At the beginning of the pandemic, event planners came to us panicked, looking for advice and direction on how to convert their event from an in-person event to a virtual one. Like most of the planners, we were also experiencing some trepidation of our own, not knowing what was going to happen to the event industry. As the pandemic and the year continued, the event industry was forced to evolve into the “virtual” event industry. In the beginning, no one really knew what to expect, but as more and more virtual events have taken place, both planners and audiences have come a long way and are now more familiar with virtual meetings and conferences.
Most associations and some corporations rely heavily on revenue from their annual events to keep their organization viable. So one common question that had many planners worried was how much to charge for a virtual event – if anything. Initially, no one truly knew the worth or value of a virtual event.
Without knowing how much to charge for a virtual event, budgeting has become a conundrum for planners across the country…not to mention the sheer terror of planning an event that relies on so many unknowns to be successful. Very few event planners have experience with the new event platforms or technology needed to manage a virtual event. Job descriptions now include things they were not used to dealing with such as operating systems, firewalls, user interfaces, and virtual platforms. It’s no wonder that many continue to be overwhelmed with where to begin planning their virtual event.
After working with event planners on dozens of virtual events this year, and seeing many of the same apprehensions as each transitioned their in-person event to a virtual one, here are some key takeaways that I continue to share even now as we consult with planners
Guess What? You Know How to Do This!
First of all, I want you to know that you already know how to do this! Your training and experience as an event planner has given you everything you already need to pull off a successful virtual event.
The company that has hired you already has a brand. The executives you are working for have personalities and messages to share. You know what they value as a company, and you know the type of experience you would want your attendees to have at an in-person event. These are the foundations for a successful event, whether live or virtual. Lean into what you already know and start with establishing and articulating your goals. Then, take those to your AV/production vendor. This provides a starting point for discussing options to consider, recommendations and budget parameters.
Clients often come to us panicked, first and foremost, about how to make their virtual event relevant, and I believe the panic comes from not thinking of their virtual event as strategically as they do their in-person events.
Focus on the goal, and craft your strategy around what you are trying to achieve. Determine ahead of time what is ideal in terms of attendee experience. Does it need to be polished and perfect, or will you be able to laugh off a few bumps in the road? Share those expectations with your AV/production company and let them provide guidance and discuss the potential trade-offs and risks — and then you can make sound decisions on what to budget for appropriately and realistically.
Don’t Step Over Dollars to Pick up Dimes
If you are looking for a completely professional and polished end product, then you need to budget accordingly. Just like a live event, your budget needs to match your expectations. When deciding how to get the best bang for your buck, one good way to look at it is to spend based on value rather than on price and don’t cut the wrong corners when tightening up your budget.
I recommend thinking of it the same way you might approach a remodel. You have an idea of what you envision and a rough budget, but ultimately you need to make decisions based on your needs and what you are willing to trade off. Would you rather have granite countertops with lower-end appliances; or higher quality appliances and laminate countertops? Do you want your flooring to be genuine hardwood, or is ceramic tile just fine? As an astute event planner, you’ve already had to do this with live events and you already have a pretty good idea of what your audience is expecting. Trust your instincts and let your AV/ production company guide you through the details.
As we brave these new waters together, let’s not neglect to think about virtual events in terms of what we DO know, rather than the unknown. With this new arm of our industry in its infancy, none of us really know what the future is going to bring, or what the “new normal” will end up looking like once we get to the other side of the pandemic . As you navigate the world of virtual events in 2021, remember these three things: you already know how to do this, think strategically and don’t step over dollars to pick up dimes!