Photo by Chris Montgomery / Unsplash

1:6 Converting to a virtual event

Lee Matthew Jackson
Lee Matthew Jackson

We are in unprecedented times. Event organisers around the world face the choice of cancelling, postponing or going virtual. We believe the world needs events, so we have taken ours virtual in 2020 and in this episode we share how you can do this too.

We will unpack:

  • Our communication
  • Types of virtual events we considered
    • Pre recorded
    • Live stream
    • Drip feed content
  • The software we will utilise for our three day event
  • Elevating our sponsors
    • Logo visibility
      • Stream
      • Videos
      • Website
      • Social media
    • Sponsored content
    • Virtual stands
  • Adding value for attendees
    • Recordings
    • Extra workshops
    • Handouts


Welcome to the Event Martech Podcast. This is your host Lee. And on today’s show we are talking about virtualizing your event. Full disclosure, we’ve had to do this, so I want to share with you our experiences of taking our physical event into a virtual environment. Give you a little bit of backstory. We have been running for the last two years an event called Agency Transformation Live, and this has been for design agencies and a web developers from all around the world who come to our hometown here in Wellingborough and they have an amazing time together. We learn from some fantastic speakers, we do networking, we do collaboration, and we do workshops. So it’s a very, very interactive event and people rarely rely on those close connections. So much business has happened over the last couple of years. As a result of people getting together and having those accidental meetups, that’s the beauty of events.

We can create these amazing spaces and these amazing environments where people from all around the world can connect and taking that virtual was absolutely heartbreaking. So I have to admit for a while, we first were pushing back in the early days, maybe a month ago, there were still conversations that this would all blow over and that everybody was being over protective, etc, but over the course of just two weeks, it became really, really apparent that we were either going to have to cancel, postpone, or convert our event into some sort of online version. Now, we did push for a hybrid event and what we were going to do at this point was live stream the event in the physical location that we had booked and for the people that came, we would honour them and look after them, etc, but we would then live stream the event to everybody else who could not physically attend for whatever reason.

Now, the UK is officially in lockdown as of Monday, which means if the UK would have been in lockdown in May, our event would not have been able to happen anyway. Thankfully though, we made the decision that we were going to take our event virtual and that was about two and a half weeks ago. It became apparent to us that if we just kept hanging on, then our attendees would not be able to plan accordingly. They wouldn’t be able to cancel flights or hotels, etc if we just kept hanging on in that, in the hope that we could run this live event physically. So the first thing we needed to do was to communicate this change and I must confess, I was pretty nervous. I thought we would get some pushback. I thought we’d get a lot of disappointment and whilst yes, many attendees were disappointed that there wouldn’t be a physical event.

They also understood that times have changed, that this is a global issue. This is affecting everybody. Every and every family and being able to still do the event was something that they really resonated with. They understood that we couldn’t physically do an event, but being able to virtually get together was something that really, really attracted them and they were really appreciative of this offer. What we’ve decided to do was not only offer the virtual event environment for 2020 but for everybody that bought a 2020 ticket, they would automatically get a free 2021 ticket to our physical event the following year. I was really surprised at the positive response from this. People were saying that we were being more generous than we needed to be and really, really appreciated that the event could still happen in some sort of virtual form and that there were still going to get to gather in 2021 so that would still be a physical event.

So for us it was kind of a happy place to be because we were essentially postponing our physical event into next year. So people can still have that live interaction. But we’re also giving our audience, the people who have been a part of this, something that they can enjoy, especially during these stressful times of a lockdown, etc. So everybody has got something that they can look forward to in may that they can be a part of and that they can take from what they need for this particular season. So if it is apparent that you will need to virtualize your event because of restrictions or rules within your country, I would highly recommend you formulate a plan and then get that communication out as soon as is possible. This is going to give your attendees time to prepare time to look forward to the event and also removes all of that uncertainty that they may have had around travel.

They can get those plans cancelled, money back, etc that they might need to next. We needed to work out how we were going to virtualize this conference. Our current format was two days of speeches with breaks and food, etc. And then the third day would be masterminding and workshops, so we needed to work out how we could take these physical elements of our conference and then take them online and there were three different options available to us. First of all, we could do some sort or prerecord setup where we would have all of our speakers prerecord their talks and then we would put them together on a website and make that available to people at a specific time. Another option would be to a live stream everything and get our speakers in the room to present, live through the internet so everyone could join in in a webinar format.

