When it comes to virtual events, the No. 1 question asked by event planners is: What platform should I use? And as we’ve all come to learn, there’s no easy answer. Many variables factor into the decision with no one-size-fits-all solution. To help you navigate the process, we reached out to RED VELVET, a creative experience agency based in Austin, for advice. Their team has devised a list of questions every event planner needs to address before choosing a virtual event platform. Read on to get insight from LeeAnn Lo, RED VELVET’s associate marketing manager, and find out which questions you should be asking and answering about your event needs.
Questions to Ask When Choosing a Virtual Event Platform
1. What are your goals for the virtual meeting or virtual event?
Make sure you know the difference between a webinar and a virtual event or meeting. A webinar is a one-way interaction. The speaker is presenting, possibly interacting, and responding to comments from the chat, but overall the attendees are there to absorb information. A virtual event or meeting is a two-way interaction. The attendees have more control over the event’s outcome through course-changing polls or multiple tracks (similar to when we meet in person). And if the platform has the capability, participants are encouraged to have face-to-face networking breaks between sessions.
Related: How to plan a virtual event
2. Who is your target audience and how many people are you expecting to attend?
3. How tech savvy is your audience? Is your audience a bunch of engineers?
Engineers and marketers have very different expectations.
4. How many time zones do your attendees span?
5. How will you be registering your attendees?
If the platform has the capability, register your attendees through the chosen platform. First, it’ll reduce their need to create multiple accounts for one digital experience. It’ll also give them various opportunities to familiarize themselves with the platform—whether it’s clicking around the virtual venue or recognizing the email address in their inbox. And for the event professionals, all of the metrics will be in one place for more straightforward post-event analytics.
6. What will communication to pre-registered attendees look like?
When planning pre-event communication, you must always think about your audience. For a recent company-wide virtual holiday party, knowing that the company had already placed a hold on everyone’s calendar in advance, we kept the pre-event communication minimal. The first email we sent hinted that the holiday party was going to be a choose-your-own-adventure experience to drum up excitement. The second email was a festival-like design of the three stage lineups with nine entertainers and the face-to-face hangout zone. And finally, two days before the event, we sent a custom video tutorial explaining how to navigate the platform if anyone needed it. If we were planning a public event, we would incorporate a social campaign, assets for the speakers or sponsors to share, and the necessary emails to inform attendees of what to expect. Currently, we feel like there has been a surge in email newsletters and advertisements, so we are cautious not to send out too many emails ourselves.
7. Do you require a way to verify if attendees stayed/attended the virtual meeting/event?
We are still paying close attention to average watch time, the drop-off point, and the most in-demand content. Zoom fatigue is real, yet different for each person and industry. So understanding how much content to produce and the content your audience is wanting is vital. We’re also paying attention to first-time attendees—show them some love, find out what they want to get out of your digital experience. This is your opportunity to build a healthier and more loyal community when we get back to in-person events. Lastly, pay attention to the engagement with your sponsors. After all, they are the ones helping you pay for this experience. Don’t underestimate their support.
8. Do you have sponsors that you must recognize?
9. What languages do you need to support?
10. What happens when the hosting site goes down?
Common glitches are still poor internet, lighting, or sound quality. A tech rehearsal can help avoid these mishaps. We recommend including two rehearsals minimum: one for tech with the production team and another actual “dress” rehearsal with the speakers. Another snag that can pop up is that the attendee’s device or browser of choice does not allow them to experience all of the platform’s capabilities. You are bound to have a few that need to update their software or switch to a different browser when you’re hosting in the hundreds. Plan to have dedicated staff ready to assist with tech support as the event kicks off.
11. Does the chat room support threaded conversations?
12. Can your registration platform link directly to the virtual platform so the attendee does not have to recreate their profile?
13. Does the virtual platform have the capability to create avatars? If yes, does it have the ability to brand what they are wearing?
You should have avatars for any event that encourages networking. Avatars aren’t as necessary for a group that is already quite familiar with each other and has no problem communicating through chat.
14. If an attendee takes notes in the virtual platform, how do they export them post-meeting?
15. If someone needs to be kicked out of the virtual platform, are they barred from logging back in?
16. Is the platform truly easy to manage by a meeting planner or does it require some technical skills?
17. How easy is it to upload graphics to brand the platform?
Cohesive branding is more important than ever with digital events. Previously, with in-person events, you had themes that would be introduced to attendees through the invite, weaved through the decor, and possibly F&B (such as signature cocktails). But now, we have none of that, yet we expect our events to still win over the attendee’s attention. I’m not saying a cohesive brand is an end-all, be-all of a successful event, but it’s what can push a good event to a fantastic experience. Ensure the platform you’re choosing gives you the capability to do more than change the color scheme. Design on-brand intro and outro slates for the live or pre-recorded content, send your speakers branded virtual backgrounds, include unique lower thirds, and customize registration copy to have those extra touches that allude to your brand/theme.
18. Verify which operating systems the platform can work on as some users will log in with a PC or Mac.
Questions to Ask When Planning Your Virtual Event
1. Do your keynote speakers have the appropriate tools to broadcast live? Or if they are pre-recorded, have you given them the tools to ensure a high-quality taping?
2. Does the platform include streaming or can you use any of the common streaming solutions (e.g. Zoom, Vimeo, YouTube, etc.)?
3. How can you ensure an attendee connects with at least two people they want to meet?
As an attendee, always include your company in your display name. It gives others another opening to talk to you. Also, engage. Ask questions, respond to comments, and help others in the chat. For event professionals, think of ways to incorporate connections before and after the event that make sense. Before the virtual holiday party, the client initiated a penpal activation to connect coworkers who live in different cities that would typically never cross virtual paths day to day. During the holiday party, they could meet in the hangout zone and have face-to-face conversations. For another event, we asked attendees to opt-in to sharing their contact information as they registered. This allowed us to include their name, LinkedIn profile, and email address in a post-event directory. The event’s purpose was to network and make connections with like-minded people, so assisting in post-event communication seemed like a no-brainer.
4. Who on the team will be in charge of registration-related questions? Making sure all of the speakers submit their attachments, headshots, and bios, and have tested their equipment before day-of? Working with the sponsors to make sure they are prepared to engage with a virtual audience?
5. Have you pressure tested the load?
A load test checks how systems function under a heavy number of concurrent virtual users over a certain period of time.
6. Have you included enough breaks and elements to make the flow work and be interesting?
The worst thing is just talking heads.
7. What are you doing to surprise and delight your audience? What are you doing to provide those shareable moments?
The surprises one can incorporate into a digital experience can be the most exciting to plan, but don’t let that excitement steer you away from the event’s purpose. Right now, celebrity Cameos are all the rage. Request a video from a celebrity your group would appreciate and ask them to address the gathering’s purpose. We recently requested eight different Cameos to surprise attendees after each session. For a more personalized experience, you can ask a few more questions during the registration process. Do they prefer salty or sweet, caffeine or alcohol, enjoy having their camera on or would they rather sit back and listen quietly? We curated and mailed out a pre-event “travel kit” for a road trip-themed virtual event that included personalized snacks, breath mints, and a gift card based on their answers.
8. Who’s coaching your speakers, especially if they are not full-time professional speakers?
Questions to Ask Leading Up to the Virtual Event
1. Who have you assigned to be your virtual “bouncer”?
2. Do you have enough breakout room/track moderators?
3. Have you tested your closed captioning?
4. Who have you designated as your on-call and live technical support team?
Because there will inevitably be issues connecting, viewing livestream, etc.