Have you ever faced a project that was so big, had so many moving parts and interdependent tasks, that it was completely and utterly overwhelming? Perhaps you were recently asked to host an online summit and all of a sudden have to come up with a virtual event strategy? 😉
Maybe, like me, you just sat, staring at your computer, at a complete loss of where to even begin.
Giant, complex projects, particularly ones filled with new and unfamiliar aspects, are a terrific challenge and quite frankly, they’re a monster. You know that every minute that ticks by is one less minute you have available to complete this huge project, successfully, ahead of your deadline… and that doesn’t make it any easier, does it?
Fortunately, the next twenty minutes are going to be well spent, because we’re knocking down this issue in today’s episode of the Virtual Event Strategist podcast.
Just before the pandemic started, my wife and I, along with our two daughters, dog and cats, and my wife’s parents, bought a new house together. It’s a good sized house for that many people and we were very fortunate to have gotten into it before the lockdowns began, as it has a large yard and a very big, finished basement. The basement has two large unfinished storage areas, with an even larger finished area between them that includes a kitchenette and half bath.
Throughout the pandemic and ever since, my daughters have been able to use the entire finished area as a playroom. They have couches and a jungle gym and a bunch of IKEA shelving units that used to be part of my old office. And the place is positively overflowing with toys and books and stuffed animals and mismatched game pieces and more.
It’s a giant mess.
My oldest daughter prefers to spend her time in her room reading, when she’s not at her dance studio, so it’s my younger daughter who spends the most time in the playroom and who was just six to seven years old during the pandemic. She doesn’t understand the importance of cleaning and organizing, and doesn’t see the current state of the playroom as a problem in the slightest bit. Piles of pieces of toys in the middle of the floor are there strategically because weeks ago she was playing with them and says she is still playing with them and they cannot possibly be moved from that spot.
I know as her parent it’s up to me to invoke order on that chaos. It’s on my shoulders to go down there and sort everything out, but as I begin to think about everything that I’ll need to do, that list gets longer and longer.
Kindof like the list of things I needed to do to get ready for Agency Summit in June of 2021. It wasn’t my first virtual event, but things had changed. I had new goals, bigger goals, and we were catering to a new audience which had different expectations and requirements from some of my past events. And as a result of those needs, I’d chosen to use a completely new and different virtual event platform to pull off the event.
As I started to make a list of everything that I needed to do… it got pretty long. And overwhelming. Just thinking about the platform alone, I needed to test it, figure out all of the new options and requirements for graphics, customize and configure everything to fit my event, and make sure everything was in place so that I could achieve success. It was almost too much to even know where to begin.
We’re now halfway through our series on Virtual Event Strategy, all of which is designed to give you a firm foundation on which to create a virtual event plan for your upcoming summit, webinar, meetup, or whatever you have in mind. We started with an exercise on determining your Why, your purpose for hosting an event, so that you can craft meaningful goals and build your virtual event strategy around them. And then we explored how to niche down so that your virtual event plan is focused on the specific audience you want to reach, resulting in an even more successful event than you would have accomplished had you been more broad in your messaging.
In our next episode, I am going to help you identify resources and people that can help you, in a variety of ways, so that you don’t feel so alone and overwhelmed when facing big projects like planning a virtual event. But today’s episode is designed to help you with another aspect of overwhelm – when the sheer size of the project makes it daunting to even consider where to start, or how you’ll get it all done. By the end of this podcast, you’re going to be much better prepared to look at and handle the major virtual event that you have on your plate to host, and everything that’s going to go into pulling that off. As a result, you’re going to feel less stressed, and be even more productive than you are today!
Desmond Tutu once said, “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
If you’ve downloaded the free virtual event plan I have available on TheSocialMediaHat.com, you know that there are over a dozen aspects to a virtual event to consider and plan for, from the audience and budget, all the way to backup plans and post-event tactics to keep the conversation and engagement happening.
And that’s a great place to start because the plan helps you consider so many aspects to putting on a successful virtual event that, especially if this is your first one, you wouldn’t have known about. The downside to that virtual event planning workbook though is that initially, it only serves to add to the growing list of things you need to do or figure out. Page after page, it says, “hey, did you think about this?” and, “oh and by the way, you should also consider thinking about this too.” One of the great benefits my VIP Strategy Day clients get is that they have me to walk them through the entire workbook, and more, so that a lot of the overwhelm gets stripped away. More than just a To Do list, they have an actual strategy and plan in place.
