Virtual events, virtual panels, virtual conferences, heck even virtual make-up application demonstrations are exploding. Many startups are still trying to pivot, feverishly trying to stay on or get on the radar via some form of live, virtual community. Yet this arena is full of landmines from the dreaded “You’re on mute, you’re on mute” to full-on freezes that linger for minutes at time.
Large companies have shifted or created a hefty team to pull off this virtual tightrope act, but the already over-taxed startup trying to create a successful virtual event? Well, that can be daunting. While recent positive vaccine news against covid-19 has been announced, the need to flex one’s virtual prowess probably will not be going away anytime soon and may be even more of a necessity in 2021. One, because the vaccine will take time to be widely distributed and requires dosages over time. Two, the genie is out of the bottle in terms traditional office appearance.
We’ll probably not only adopt a flexible work style between home and office but events will mirror this vibe. The ability to touch anyone in the world via an event is a golden ticket that’s been an adrenaline rush for many over these past months, so we’ll probably adopt a new hybrid form of both on- and offline options.
All this means it’s time to level up the virtual event game for smaller outfits. We decided to explore some of this scenario through the new Kevin Hart- and Will Smith-backed platform, Run The World.
Below are five critical things to consider before producing your next event or if you simply want to perfect an already-solid presence.
Indeed, this Wild West of virtual events is moving at an impressive pace for an arena that we still have not figured out yet and is still a bit awkward at best. Businesses have had to plunge head first into the virtual world without any warning, and many have embraced it. In fact, Forbes reported in May 2020 that virtual events were up 1000 percent from 2019. And the phenomenon does not seem to be a fad — 71 percent of marketers fully expect virtual events to continue beyond 2020.
However, the best fit and approach should be customized for the particular needs of a startup which are often times quite different from that of, say, a Fortune 500 company in terms of reach, length, and agenda. There is much more to navigate because it’s just you and (a portion of) your small team. So consider all of the following:
Zoom is the knee-jerk reaction, but it might not be the best for what you are trying to share. If you’re looking for something with a little edge or that which says, “I always know what’s next,” Zoom is not your answer. If you just want to do something direct and straightforward, maybe so. There are many event companies that are either starting to come into play or were there before the pandemic but are now visible. Beware. Some upstarts that offer partnership in broadcasting your live content can be unreliable, over-commit, or simply be disorganized and scattered.
Vet well. Then vet again. Get everything in writing, and have a Plan B. Lean toward the more professional options springing up that also give a cool vibe to your event. Though there is lots and lots of chatter around Hopin, I recently put Run The World (RTW) to the test. Created by a female founder and Facebook engineering alum Xiaoyin Qu, the much-hyped, celeb-backed platform is one potential answer to the virtual maze.
Run The World is a cool interface that’s easy to use. These are some of several reasons why actors Hart and Smith invested in the platform. It was widely reported on. Founder Qu told me that Hart and Smith continue to provide impact for the platform’s direction and expansion, given their massive success in content creation. The Run The World differentiator from, for example Zoom, is about creating communities around conversation. Though Hart is a fairly new to investments in the emerging tech scene, this is just one of several for Smith, who is so into the scene that he even attended TechCrunch’s Disrupt Conference and invested a bit of seed funding right on the spot for the winner of an elevator pitch contest just before the pandemic hit. Given all this, I decided to put the platform to the test as a virtual event organizer.
Though the Run The World interface is slick, it is a bit odd to have to input all the information about each speaker and have to do an additional process to “invite” them or they will not be able to log on. So watch this if you decide to use the platform. Now, let’s be real. Every virtual event is not successful or maybe it’s simply not supposed to be Madison-Square-Garden size. This platform and all of them should give the producer the option of hiding the number of viewers if he or she wants to. This is not a popularity contest.
This platform and all others should also give the option of disabling questions. It may not either be appropriate or there may not be the manpower needed to admin and sift through all that. Sometimes the sheer distraction of it is not needed. So let’s have a choice, please. Also note, on Run The World you have a maximum of eight speakers total so if you are looking to do some kind of massive summit with a number of faces on the screen at once, this is not that.
However, what Run The World does give is the ability to do what they call a Groupfie with everyone who is a part of the event. The software is set up so that your image ends up showing up next to the moderator and a few others are around, then then the images become progressively smaller as one’s eye moves back. It’s kinda cool. Slick interfaces and add-ons like this help in setting a tone. Look and see which platform is offering what, and make your own decisions.
You want to look your best because your brand is hosting this extravaganza. So first things first, invest a bit in decent lighting. You can use this over and over and over again, even for one-on-one meetings. No, this is not about recreating Broadway but there is an absolute minimum. Far too many people, even moderators of small outfits, are still backlit, in the dark, and so many other crazy variables.
