle and resolve complaints. Your arrangement can also include dial-in numbers in case some attendees are unable to access the platform or are having issues navigating the mobile app.
In order to reduce complaints, you can take all your platform users through a tour of the platform by producing a video guide and sending it to them ahead of the event. You can follow this up with an imagery poll to test their familiarity with the platform.
Event Communication Channel
Establish your communication line of command and assign roles. Your event team should have a separate communication platform apart from the main event platform for planning, implementation, and resolving technical issues.
You can use an event planning and tracking tool so that your team can monitor in real-time how the transition progresses before the event. On the day(s) of the event, there should also be a line of command to designate the troubleshooting and fixing of issues that might come up.
Travel / Accommodation / Entertainment for Event Production Crew
This might seem unnecessary considering that the event is now virtual. However, when you need a site to produce or live stream the event and you require some or all of your speakers and team to be on-site, they have to be catered for throughout the number of days their services would be needed.
So while you are not looking at having a large crowd, do have travel, accommodation, and entertainment plans for your team and your guests.
You should have contingency plans in case of disappointments that may come up during your event production. A common experience is poor network connection or outright network failure. Another one is absence; a speaker might inform you that they are not coming for reasons beyond their control (you can never predict what can happen during a health crisis).
A contingency plan might be to ask the speakers of all major sessions to pre-record and send their presentations even if you plan to bring them on live. Such content can be streamed when speakers don’t show up or if there is a network failure at their end.
To reduce incidences of bugs on the virtual event platform, make sure you do multiple test runs to ensure that everything is working as it should. You can use event volunteers to test out your platform and report any issues.
This includes everything that has to do with lead retrieval, post-event surveys, and others. Your virtual event platform should have features for easy retrieval of data and actionable insights from your event.
You can also use the event’s mobile app to send post-event surveys to attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, and partners to know their experience and measure the impact of your event.