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Making Virtual Personal

As we slog through 2020 – with its closings, re-openings, re-closings, spikes and the perpetual ‘what if’ question, like it or not, virtual meetings are now part of our daily life.  While we can look forward to the days when we can meet again safely, event professionals will need to call upon their creative skills to make virtual solutions feel more personal, and attendees feel welcomed and appreciated.   

First, ask yourself what you want to accomplish with a virtual event.   

One of my clients holds a series of legal seminars each year – hosting between 50 – 70 attendees, beginning at 8 a.m. and ending after a luncheon featuring a speaker.  COVID-19 has made planning an in-person event a non-starter, but my client didn’t want to lose the momentum gained over the years of hosting these events, and we’ve made the decision to go virtual.   

Take into consideration the day and time.   

With the mix of those working from home and those who are able to go into the office, you’re dealing with different environments and distractions.  Using my client as an example, we decided to present over a series of noontime ‘lunch n’ learn’ hours, spread over a few days. 

Avoid ‘virtual fatigue’ by limiting content 

If we were producing these seminars in-person, we would provide a mid-morning break, and the luncheon would provide another break- about five hours of meeting time.  In this new, virtual world we’ve come to expect ‘virtual fatigue’ after about an hour on a webinar or virtual meeting.  We can avoid this if we divide content up into hour-long, bite-sized pieces over several days, making sure there’s ample time for Q & A.    

Stay on track 

Just like an in-person event, you must stay on schedule by assigning a producer– someone who collects and sorts the content, briefs speakers and moderators, alerts them to standby and timing.  If possible, the producer will manage a rehearsal with the moderator and presenters prior to the event.  Depending upon your event structure, your planner, AV team or virtual platform should partner with you on the specifics of staying on schedule.   

Make it personal 

How many webinars and meetings have you attended where you have to download or print out materials so you can follow along?  Annoying, isn’t it?    The personal touch is important to my client, so when attendees register for the event, we’ll ask for their current work address, and let them know we’ll be shipping the seminar materials and ‘something special’ to them.  A short questionnaire about their preferences (allergies, milk or dark chocolate, etc.) helps us customize the package we’ll send along to the attendee.  

Colleagues from Informa Connect, Catersource's parent company, gathered for a virtual comedy show with comedian Harrison Greenbaum

Making the numbers work 

We took my clients’ budget from the previous year – AV, food and beverage, rentals, etc., and created a new budget for this virtual event. Within this new budget we allotted funds for the ‘something special’ we planned to send to each attendee.  Working with Common Plea catering in Pittsburgh, who has been creating fun, fresh snack boxes for delivery, I gave them my budgeted amount (not including delivery) and asked them to come up with a custom box of gourmet goodies –items attendees can enjoy while listening to the presentations.  They would also incorporate, pack and ship items provided by my client into the box, things like printed materials, branded pieces like blue-light glasses or hand sanitizer. 

Follow up 

Make sure your attendees receive a follow up note – an email works, but sending a printed piece with all the pertinent contact info and links from the event is a nice, solid follow-up that feels more personal than an automated email.    

Now get out there and go virtual!  

Theresa Kaufman 

Principal, Theresa Kaufman Events

Theresa Kaufman is principal at Theresa Kaufman Events, and a partner and principal planner at Eventful Event Producers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, providing creative planning and detailed management for corporate and non-profit meetings, events, seminars, conferences, galas and private events.