Lessons Learned, Virtually!

Photo taken by Lauren Dary.

With our last few virtual events in the rearview mirror, we’re reflecting back on many lessons learned. As frustrating as those hiccups, set backs, and derailments can be as they’re happening, the learnings that come from them are so invaluable in setting up the next event for success and mitigating a few less bumps along the way.

Here are, among the many, our top 5 areas of tips and tricks to set your next virtual event up for success.

1. Time management and program schedule

  • Plan for buffers in between sessions and in between speakers. On most platforms, the times that have been set as the end times are when the livestream shuts off. Going over time will result in your speakers being cut off abruptly. It is also important to note that there is a delay between the speaker feed and the attendee feed. Be sure to factor this time delay into your timings.
  • Avoid sessions starting right after one another with no breathing room (rule of thumb – always allow for 5 minutes in between speakers or sessions) unless the session time includes built-in buffers. This does not allow any room for error or flexibility.
  • Have a plan … and a backup plan … to keep speakers on time/for if speakers go over their time limit.
  • Keep schedules shorter for virtual audiences; you can even have an event go over several days so people do not get ‘Zoom fatigue’. Rule of thumb is to not have more than 3 – 4 hours of programming per day.
  • Always have a time slot for networking so people have the chance to discuss all that happened at your event. This will help make your event more memorable, and helps attendees retain information better. Try to schedule this at the beginning of your program and not at the end of the event as most attendees are ready to log off once presentations have concluded. At the beginning of the day is when attendees tend to have more energy and they can chat about what they’re most looking forward to with regards to the event, etc. There is more opportunity for ice breakers and an easy way to facilitate these networking opportunities are via round tables or discussion groups.

2. Speaker and virtual stage management

  • We’re all familiar with how to use Zoom and other common livestream platforms, but it’s important to communicate to your speakers how it is being used for your particular event.
  • Schedule pre-event training and prep sessions with your speakers. Schedule multiple opportunities to be flexible with your speakers’ and special guests’ schedules.
  • Be firm about what time speakers should check in ‘backstage’ or into the ‘virtual green room’. Speakers can always come back once they’ve finished they’re last minute checks before their presentation/go time.
  • Use a chime or sound to cue speakers when they are at key timing points (i.e. 5 minute warning, 3 minute warning, 1 minute warning).
  • Your speakers are busy people. They won’t always have the time to thoroughly read through support documents and resources prepared for them. Consider creating a one page summary of all critical details and tips they should be aware of, in addition to the other support documents. If all of your resources can’t be reviewed, preparing a one page synopsis of all important ‘need to know’ information might be more successful.
  • Not everyone absorbs information in the same way. Perhaps your reading materials could be presented in the form of a short video format.
  • Ensure that a drop in rehearsal window with your AV team is scheduled the day before your event. This allows speakers and special guests to drop in for any last tech checks prior to the event.
  • Always have strong moderators! It’s also a great idea to use a moderator who is familiar with your subject content. 

3. Tech support

  • Test, test, test, and then test again!
  • Ensure that your AV team has accessed the backend of your virtual event platform to do any necessary testing with regards to streaming links, prior to the event start.
  • Set up your workstation in close proximity to the area where your AV team will be working so that communication is easy and timely.
  • Ensure that your techs are aware of what they are responsible for on the day(s) of the event and what your role(s) will be. 
  • If your event is multiple days, check in with the AV team at the end of the day to reflect on what changes might need to be made for the following day. 
  • Remember that technology will either make your event accessible or inaccessible. Ensure that you have communicated tech tips and troubleshooting information to set your attendees’ up for a successful, comfortable, and barrierless experience.
  • In addition to tech tips on how to use and navigate the virtual event platform, consider having basic computer or tech tips available for guests who might not be as computer or tech savvy.
  • Even if you think some platform needs might ‘go-without-saying’, we always believe you should communicate ALL needs prior to the event. For example, making sure platform chat windows are not popping up when speakers are talking so the entire audience can see, or even communicating who’s responsible for muting/unmuting speakers, etc. 

4. Communications

  • In addition to a thoughtful promotions and marketing strategy prior to the event, ensure there is also a thoughtful communication strategy with your event attendees leading up to the event, during the event, and after the event. 
  • Once registration has closed, send an event reminder communication to all attendees.
  • Allow early access to the event platform for attendees.
  • Send a day before communication to attendees and a day of communication to attendees and include basic tech tips for accessing the event.
  • Once the event concludes, send a thank you communication and possibly include information about a post-event survey, what to expect, if session recordings will be available, etc. Remember that once your event ends, your relationship with the attendees does not.
  • Be sure to communicate the time zone that your event is taking place in.

5. Staffing plans

  • Create a staffing plan that clearly outlines who is responsible for what.
  • Some suggestions for role assignments are:
    1. One person to be your virtual stage manager, including any chat messages that may be needed (i.e. Zoom chat).
    2. One person to be your virtual backstage or green room manager.
    3. One person to manage communications via your virtual event platform – chat window messages, private communications with attendees, announcements, etc.
  • Set up a Slack or Whatsapp channel between yourself and any key stakeholders involved in event day(s) so that there is a means of direct and timely communication. 
  • Anticipate the questions that attendees might have in advance so that you can create a cheat sheet of responses. This allows you to simply copy and paste the answers rather than writing them out each time, thereby saving you time.
  • For messages which might routinely be pasted into a chat window or other section on your virtual platform, consider creating a pre-populated message sheet that allows you to copy and paste the messages rather than writing them out each time. This will prevent errors and will also save you time.