5 Basic Tenets of Producing Virtual Events

I’ve had the privilege of working alongside the best-in-the-business event producers, delivering live, hybrid and now fully virtual corporate events for more than 15 years. Over the years, I've witnessed the move from live to digital events occurring gradually, but it was hard to miss. I watched as better cameras, smaller microphones and broadband connectivity enabled overscheduled audiences to skip the hassle of in-person attendance and opt instead for the convenience of live digital participation via their own screens. Watching the transformation take place, my company rapidly responded by using best-of-breed resources to create a more engaging and polished showcase for those joining remotely.

Not surprisingly, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of such channels with exceptional speed. The importance of digital events became apparent, and we were grateful to be prepared.

Digital events are not to be confused with your standard webcast. In fact, the production value of digital events is far superior to traditional webcasts in many ways. A fully branded, secure, embeddable player offers advanced functionality that scales to both bandwidth and screen size. These next-generation players can include polling, commenting, Q&A exchanges and other features. As a result, virtual events can expand brand reach, extend the shelf life of content and democratize the experience — and they’re fully measurable, allowing event marketers to iterate and optimize their messaging over time.

From our experiences, we've learned a few best practices that are applicable across any virtual or hybrid production. In the shift to fully virtual events, we urge our clients not to simply attempt to replicate their previous in-person events. There are several measurable advantages to producing virtual events that capitalize on the inherent advantages (and minimize the disadvantages) of such an impressive medium. For a memorable, enjoyable digital event, we advise clients to consider the following elements:

1. Brevity

Attention spans are radically shorter on screen than they are in person. As a best practice, consider the rough thumbnail of producing a virtual event that lasts half the time of any previous in-person event. Try to not exceed two to three hours per day — aim for a length shorter than your favorite movie, as most of your audience will likely suffer fatigue and be prone to negative impressions if their attention starts to wane. If your event was previously multiple days, you need not compress the time into a single day. Rather, consider a two- to three-hour event on several consecutive days.

2. Dynamic Production

Hold your audience's interest by keeping it moving. A single speaker becomes more watchable with a second or even a third camera angle. Switching between slides and talking heads through numerous presets (layouts on the screen, also called picture-in-picture) builds momentum, which helps maintain the audience’s attention. Consider opening sizzle videos, and interstitial videos that act like sorbet between your delectable courses of main content.

 

3. Rich Content

Staying with the dining metaphor, make sure your content has no empty calories. Every minute counts and must pack a nutritional punch. Your speakers should consider coaching/media training to be energetic and compelling. Your slides should look clean, and — most of all — your content strategy should reflect an information architecture that adheres to this foundational outline: your objective, the three to five talking points, supporting elements of those talking points and a conclusion that sums up points to remember. This should be done across all speakers. Also, don’t skimp on producing sharp videos, professional graphic assets and great music. These production touches will enhance the content you want them to remember and help stave off distraction.

4. Consider Pre-Recording

There may be a requirement for your event to be live; perhaps you have an executive team that mandates a live event. However, for a digital event to run smoothly, “live” equals extensive rehearsals, last-minute content changes and technical troubleshooting. These carry a bevy of risks and costs. While we can appreciate the integrity and spontaneity of real-time recording, there are ways to pre-record presenters and their presentations that convey the feeling of a live production, while controlling the content and its quality (much like a pre-recorded earnings call). During the pandemic, a vast majority of our productions pre-recorded most, if not all, of the content.

5. Consider Capturing Some Content Remotely

Think about your end audience and the impression you'd like to make. While we have traditionally hosted events in conference rooms, banquet halls or sound stages, consider filming in the lobby of your office — or a conference room your attendees may have previously seen — to convey a sense of familiarity, transparency and authenticity. If capturing key executives in the same room is a challenge, consider a remote capture platform that allows filming executives remotely, wherever they reside.

As you may have noticed, the foundation of these tenets is to, above all, take an audience-first approach. To recap, keep your content concise and capture the audience's interest with polished production value. Protect and enhance quality through pre-recorded components, and ensure relatability with recording venues that are either cleverly novel or comfortably familiar. While many of us will welcome the return to in-person events, it is clear that there is no turning back and that digital events are here to stay. The basic tenets outlined above will keep your business a step ahead of the pack as we collectively navigate the ever-evolving digital communications landscape.

Townsend Belisle
Founder and CEO at Haystack Needle

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