Let's talk speakers. After all they are the bedrock of your event. You can have the flashiest tech out there for your event platform, but if your speakers aren't up to scratch then your audience will turn off. Hopefully some of the little tips in this blog will help you if you are organising an event and working with speakers, or a speaker yourself in this new virtual world.
Who are you working with?
So, firstly, make sure you check the credentials of the speakers you're thinking about engaging with. Even though the advent of virtual events is still very fresh, some people might have previous experience of speaking in similar settings. Maybe they've done YouTube and live streams before. Perhaps they have spoken at hybrid events, or maybe they're just very tech savvy and know how to deal with the intricacies of virtual speaking. You shouldn't disregard those who don't have any of these credentials, but it's definitely a plus if they do.
But let's start in true event planner fashion by assuming that they need to be fully coached in this virtual world of presenting....
Remember the story
We have spoken about the importance of storytelling in a previous post, but it is something worth repeating. Sustaining an emotional connection in a virtual setting is hard but it's not impossible. However, it does require that speakers display more energy, authenticity and passion for the topic they're discussing than ever before.
The presentation can't just be a busy succession of disconnected points. It needs a beginning, middle, and end, a satisfying conclusion, and an overall journey that captivates the hearts and minds of those watching, if you harness the power of storytelling with the energy authenticity and passion, you are well on the way to keeping a captivated audience.
Death by Powerpoint?
Look at your speakers' materials beforehand. A second pair of eyes is always appreciated, especially if you're dealing with something that is different and unusual. Not all speakers will be familiar with the best strategies for a virtual presentation. So give yourself enough time to make alterations if need be.
Remember that how we're addressing people has completely shifted - virtual means a shorter attention span, high chances of webinar fatigue, and a greater need for something that will keep the audience absorbed.
Take a good look at your speakers' slides. Are they too heavy on the text? Are they bland and boring from a design perspective?
The key here is to use your slides as a means to provide a visual representation to switch the focus from the talking head of the speaker. Catchy titles, bold graphics, bullet points, engaging visuals, animated graphics. These are the things you should be looking for. No one wants to sit through a two hour lecture that consists of nothing but black and white slides with walls of text. I am a huge fan of Canva for producing easy, good looking design for a range of things including presentations.
Also consider if you really need slides - do they add anything? Don't simply use slides to repeat what you are saying.
Every production needs a script
No matter how good you are at public speaking, I would still recommend that you arm yourself with a script. There's nothing wrong with coming up with extra things on the spot, especially if it relates to questions from the audience or something that will enrich your presentation. You should be thinking of your presentation like a production, not a Zoom meeting (more on that in a second).
Just like you would have some notes and possibly cue cards for an in-person presentation, having some sort of road map of what you're going to see, which slides, images, videos, you're going to show, and some headings and timing cues is a big step to ensure everything goes smoothly. Plus, you're only human. And you can't remember everything. You have the luxury in the virtual world of being able to position that script in front of you too, so that it can be easily referred to at eye level, without anyone actually knowing!
Set the scene
As mentioned above, you should think of your presentation as a production, imagine yourself or your speaker presenting the news! So it's all about professionalism, and there are a few easy things to consider here...
Lights: Try to light yourself from the front for best effect. A ring light is good, or use a mix of natural and artificial light for the an even front lit effect. Avoid back lighting!
Sound: For the best sound quality, even using a simple lapel microphone can increase the quality of your sound beyond the basic built in computer mic. These can be picked up for less than £20. Make sure you are used to using it though, and avoid large jewellery or other 'noisy' clothing when wearing it. You will know what I mean if you have seen a tv guest sitting playing with their necklace and wondering what that rustling or jangling noise is!
Camera: Make sure you have considered your backdrop carefully. Again, we have all seen this done badly over the past few months - backgrounds filled with clutter, boxes, papers and generally things that are just going to turn your audience off. Now is not the time to display your impressive book collection, as it will only distract rather than engage or impress your viewers! The same goes for your own personal appearance. You may have spent the last few months in loungewear, but there is nothing like dressing up to instantly feel the part.
If you live with other people, make sure you let them know exactly what time you'll be online and for how long. Preferably they won't make use of the Internet in order to help your connection remain steady the whole way through.
Whatever has the potential distract you or your attendees during the event, get rid of it, and that includes your phone, open windows and a myriad of other things. We might find those examples of children and pets video-bombing meetings hilarious, but not so much when it involves your presentation. Don't be remembered for the wrong reasons!
Action!: And you are on! Make eye contact with your camera, not the middle of your screen in order to try and engage with your audience so that they feel more connected. You are doing your best here to establish a human connection. Try to know a bit about the audience you are addressing - what kind of approach would they respond to best? Casual or strictly professional?
