Becoming a Virtual Event Planner in an Instant
By: Amanda Wilson
Nonprofit Account Manager
Big Buzz Idea Group
Imagine we’re in the year 2000 and a respiratory virus is spreading throughout the world, causing all events and social gatherings to be canceled and forcing businesses to close. The internet, while gaining traction, is still rudimentary. Google was invented only two years prior and popular websites like Wikipedia, MySpace or Facebook are still years away. With mandates to socially isolate to help stop the spread of this disease, meetings would cease and businesses would have been unable to maintain daily operations. Additional programming like professional development seminars would have fallen by the wayside as businesses struggled to stay afloat.
Instead, we are living in 2020, an age that is abundant with technological resources to allow programming and events to continue. While we are still socially distancing ourselves and abiding by “shelter in place” mandates, the internet has provided organizations across the country the ability to continue work as normal. While some large-scale events (like March Madness and South by Southwest) have canceled, there are plenty of resources available to move your programming from in-person to online. The need for finding new and innovative ways to connect with your audiences is even more important than ever.
Here at Big Buzz Idea Group, we are experts in not only building events from the ground up but transforming events into something completely new. In this time of COVID-19, here is our guide to help you take your events online.
Step 1: Communicate with Your Event Team
While your initial instinct may be to communicate updates with your attendees, you first need to set a meeting with the event team. This includes the hosts, speakers and committee members. You want to keep the conversation small to help streamline any decision processes, but all key players need to be represented.
It is important to discuss all the aspects that are relevant to transitioning the event from in-person to virtual. Some basics include the following:
- Is your speaker able to adjust for an online presentation?
- Will your existing date work?
- How many people are likely to participate?
- Who on your team is best equipped to manage remote technology? Not everyone is comfortable with online event management.
Moving the event online will still allow you to connect with your audiences and help provide a feeling of normalcy.
Note: For events that are arts and performance-based like a concert or theatrical production, you need to review copyright restrictions before going virtual. Many licensing organizations have rules that limit streaming capabilities but are now offering new performance methods during COVID-19.
Step 2: Choose an Online Platform to Host the Event
In this era of social distancing, several programs are available for online conference calls and virtual events with each platform offering different types of interaction between the host and guests. Just be sure that the platform you choose has the bandwidth to handle the anticipated size of your audience. Depending on your programming, there are two styles of platforms that will be useful: conference style and presentational style.
These are virtual meeting groups that are perfect for events where the host and guests wish to interact directly with each other. This could be ideal for events like seminars, networking or annual meetings. Platforms like Zoom, Skype or Google Hangout allow people to connect in a virtual conference call and typically provide group management tools like screen share and mute.
For showcases, performances or Q&A sessions, Facebook Live is a great platform. The software is extremely easy to use and attendees can still easily enjoy their programming. Platforms like Facebook Live help to limit the potential distractions from so many people on the platform while still allowing the content to be shared.
Step 3: Enact Your Changes
For many events, typical grassroots advertising is done with a variety of tools like community calendars, posters and social media. While it may not be possible to update the information on all of these platforms, you do need to make sure the changes are clear. The more details you can provide about how the event is going online, the better. The switch from in-person to virtual should be noted on your ticket selling platform (in the header, description and location), the website, and on all of your social media channels. These are the places where people will access the most information, especially if other advertising points them to a main registration page online.
Verbiage for how your event is going online may be dependent on the type of event. For free events, include details such as the Zoom Call information or Facebook Live time. If your event is paid, you still need to protect the information so that non-paying guests don’t try to join in on the party. For one of our events we used the following language:
“This event has gone virtual due to CDC Guidelines. A Zoom link will be sent to registered guests the day before the event.”
This way the attendees knew which software we were using and when to expect the information. A simple message like this can help cut down on both the confusion and the number of emails.
It is also important to test the software before the event begins because, while these meeting platforms are easy to use, there is still a learning curve. Set up a call with your family or friends and double-check that all features – the meeting host, mics/speakers, and screen sharing – are working properly.
Step 4: Communicate with Your Guests
After everything is finalized it is important to communicate the new plan with your registered guests. In your messaging, you need to provide clear details about how the event is transforming and how to participate. Be specific about how your event is set up so that attendees know what to expect when they log in.
This is also an opportunity to mention if you have any different settings associated with the meeting. Certain platforms have helpful functions and settings like waiting rooms or automatic mute when people enter the chat. Including details like these will make the process of everyone joining that much easier. Here is a sample email to use for your guests:
Dear [First Name],
We are very excited to announce that our upcoming event [Event Name] on [Original Date] at [Original Time] will now be presented virtually using [Name of Platform]. Please find the details below about how to join the event.
[Copy and Paste Meeting Invitation]
We are expecting many attendees to participate in our upcoming event. [Chat Technological Details: Because of this, you will automatically be muted upon entering the chat. To unmute yourself, just press the mic button on your screen.]
Please let us know if you have any questions. We look forward to you joining us.
Step 5: Enjoy Your Event!
Now that all the details have been set and sent, it’s time to celebrate all the hard work that went into both organizing the original event and moving it online.
As host, be sure to log in approximately 10-15 minutes early to start the event. This way if people join earlier, they are not stuck waiting for the meeting to start. You should also set any virtual guidelines that will help the meeting to go smoothly.
Lastly, take pictures! While this event won’t look or feel like your usual events, it’s still important to take photos as you normally would for the record.
Taking your events online doesn’t require a lot of expensive resources. Instead, you just need to communicate clearly and understand that your event may look differently than originally anticipated. However, what’s important is that you are still connecting with your community and finding new ways to share resources and experiences.