Virtual Events: Ideas to Consider before you Launch

An interview with Corey Briscoe, Managing Partner & Chief Operating Officer at ABCD & Company

April 22, 2020

With the shift to online events, I’ve been talking to a number of clients about their plans and how to make the leap. For some intel and recommendations, I recently talked to Corey Briscoe, Managing Partner & Chief Operating Officer at ABCD & Company, to find out what he’s experiencing in virtual events and what’s needed to get great results. Here are some tips to consider.

Your Gala is When?!

Spring is gala season across the country, so the pandemic has caused a lot of cancellations and postponements. For organizations that rely heavily on event revenue, there are definitely ways to make it work. But, before you hit send on your “non-gala” invite, you’ve got to think through audience participation, sponsorship, costs and promotion!

Connect with your Audience

One of the biggest challenges with online events is keeping attendees’ attention. One way to ensure audience participation is to have an emcee, and encouraging them to break through the third wall. Your emcee can also lead your auction and promote giving through a paddle raise. Corey is seeing effective auctions but cautions that “you’ve got to select an auctioneer who is engaging and make sure your items are relevant to the situation we are currently in.” During quarantine, think about auctioning off Amazon or Whole Foods gift cards and technology like noise cancellation headphones. Put that cruise or vacation home aside to use another year! What you are offering makes a difference, especially during Covid-19. 

Your event speakers can also be challenging or they can really boost energy. According to Corey, “too many speakers come in blind.” ABCD's speaker prep process is intense and thorough. “Make sure they have set talking points and don't just spit out information. Have them share a story or narrative.” You can help craft that story with them, but ultimately, their prep is what matters most.

Get Your Sponsors to Buy in

Sponsors are vital to events, and with virtual gatherings it’s important to let current and prospective sponsors know how many impressions they’ll get when their logo is on screen, their video plays, or their product is shown. According to Corey, “you’ve got to let your sponsors know how they’re going to be promoted before, during, and after the event.” Promotions are your chance to be creative, so while social media and email is great if you’ve got a strong following, think about influencers who can boost your event’s reach, a follow-up mailing that includes a sponsor insert, or other ideas to give your sponsors greater visibility. 

You Get What you Pay For 

I also talked to Corey at length about cost. Since your event is virtual, it may seem like it could be nearly cost-free. However, funds must be put into it in order to be successful. The greatest consideration should be technology, which can be tricky and experience technical difficulties depending on where the platform is hosting and attendee bandwidth. Investing in a webinar platform or reliable tool (i.e. GoToWebinar, Zoom, Cisco) with enough bandwidth and learn (and test!) integration tools like polling, chat room, timer etc. to build engagement is a great start. The larger and more dynamic the event, the more sophisticated of a platform you need. Even with a strong tech platform, the system has to be easy to use and compelling or you’ll lose participants. User experience and visuals also need to make people feel like they are at an actual event and not sitting on a call. According to Corey, color and decor can make a big difference. “If you're starting a conference or event, you may want to use bright colors like orange/yellow versus warm colors if they complement your brand identity. These subtle differences wake people up.” 

Social Media Matters

Last, you’ve got to build social media into your virtual event (a best practice regardless if you’re producing an in-person or virtual event). Be sure to come up with and prominently share an event hashtag, have participants post or send in questions through social channels with the hashtag, and rely on multiple platforms to expand your visibility. This not only creates engagement, but gives you a way to collect analytics on who was there and their involvement. 

Overall, just like in the “before times” - pre-coronavirus, face masks, and social distancing - you’ve got to focus on your organization’s story, connect with donors and prospects, and provide visibility to your sponsors through your event. While we’ve replaced gowns and podiums with comfy pants and screens, you still got to entertain attendees and think of your event as just one part of a broader set of tactics to reach donors, increase interest, and raise support.   

ABCD & Company is a marketing and events firm located in Rockville, MD focusing on five core services: digital and creative services, branding, conferences and events, people strategy, and communications and engagement.