The Essential Guide to Avoiding Virtual Event Disasters
By now, you’ve likely heard some of the virtual event horror stories floating around the events industry. Live streams going down and no one knows what to do. Platforms crashing. Keynote presenters freezing up and botching their presentations. Speakers getting kicked out of their sessions with no idea how to rejoin. Attendees not knowing how to enable their camera or mic. Limits on the number of chat messages allowed. Background noise from someone’s mic putting a damper on conversation. Attendees having technical difficulties having to wait an hour for a callback. And the list goes on.
Now, for the good news. In the midst of the virtual and hybrid revolution, a lot more successful events have taken place than disastrous ones. More importantly, a lot has been learned from both the successes and challenges.
You know the saying, An Ounce of Prevention? While nothing is infallible, a proactive approach to planning, execution and most importantly, communication will help you avoid the kinds of emergencies that may put your event in the “disaster zone”.
To put you on the road to success, we’ve created this guide to share what we’ve learned from our own virtual client events. We'll cover good communication and how to prevent common problems that affect attendee experience.
Grab these best practices and start building your own preventative plan. Disasters be gone!
Start with a Good Communications Plan
Can you guess the most common cause of virtual event problems? If you guessed technology, you’d be wrong. It’s easy to blame technology for problems that arise but if you dig deeper, you may find that the root cause isn’t actually tech failure.
It's communication failure.
If you ignore everything else in the article, take this advice to heart:
Establishing a top-notch communication plan is your most important step in preventing virtual event disasters.
Think of good communication as an insurance policy for preventing problems during your virtual event instead of fixing them. Let’s break down the elements of a good communications plan.
Advanced communication ensures your virtual event will go more smoothly when it goes live. This should include:
- Clear and detailed communication between the event organizer, virtual platform partner, registration provider, live stream provider, and if applicable, planning agency and production partner regarding goals of the event, requirements, and who is responsible for what.
- Detailed event organizer and planner training on the virtual event software
- Presenter and sponsor/exhibitor training of virtual event software. While live training is very effective, it’s not always convenient. Offering several dates and times for live training can alleviate issues scheduling conflicts. Another alternative is to provide recorded video training. A few of the things presenter and virtual sponsor training should cover include:
- How to log-in to the platform
- How to complete their profile
- How to navigate the system and access the sessions they are presenting at
- How to enable their camera and mic as well as how to mute their mic
- How to go live and stop streaming live
- How to mark themselves as “available” during semi-live or pre-recorded sessions
- How to answer Q&A
- How to screen share and stop screen sharing
- How to switch presenters
- How to conduct a panel discussion
- How to upload resource materials
- How to launch and answer polls
- How to use the chat features
- Attendee communication. Send registered attendees confirmation emails that include what to expect leading up to the event, during the event, and after the event. Include detailed steps for how to access and log into the system. Send additional reminders as the day of your event draws near.
If your platform works best in a specific browser, let attendees know this so they will attend using the browser that will give them the best experience.
During Event Communication
Robust communication during your virtual event should take place between the event organizer, planners, presenters, moderators, and other key players. You’ll also need a way for your attendees and sponsors to get help when they need it, and fast. Here’s what to do:
Set Up Internal Response Channels
- General Communications Channel
Use a team messaging platform like Slack for non-urgent communication during the event. This channel should include all key internal personnel responsible for execution on the day of the event.
- Presenter Channel
If your event includes live sessions, you’ll need a presenter channel to communicate with presenters, moderators, and panel members. Unless you choose to work with a studio production partner, you’ll be responsible for all presenter communication and management from cueing presenters up to go live to making last-minute changes to slides, etc. Content production and speaker management is an area that holds a lot of potential for errors.
One of our CEO Joe Schwinger’s favorite sayings is:
“Have You Hugged Your Production Company Lately?”
He’s right. Partnering with a production studio will help you produce better content and drastically reduce the margin for error. But if working with a production company isn’t feasible, we recommend event production software such as MeetingPlay Studio to help you create studio worthy content and easily manage your show.
