Hundreds of thousands of conferences, meetings, and other business events are being forced to cancel due to COVID-19. Nobody is immune to it as some of the largest conferences in the U.S. such as South By Southwest, Adobe Summit, Microsoft Ignite, SaaStr Annual, and many others are forced to cancel.
While it’s certainly devastating, the majority of these event organizers are learning to make the most of it and are currently taking their conference online.
Even if your event is a simple local meetup, there are still other ways that you can connect with professionals. You’re going to learn step by step what you should do to get your canceled event online. From the minute you realize the event must be canceled to the last speaker’s keynote, here’s how to get your canceled live event online.
Create a Streaming Plan
Once it’s clear that you must take your event online, the first question is usually how and where to stream it. Many events are opting to have their speakers live-streamed directly to social media pages. The only consideration with this is that if you typically don’t release content to non-attendees, make sure that your attendees feel that they are still receiving something special that isn’t available to the public.
Some conferences that have moved online are actually pre-recording keynotes in an effort to minimize the risk of technical difficulties. The keynote presenter is still active in the live Q&A, but the presentation itself is pre-recorded.
Streaming opens your conference up to a whole new audience that might not typically be able to attend, and you may decide to keep this format even after the Coronavirus subsides. In fact, TED grew from 1 million to over 100 million views in four years just by lives-streaming their events.
Invest in a Web-Streaming Professional
Once you’ve chosen a streaming strategy, invest in a professional web-streaming technician. It will reduce your headaches and they can deal directly with your speakers should they run into streaming problems.
Depending on your setup, you may just need someone to monitor Zoom, or you may choose a more robust setup.
For example, Inside Higher Ed had a conference at the end of March and they still had speakers come in to record (this was when it was safe to do so). In this case, they hired three web-streaming professionals. The first one just handled online broadcasting and web-hosting software complications and the second simply monitored video and audio feed. The third person managed the projectors in the various rooms.
This is an ideal setup for a large conference, but if you say, have a small mastermind or local meetup, you’ll probably be able to live stream it yourself.
Invest in Great Sound Quality
If you plan to host your event online, invest in quality sound equipment. Nothing is more irritating and distracting than scratchy or echoing sound.
Once you’ve contacted a web-streaming professional, they should tell you what you need in terms of equipment.
If you’re hosting an event over say, a Zoom call, invest in a quality microphone and ask your guests to do the same. If you’re not sure what kind of microphone or webcam to invest in, consider checking out this podcaster’s professional setup for all budgets.
In addition, make sure that you have backups. If one of your microphones is damaged or if the video conferencing software isn’t working properly, do you have a backup plan?
Contact Your Speakers
Once you have a plan in place with your internal team, reach out to speakers, and ask if they would be interested in participating in a digital version of the event.
Many events found that taking the event online actually helped retain more speakers. For example, the She-Suite conference, which was originally supposed to be live in Washington D.C., was moved to a full virtual event in less than 38 hours. Upon canceling the live event, several speakers that had originally canceled due to health concerns were more than happy to present in the digital version.
Let the speakers know the kind of software you will be using and consider hopping on a quick test call with them. During the virtual event, have a tech person reach out to them 15 minutes before their scheduled presentation time (if you choose to have them present live) and do a quick soundcheck to make sure everything is working. Create a Refund Policy
The first question you will receive when you announce that the event will be moved online is “Can I get a refund?”. In many cases, they may have to contact the event venue or hotel directly, so put together a document of exactly who they should contact (with specific extension numbers and/or emails) for each specific charge. Your attendees will really appreciate it rather than if you just said, “contact the venue.”
For charges that are in your hands, create a detailed refund policy and be as efficient as possible when answering questions. Also, will attendees registered for the live event have to re-register for the digital version or will it be automatically transferred?
Your internal team should know exactly what the policy is so that there is zero confusion when relaying it to customers.
Create Networking Options
Ninety-five percent of marketers agree that live events are one of the best ways to develop personal relationships. If the only value you offer your attendees are keynote speeches, you’re likely going to see a surge in refund requests, because chances are, they can just as easily find similar keynotes your speakers have already done on YouTube. The real value lies in the personal connections made.
So how can you create this digitally?
First, create social media groups for your network. For example, creating a Facebook group or Linkedin group and facilitate conversations. If you can get your speakers involved in it as well, that is ideal.
Consider also creating a list of attendees. Allow people to elect to not be on the list, but if you have their consent, post it to the social group so that they can all connect.
Release The News That The Event Will Be Digital
Once you’ve created a plan using the tools above and your team fully understands the new policies, release the news to your audience and the public.
Tell your attendees first through email or phone (depending on the exclusivity of your event) and also have all the necessary information (such as refund policies, the new calendar, and keynote sessions) available on the website.
Waiting a few days to organize yourself and have all the necessary FAQs available to your audience when you release the news will help decrease cancellations and also provide a much better customer experience.
Once you’ve released the information, keep an open line of communication with both your team and your attendees/speakers/sponsors. Your first digital event may have a few hiccups and that’s okay! Be generous with refunds and make every effort to please your attendees and encourage support from them as well. You’ll learn a lot, plus you may even decide to switch to a hybrid model even after the virus is over.
About the Author
Ljana Vimont is the managing director of Stinson Design, a design agency specializing in customized, professional, and on-brand presentations for companies across all industries. Ljana’s leadership has taken Stinson from a hobby to a well-respected creative agency working with big global brands like NASA, Microsoft, Google, and Hilton.