Be very clear about what you want to communicate and make sure you're providing these people with the kind of content and experience they can relate to.
If appropriate, ask them to say hello in the chat function and encourage questions, trying to keep that engagement and checking in going during the session.
And relax.....there is nothing quite like the high you have when you finish a speaking session like this. Relating back to the performance analogy, it is very similar to an actor coming off stage. I am sure you will have done a great job. Remember to thank your audience and follow up with any information and contacts you have referenced, it's a great way to set up your next speaking gig.
One of the most frequently asked questions I hear as we pivot to virtual events is how much to charge for them. Should you charge the same as you would for the ‘real’ event?
Or should it be free, especially for the first one as you tentatively navigate your way through this new world? What are the other income streams available to you from a virtual event?
As with any event, it is important to start with a realistic estimate of your costs. Yes, there will be cost savings such as catering and venue hire, but don’t assume that your expenditure will be massively impacted. You will have to factor in the cost of your event platform, speaker and entertainment costs, as well as technical production if you want to really give your event the edge.
By knowing exactly what your expenses are you'll be better equipped to calculate the return on investment of your virtual event.
It's also important that you keep the goals of your event in mind. What do you expect to accomplish with this experience? Are you looking to educate your audience? Increase brand awareness? Or do you have a specific call to action/donation moment?
Only by knowing what the ultimate objective is can you successfully know which metrics you'll be using to measure the success of your event.
Research beyond the obvious
As with all events, you will no doubt be familiar with researching what your competitors are doing. But think about this - instead of looking at what other events are costing, take a look at online course platforms. A great way to get a benchmark is to see how these online courses are priced. If you discover for example that the average price for a three hour course say on compelling copywriting is £150. If your virtual event will offer six of hours of expert content on a subject, along with extra perks and state of the art speakers and trainers, you can charge double or more, so £300 and above. It’s a useful illustration of how much an audience was interested in a particular field, and how much they are willing to pay to be provided with in depth knowledge on the subject.
Providers like Udemy are a great place to start.
Knowledge has value
It can be very tempting to charge nothing, or very little for your events to ensure people will actually attend. After all, you won't be able to offer the same experience you would in a normal event, so why would people bother showing up?
Wrong. Remember that you have worth, and you're providing your attendees with a valuable experience that will enrich their lives in some way, offering yourself for free or selling yourself short will do you no favours. You should ideally charge the same for your virtual event that you would charge for the in person experience. After all you're bringing your attendees something that has value, and that they will benefit from.
Your attendees aren't going to an event for the excellent catering, they're going because of your expertise, because they believe their time and money are worth it. So don't convince yourself that charging less or not charging at all will help you achieve your goals. Remember the knowledge you are sharing is valuable!
Subscription models - a continuous stream of income
Subscription models are also very useful if you think you will be running a series, or even more than one or two virtual events. It can help both when it comes to pricing and attendee engagement. These models are becoming increasingly popular with consumers everywhere. You may slowly introduce your audience to these by starting with some great free content that demonstrates the quality of what you are delivering.
I am a great fan Adriene Mishler, the YouTube phenomenon that is ‘Yoga with Adriene’. Her story (below) is a very interesting one. She started back in 2012, so was way ahead of the curve, with an idea to give access to yoga to everyone, free of charge.
From this, of course came the income from advertising as she progressed, but more interestingly, she was building a community. This community took her and her content to their hearts and in fact actively started to message her to offer payment. It was from here that she developed her ‘Find what feels good’ subscription model, offering more in depth and exclusive content, and access to classes with Adriene and guest instructors.
She continues to hold strong to her promise to deliver free yoga content to all, but has developed a further following of fee paying clients out of this huge community.
Think creatively about what your charity or organisation could offer as a series of talks, building up a library of video content. Perhaps it is talks with eminent health, conservation or political figures? Call on some of your ambassadors to help with this – doing a pre-recorded talk with them is an easier ask than an in-person attendance at an event.
This content can then be offered to your supporters or customers as a monthly subscription model. The great thing about this is that it can represent a continuous source of revenue for your charity or organisation. Not only will you be bringing in a continuous revenue from some quality, educational material, but you will also be promoting future live virtual events.
Engaging sponsors and advertisers
Don't forget the additional income streams available from your online event.
Digital platforms also include the possibility of advertising spaces - you can leverage this to your advantage by selling banner and pop up ad space to potential sponsors of your virtual event. As frequent consumers of online content, we are subliminally being sold to all of the time, just think about Facebook ads, purchasing suggestions on Amazon and so on.
