With the rise of COVID-19 in 2020, organizations and industry leaders were forced to overhaul traditional in-person events while maintaining the critical networking and promotional functions the events provided. Many canceled events for the entire year, which frequently resulted in key losses but helped preserve resources. However, a lot of organizations experimented with multi-media virtual productions, including some seminal events managed by Yorktel. Many organizations have now pivoted permanently to hosting all events online. As we predicted a year ago, virtual productions assumed an unprecedented role that is competing with in-person events. Also as predicted, this competition presented its own challenges. However, no matter the complexities, there is one thing that remains true: virtual productions are here to stay.
Over the course of the last year, virtual productions proved effective for many event types. Town Halls supported by enterprise-collaboration and videoconferencing solutions took a strong step forward. Organizations discovered the powerful benefits of multi-media productions, expanding their reach to audiences across the globe, and empowering active audience participation from their own devices at home or on-the-go. Enterprises discovered that virtual productions offer greater freedom and flexibility, at a lower cost than full-scale in-person events.
For organizations who are considering virtual events for the first time, or are simply hoping to optimize their productions, there are a few key elements that contribute to effective, engaging events. If your organization is considering your virtual event options, here are some of the complexities involved and some technologies that have proven successful.
Key Factors to Consider for Your Virtual Event
One of the benefits of virtual events is that with the right software, AV support and interactive features like polls, Q&A and live chat, your attendees may be more extensively engaged than in a traditional event. They can participate on-the-go on their own terms and their activity is documented to give you valuable analytics that can help shape future events and strategies. Additionally, virtual events may reach a more global audience and provide more translation capabilities so you can introduce more attendees to your organization and offerings.
That said, there are a number of issues you will need to address. First, you must consider if all of the core elements of your event be translated to a digital experience. How will you manage break-out rooms? If you’re hosting a trade show, your attendees won’t wander through virtual trade booths for eight hours — how will you encourage them to explore all your vendors? Will your attendees be capable of following a set agenda? If you host multiple streams at once, how will that affect your network? You will likely have presenters streaming in from different locations – how will you ensure quality and manage the flow? Additionally, if you’re used to hosting three-hour seminars, you will need to consider how you deliver information, given that participants will tune in intermittently. You may want to create mechanisms that motivate your attendees to commit to a specific schedule or you may want to abandon time constraints entirely.
Some organizations are enhancing events with features like gamification, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). Whatever “bells and whistles” you consider using, there are a few core AV elements you can employ: live video, pre-recorded video and on-screen features.
Three Essential Elements for Your Virtual Event
Platforms such as Mediasite, WebEx, Pexip, Microsoft Teams and Zoom all provide live production capabilities to host multiple speakers across locations, and some allow you to engage with attendees directly. Today, audiences are familiar with seeing guest speakers streaming in from their own homes, but you will need to figure out how to manage your speakers behind the scenes, and you’ll need to make sure each speaker’s personal equipment and network is reliable. Some platforms offer virtual waiting rooms where speakers can interact with technicians to perform last minute AV checks and wait for their cues.
Another option to consider is an audience-less production on a physical stage. You can invite speakers to the location and hold a professional live stream managed by a small on-site team. This was employed in the Academy Awards ceremony in 2020. It offers the high-value experience that audiences may have come to expect from your past events. However, you will need to consider the price of the event, the cost of production and the resulting value for the audience. As an example, Adobe’s traditional in-person Summit previously cost $1,895 for a full-conference pass. Its online Summit was free. Audiences are not going to pay the same price for a digital experience, no matter the quality of the production — excluding, potentially, VR and AR experiences.
Many organizations have implemented a combination of elements, where a small production team visits a single presenter’s location or a mainstage for their live-stream portion while other speakers stream in by themselves. This allows you to provide high-production value elements at a minimal cost. For example, for the Police Executive Research Forum in 2020, the event’s moderator was supported by an on-site AV team at his office, but other speakers streamed in from across the country individually.
Live breakout sessions present another challenge. Attendees need to navigate easily between things like keynote addresses and the breakout “rooms.” This may mean you’ll need a more robust conferencing platform that allows you to manage various streams and rooms at the same time. You’ll also need to consider whether you want to limit attendance to your sessions and require reservations, if attendees will be able to join late or if you will need to “lock” the room, and who will monitor audience participation (chat, raised hands, etc.).
You may of course record everything professionally ahead of time and then simply stream the pre-recorded videos in the desired order during the live “event.” However, this removes the communal feel of an event and is less likely to invite audience participation and excitement.
A lot of organizations have taken a hybrid live + pre-recorded approach. For example, if you have a high-profile guest, you may want to professionally film their portion ahead of time and edit it. Then, during your live event, you can stream the pre-recorded video between live speaker sessions.
A primary benefit of virtual productions is the ability to include on-screen elements and interactive features. This can be as simple as presenting supporting visual content, like slides, alongside video of your speaker, to mimic the effect of a live projection screen at an event. Or you can employ robust features like picture-in-picture, multiple speaker view (i.e., for international guests in a virtual panel), screensharing, video roll-ins, Q/A banners, ticker tape, polling results and gamified audience participation. You can also play with virtual backgrounds and background animation for a more dynamic visual experience and additional branding.
Additional Consideration: Virtual Environments and Landing Pages
Your audience needs a virtual way to enter your event so you will need a dedicated web environment where you can host your content and present information about the event. This could be as simple as a landing page, but some events, like trade shows, require a robust “hub” for audiences to explore products and interact with each other. If you have multiple vendors and socially driven elements, you may be interested in software that allows you to create robust immersive 3D lobbies and networking spaces. No matter the event components it’s critical that your audience has an exciting place to land.
A Virtual Future
Virtual productions took on an unprecedented level of importance last year, and their value will only increase as technologies improve. To maximize your event, you will want to find a solution that manages the essential elements of the event and that mimics an in-person experience as closely as possible.Back