If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that virtual events — when done right — can be a great alternative to in-person events at times when it’s not possible to gather together. Here at AAE, we’ve overseen numerous successful virtual events over the past year. This experience has given us valuable insight into what sets a virtual event up for success and has helped us understand how best to tackle technical issues on the fly.

We’ve put together some lessons we’ve learned that every event professional should know about. These tips will help you ensure that your next virtual event is a positive, inspiring experience for all parties involved — from the talent to your audience, and even the event staff.

Utilize the proper technology for your virtual event

This one seems pretty obvious, right? In the same way you can’t play tennis without a racquet, tennis balls, and a net, you can’t have a virtual event without a webcam, a video conferencing platform, appropriate lighting, you get the picture. But sticking with the tennis metaphor, you could show up with all of that equipment we listed and still be woefully unprepared to play. That’s because just checking the box isn’t enough— you must have the appropriate quality of equipment.

For virtual events, event professionals should do plenty of research to ensure that the virtual event platform selected has best-in-class technical support. It’s also wise to make sure that you have laid out a number of different options for reaching technical support should any issues arise during the event. Having multiple channels of communication along with a trained support staff is key. Take a closer look at the hardware, too. Do you have high quality equipment like a webcam, microphone, lighting, and a high-speed internet connection? These are all crucial to a successful virtual event, so it’s worth it to take some time at the start of the planning process to take stock of what you already have and what you would still need.

Explore pre-recorded and live elements at your virtual event

When you hear about the pros of utilizing pre-recorded content during your virtual event, it’s usually framed as some kind of cautionary tale citing a doomsday scenario. But the truth is that those kinds of major technical issues are rarer than you would think, especially if you have followed the advice laid out above. However, there are other, less doomsday-esque, benefits to incorporating pre-recorded content into your event.

For instance, when speakers pre-record their presentations, the talent can rehearse and edit the video so that it runs smoothly, easily taking out pauses, mispronunciations or deviation in the conversation. Additionally, you can add graphics and captions to make the event easier to follow along with. You’ll also be able to give your attendees an added level of flexibility to choose the best time for their schedule to watch any given presentation. Pre-recorded videos decrease the risk for connectivity issues and other technical glitches, too.

If you’re worried that pre-recorded presentations take away from the interactivity of a live presentation, keep in mind that speakers can still interact with attendees in the chat and answer questions in real time.

Always have a backup plan in case things do go wrong

If you take the proper precautions and make the right preparations, you can significantly lessen the odds of technical issues becoming a problem at your virtual event. And while there’s no set of steps that can 100% guarantee an event completely free of technical issues, you can plan for those unlikely scenarios so that even when something unexpected happens, you and your team are prepared to leap into action.

This is where “having multiple channels to reach tech support” mentioned earlier really comes in handy. But beyond that, the most important thing about your plan is that everyone on your team is on the same page. At a recent online conference, I got to see first hand how a unified plan of attack made all the difference when things went wrong. The problems started within the first 15 minutes or so of the conference. The presentations wouldn’t play, and the attendees were all looking at a blank screen. Our immediate concerns were obvious: why isn’t it playing? I don’t have time for this? And so on.

Thankfully, the event staff got in touch with their technical support within seconds. They communicated to all attendees that they were aware of the problem and that it was being fixed. And, most importantly, they recognized our scheduling concerns and let us know that all presentations would be available for download later on. Instead of spiraling out of control, the audience felt mildly inconvenienced but assured that issues were being fixed and things would be made right. And within the hour, thanks to the lines of communication with their technical support, the conference was back on track.

Choose the right speakers from the get go

Every piece of advice we’ve discussed thus far is pivotal to incorporate into your process for planning a virtual event. But this last one is an often overlooked piece of the puzzle. You need to make sure you’re working with the right talent from the very start. And when you think about “the right talent,” it goes far beyond subject matter knowledge,charisma, or even presentation style. I’ll illustrate what I mean by giving another example from that online conference I referenced earlier.

What I saw happen once the technical issues arose changed my mind about how you know if you’re working with the right speakers. Shortly after the problems became apparent, I saw the speakers who had been paid to be there diving into the comments sections to support the organizers of the event. They made conversation with the attendees, answering questions and giving industry advice to fill up the time. In another session, a recorded presentation ran into some technical difficulties, and within a minute or so, the speaker popped onto the screen and did the whole presentation live on the fly.

These speakers not only put their professionalism on full display, they made it clear to all of us that the event organizers had booked people who genuinely cared about the success of the event: the right kind of speakers.

Ready to book your next virtual event? Let’s get started.

At AAE, we have booked hundreds of virtual events and the advice you’ve read here is lived out in everything we do. We know exactly what it takes to make your virtual or hybrid event a resounding success. Browse great speakers, celebrities, and entertainers here.