I’ve been using Evernote for years as a sort of second brain. Any time an idea or tactic or quote or reference comes to my attention, I will add it to Evernote and file it in an appropriately tagged notebook to easily find and reference later, when needed. This is where all of the content that I create begins, including what I’m sharing with you right now, and Evernote is also where I keep a running To Do list going.
My To Do list is broken up into a few key sections. There’s a personal one at the top, that includes a reminder of my most important personal goals right now, then a few key tasks. And then I have other sections of To Do items for the various professional areas of my life.
This system works terrific. Any time I am thinking about any aspect of my life, and an idea pops in my head or I recall that there’s something I haven’t yet done but should, I can open Evernote on my laptop or iPhone and add to the list so I don’t forget. Recording these ideas as they occur to me not only ensures they won’t be forgotten, it also helps me to generate even more ideas and inspiration!
When I think, “oh, I should create a Facebook Group for the Agorapulse Partner Program so that all our channel partners have an easy place to go to ask questions and learn about recent updates to the program or platform,” I immediately add that to my To Do list. And once recorded, my brain is free to continue the line of thought and thinks, “hey, now that we have a Facebook Group just for Partners, I can add the Ecamm app and live stream into group, which can be used for product updates, training demos and more.” So that, too, gets added to the To Do list.
As a result, instead of just one idea, I have several. More than a To Do list, it’s become a brainstorming session, and I’m tapping into my creativity and experience to help improve and iterate whatever it is that’s top of mind.
But there’s a gigantic flaw to this approach. One that speaks directly to the feeling of overwhelm we face in front of massive projects, and that fails to help, initially.
The list just keeps growing.
It’s like that episode of Star Trek where the Enterprise was in deep space, and had encountered a phenomena where a ribbon of energy, like a wave, kept crashing against the ship. And no matter what they tried, every effort to pour more energy and initiative into the solution only served to add to the overwhelming wave of destructive energy. “More shields! More shields!” the Captain would cry, and each successive wave would get stronger and stronger, threatening to tear the ship apart.
It’s great to let our minds work and be creative and come up with ideas. It’s even better if we can bring in others to help us and pull our minds together into a master mind that generates all kinds of ideas. Until it isn’t. Until the list of ideas is already too big and each new idea just adds to the stress and overwhelm and threatens to tear our project apart.
So what do we do? How do we bring order to this chaotic flurry of ideas?
Virtual Event Strategy: Step One
The first step is to realize that brainstorming is an essential part of the process, and that it’s just the first part of the process. In fact, what I am teaching you today is a three-step process for managing a virtual event and building out your strategy.
Brainstorming and workshopping an initial list of ideas or tasks is critical, because you need to have it all laid out in front of you. Whether that’s listed out in an Evernote note or Google Doc, or written down on paper or post-in notes – it doesn’t matter. As long as it’s recorded and you can visualize everything that’s occurred to you.
This isn’t to say that you can’t have new ideas later on, and add to this list – you absolutely can. But you’ll also find that once we’ve gone through all three steps, it’ll be even easier and less stressful to add tasks. In fact, this should come as a bit of a relief because if you’ve ever tackled a big, overwhelming task in the past, you have probably experienced the anxiety that come partway through when, all of a sudden, you think of something else that needs to be done, and cannot imagine how you’re going to fit that in along with everything else. With this system in place, it’s far more likely that any new ideas or sudden tasks that absolutely have to be done can be more easily integrated, as though you actually have even more time than you imagined.
Because we actually are not very good at imagining how much time we have in front of us. That’s the problem with these huge projects. Even though our virtual event is eight weeks out and we have three hundred and twentyworking hours between then and now to knock out everything we want to do and more, our minds often struggle to comprehend that much time. What does three hundred and twenty hours even feel like?
So the first step to getting that under control and mapping out how we’re going to use the time that’s allotted to us, is to brainstorm all of our ideas, whether those are goals we want to accomplish or tasks we know need doing. Again, the virtual event plan workbook I put together will be of great help to you for this step, and it’s free.
Virtual Event Strategy: Step Two
The second step is to categorize or group all of these tasks.
If you want to follow the outline of my virtual event plan, you would list out:
- Virtual Event Goals
- Virtual Event Audience
- Event Budget
- Date & Timing
- Virtual Event Platform & Tech
- Event Agenda
- Event Speakers
- Event Sponsors
- Attendee Registration
- Communication Plan
- Virtual Event Promotion
- Run of Show
- Virtual Event Backup Plan
- Post-Event Activities
Some of those you might not need, like Date & Timing, particularly if you’ve already determined those and don’t have any tasks associated with that category. Or you may have additional categories or ideas that are unique to your event or needs, and that’s OK.