Sponsorships in the world of virtual events are an amazing source of revenue in themselves.
You need to start thinking of this as a viable income stream as you would for an
in-person event and create a compelling sponsor pack just as you would for that.
Use your event platform to promote sponsors through your speakers slides; logos and branding embedded into videos; social media channels; sponsored Q&A sessions and breakout/networking rooms to name but a few. Many platforms also offer gamification opportunities incentivising delegates to connect with sponsors during the event.
What is more, the content is evergreen and has longevity beyond the event - so it is a great resource for your sponsor to share to a much wider audience.
I will cover some of the creative ways to engage sponsors and advertisers in a future blog, so keep an eye out for that!
In the meantime, if you would like to get in touch for a no-obligation chat about how to host your virtual event, get in touch.
Like event specialists everywhere, I have been researching ways to deliver creative and events in a virtual way. Many of us are feeling fearful that things will never go back to normal, fearful that what made us love this industry is gone forever, and fearful that we will no longer be able to bring people together like we used to.
In this little series of blogs I will look at the different facets that make an event work in our 'new normal'. This week I am going to look at what is at the heart of events - the gathering of people, making new connections.
How can we do this in a meaningful way online?
What really brings these people together is the storyteller, and the way it is presented.
"We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”
Jonathan Gottschall, Author of The Storytelling Animal
Give something of meaning to your audience by inspiring engaging and educating them with a story. There hasn't been a better time to tell amazing stories and right now we're surrounded by forms of media and technology that enable us to engage in different and closer ways. I have been impressed by the way that various organisations have tackled this.
From the mammoth giant that is Apple, though to how charities are telling their stories.
Apple delivered its first all-virtual presentation to kick off the 2020 WorldWide Developers Conference in June. CEO, Tim Cook, walked onto the stage of an empty Steve Jobs Theatre on the company’s campus in California, and sat on a stool to address the serious issues of race, social justice, and the Covid-19 pandemic. The empty theatre gave a real sense of how everyone is facing the same challenges. After speaking for about five minutes, Cook passed the presentation to Apple’s senior vice president of software, Craig Federighi. He delivered his presentation from an entirely different studio on the Apple campus. It was the first sign that this virtual meeting would be constantly changing to keep people’s attention.
By the end of the presentation which lasted nearly two hours, the audience saw 20 different speakers involved in Apple’s product development. Just have a glimpse at the video below. No one spoke for more than ten minutes, and many of them spoke for just two minutes to keep the action moving. The changes and backdrops were constant.
Their 'story' may have been product led, but the method of delivery was engaging and creative.
The Latino Community Foundation quickly pivoted their 'Coming of Age Gala' online. This must have been one of the first repurposed virtual events that I took part in. Taking place at the end of May, they had time against them to create something really meaningful for their audience, just weeks after Covid 19 restrictions were imposed.
It is testament to how engaging it was in that I had to set my alarm to get up at 2am to view it in 'real time', and it kept me captivated into the small hours.
CEO Jacqueline Martinez Garcel and VP Masha V Chernyak both delivered their welcomes from outdoor settings, breathing a real sense of life into their stories.
The whole event continued against a series of nature inspired or colourful backgrounds, keeping the audience stimulated in a time when they were in lockdown.
Not everyone has Apple's budget, but the Latino Community Foundation demonstrated that doing something as simple as 'taking the audience outside' could bring a different, more engaging feel to their stories. Everything from videos to images paintings and photography falls under the category of visual media. All these things can be used to create dynamic visually engaging sessions and thoughtful content, it's time to start investing in these tools, just like you would invest in a venue.
Or you may want to go one step further and utilise some of the venue hire or production costs you would have had to budget for to utilise local broadcast studios, and the use of green screens and multiple cameras from whatever your setting may be. Because this is how you can support the narrative and the storytelling of the talking heads that's so important in virtual events.
But you don't have to rely on tools like this to craft a compelling story through a virtual event. You might find yourself held to contracts previously made with venues, but instead of losing the deposits, why not repurpose a space you already have in some ingenious ways. You can organise a concert live in the venue and stream it, offering virtual audiences the possibility to be part of a peaceful and hypnotic experience for the comfort of their own homes.
Another great way to give a story some visual life is to employ the services of a scribe. These artists have been bringing events to life over the past few years, creating walls of content at conferences and other large gatherings, and there is even more reason to be using them now. A digital live scribe could be in a separate 'room' at your event, creating artwork during panel discussions to provide a visual representation of the topics covered in the session. They are great to provide to attendees post-event and share on social media.
Look out for some more tips on bringing your virtual event to life in next weeks blog!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.