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Five common virtual event mistakes (and how to avoid them)

Anne Balistreri
min read

Virtual events—once uncharted territory—are here to stay. Even as the long-awaited sliver of “normalcy” continues to grow wider with more vaccines rolled out each day, there’s no denying that the fabric of the events space has been altered for good. As with any new frontier, we were bound to make a few missteps along the way. From monotonous webinars to poorly organized online conferences, there’s a good chance you’ve attended at least one cringe-worthy event over the past year that had you walking away, thinking: “ouch, I hope my next event doesn’t go like that!”

So what can you do to ensure that your virtual experiences don’t become sleep-inducers, or worse, objects of ridicule? Here are the five of the most common mistakes we’ve witnessed, plus practical ways to prevent them.

1. Trying to replicate in-person events online

We've all seen them. Hours-long presentations with attendees tuning out. Forced breakouts masquerading as networking "opportunities" where conversation is stiff and connections are merely surface-level. Q&A sessions with no actual questions in sight.

After a rapid scramble to pivot to online events, we now know that the tactics that seemed like no-brainers for producing successful in-person gatherings don’t necessarily work in the virtual arena. The key is delivering the excitement and experiential factor of in-person events, but knowing when to stray from the same old strategy to prevent your event from falling flat.

Our suggestions:

  • Reframe the move to virtual events as an opportunity to innovate instead of replicate.
  • Tighten up your agenda and remember that long content blocks won't go over as well virtually as they might in-person.
  • Casual conversations just don’t happen as easily online. It’s your job to take on a more active role in facilitating connections by providing a little extra guidance. Decide on clear topics for breakout rooms (kept to a small number of participants) and spell out exactly where attendees should go to connect with each other. 
  • Two of the strongest benefits of virtual events are the improved accessibility and ability to re-package and share them. Make it as easy as possible for attendees to access content from your event through bite-size video clips, recap posts, or even a full-fledged content library.

2. Losing track of your event goals

Why are we here? Are we trying to gain leads, close deals, or educate existing customers? All three, perhaps. Or maybe the goal is to have fun and foster connections within your remote team. There's no wrong answer—it's part of the flexibility of virtual events—but it's important to keep your goal top of mind throughout the entire planning process.

Our suggestions:

  • Ask yourself the following questions: Does the content you're creating serve this goal? Is the event pacing aligned with the stated goal? What are the key insights your attendees should walk away with?
  • Adopt an attendee-first mentality. It's crucial that attendees never ask themselves, "why am I here?" Attention spans are short online, so someone who jumps into the event should immediately see that what you're offering is valuable to them.
  • Make sure to tie results to your goals. Far before the event takes place, decide on the KPIs that matter most to you (e.g. Net Promoter Score, chat and poll participation, number of repeat attendees or new leads) and make sure that you’re able to grab those metrics through your event platform of choice.

Planning a webinar? Check out the Webinar Best Practices Guide to ensure your webinar program is a success!

3. Under-structuring your event

Awkward pauses. Speakers who don’t show up when they’re supposed to. Disarray, everywhere. Just those thoughts alone are enough to get any event producer’s skin crawling. A lot of things can go wrong during live events, but the anxiety is amplified ten-fold in a virtual environment, where you’re at the mercy of the tech working. Preparation is key here. Start planning early and nail down every single detail so there’s no room for confusion or chaos.

Our suggestions:

  • Design a clearly written event brief and share it with anyone who’s involved in planning the event. For a panel conversation, for example, plan out the run-of-show to the tee, from which questions to ask the panelists to when the Q&A should start.
  • Post your agenda in advance and avoid spending too much time intro-ing what’s to come, while still adequately preparing your audience.
  • Develop a contingency plan in case things go south. Think through all the potential concerns—including tech troubles, late entrances, no-shows—and brainstorm how you’d deal with them if they were to happen.
“Gatherings crackle and flourish when real thought goes into them, when (often invisible) structure is baked into them.” — Priya Parker, The Art of Gatherings

4. Going without an event host

Your attendees need a guide, and so do your speakers. A great emcee or moderator will act as the glue of your event, transitioning speakers smoothly and confidently while leading the audience from start to finish.

Our Suggestions:

  • A key point: pay attention to your emcee's style. Their energy will be matched by both attendees and speakers, so pick someone who's aligned with your event's vibe. A skilled emcee will know how to strike the right balance of authentic, enthusiastic, and warm. Ideally they’re well accustomed to improvising with grace and staying hyper-focused on what’s happening on the virtual stage.
  • Going back to goals, make sure to relay the event objectives to your emcee so they can appropriately guide the event.

5. Ignoring the value of a rehearsal

In order to reduce major day-of stress, make sure that your event host, speakers, and behind-the-scenes producers feel comfortable with your event platform and are familiarized with the run-of-show and responsibilities. It's almost a guarantee that someone will have technical issues, a less than ideal background, or misplace their speaker notes. The more you can prepare ahead of time, the better.

Our Suggestions:

  • Have at least one dry run ahead of your event. Make these mandatory whenever possible.
  • Share a speaker kit—or simply a condensed version of the event brief—so that all speakers know exactly what to expect, from rehearsal times to introductory scripts.
  • Make sure your speakers are fully briefed on the platform they’re using, and if not, give them a quick training. Get them logged in, ask about their internet connection in advance, and check their lighting and sound.

Producing a virtual event is no easy feat. Though nearly every event will inevitably come with an unexpected surprise or two, we hope these tips serve as a starting point for producing polished virtual experiences that have attendees raving. Your guests, speakers, and teammates will thank you.

About Welcome

From our interactive polling feature to our state-of-the-art production studio, each of Welcome’s features add up to provide a truly exceptional virtual experience platform. One that not only works seamlessly for an event of any size, but delivers meaningful engagement and data-backed results—all while looking stunningly beautiful. Find out more about the platform by booking a demo with us! We’d love to show you how it all works.

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