If you’re planning a virtual event, read this first.

The 3-point pivot to nailing your virtual event

2020 has challenged us all on how well we’re able to pivot. And it’s presented us with opportunities to master a world gone virtual. And that’s what I’m going to help you do — put on a killer virtual event with three key learnings I took from the Dairy Girl Network Forward TogetHER Virtual Conference.

Dairy Girl Network is a virtual organization that supports and empowers women in the dairy industry through networking and educational opportunities. Every other year, they hold a national conference — in person. It’s high-energy, celebratory and impactful. It’s the type of event where you can make a friend you exchange holiday cards with or a professional contact that ends up being your next new co-worker.

COVID-19 clearly changed that. As part of the planning committee, I was tasked with figuring out how to pivot the event from in-person to online without losing its shimmer. As I retro on the event, I thought of three critical boxes to check when hosting a virtual event:

1. Make it easy, and keep it simple.

Let’s face it: We can complicate things quickly. Especially online. When you’re establishing the virtual platform and event communications, “easy” and “simple” should be your two biggest goals. Ask yourself questions about the user experience you’re offering:

1. Is our event platform/website easy to navigate?

2. Will they know how to access the live presentations right away?

3. How quickly will they find the agenda?

4. Am I sending participants clear communications on where they need to be and when and how they’ll access the event?

2. Keep it interactive and fun.

Where are most people attending virtual conferences? In the comforts of their home — maybe while they’re making lunch for their kids, throwing in a load of laundry or catching up on emails. Admittedly, I’ve gotten a spin ride in while listening to a webinar before. You don’t have a person’s full attention like you would in person. To combat this, you need to find ways to keep it interactive and fun. I’ve found these two approaches to be effective:

1. During presentations, have a team prepared to run polls and lead a live chat that is discussing the topic at hand.

2. Have incentives for attending and paying attention, whether that be door prizes or exclusive information that an individual can’t get without being attentive or at their computer.

3. Networking is on the vendors (sponsors), not the host.

Just like it would be at an in-person event. I don’t think we’ve cracked the code to making virtual networking as impactful as it is in person. However, we have learned that virtual networking is unnatural, and people aren’t seeking out online booths to join a chat box or a Zoom meeting. It’s all a bit unwelcoming and, well, weird. The vendors who are successful are those who have invited people to their networking sessions for a very clear and engaging purpose. A direct email that says, “I’m excited to invite you to come hang out with me and our very own industry celebrity, Dr. Joe, to watch him demonstrate our highly anticipated, new state-of-the-art data platform ‘X’,” is a lot more enticing than copy on a website saying, “Learn more about our digital offerings.”

As we continue to navigate a world of change,

take time to step back and reflect on your experiences and then apply your key learnings to the next project. And when you nail down the perfect virtual event, we’ll be faced with the need to pivot again. Are you up for the challenge?

About the Author

Rebecca Shaw (or Bec) is a senior account executive on our public relations team focused on bringing stories to life. Bec grew up in the dairy industry and has spent her professional career telling stories about cows and the people that care for them. Now, she’s serving on the Dairy Girl Network Board of Directors, an organization that empowers and creates opportunities for women in the dairy industry.