And then finally another option would be to drip feed to the content. So that would be again getting all of those recordings but then drip feeding them out over a period of days. So instead of our virtual conference being I one day or a two day conference of information, we would spread it out over the course of maybe two weeks and drip feed that information out to people over the period of time. Now all of those options, and there are many more, are completely valid. They are great ways to run your event online. But what we really want to do is to capture that feeling of togetherness. So we want to create something that will allow everybody to get together, will allow everyone to communicate, will allow everyone to talk about the content that is happening there and then, and to give that feeling of live community. So how are we going to do that?

And the choice we’ve gone for is to prerecord much of our content because we do have concerns over internet speeds, etc. But then to present everything on one live stream. So we will be live streaming our entire event over the three days and we’ll be presenting it in more of a TV show format. So myself will be the host and I will be explaining what’s happening. And then each speaker’s prerecorded message will come up at the appropriate time. I’ll introduce it. We will play that talk for the 25-minute period of time and then I’ll be back on camera to present the next. I will also be bringing in a couple of speakers in life who I know have got reliable internet connections and we can pull them in and they can do their presentation live and we’ll be doing a live panel allowing everybody to ask questions and to hear live what those responses are.

So that gives us a broad mix of prerecorded and live content that we can then stream out over the period of the day. So day one will be the exact same shed tool that we were looking at offering in our physical event as will day two and then for the workshop environment, which would have been day three, we’ll be using a platform such as zoom to allow us to present live the content that we had prepared and then to allow everybody to go into their relevant breakout rooms to do their exploration and their conversations that they need to have had at their tables. So that’s really giving them a digital experience of the physical masterminding event. To pull this off, I want to share with you the technology that we’re gonna use for the event. The first one is Zoom webinar that’s going to allow us to connect with our cameras in the small studio that we have set up.

We can then set up a virtual camera that will feed into Zoom, that will showcase elements from our physical cameras, but also prerecorded content as well as a live calls with some of us speakers and our panelists to accompany this. We want to give the on demand feel. So with all of those prerecorded messages from our speakers, we will then load them into a website where attendees can log in and access all of those videos on-demand at their own convenience. Bearing in mind that this is a global event, this does mean that many people won’t be able to watch live and will want to be able to consume that content on demand. We will therefore drip feed that content throughout the day, meaning by the end of the day, those prerecorded messages will be there for people to consume whilst at the same time giving the live feed experience to those who want to watch and participate in the event via our Zoom channel.

Now with the Zoom set up, we can also take questions throughout. People can talk in the chat environment and we can also promote people as panelists so that we can have live conversations. So that’s going to allow us to create that interactive feel of the event. People can raise the hands, ask questions, get involved. So we will be looking to do that throughout the day. To give that feeling of togetherness and of community. What we’ll also do on that third day is activate those shared rooms. We’ll set them up right at the beginning of the day and assign people that own “table or room,” which is where they’re going to be able to have their masterminds together as in when we break out, so we’ll be utilising Zoom and also our own platform Event Engine for the on demand aspect. The last piece of technology we’ll be using will be a popup Facebook group, which will just be for the attendees of 2020. This allows us to create excitement before the event and also share information and allow people to have conversations during and after.

Really helping promote community and helping all those people who are involved in the virtual event get that feeling of community and give them as much access as we can to each other to have those conversations and to create those new connections that they would otherwise have done in that physical environment. Now we’ve talked about our delegates and how we’ve ensured that they are getting a great experience for 2020 despite the current climate, but what should we do with our sponsors and this was a very big question for us. We’d had sponsors invest in us and they were prepared to give away amazing swag. They weren’t going to be setting up stands, they were sponsoring prints. There was all sorts of physical elements that were being planned for our events or how could we take that digital and for us what we wanted to do was make sure that we elevated that brand and there was just a few ways that we ensured we did that.

First of all was their logo visibility. So ensuring that we were placing their logo front and centre on all of our communications or with our delegates, making sure that it was on the website, but also we’re making sure that our sponsors are appearing in the feed way using some software called OBS that will allow us to create multiple layers and multiple scenes over the top of the camera footage as well as the footage that we have pre shot that we’ll be playing back and that means we can cycle through company logos so that people will see who is supporting our conference, who are the backers behind this, and we can elevate that brand. Also, what we’re doing is doing some direct videos with our sponsors where we’re asking them to share some value, some expertise, and we’re making those available as free add-on workshops that will be a part of the overall package of virtual attendees are getting.

