Jourdan Ma | September 03rd, 2020

One of the biggest content marketing casualties of COVID-19 has been the in-person event. This year we have seen everything from flagship conferences to music festivals move online. But while businesses and clients are getting more comfortable with interacting digitally, it’s quite another challenge to ensure that a virtual corporate event proves equal to the task of effectively replacing a physical one. So, I’m sharing some tips and tricks for before, during and after an online event that will help make it a success.

Choose the right platform

There are many video conferencing apps to choose from, each with its own set of merits and drawbacks. The top two most downloaded video conferencing apps globally in Q2 2020 were Zoom and Meet. Zoom has garnered high praise for its ease of use, while Meet, Google’s fast-growing video conferencing tool, is liked for its robust security and meeting control features. Both Zoom and Meet allow up to 100 participants in a meeting for free. However, Zoom allows you to see up to 49 participants on-screen simultaneously, while this falls to 16 on Meet. Other video conferencing options include BlueJeans, Microsoft Teams, which has seen growth in Europe, as well as Skype.

Test your technology in advance

Technical issues can be frustrating but are not entirely unavoidable. Fortunately, you can reduce the likelihood of last-minute glitches by running some simple but crucial checks before the event kicks off:

  1. Check your speakers and those of anyone else co-running the event. Also test your internet connection, lighting issues, screen-sharing, audio access and webcam permissions.
  2. If you use a mix of live-streaming and pre-recorded videos (or audio), have a rehearsal to ensure transitions are smooth.
  3. As a backup, share your presentations with the attendees ahead of time.
  4. Make use of the conferencing functions that allow hosts to mute the audience and turn off their cameras to avoid distractions and embarrassments.

Keep it simple. Think mobile

Online events benefit from a simpler approach to graphics and presentations. For example, using animations and slide transitions sparingly can minimise the chance of lag. We would also recommend limiting the amount of text on each slide and use bullet points where possible, as these will be easier for the audience to read. Meanwhile, consistent use of the font, colour theme and spacing will provide a way to minimise the chances of formatting quirks.

It’s also crucial to keep in mind the viewer’s screen size when designing your slides. It's best to assume a good chunk of your audience is logged in from mobile devices.

Don’t ignore the visuals

Ask your presenters to turn on their cameras – it helps provide non-verbal cues to the audience and will go a long way in making a virtual meeting come close to a face-to-face experience.

Of course, the camera does need to be in the correct position. Laptops placed on a desk typically mean the webcam sits lower than eye level, which can make the speaker look like they are looming over the audience. To avoid this, it’s advisable to raise the height of the laptop by placing it on something like a stool or put books under it. And while it can feel awkward at first, looking directly into the camera helps create an experience similar to an in-person conversation. If you want to have greater control over camera settings and framing shots than is possible with a laptop, consider using a professional video camera.

Another must-do is setting up your laptop camera in front of a window (with you facing the window) to fill your face with natural light. Alternatively, if your room is windowless you can place a lamp behind your laptop.

Finally, don’t forget to clean up the clutter in the background. What you have in the background of your video conference can say a lot about you whether you realise it or not.

Keep your audience engaged

Just like at a physical conference, having a well-planned agenda lays the foundation for a successful virtual event. At the same time, don’t base a virtual event on an in-person event agenda.

It’s safe to assume your virtual audience has more distractions than if they were attending a physical event. Attention spans also tend to be shorter when every presenter is on the screen. As a result virtual events should be limited to half a day split into multiple sessions, or spread over multiple days – or even weeks – made up of one or two sessions per day.

You will also need a moderator who can keep the discussion engaging. They should be able to quickly summarise what each presenter says, help relay the best audience questions to the presenter, transition smoothly from one panel to the next and be prepared to handle any glitches. And much like in a physical event, they should also be able to ensure the discussions are wrapped up in time.

Keep the conversation going

Your event planning should include a post-event to-do list. For example, sharing a summary of the key insights with attendees and those who couldn’t be there in the days after the event, along with a link to the event recording. I also recommend including a timestamp for people to jump to the sections they are interested in.

For attendees, consider sending out a post-event survey to gauge feedback on how the event was received, which will help you make any necessary improvements as well as provide fresh ideas for future events. All of this will ensure your target audience continues to stay engaged with your organisation even after the event and should mean they are more likely to sign up for upcoming events.

Whether your business is considering a permanent migration to virtual formats or just thinking about them as a stand-in until physical events make a comeback, it’s best to work on a strategy that prepares you for the future where online elements play an enduring, greater role.

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