Hayden Lockaby is senior director of business development at RED VELVET, a planning agency based in Austin, Texas. She has more than 20 years experience of cross-category experience in integrated media channels including traditional, social, experiential, events and business-to-business.
Pivot. Virtual. Digital. Hybrid. Unprecedented: the buzzwords of 2020.
If you’re like the team at RED VELVET, these terms are on the tip of your tongue this year. Our conversations revolve around the idea of “evolving the event experience,” challenging norms and coming up with new plans that still hit the mark of creating a satisfying, successful and effective event experience no matter the format. We’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly while exploring arenas and platforms.
One thing has become abundantly clear: we are much wiser now to the fact that a “perfect” event, live or virtual, is an anomaly (or may not even truly exist). And here we all are now under a virtual magnifying lens that shows all of our imperfect parts and pieces! A new conversation emerged within our team: how do we explain to clients that “perfect” is as elusive as a unicorn?
Here’s what that looks like:
To start off, set and manage expectations early and clearly from the start. There are so many features out of our control when preparing for a digital experience and it is our jobs as experts and experienced professionals to be upfront and clear about what the planning experience and event will look like in some cases and might look like in others. This starts with us, as planners, asking a lot of questions like:
- What are the goals for the experience?
- What’s the budget compared to a live event?
- Is a planning team, content creators or a consultant or some combination needed?
Deadlines exist in every industry and every type of event. They have now jumped to the top of the priority list because of how much has changed. We hear from clients interested in digital experiences MUCH closer to the event date than we would a live event. Contrast this with our history with multi-year agreements spanning up to five years ahead of time. In 2020, our longest turnaround time was four months! In that way, we’ve had to work backwards from the event date and quickly backtrack to when deadlines are. Heads up: they’re sooner than most expect in the virtual world.
For most, working with technology is pretty intimidating. Humans are wired to like what we know (live events) and what we can control (hence, why 2020 was such a struggle). Choosing a platform for your event is a hefty project in itself, and each one comes with its pros and cons. Only rarely have we seen a perfect, one-size-fits-all solution for the budget, client needs and customer satisfaction. Advocate patience when evaluating and selecting a platform.
Plan for Every Scenario
On-site, planners are there to make a client’s life as easy as possible. We fight fires on their behalf all day and attempt to fix issues before a client even knows about them. This has shifted in the virtual world. We must prepare our clients ahead of time for what the day-of experience will entail. Rehearsals are never perfect, event day will likely have a hiccup (that we are prepared for!), and technology can and will fail us. Our question used to be, “did the client see that?” Now the question is, “did the attendee see that?” Because the client absolutely will. It’s necessary to bring clients into the world of on-site execution, show them our original, back up and worst-case scenario plans to ease their anxiety. This builds trust and openness between the planner and the client and leads to a better working environment.
NOTE: Never assume that technology will not glitch. In fact, it should be the opposite. Big technical issues should be planned for and back-ups should be at the ready as soon as a problem arises.
Let’s be honest, speaker management is tough. For in-person events, this means preparing A/V for last minute slideshows and delayed flights. Virtually, the list of scenarios grows substantially. We have to prepare our speakers to be their own at-home AV tech, to be resilient enough in their stumbles to keep pushing forward, and to be ready for when technology fails them. Our speaker guides remind them that in person, slip ups or mispronunciations occur, and to expect the same virtually. In actuality, those little human moments are relatable, charming and build closer connections between the speakers and the attendees. I also cannot stress enough how important it is to rehearse. Going live should never be the speaker’s first time accessing the platform and giving their presentation.
Pro tip: Record your rehearsals. If the live stream fails, you can quickly throw the recorded video up in its place.
We had to embrace 2020 for all its ups and downs. Imperfect is our reality, but with proper planning, we can get pretty damn close.