Editor's Note: This is a guest post contribution from Jeff Starr, a Senior Producer at TRADEMARK. Author bylines and information are found at the end of the post.
Congratulations! You have chosen MeetingPlay, a highly responsive, customizable, and all-around amazing platform for your next event…but what does a timeline for producing virtual and hybrid events look like? How much time do you need to get your executives prepped, your guest speakers and customers on board, your sponsors and partners lined up, your gamification planned, and the event promoted?
Answer? Six months.
End of article. You can stop reading now.
JK! You probably want more information than that. And you likely want a different answer. Who has six months? The good news: You can do it in 8 weeks. The catch: it’s probably for a smaller, internal event that requires little to no promotion. Let’s look at how we’ve outlined the following premier tech conference’s timeline to provide more insight.
Hint #1 for success: For planning, consider Airtable. It’s as easy to use and collaborate in as Google Sheets but with more relational capabilities and milestone/calendar views. The project milestones help us build our weekly agenda with our clients, and enable everyone to stay on track. There are other planning tools like Asana and Monday that do similar things.
24 - 20 Weeks Out
What takes the longest runway? Guest speakers and sponsors.
Each event is unique, but many have the same components. The most time-consuming tasks include: legal review of contracts, permissions from CorpComm teams, and levels of approval are outside speakers and partners. Here are some ways to accelerate them.
- Keynote guest speakers: Whether paid or unpaid, keynote speakers need a brief to understand your company, audience, and brand messaging. The brief should also include other speakers you’ve hosted, event theme(s), logistics like time and type of presentation (fireside chat, lecture), and whether you want to include the speaker’s latest book as a gift to your attendees. Having a brief ready to go will expedite the process and endear you to speaker bureaus everywhere!
Hint #2 for success: The timeline for keynotes from receipt of brief to acceptance of offer can be 2 days to 4 weeks, depending on how many offers your speaker is juggling or how peripatetic their schedule is! Note: an acceptance of terms does not equal ready to hit “send” on that email announcing them. A lengthy contract and payment must be finalized prior to promotion, so make sure your legal and finance teams are ready to go.
- Customer or non-employee speakers: Don’t wait until you have your agenda 100% baked to start inviting non-employee speakers. If you know you want XYZ Customer at your event, invite them now — then determine how they might best participate. The details can get sorted out later. For now, focus on who you want to tell your story.
Hint #3 for success: Customer speakers generally need to sign a release contract that provides you permission to post their content digitally for a certain period of time during and post-event. Have this document prepared and approved by your legal team and ready to send as soon as you engage with outside speakers.
- Sponsors and partners: Whether you’re offering traditional booths, or non-traditional content, or a combination of the two to promote your sponsors and partners, chances are they need a prospectus to understand their commitment and related costs (if applicable), and a timeframe for when their assets are required. Most companies who sponsor have one team that negotiates the contract (Alliances, Purchasing) and another team for fulfillment (Marketing). Because multiple teams need to be engaged and there is often a lot of back-and-forth communications, you’ll need to allocate as much time as possible to this step!
Hint #4 for success: Update that sponsor prospectus! Get it through your internal design and approval channels so it can be sent as soon as you announce your event dates. For sponsor fulfillment, consider using the MeetingPlay sponsor portal to gather assets.
20 weeks - 16 weeks out
Agenda & Platform
Let me guess. You thought the agenda was the single most important and time-consuming element of the event. Fooled you! The agenda is definitely the blueprint, but plenty of things can be started beforehand. Nonetheless, here are some important considerations when building your agenda.
- Agenda building: Virtual doesn’t mean “kitchen sink.” It isn’t an invitation to include everything you’ve ever recorded. Your agenda should respect the attention span of the average viewer — which means no longer than 20 minutes, with 10 minutes of interaction on top. And while we can’t tell you whether your event should be a half-day, a full day, two half days, or a week, we can tell you that your best resource is to look at other events, ask your best customers and prospects, and consider the kind of event you’d want to attend.
Hint #5 for success: Assign track and session owners as you develop your agenda. These allies within your company are responsible for collecting the presentations, rehearsing the speakers, and ensuring they are ready for the big day.
- Regionalization decisions: Depending on the nature of your event and audience, you may want to broadcast the event live or simu-live in more than one geographic region. This decision, beyond having some staffing considerations, may necessitate simultaneous translations, or localization of content or staff.
Hint #6 for success: WorldTimeBuddy.com is a great tool for understanding the time zones during the days of your conference. Remember that daylight savings and other US time changes happen during different weeks of the year in other countries. Be sure to check regional times during your event dates versus today’s time differences!
- Save the Date and promotion plan: No matter the time of year, chances are your event is competing with other events, holidays, or scheduled school breaks—there is always a trade-off. And you want to make sure your event stands out. A promotions plan will ensure you have plenty of time to announce keynotes, build your agenda dates, plan engagements like a pre-event 10K or charitable effort, sponsor guest blogs, and figure out whatever else you need to know before you go communications.
Hint #7 for success: Your social media and marketing teams and media buying agency should pow-wow on a promotions calendar. Lay out all commitments listed in sponsor prospectuses, as well as desired customer or partner co-promotions, and focus on audiences you want to attend. Include sales SPIFs if needed to bring in customers!
- MeetingPlay kick-off: You will be assigned a great MeetingPlay Account Manager who will hold your hand throughout the process via weekly meetings, calendars, and delivery dates. Work with MeetingPlay to get the best practices for agenda, sponsors, regionalization, and other considerations. They are a wonderful ally to all things virtual!
Today’s guest blog post comes from Jeff Starr, a Senior Producer at TRADEMARK, a creative agency that produces live, virtual and hybrid events and has helped several MeetingPlay clients manage their productions. Jeff Starr, Sr Producer, Trademark