Herding Virtual Cats: Best Practices for Hosting Your Virtual Event

Aug 6, 2020

Many of us had our first taste of hosting a virtual event this spring, when the world shut down and we attempted to bring our families together over Zoom. “How hard can it be?” we said as we confidently sent an invite without detailed, step-by-step instructions.

We were so young and innocent back then.

Maybe it was Easter morning, or Grandma’s birthday, or a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah. But as we logged in to our virtual get-togethers – and saw that half our family couldn’t turn on their webcams, the other half couldn’t unmute their microphones, and poor Grandma Gertrude just called via landline asking what in tarnation a Meeting ID is – we quickly learned that getting the family together online is exponentially more complicated than meeting in person.

Those of us who have hosted events in the past know that hosting has always been complicated. But going virtual is a different beast. It adds a layer of technology that requires even more rigorous planning and clear communication with your audience. Anyone can walk into a physical event hall; logging in to a virtual event requires some technological literacy.

It’s also just something new. And whenever the world has to learn something new, there are going to be a few hiccups and poorly positioned webcams along the way.

As a marketing partner, the MACLYN team has planned and hosted numerous virtual events—large and small, simple and complex. Along the way, we’ve learned many less-than-obvious lessons that we wish we had known the first time, and now we’d like to pass that knowledge on to you.

These are a few of our best practices for hosting your online event:

Before you begin, ask yourself these two questions.

What is the format of this event?

What do I want the user experience to be?

If your event is intended to be an interactive meeting with a smaller group of people, go with a meeting format where attendees can interact openly, yet presenters still have the capability to share screens.

If your event is going to have little or no audience interaction, with one or more presenters running the program, you’ll want to host your event as a webinar. This format still allows for some audience interaction but offers more control over what can be seen and heard during the program.

Practice makes near-perfect.

Invite anyone who is speaking or participating in the program to join at least 15-20 minutes early. During this practice time, you’ll want to test audio, internet connections, and ensure your presenters are comfortable with the technology they are using and understand their role in the program. Additionally, ask that presenters and speakers mute their notifications (email, phone, etc.). There’s nothing worse than hearing the Twitter whistle or the Slack shuffle right when someone is making a good point.

Assign specific roles to event staff.

If you are using the chat feature, taking polls, or hosting a Q&A, there should be at least one staff member dedicated to that role.

If you are hosting multiple speakers, consider having one person share their screen for the presentation, and simply pass screen control to the speakers. Keep in mind, when you pass control to someone else, you can no longer use your computer!

There should always be one person whose sole responsibility is to ensure that the program moves along as planned. This person may have to jump in to control audio and video for presenters, allow audience members to speak, or perform any number of duties.

Engage your audience.

Passive participation is boring. The best events, virtual and otherwise, encourage the audience to do something.

There are a number of tools to help engage your audience during virtual presentations. Utilize polling, Q&A, reactions, and the chat feature to get people in on the action.

Afterwards, you can publish a recording of your event and even include the poll results, chat transcripts, and more. Make your audience feel like they are part of the event, not just watching it.

Set and manage expectations.

Let your audience know in advance what they can expect. This starts before the event. Enabling waiting rooms is a good way to let the audience know that they are in the right place but the event hasn’t started yet. Also, notify your audience in advance if there will be an opportunity to ask questions – that way, they can prepare ahead of time – and whether a recording will be available.

For your speakers, create a ‘run of show’ (agenda) so that everyone knows exactly how the program will flow and how it’s handed off from one person to the next. Smooth events are almost always the result of careful planning.

Before we sign-off, we’ll leave you with one more word of advice: Don’t expect a virtual event to be exactly like an in-person event. If you do, you’ll probably be disappointed.

With that said, virtual events can be awesome! With the right planning and communication, a virtual event can actually be more flexible and interactive than an in-person event. More people can have their voice heard, and more content can be fit into a tighter timeline. Plus, virtual events are typically more efficient and affordable – there’s no travel, no hotel rooms, no expensive décor and food service – which means that more businesses and people can participate and host their own event.

Whether you’re planning a virtual or in-person event, just remember to always focus on the experience of your audience. Keep them informed, keep them engaged, and you’ll be successful.

Want to learn more? As total marketing partners, we have a lot of experience with planning and hosting virtual and in-person events. We have a knack for pulling off smooth, interactive experiences that make the most of the technology at hand.

Feel free to contact us anytime for a free consultation with MACLYN’s expert marketing team and virtual event planners.

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