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We’ve all had to learn new skills during Covid. How to run virtual events is one.  So this new case study and top tips on how to do them well is a very useful new resource.

by the PR Team at West Midlands Combined Authority

We’re a busy PR Team at the West Midlands Combined Authority with responsibility for organising events like exhibitions, conferences, royal visits, parliamentary receptions, awards ceremonies and seminars at a regional, national and international level.

On 23 March 2020 we went into lockdown and, like many of you, we thought “What are we going to do about events now?” But there wasn’t much time to think about that as the very next day we held our first 400 strong all-staff webinar – and a few days later our first West Midlands mayoral national online media briefing.

Since then we’ve embraced the Covid-19 challenge and we’re working in an agile and increasingly interesting way. Our world has turned virtual and we’re learning and adapting new techniques and technologies to deliver hundreds of events in a cyber-friendly way.

From Teams and Go to Webinar to Zoom we are mastering the art of the magical and using creative and imaginative means to deliver the right messages at the right time to the right people.

In this post, we’ll explain why virtual events are important, explain how to create and manage them, and provide hints and tips if you’re new to event management in the virtual world.

Why do virtual events matter?

Put simply, communication has never been more important than in this current climate; particularly internal communications with so many staff working remotely.

 

It was vital that we continue to connect with our stakeholders and audiences, and whilst at first daunting, hosting virtual events has allowed us to engage with more people than ever before.

 

We found ourselves thrust headlong into unknown territory, everything suddenly went online and we had to adapt quickly. If, like us, you find yourself in this position and don’t know where to start, here are our top tips for holding a successful virtual event.

How to create and manage a virtual event

Pre event:

· Meet with the client and discuss event requirements (click here for suggestions – ‘Questions like these’)

· Select a suitable platform like Zoom or GoToWebinar and make sure you know how it works ahead of the event

· Embed links for participants in calendar invites (less likely to get lost) set 10 minutes before the event is due to start

· Don’t assume people know how to use the tech. Create rehearsal sessions to iron out any issues (i.e. firewall blocks etc.), explain how the event will run and how this will impact them, share the agenda, show them how the software works and highlight any features such as mic/camera on/off, screen sharing, chat, Q&A etc.

· Schedule a minimum of two people to co-host behind the scenes on an event, split tasks such as screen sharing, video playback, polling etc.

· Participants don’t always remember to check the chat function so make sure you have a ‘Plan-B’ for contacting people during the event i.e. mobile contact numbers for all speakers

· Make sure you programme in any handouts or polls/slido etc. ahead of the event

· Choose the correct muting options for your type of meeting/webinar

· Set up any breakout rooms if required

· For data protection, let everyone know if the session is being recorded or if quotes are being taken for the media etc.

· If holding the session off site at a different location, always rehearse the tech ahead of the event to minimise problems

· If holding an awards ceremony we recommend pre-recording the event and playing the video as if live. Choosing a platform that allows the audience to ‘chat’ during the event builds rapport and creates an exciting atmosphere

During:

· Assign roles to those working behind the scenes i.e. contact speakers, answer Q&A submissions, manage chat, mute/unmute etc.

· A housekeeping slide with instructions for attendees helps reinforce any key messages at the beginning of a session such as muting and switching off cameras

· Assign someone to act as chair and to manage the meeting

· Don’t allow death by PowerPoint. If used, limit the number of slides, keeping it to key points. Speakers talking in a relaxed manner is a much easier way to get messages across. ‘In conversation’ chats work really well

· Break up the session using interactive tools such as video, slido, polling and whiteboards to keep attendees engaged

· Keep copies of any presentations; should the speaker have an issue sharing you can step in

· If you have a number of speakers, turn off the mic/camera of those not speaking

· Remember to check audio/visual settings if using external camera/mic devices incase these are blocked

· Keep a beady eye out for any audience members that may have unmuted themselves accidentally

· For any essential messaging request a back-up speaker as ‘Plan-B’ should there be tech / personal issues on the day

· S*^t happens. Be prepared for things to go wrong and don’t panic. Speakers can worry if they don’t see things happening straight away, ease this by speaking up and letting them know you’re having tech issues

Post event:

· Send a follow-up message to everyone to thank them for attending and to complete a feedback survey. Provide any contact details shared during the meeting, share the video footage of the webinar and access to any presentations

· Provide session and feedback analytics to the client

· Hold a debrief session. Note down what did / didn’t go well to learn ready for the next one. Were there a lot of internet problems? Did videos play okay? Were there any last-minute changes that disrupted the webinar?

· Maintain the relationship with organisations who took part in the webinar as you may wish for them to take part in future events

· Give yourselves a virtual hi-five!

Remember…

No two virtual events will be the same but the principles above will cover a host of scenarios. Remember:

1. Practice makes perfect. Rehearse the tech and speakers. Things may go wrong but stay cool – you’ve got this!

2. Always have a ‘Plan-B’ – contact mobile numbers, back-up speakers, back-up presentations

3. Lessons learned – carry out an honest review of the event, content and tech so that you can build and improve future events

This is all new and nerve-racking, people are forgiving and understand the stress this can cause. Be kind to yourself – the person most critical will be you, the audience won’t notice half of the errors you’ll be aware of.

Written by Marie-Helene Matthews, Kirstie Blakeman, Lisa Ollis and Olivia Houlston, PR team, West Midlands Combined Authority prteam@wmca.org.uk

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Image via NASA on the commons

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