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Still Learning How to Pivot Events to Virtual? Follow These Best Practices

Published: August 13, 2020

Author: Kristin Mingus

One of the first big COVID-related disruptions to marketing teams was the shuttering of in-person events. Well-publicized major event cancellations from SXSW to Google Marketing Live to the Adobe Summit showed that COVID-19 doesn’t care how big your budget is; in-person events are on the shelf for the foreseeable future. But the news isn’t all bad: the pivot to virtual events has revealed some silver linings, most notably that it’s a lot easier to access great speakers and guests whose travel schedules have been shuttered.
We’ve made a full pivot from in-person events to virtual summits with our great partners (Google, Microsoft, and LinkedIn so far) and a new Fearless Marketing video interview series, in which founder David Rodnitzky talks with some truly impressive guests about the biggest issues of the day (investment trends, consumer spending, COVID-19’s ripple effects on consumer privacy, and much more).
Has it been easy? Oh, no. Have we gotten better every time? Yes. We’ve learned a lot of lessons about virtual events over the past five months, and I’d like to help you save yourself time and headaches by sharing those with you now.
Keep things short and sweet! Virtual events have the huge advantage of reaching guests in every corner of the world, but it’s a lot harder to keep attention virtually than in-person. We stick to a 1hr. time limit for our virtual events; if the material calls for a longer time frame, we take on a ‘series’-style approach and segment the material into episodes.
Make the event as interactive as possible. This takes a few forms. First, it’s very helpful to be able to show the speaker actually speaking along with their slides. With Zoom (which we use for events), this means keeping the speaker video on. It’s also great to be able to offer live Q&A segments at the end of your events (or throughout your events); almost every virtual platform has a feature to allow audience members to submit questions throughout the presentation. If you’re not comfortable with on-the-fly Q&A, you can select a few attendees to submit questions beforehand and address those at the end of the event. 
Set a detailed agenda. If attendees understand the sequencing of content and are too busy to take a full hour for the event, they can always pop in for the most relevant segment(s) – and you’ll still capture the lead.
Create a key takeaway slide that includes contact information. Attendees appreciate a quick summary and a clear way to connect with experts following the event. In our takeaways slide, we usually include highlights from the material; speaker contact information; and information on 3Q.
Build relationships and keep improving. Always make sure you send a post-event survey to your attendees, both internal and external.  Ask what attendees liked and didn’t like, what they want to hear more about, and what they would like to hear about in future events.
Don’t be sales-y. You’re delivering thought leadership, not sales pitches. Deliver the material in a way that is direct and has examples, case studies, and recommended paths of action.
Do a full run-through! It’s hard to over-prepare when everyone is learning new platforms, so make sure you schedule at least one full run-through with speakers and tech on hand. Remember, there’s no in-person support in the age of COVID, so preparation and clear instructions are crucial.  
Have a backup. I usually run the event and let speakers ‘share their screen’ for their speaking times, but you never know when a wireless issue might rear its ugly head. In these times, when tech is more overloaded than ever, make sure you have a backup plan on hand (a team member who can take over in a pinch is always highly recommended).
Respect your guests’ privacy. In both outreach and on screen, make sure the attendee list is hidden from other attendees – make sure your set-up doesn’t reveal full names or email addresses. 
Know your mute plan! You’ll want to make sure all attendees are muted to eliminate background noise. Make sure to double-confirm with either your platform’s support rep or your tech team that you have the steps in place to mute your attendees.
Last, don’t sweat it! If something goes a little wonky, you’re in great company; even the biggest, best-attended virtual events have had bugs in the last few months. Just make sure you take hiccups as learning opportunities so you can keep improving as you go.
Good luck!

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