A couple years ago, as I was starting to plan my next virtual summit and discussing it with our CEO at Agorapulse, Emeric Ernoult, he told me about SaaS Academy.
A community and mentoring organization that has helped and impacted him a lot, SaaS Academy offers regular live video training sessions with key influencers and experts.
Like my virtual summits and online webinars, each training is promoted in advance so that members of the community can schedule and plan accordingly.
However, unlike my virtual summits to that point, these SaaS Academy sessions were never 45 minutes of prepared presentation. Instead, they were a hyper-focused ten minutes of presentation from an expert, with the remaining time given over to attendees to ask their questions and “come on stage.”
This is often referred to as a Hot Seat session and approach to virtual event activities, and it’s incredibly effective. While one attendee gets to share their very specific scenario and circumstances with the expert, and receive tailored advice, everyone else watching still benefits.
They can all relate to the situation, if not the details.
We agreed that would be a terrific format to incorporate into my next event, so that’s how I began to plan the agenda for Agency Summit 2021. That event, I decided, would be 8 live sessions in succession and those sessions would be brief presentations followed by audience participation.
But I didn’t want to have just 8 sessions in the entire event, so I planned to have all other sessions pre-recorded and available on demand during the day of the event. Over 40 sessions, in fact!
I lined up all of speakers, including dozens of brand partners who would be providing some of the prerecorded content, and started building out the schedule. There’d be virtual speed networking to start the day, then an opening keynote, followed by the rest of the live sessions.
There was just one problem.
I was beginning to work on and prepare the virtual event platform at that time and after I’d already committed to this schedule and agenda, I discovered a serious technical problem.
The platform didn’t support on demand video content.
It’s true. Not every virtual event platform will let you offer a library of on demand videos. Most will support live streaming and some will support “simulive” where you can have a prerecorded video play at a scheduled time. Many of the platforms that offer simulive still require that there’s a host that presses Play on the recorded video, and that was the case with the platform we were using at the time.
Furthermore, since every session required a Host, and I was the only Host, that meant that I could not schedule multiple sessions at the same time! I couldn’t even open the platform in multiple tabs as it would automatically log me out of the first tab for security reasons, effectively booting me out of one session in favor of another (had I been able to schedule them simultaneously).
I had quite the dilemma in front of me. I had multiple live sessions scheduled, and speakers already sending me recordings for their prerecorded sessions that were supposed to be available to attendees. What was I going to do?
When To Determine Virtual Event Agenda
It’s for this reason that I always recommend to clients that they hold off on building out their agenda and virtual event details until after they’ve selected and signed up with a virtual event platform.
Knowing what platform you are going to use, and what it’s strengths and capabilities are will ensure that you are able to craft an event vision, and agenda, without disappointment or complicated workaround.
Whether I’m working directly with a client or they’re working through my virtual event plan on their own, the process and order of steps is the same.
- Determine Why you’re hosting a virtual event and what your goals are.
- Determine Who your audience is.
- Determine your event budget.
- Finalize your date and the timing of the event.
- Select a virtual event platform.
Only then, after all of those steps, do we start to build out an agenda.
Your Why and Who will inform the kinds of sessions and activities you need to include, while the date and timing will provide parameters within which to fit those sessions. And your budget will help frame which virtual event platforms you can afford to utilize.
Your initial virtual event vision might have been for a multi-day, multi-track event that mimics an in-person major conference, but once you think through what you want to accomplish, who you’re targeting, and your budget, you might realize that what you really need is an event that lasts just one afternoon with a single track of sessions.
Getting To What’s Important
In my case, what was important was that I delivered a virtual event that gave our target audience, agency owners, actionable takeaways to help them grow and scale their businesses. They didn’t need 45 minute deep dives into marketing tactics, but rather those strategic Q&A style sessions with agency coaches and business performance experts.
The virtual event platform we selected for the event, Airmeet, was fine. Great, in fact, since one of the reasons I chose it was how customized and branded we were able to make the entire experience. My mistake was in coming up with an agenda before selecting the platform.
So how did I solve that issue?
I ended up scheduling 30+ sessions at half hour intervals the day before our scheduled event and played each prerecorded session video during each time slot, creating a library of on demand videos. Since all of the attendees joined the event the following day, all of those other sessions were immediately available as ‘replays.’
(Airmeet has since added support for scheduled, on demand, simultaneous sessions, so this wouldn’t be a concern today.)
It was far from ideal, but it worked. What would have been nice was to avoid the situation from the start!
Another example more recently is how, when looking at other virtual event platforms, I demo’d several that did not have virtual speed networking capability, and a couple that had almost no networking features at all.
Now, not every event and therefore not every virtual event platform needs to have these elements, but for my events, they’re necessary. I place a premium on networking and engagement, and creating space for Magical Moments. That’s a part of our Why and Vision, baked into our virtual event plan, so we know whenever we’re considering a different platform, those are must-have’s.
Just make sure that you follow the steps above, determine your goals, audience, timing, and budget, then select a platform, and only then start building out the details of your event. You’ll be much happier not having to work up crazy workarounds for your event. And that will help you maintain your mental health throughout the virtual event experience!