When Covid hit in 2020, we had to quickly pivot several in-person events into virtual ones. And guess what? We had strong attendance, interaction and results – arguably better than in person! Sure, going virtual initially came with a level of uncertainty, but each successful gathering has strengthened our belief in the power of remote connectedness. From influencer brand immersions to cooking and fall harvest tours, we’ve learned how to showcase the special elements that make our brands and commodities shine. And while we miss in-person time with clients and partners and see a place for live events in the future (likely interspersed with virtual), for now we’re embracing the positives of physical distance.
Here are a few insights we’ve gleaned from producing highly successful online events over the past year.
Some benefits of virtual over in-person:
- More attendees can participate from all over the country: In the past we would travel to New York to meet with media, or to Los Angeles, Seattle etc. to meet with influencers. In doing so, we missed those living outside major media hubs and other hot spots. One solution was to fly them in for on-location events, but the time commitment and cost could be a barrier for participation. Going remote has opened up a much wider range of attendees and extended our reach.
- Presenters don’t have to all be in one location either: Going virtual means we’ve been able to more easily engage our in-house experts from all over the country. From our Bob’s Red Mill culinary specialist showcasing breadmaking from her own home as other brand experts join in from the Mill, to chefs participating from California’s Culinary Institute of America alongside a dietitian in Moscow, Idaho, the collaboration is seamless. Whereas getting these experts’ schedules in alignment for a live event used to prove challenging and expensive, finding an hour or so opens up endless possibilities.
- Prerecorded videos add another dimension: If our recent harvest event had been live, we would have had to scramble to show areas of interest, as fields would have already been harvested prior to our event date. The benefit of Zoom? When we got word of harvest happening two weeks early, we sent out our amazing video partners (shoutout, Amma Productions!) and caught chickpea and lentil fields mid-harvest. Through the magic of video we were able to have one of our farmers show what the plants look like before they’re harvested, see the combine harvester cutting them, and reveal them going through cleaning and into storage. It was almost the same as being live! Check out the full harvest video here – we hope you learn something new about growing nutritious, delicious pulses.
A few tips for a strong virtual event:
- Make it as visual as possible: Just as they would at a live event, attendees will take snapshots of what’s being presented. A sterile backdrop doesn’t cut it. For memorable (and shareable on social) moments, get creative with your visuals. For our pulse harvest event, we brought together the CEO of USA Pulses with a fellow farmer together live from a beautiful farm field. When they held up chickpea and lentil plants – something most attendees had never seen close up – it prompted a wave of social shares.
- Stay away from PPT presentations: It’s tempting to use slides as an easy guide for speaking, but they’ll just bore your audience. The more organic and similar to a live event you can get – which typically doesn’t include PowerPoints – the better!
- Hour-long events seem to be the sweet spot, and don’t forget an interactive element: We’ve found that if the event is super interactive, including hands-on cooking demonstrations, quizzes, etc. we can push to an hour and a half, but we’d recommend an hour as the sweet spot. Interactive is key, including an opportunity for questions via chat (attendees seem more likely to ask them in that format).
- Mix up the guest list – influencers and media together work great: Depending on your goals, we’ve learned bringing together both journalists and influencers is a good way to ensure a crowd that’s actively engaged and loaded with varied questions! Influencers tend to be a bit more vocal, but not always. And while everyone brings their own interests and specialties to the event, a diverse group with different backgrounds and expertise ensures the telling of a fuller story that benefits all participants.
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse: Just like live events – and maybe more so – it’s important to do at least one or two run-throughs for each event, ensuring transitions work smoothly, internet service isn’t spotty and camera angles work well. We’ve found in more complicated settings like kitchens or on the farm, a professional videographer is helpful for quality. Two different camera angles, particularly for food preparation, can show what’s happening in the bowl or pan, while not cutting out your presenters. As for backgrounds, consider branded materials from banners to aprons. Pro tip: If your event is outside, conduct a run-through at the same time of day, as the sunlight/shading shifts.
- Record it: One of the best parts of virtual events? You can record it for others to watch on their own time, whether it’s colleagues or clients!
If you’d like more info on events or would like us to help plan one for you, let us know! firstname.lastname@example.org