And forget ring lights. The state-of-the art now is Glamcor lighting which is really like a lighting-director-in-a-device. There are so many cool features here, but some of the standouts allow you to select either cool or warm lighting depending on your skin tone at just a light touch of a button. The device perfectly holds your phone in the center of it if you want to go that route. The height adjustment is fantastic. People will think you are professionally lit. Research it. It’s like the Tesla of lighting. Thank me later. Whatever your choice, no regular lamps at home or your window anymore, please.
Now let’s talk sound for a minute. What many small companies either forget or have no exposure to is how critical sound is. All this preparation is far too much work for shoddy sound. Yeti mics are used for many of today’s hottest podcasters and there is a reason. If this is out of the budget, research dupes or a reasonable downgrade. You’ll keep it forever, founders, but trust me, sound matters.
This is a bit tricky for startups that are probably not going to or maybe need a massive budget for a full-on one-to-two day summit. That said, there are still considerations. These platforms like Run The World offer bare bones at the “free” level, so give a good think on how you plan to use the platform for the next six-to-nine months and plan accordingly. There are limitations on, for example, number of attendees, so pay attention. But whatever plan you pick on Run The World, always ensure that it allows you to record. You always want to have content to re-market. Always.
This part is the worst. Be very, very aware that even though you can test out these platforms, there can still be the unforeseen firewall that pops up. This type of drama at moment-of can be devastating, so find out in advance how the platform will support you. Can you reach someone in real time via phone and/or text? Have you done all the testing with each panelist via the devices and connection they will be using on the day of the event? This is still an area that I feel has yet to be completely guaranteed on these platforms so be very, I mean, very vigilant. Run The World was great with some firewall issues that prevented speakers from logging on. Speaking in real time under stress is paramount.
Which brings us to the next point — a much, much larger industry issue. Why are none of these new virtual platforms offering full-service production? It is truly a missed opportunity. Let’s face it, no one wants to do all this stuff unless that’s your profession. From chat moderation to ensuring all speakers have their login links, this stuff is tedious and there are many small companies that would rather hand this stuff off in a hurry.
An insightful piece in in Event Manager Blog. And to make event support really killer, there should be services supporting on-demand distribution to partners of said platform. Who wouldn’t pay for all that? Small companies simply need better tools and production support. Period.
Indeed, live events startup Hopin provides great analytics that are modular, which could be a major help to any virtual producer. Hopin exploded during the pandemic, hitting a $2.1 billion valuation eight months after launch. But when I investigated on the production support side via Twitter direct message, Hopin told me:
“Thank you for reaching out. Event organizers (you and your team) will need to create and setup your event. Our Support team is available 24 hours a day in case you have questions or encounter any difficulties. We recommend that you create a test event so that your speakers and team members can test connecting their devices and check their compatibility with our platform. Once your event is live, you will need to moderate your chats and sessions yourself (Hopin does not provide this service).”
Even so, the platform is still growing. According to Robinhood Snacks, in just eight months, Hopin grew from 5,000 users and 1,800 event hosts to 3.5 million users and 50,000 host organizations including NATO, the U.N. and Slack. But if you don’t have the production team power of any of these, good luck and review the sections above again.
What’s also missing from these virtual events is a subscription model feature for planners. Not everyone should have to be beholden to the sponsor-hunt, cost-per-ticket, or free-revenue models and the exhaustion of having to regenerate that each time, especially for small startup teams. This is massively needed for Virtual Event Landscape 2.0.
This area is important to consider because the startup definition will broaden shortly. The future of work is changing and many individuals are now creating the next level of the gig economy due to job turndown because of the pandemic. They too will use the virtual event and networking offering as a way to further define their brands. The successful virtual platform should already be considering this and expanding offerings in anticipation ASAP.
Also impacting the virtual event space will be 5G. Though hardly in full-blown form for at least another couple of years, the early version of 5G will give way to an increase in HD video and more. This capability combined with new ways of working, branding, and connecting will create new types of demands. Virtual event platforms and their producers of all sizes will find themselves in an environment where they will simply have to work together to create optimum models. This will not be a one-size-fits-all approach at all.
In the meantime, read as much as you can about the area, talk to others who have helpful insight, consider hiring consultants, and ask for help. Get what you need so that your events are as successful as possible.
Lauren deLisa Coleman is the founder of Lnk Agency, a concept marketing and trend forecast agency that’s helped Fortune 500 companies and recording artists create content, events, reports, and more.