The best lessons I learned hosting virtual events.
As a Marketing Director and Brand Guardian for my clients, my responsibilities have evolved in the virtual world. We must reach our audience with high-quality virtual events and the hosting responsibilities are critical to the success of these events. Here are the top lessons I learned while hosting virtual events:
1. Own the event
As the host, owning your virtual event means delivering on the expectation of your audience. You are the protector and guide for your presenter or guest. Pre-event and post-event communication is critical and should be created and scheduled at the time of event posting.
Develop a vision for the flow of the event communication and the event itself. When you own the event, your guests and audience can feel it. That control gives an order to the event and comfort to the guest who is focused on sharing their content with the audience. In the end, we want to reduce and prepare for the unknown.
I also like to keep my clients and guest presenters in the communication loop. Mentions in social media posts, emails to the audience, and a presenter email the day of the event. I also check in the day of with the client or sponsor of the event just to make sure they know I’m ready and to reinforce their confidence.
When I’m asked to host a virtual event, I have two immediate questions. When can I talk to the presenter and who is the audience? Pre-preparing for the event requires engaging your guest presenter to understand the following:
· Their subject matter and flow of content in the presentation
· Participant communication preferences
· How they would like to be introduced
· How to properly present their company and thank partners
· Five questions you can ask to kick off Q&A
· Technology preferences and comfort
As a great host, you must have a genuine interest in the subject and content your guest is presenting. Schedule a virtual call with them prior to the event to lay the groundwork and build repour. Spend some time doing research and come up with your own insightful questions. This will also allow you to organically generate great questions during the presentation.
Connecting the audience and their questions to the presenter in an orderly manner, virtually, can be challenging. I recommend funneling all questions into the virtual chat. Review the meeting instructions during the time you're waiting for people to enter and within your introduction. Owning the event includes clear and direct communication with your audience.
When you hold your pre-event prep meeting with your guest, ask them to provide you with five or more questions that you can ask when you open the Q&A. Some presenters like to break up the presentation with time for questions and others like to hold them until the end. I like to have questions ready to lead off the Q&A time so I can reduce those awkward moments of silence. Sometimes the audience isn’t eager to present questions and you can give them a nudge or continue to fill space with those questions.
3. Get in your space
You need to be comfortable and focused in your space with the right atmosphere to moderate a great event. What pre-event routines or habits help you get in the right mental and emotional space? You should be bored in the hour leading up to your event. Try to complete your pre-event preparation prior to the hour before your event kick-off. Getting out of preparation mode in the hour before the event helps transition you into the hosting role. Listen to music, walk around, or whatever gets you in the right mindset to run your virtual event.
Assess your environment for potential interruptions. For example, I have hosted an event and lost my connection completely 20-min in. I found out my entire line needed to be replaced. I invested in a hotspot as a backup to resolve this issue. Are there potential people that could interrupt your event? Pets? Whatever the potential issue may be, identify them, and reduce risk.
This is very different than pre-preparing for your event. This comes down to some personal preferences and what type of event you're hosting. I always send the presenter or guest my event notes. You can download an example of one of my event prep documents here. I like to double-check names, pronunciations, job titles, and keep a note of the people or companies I need to introduce. Missing an introduction and looking at the person in their little virtual box as they go unmentioned is not a good place to be.
Open your virtual meeting room early and check your settings. Open the participant and chat views so you can see everyone entering the meeting and questions being submitted. I like to ask someone to join me early to test the audio and video to ensure the virtual event is without issue.
I will often present my screen and a slide that states the rules of the event. Whether it is to remain muted or video off. I want the audience to know what is expected as they enter the virtual room.
5. Roll with it
You need to be able to roll with any hitches in your event and handle issues within your event with grace. In this virtual world, people understand we are all vulnerable to hiccups with technology or funny moments that occur during a virtual event. So, roll with them. Give the audience a smile and continue to progress the event the best way that you can. If the presenter has issues, roll with those.
In a recent virtual, the presenter’s presentation continued to drop from the audience's view because of a technical issue being created by a participant entering the meeting through mobile. As the host, I needed to recognize what was causing the issue, notify the audience of what is happening, and help guide the presenter back on track. I chose to ask the presenter a question that related to where he was before the issue to help get him back online.
6. Watch yourself
Record your virtual event for potential redistribution and marketing. But more than anything, record it so you can go back and watch yourself deliver the event. For some, like myself, it can be an uncomfortable experience. I’m not one to enjoy watching myself on screen. The positive changes I can make by watching are extremely valuable. I need to examine myself for self-improvement to ensure I deliver great events for my clients.
7. You can directly communicate presenter issues
If you recognize an issue with the presenter, the audio, or video, you will not be able to reach them on the chat. Communicate directly with the presenter. Don’t worry about it being embarrassing and don’t be concerned with interrupting.
I recently had a guest that was using headphones with the microphone built into the cord. They were wearing a pullover with a zipper. The microphone kept rubbing on the zipper. I should’ve said something but didn’t. Realizing after I should have been direct and less concerned with the interruption.
If you focus on your preparation, your guests, and your audience. You will have a successful event. If the first run isn’t completely smooth. Watch yourself and find the fixes. The next one will be better. Vulnerability is the new norm in the virtual world. Take a deep breath and just be you. Being natural and genuine is important to your connection with the audience. Your pre-event prep time with the guest, to me, is the most important aspect of being a great virtual host. By investing that time into your guest, you are letting them know how “bought-in” you are. Genuinely care for and appreciate the knowledge they are sharing with you.
Remember to have fun and I hope your virtual event matches your vision.