- Emergency Channel
Often, it’s not the nature of the emergency but how quickly it’s handled that makes all the difference. Establish an emergency channel that includes all key personnel responsible for handling urgent issues during your virtual event. This channel should have a mix of key people from your planning team, virtual platform partner (account management and developers), live stream provider (if different than the platform partner), and production partner (if applicable). Team members assigned to the emergency channel should be able to quickly communicate issues and flip a switch or make a change at a moment's notice. For example, if a presenter or attendee has a lot of background noise affecting the sound experience of other attendees during a session, the emergency team should be on alert to quickly mute that offending person’s microphone.
Do not neglect the importance of assigning monitors to event sessions to ensure that problems are quickly identified and handled.
When negotiating with a virtual event partner, make sure they are willing to not only provide account management assistance but dedicated developers to assist with your event. You’ll thank yourself later.
When you work with MeetingPlay, you’ll have peace of mind to know a full team of personnel are ready and willing to quickly assist with any issues that arise on the day of your event, large or small.
- Set Your Attendees Up for Success
Everything comes down to attendee experience. Making sure you attendees can successfully navigate your platform and use the tools available ensures they will have the best experience possible.
To set them up for success, provide attendees with a welcome video or brief tutorial that explains how to use the key functions of your virtual platform. This may include:
- Logging-in to the platform
- Completing their profile
- Answering networking questions
- Creating their personal agenda and favoriting sessions
- Using the chat and Q&A features
- Networking features
- Earning points with gamification
- Social features
In the video, be sure to cover how to enable their camera and microphone as this is a common issue many attendees struggle with.
- Virtual Event Concierge
Just as your physical events have an info. desk to answer attendee questions, so should your virtual event. Your attendees shouldn’t have to dial a 1-800 number or wait in a long cue to ask a simple question, whether general or tech-related. To avoid having you attendees get frustrated and leave your virtual event, consider a virtual event concierge. Provided by your virtual event tech partner, these support personnel should be ready and available to quickly assist with all attendee questions and technical issues within seconds, not hours!
No matter how successful your virtual conference is, there is always room for improvement. And let’s be honest. If you don’t work through new challenges as a team, it’s difficult to prevent them. Think of post-event communication as the secret sauce for future success. Send your attendees a virtual post-event survey to gauge your experience. Plan a post-con with all your key stakeholders just as you would with a live event.
Conduct Event Specific Load Testing
Is event-specific load testing critical?
You bet it is.
Remember hearing about platform's out there crashing because of too many attendees? It's entirely avoidable with the right load testing. If your virtual platform partner tells you, “Don’t worry, we'll test for two hundred thousand people,” then beware!
Here’s why. Your virtual environment is unique, just like all of your attendees are. What works for one virtual event won’t necessarily work for another. So be sure your event technology partner performs load testing that’s specific to your event and the applications involved. Ask your provider to see the proof that they can scale their platform with the number of users that you're expecting. MeetingPlay conducts event specific load testing for every client’s virtual event, ensuring that everything is “right-fit” for your event.
Create a Plan B and a Plan C
Even the best laid plans can’t prevent every problem. Having a Plan B is a step in the right direction but it’s not enough. To be ready for anything, you need a Plan C too. For example, if your streaming service goes down, be ready to switch to YouTube. If YouTube doesn’t work, have an alternate plan. But don’t only consider your virtual event platform when developing back-up plans. Consider every aspect of a virtual environment, from your virtual conference platform to live streaming and video production.
Evaluate all technology and communication weaknesses, have your back-up plans ready, communicated, and be ready to implement them, if necessary.
When it comes to avoiding virtual event disasters, taking a proactive approach is key. Having an effective communications plan, a responsive virtual platform partner, and established back-up plans will pave the way for success.
We hope this guide will help you build your own preventative plan. Need further assistance?