We’re also making sure that we talk about how our sponsors are supporting us in this massive shift from a physical to a virtual event and thanking them for their involvement and elevating their brand through our social media channels. Because we will have a website with all of the content put into categories. We’re also making sure that we are assigning people who were sponsoring physical elements. They are now category sponsors, so their brand is more visible to all of our delegates and finally we’re setting up virtual stands for our sponsors so that they can be in a place that people can virtually meet with them and ask questions and get value from them. We’re doing that again through Zoom, allowing them to be in charge of their own Zoom rooms and then we’re publishing how people can get to those and throughout the course of the event.

We’ll be making sure that we encourage people to go and visit our sponsors in those specific areas. Finally, we wanted to add as much value as we could to our delegates. So over a year ago they invested with us and we’re expecting to come to a physical live event. Now we can’t be liable for a global pandemic. And thankfully our delegates understand that, but at the same time we do feel a responsibility to give them the best possible time they can in 2020. They’re going to be a lot of people who are disappointed that they could not be at a physical event. So we want to make sure that this is really special. People are stuck at home, people are not allowed to travel, people are not allowed to meet up. So how could we add extra value to give people that positive experience? And of course we’ve already shared how we want to create that environment of community and have connectivity and have conversation and helping people join in with what’s going on.

But we felt beyond the free ticket from 2021 we could also do more. And that was to add in extra content. This is a virtual event. This means, yes, there will be a live stream, but we can add lots of extra value, add content, we can add a whole raft of brand new speakers who are not necessarily going to be live streamed during the event, but can be available now to our delegates for them to consume on demand at their own leisure. So that was an essential area that we’ve added to the event engine website that we’re building to support this event. We also wanted to make sure that people could take action. So we’ve been working to create handouts for every single talk that is going on as well as pulse so people can interact live with the talk that’s going on, but also take notes and consume the appropriate handouts that will go with those talks.

Everybody is at home, they’re at their desks, they their notepads, etc. So that means people can really deep dive into what is going on and if we can give them as much guidance and as much value as possible, then they can get the most out of that experience. So I’m really excited for our virtual event and you can imagine I’m doubly as excited for our physical event in 2021 when we can all look back and say, “wow, 2020 was the year that changed everything, wasn’t 2020 an amazing event,” and “wow, isn’t it wonderful that we can all be back together again in the same room where we can shake hands, where we can hug, where we can have a laugh and share those live experiences.” So folks, let’s do a recap on how you can take your physical event online by following what we are currently doing with our own.

So we came to the decision that we were going to have to go virtual and we had to focus on communicating that to everybody as soon as possible so that they could take the relevant action that they needed to do. We were really nicely surprised that everyone was very understanding. These are unprecedented times and the reaction from all of our delegates from all of our sponsors and supporters was phenomenal. We then looked at the different ways of running a virtual event. You could have everything prerecorded on a website for people to access on the day. You could have it as a live stream or you could potentially do it as a drip feed of content over several days or weeks. I then shared with you that we’re going to go for a hybrid of those live streaming, some of the prerecorded content, doing some live content, but also providing a range of on demand content during the event and after the event to add all of that extra value.

We then shared with you the tools that we’re using, which is Zoom webinar. Our delegates will be logging into Event Engine so that they can access all of the information as well as access the webinar details and finally we’re launching that popup Facebook group to facilitate community. Then we talked about elevating our sponsors, making sure that we were creative in how we could give that brand a broader reach. Now that we were taking everything from the physical into the virtual, we talked about logo placement, sponsored content, and also virtual stands, and then finally we wrapped up with the importance of adding extra value. In this time, people are missing that contact. They’re missing time with other people. In fact, time is something that a lot of us have, so if we can add a little of that extra value for people to consume that extra content that they can learn from and make real decisions and real life changes in that business, then we want to go above and beyond to provide that to them.

So do you have any questions? If you do, head on over to There is a comment section and it would be wonderful to hear from you how have you virtualized your event or have you perhaps postponed your event? What technology would you recommend that I look at for future virtual events or that you would recommend to other people to review? What are your thoughts in general? Do you need any help? Have you gotten any questions? Whatever it is,, click on Episode number six and come and join us in that in the comments. Folks, if we don’t see you in the comments, we will see you in the next episode.

Season 1

Lee Matthew Jackson

Content creator, speaker & event organiser. #MyLifesAMusical #EventProfs