Virtual Event Planning: Key Takeaways with Andrea Lovanhill, Evelyne Kuo, and Mo Herbert

Most events have shifted online due to COVID-19 and with so many options for platforms, the possibility for technical difficulties, and the challenge to connect virtually as a community, many organizations have questions. In this event moderated by Andrea Lovanhill VP of Marketing and Relations for the Committee for Children, Evelyne Kuo and Mo Herbert invited the community to explore virtual event planning logistics in three stages and shared some of their personal experiences and tips on organizing an online event such as this one.

Before the event

According to writer Priya Parker, when we are creating an event, we should always start with the question “why”. What is the purpose of your event? Why are you holding this event and why does it matter? Knowing the “why” can help you plan your event in a more organized way.

Once you know the purpose of creating your event and knowing what you want to talk about, you can move on to planning the event structure. The first thing you might want to do is to think about your selling point. What makes your event different from others? Is there any special skill set or knowledge that your organization can provide? Be sure to make your “selling point” clear in the event description in some way. Other things that you should also think about include your event frequency, videos presented in the event, event style, platform, date, and time length. Speaking of event frequency, if it’s an event series, you might want to host the events on a consistent schedule to not only help you with planning your events in a more efficient and structured way, but also to help your audience to keep track of your upcoming events. Additionally, “when” you hold the event matters too. Weekdays might be more suitable for business meetings while weekends or Friday night will be better for happy hour kind of events. At the same time, you also need to think about where your participants are participating from. Accommodating time differences is crucial for reaching an audience across the United States or internationally.  Holding your virtual events between 45-90 minutes is ideal. If it has to be over 2 hours, consider short breaks in between. 

When planning out your event, you also need to think about your event theme and style. Pre-recorded videos can give you more control of the content you provide but there may be less interaction with your audience. On the other hand live video can provide more flexibility but you risk more disturbance. There are also options when it comes to which platform you use for both of these styles. Youtube Premier allows for pre-recorded videos to launch at a certain time with participants engaging in a chat in real time. Zoom or Facebook Live are best for live events though you should consider the size of your audience when choosing between them. Zoom works best with smaller groups whereas Facebook Live can be broadcast to a wide audience. 

After planning out your event structure, we can dive deeper into the event details. When writing your event description, copy matters. You should be very clear with direction and what to expect. Use social channels and websites consistently to ensure good messaging. In terms of the registration platform, there are several options too, but just remember to provide your organization information and contact info on the event page. Manage expectations- write a set of guidelines or include contact info for questions. Make space and time for troubleshooting. 

Last but not least, promote your event. Utilize all the tech and platforms you have to promote the event. If you have the budget consider Facebook or Google Ads. 

The most important thing to keep in mind during the planning phase — communicate well with your speakers, moderators, participants, and tech support to ensure everyone is prepared in advance. 

During the event

There are a few key things to keep in mind during the event, utilizing the platform well, appearing professional, and security. Different platforms have different features you may want to utilize during an event. For example, Zoom has a “breakout room” function which allows the audience to join smaller private groups for discussion. This can be a great way to build community and encourage discussion among participants at larger events, though keep in mind breakout rooms can take up a lot of event time. Other options for engagement include Kahoot, a quiz website that participants can access while in the event, and can be effectively shared on screen in a Zoom meeting. 

To make your event look and sound its best make sure you have good lighting, which can be achieved by having a light source pointed at your face, use headphones to cut down on background noise or feedback while speaking and a microphone to improve your sound quality, even a simple USB plug in mic can make a big different.  Finally make sure your background is not distracting to participants. Virtual backgrounds are also a good option and are  available on many platforms. Last, to ensure everything during the event goes smoothly, you will want to have both a moderator, who can keep track of questions, and a tech manager on hand to handle any technical difficulties. 

Speaking of technical difficulties, it is true that “Zoom bombing” is a threat to your event and should be considered when planning. “Zoom Bombing” is when someone not participating in the event gains access to the event and takes over, often with an inappropriate message. To ensure this doesn’t happen there are a few steps you can take including keeping the link to your event private until just before the event and only sending to those who have registered when the time comes. You can also set passwords for events, and create “waiting rooms” or a landing page participants see before being manually let into the event by the event host. 

After the event

After your event has concluded, there is still some work to do so that you and your participants can get the most out of your event. First, send out a follow-up email to your audience. Good things to include in this email are an event takeaway (such as this one), a survey, a request for feedback, a strong thank you message, and an event recording. After this, you can also utilize your event as one of your resources- take clips or articles from your event and share to social channels. On top of that, don’t forget to promote your upcoming events too. “Every time after I send out this information, we always get more registration directly after this” says Evelyne Kuo. The last thing you can do after the event is look at event analytics, or look at the data from the event. You can get a sense of who is interested in the event, where to advertise and promote the event for the best participation.

In thinking about the ways virtual events can help build community Mo Herbert says “don’t think of virtual events as substitutes for in person events- they are in tandem with in person events and supplement them. They open up accessibility-they make it easier for people to attend and to attend globally.” Embracing the shift to virtual events can help your organization stay connected to your community and even continue to grow it. 

Click here to view the slide deck from this presentation. It includes more information on planning your virtual event and resources for further questions.

This event was part of the UW Communication and Connection During COVID Speaker series, put on by UW Communication Leadership’s COVID Consultancy, which is offering pro-bono communications consulting to small businesses, nonprofits and UW departments during COVID-19. Learn more about the consultancy and sign up for future events.