If you’re a highly visual person, I’d recommend using post-it notes on your wall, or perhaps an app like Miro, as you’re going to be adjusting and moving things around. I’m more of a digital person and am fine with just writing everything out in Evernote and then copying & pasting and formatting accordingly. Whatever works best for you is fine, as we proceed to the third step.
Virtual Event Strategy: Step Three
Now, you’re going to treat your upcoming event and everything associated with it as a Project and that means you need to use a Project Management System. This is where Evernote loses its value to us as a tool, as the notes are just written documents and lack the ability to be easily organized beyond text formatting. What you need is a project management tool and for that I recommend Asana.
Within Asana, you can create a Project for your event, add whatever details and information you need, including bringing in other team members, and start to build out the tasks that need to be done. But instead of that long list of overwhelming tasks, you start with the high level categories you just determined in the previous step!
Let’s suppose you’re going to use my virtual event plan list, but that you’ve already sorted out your goals, audience, budget and timing. That means you’re left with just ten high level tasks within your project, all of which can have their own due dates, priority, assignees, and sub-tasks.
For each high level task you created, start filling in sub-tasks from your long list of ideas and To Do items. Chunk down and think about everything else that needs to be done for each major task and note those too. Nest subtasks within subtasks if a particular task has additional requirements or dependencies.
Break your project up into smaller and smaller bites, so that you can actually tackle eating that elephant.
Assign deadlines so that everything you need to do can be spaced out and prioritized chronologically, then work on the most immediate tasks needed, completing each as you go. With layered tasks, you remove a great many details from your immediate vision which also helps alleviate the overwhelming stress of seeing everything that you need to do in front of you.
Plus, a tool like Asana makes it far easier to collaborate with team members or contractors, which is something we will get into more in our next episode. While you will absolutely want to retain visibility over tasks that need to be completed to successfully pull off your virtual event, even if it’s someone else that’s responsible for that task, what you don’t want to do is have to look at and think about those assigned tasks every single day when you’re thinking about what you, personally, need to be working on right now.
Instead, you can look at personalized, prioritized views of what needs to be done that is assigned to you and requires your attention.
Breaking out, prioritizing, and scheduling all of the tasks that need to be done moving forward also gives you the benefit of being able to more accurately gauge how much time you have, how much time you need, and whether you may actually be able to accomplish everything you have in mind.
You might find that you’re in good shape to accomplish everything, or you might realize that some ideas aren’t practical with the remaining time and resources you have available. Proper project management affords you the ability to make that determination well in advance.
That’s where I found myself in 2021 when, at Agorapulse, we decided we wanted to start focusing our marketing efforts on marketing agencies, specifically, rather than just anyone who managed social media accounts. I quickly pivoted my virtual event strategy so that it would cater to that new audience and, like I alluded to earlier, that meant altering more than just the details of what topics and speakers I might bring in. I needed to make adjustments to more core elements of my event and in order to pull that off, I turned to a completely different virtual event platform than what I had been using previously.
The new platform allowed me to fully customize and brand the entire virtual event experience for our audience, creating a professional, immersive environment. And it just about doubled the number of tasks and considerations I needed to work through to get the event ready.
Fortunately, I was using Asana at that point at Agorapulse and made great use of the tool to organize all of my tasks far better than I ever had before.
Now, instead of looking at a list of over a hundred items to think about and work on, I could literally focus just on what I had to do right now, today, and only think about the rest when I wanted to check in on progress.
Just like when I checked in on the progress my little girl was making at cleaning up the basement. She, too, had been overwhelmed at the idea of trying to clean up and organize this big space all by herself. But instead of tackling the entire playroom, we picked a specific area and said, hey, let’s just focus on your desk. We can clean up the piles of papers, put the books away, sort and store all of the pencils, crayons and markers, and in short order, get that desk space completely cleaned up and organized. Everything else can wait.
We helped each other, and we had fun doing it.
Your virtual events will be the same way! Not only are you now able to triage everything that you need to do and break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks and priorities, in our next episode we’re going to spend some time thinking through where we need help, what that help might look like, and who we can tap to help us. Because I guarantee we have more resources available to us than we know!
Be sure to hit subscribe so that you don’t miss any episodes of The Virtual Event Strategist podcast.
Talk to you soon.
NEXT: Episode 04, Virtual Event Strategy: How To Rally Resources To Help You