While much of 2020 was spent on learning how to plan a virtual event, planners now have those fundamentals in their toolbelt and can instead shift their focus to considering the elements that will take their virtual events to the next level. To address this collective interest in upgrading the industry’s virtual events, Convene partnered with BizBash (the leading resources for ideas, news, and resources for meeting and event professionals in North America), to host a webinar discussing the best tools and tricks planners can use to host their next successful virtual event.
“We’ve had a lifetime of learning in nine months,” said David Adler, Chairman and Founder of BizBash, when kicking off the conversation featuring virtual event experts from Superfly (the masterminds behind music festivals such as Bonaroo, Outside Lands, and other creative experiences), Microsoft, as well as Convene. “And as we reminisced about the best virtual events we’ve ever attended – and we’ve all attended a lot – we discovered that all of our favorite virtual events had three things in common: great production value, human-centered design, and well-prepared speakers.”
We’ve compiled the key takeaways from their conversation below, with the panel’s top tips and tricks in elevating their virtual events. Watch the full webinar at your convenience here.
Great Production Value Drives Great Engagement
“We’re making interactive television, we’re not making an event.”
The value of great production is deeply appreciated by, and familiar to, all planners and producers – but translating an in-person experience to a virtual format can feel daunting, where even sincere attempts often result in flat, two-dimensional events that lack in impact.
To avoid this lackluster, Bob Bejan, Vice President of Global Events, Studios, and Marketing Community at Microsoft suggests a perspective shift, where a great virtual event is more than just a video and a landing page. “We’re making interactive television, we’re not making an event,” he asserts.
Similar to in-person events, increasing production value in virtual events is likely to increase your audience engagement. This requires virtual events to offer much more than shared screen presentations and with keynote speakers on camera for the entire session. In fact, Bejan recommends that video feeds should equally split time on screen between the main speaker, videos or interactive elements on the session topic, and graphics (that are animated when possible).
How Human-Centered Design is Essential to Success
“Human-centered design is at our core, it is our mantra. So we took a lot of time to try and take that and put it in our platform, to make sure our technology, our hospitality and our people at the forefront of all of our offerings.
Aside from elevating production value, a powerful virtual event is working to “build intimacy at scale,” and is one that embeds “cultural story-telling” within all the elements of the event, according to Rich Goodstone, Founder of Superfly. “We are looking to build community. What do we want people to feel and how do we get them into that frame of mind when they come to our event?” Goodstone continued. A platform featuring human-centered design that accounts for the needs of the planners, speakers, and attendees, is critical in making this alignment and vision execution happen.
“Human-centered design is at our core, it is our mantra. So we took a lot of time to try and take that and put it in our platform, to make sure our technology, our hospitality and our people at the forefront of all of our offerings,” said Maria Dillon-Kemp, Head of Marketing at Convene. “We really tried to put ourselves in the shoes of who would be using this platform.”
With this in mind, Convene offers Virtual Meeting Producers to help planners bring their event vision to life, with dedicated support before, during, and after each event. This approach allows all stakeholders to feel prepared, while still allowing the room for spontaneity that is associated with live events. Additionally, speakers and attendees both have unique features and views to meet their individual event needs in leading and participating in each event, such as a speaker area to meet before the event is live, as well as various engagement tools for all in attendance. All of these features are then packaged in the event host and sponsor’s aesthetic, not the platform provider’s branding. These human and participant-centered elements create peace of mind for planners, greater engagement from attendees, and greater control and flexibility for speakers.
How to Prepare Presenters
As with traditional in-person events, virtual events require dedicated preparation to properly ensure speakers feel comfortable and prepared for their sessions. This on-screen comfort results in an increased sense of confidence on screen, which translates into a stronger sense of trust with the audience to drive engagement. Our panelists emphasized the importance of rehearsals in speaker preparation, with both technology and content as key areas of focus in advance of each event.
“The big difference is that it’s a totally visual medium,” said Bejan of Microsoft, when speaking about preparing for a virtual event versus an in-person event. “In the same way a theatrical performer has to learn to work with the camera instead of with the house and the audience, when you translate from the stage to the screen, we had to do that in everything: from the way we presented keynotes, to the way people presented sessions.” In order to prepare speakers for this change, Bejan recommends plenty of filmed rehearsals where playback is used to improve maintained eyeline with the camera, as well as increase familiarity with technology.
Rich Goodstone of Superfly spoke on his experience and how producing events with natural performers and artists required a bit less effort on shifting eye-line, but instead on technology comfort and maintaining standards of production quality across environments. The Superfly team sent out tool kits with high-definition cameras, sound, and lighting equipment in advance of their filmed segments – and rehearsed with these elements as a part of their speaker preparation process.
On the topic of content, Bejan offered tips for both speakers and production. Using thousands of data points from last year’s events, he recommends that speakers limit their segments to twenty minutes, with no speaking-only portion being longer than 2.5 minutes. This interactive television format requires speakers to change their frames, support their content with multimedia visuals, and actively bring the audience into their conversation, when possible.
Produce a Compelling Virtual Event
Our panel shared real-world examples aimed to aid today’s planners in crafting a virtual experience that is as compelling as their last in-person event. Tune into the full conversation below to extract actionable advice on how to increase production value to enhance audience engagement, utilize a human-centered approach to virtual event design that ensures your staging aligns with your message, and get the support you need in order to set both your speakers and audience up for success at all of your upcoming events.
Watch the Full Discussion
Meet the Panelists
Bob Bejan, Vice President of Global Events, Studios, and Marketing Community at Microsoft, who decided not to cancel any of his team’s events in 2020, and instead transition over 25 productions to a virtual format – including Build Summit, 48 hours of nonstop virtual content for Microsoft’s developer community.
Rich Goodstone, Co-Founder of Superfly, responsible for driving the development of award winning strategic and creative solutions, leveraging cultural storytelling and community building. His team has raised over a million dollars for small businesses since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
David Adler, Chairman and Founder of BizBash, is a veteran media, marketing, and event industry entrepreneur, who believes that event organizers of all types need to be “high performance collaborative artists,” founding BizBash in 2000 to further that effort.
Maria Dillon Kemp is Head of Marketing at Convene, who joined Convene after a decade-long career in marketing leadership roles at Deluxe Entertainment Services Group, Paramount Pictures, Kantar Vermeer, and J. Walter Thompson.