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How to Plan an Engaging Virtual Event

Organizations everywhere are being forced to rethink their in-person events. Transitioning to a live broadcast, be it a Zoom Meeting or Facebook Live, often seems like the obvious solution for our current reality, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the right answer. In this three-part series, we’ll explore how organizations can host an engaging virtual event by preserving what makes their in-person events exciting or informative for attendees, how to choose technology that works for you, and how to go about planning for the event.

A successful live broadcast of a virtual event requires a clearly defined strategy. A 30-minute meeting to build consensus around goals will make eventual technical decision making much easier.

Determine what you want to achieve

Organizers should start by reviewing the original goals of the event and writing what they are hoping to achieve with the virtual version.  You should try to determine:

  • Why are you having an event?
  • What are you hoping to accomplish?
  • What’s the story you’re telling?
  • Who is the audience for the event?
  • How will people learn about it?
  • What’s the value attendees receive?

Answering these questions upfront will help you ensure that each decision you make about the event is tailored toward the same set of goals.

Don’t be tied to your original format

As thousands of organizations are moving their events to digital formats, a great deal can be learned by observing what’s working and what’s not. One trend we have observed for conferences and multi-day events is the use of multiple formats. For example, having the keynote speaker or main event broadcast live while other sessions are pre-recorded and available on demand. While attendees may have been willing to spend the full day attending sessions in-person, it’s unlikely they’ll watch multiple hours of content in a single day when joining remotely. Recognizing this difference and offering content in a range of formats—such as live broadcasts, on-demand, and virtual exhibits—can help to keep participants attentive and engaged.

Determine which sessions can be pre-recorded 

Video production is a new capability for many organizations, and creating a live video is even more complex and has unique challenges. In many cases, the ultimate experience for the viewer would be better with a recorded and produced video. Decide if a core element of the story or experience would be lost if the video was pre-recorded and benefited from editing and second takes. If it is vital for attendees to interact with the speaker or to get live feedback on a particular topic, you should prioritize those types of sessions to be broadcasted live.

Five Storylines to consider for your live broadcast

People tune in to live broadcasts because they present the opportunity to participate, the chance to be the first to know as something significant happens, or because of the adrenaline of knowing something might not go as planned. We’ve outlined five proven engaging formats that might fit your event.

1. Interactivity: Beyond the common practice of taking audience questions, we’ve seen broadcasters get creative and find new ways to interact with audiences. For example, use live polling to conduct real-time research or to determine the agenda and topics for the broadcast.

2. Be the first to know: When news is breaking, people want to know what it means now. For example, we’ve seen legal scholars use live streams to discuss decisions from the Supreme Court of the United States as they’re handed down.

3. Something could go wrong: From a SpaceX launch to someone walking a tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon, when what will happen is unknown, it creates natural tension that draws in and keeps the audience’s attention.

4. Bring an event to those unable to attend: It’s never possible for everyone interested in an event to attend, and live broadcasts can expand the reach and impact of the event to those not attending in-person. Beyond streaming the main events, give people the full experience by showing the hotel, the meals, and other details.

5. Behind the scenes: Audiences are naturally curious, who hasn’t wondered what’s like to be that person or have that job? Pull down the curtain and allow people to experience a day in another person’s life.

Once you’ve landed on an outline for what you want to achieve with your event and how your audiences could interact with your content, you are ready to start thinking about the tools you need to bring your event to life. Next week, we’ll break down the tools for putting on a successful live broadcast.

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