Expert advice from the charity sector’s virtual summit provider, Fundraising Everywhere.
As the world tries to control the spread of Coronavirus, many countries have identified large public gatherings as an unnecessary risk. This caution, and the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen next, has left event organisers with difficult decisions. Google, Facebook, SXSW, IBM and many more have already cancelled events, and it looks like it won’t end there.
It’s heartbreaking for organisers and attendees and it’s creating another financial burden many of us aren’t in a position to handle. Combine this with the very real environmental impact conferences are already having and it’s clear that something has to change.
Organisers have hesitated in the past about providing a virtual element to their real-life events. The tech can seem complicated, they’re lacking networking and social opportunities, and we’ve all experienced flat and lifeless webinars.
But good virtual conferences are so much more than webinars and running one video after another.
At Fundraising Everywhere we wanted to share some tips to show you how and why you (yes, you!) should be bringing your learning or training event online.
These tips will engage your online delegates, reach new and existing audiences, and make sure you have an event you can run time and time again for the fraction of the cost.
First of all, let’s consider the advantages:
- Your potential audience is much, much larger. You can sell more tickets to individuals who couldn’t attend in person, which can easily offset the cost of making it happen.
- Limitless numbers mean you’re not bound by venue capacity.
- There are greater opportunities for lead generation: capture those email addresses and more information with a view to converting to a donor or customer.
- Your conference becomes more accessible as recorded sessions have multi-language subtitles and are watchable from anywhere.
- You’ll find opportunities for additional sponsorship packages via online sponsors.
- Recordings can continue to be watched and sold long after the event providing ever-green content.
- Add your own visibility and brand by introducing and discussing sessions as the MC at later broadcasts.
- Additional material can be broadcast, including speaker interviews, virtual Q&As and bonus downloads.
While we don’t think virtual conferences will ever fully replace the real-life experience, there are so many advantages to adding on a virtual element to your existing event, or to simply testing a virtual version before you take the financial risk of rolling out a traditional event.
So let’s do it! Here are your next steps:
Some speakers refuse to speak at virtual conferences...and that’s fine. We can leave them to self-isolate and listen to their gramophones. But virtual events allow you to access other speakers who otherwise couldn’t or wouldn’t have been able to attend your traditional event.
At Fundraising Everywhere we pay our speakers a fixed fee, but we understand this isn’t always possible. However, consider in the early days at least offering a profit-share with your speakers to recognise their time and expertise.
Try to ensure some of your speakers have a large audience and following of their own. You’re counting on them to bring in viewers that you otherwise wouldn’t have tapped in to, and this event is going to allow you to start a relationship with those people directly.
Start with speakers you already know. The trust they have in you from your existing relationship means you can work with them to develop their online content as you explore your first virtual event together.
Film Pre-Recorded Sessions
While you can stream live, we recommend that your event is at least partially pre-recorded. This allows you to do some quality control, add subtitles to make them more accessible, and it reduces the chances of the inevitable tech failures you’re going to experience on the day.
We recommend all sessions feature your speaker talking directly to camera. It’s much more engaging and humanising than watching a static powerpoint slide and there’s nothing worse than watching a speaker talking to a crowded room like you’re not even there. You can still use slides as well, but consider using video editing software such as WeVideo to have your sessions ‘picture-in-picture’.
Lighting is so important. Invest in a cheap ring light or position natural lighting so your face is fully lit from the front.
We also can’t stress how important good sound quality is. Unfortunately, your built-in mic just doesn’t cut it for these length of events. If the sound is too quiet or tinny then viewers start to drift. Invest in a cheap lapel mic or splash out on something a bit more serious. We’re both huge fans of the Yeti mics.
Don’t forget to coach your speakers. This may be new for them, so don’t be afraid to ask them to send through a short test video to make sure you’re happy with how it looks and sounds. You don’t want them to spend hours recording something only for you to discover they did it in portrait instead of landscape!
Also ensure your speakers leave space on their slides or video for any branding or information you’re planning on superimposing later.
Subtitles are essential. About 90% of people watch videos with no sound and for many it’s an accessibility issue. Not only that, but subtitles can be translated at a later stage opening up your event to an even wider audience.
There are many services who will do the subtitles for you, who usually charge a dollar or two per minute. This can add up. We’ve become pros at doing this ourselves but if you’re short on time (or patience) get it outsourced.
Alternatively, there are services (including YouTube) who will auto-generate subtitles for free. While it’s quick and cheap, the quality is terrible and you’ll almost certainly have to factor in time to go through and clean these up. We can guarantee there will be at least one swear word.
If you, your team or volunteers decide to do it manually then there are a number of tools out there to help you. But again, we love YouTube for this. It’s free, and allows you to type-and-watch while they set the timings for you automatically. These can then be downloaded or ripped to use on whatever platform suits you.
Choose Your Platform
Every platform offers certain advantages and disadvantages, but firstly consider where your audience is. If you already have a particularly large following on a certain platform then that might be where you start.
- Facebook Live - The majority of people have a Facebook account so feel comfortable with the platform or are more likely to stumble upon your event because they’re there anyway. You can stream privately or publicly and there’s great opportunity for chat through ‘viewing parties’. But if you want more than one session to flow together you’ll probably need additional software to make this happen. Still, it’s a nice safe place to start if your organisation is already active on Facebook.
However, there can be restrictions on how you access and communicate with your viewers and to a certain extent you’ll find yourself at the mercy of Facebook. On their platform it’s their audience, not yours.
- Periscope/Twitter - Periscope is Twitter’s live video tool. While it’s great for simple, raw livestreams it’s quite limited in what it can do and how much control you have. It’s probably not going to be your best option, but if you have a good Twitter following it can be worth testing.
- YouTube - The video platform everybody loves, this is actually one of the best and least technical options out there. You can switch between public and private videos and there are loads of free, built-in features including a ‘tip jar’ which can work well if one of your goals is to generate donations.
- LinkedIn Live - This is still in beta mode and not available to everyone, but works in much the same way as Facebook Live.
- Twitch, Zoom and Others - There are lots more out there, each with their own features and pricing structure. Give them a test and see what clicks for you.
- Multiple Locations - Broadcaster software allows you to stream to more than one place at a time. This is great for reaching your different audiences with the same event, but can present challenges in terms of monitoring chat and quality across the different platforms.
- Fundraising Everywhere Plus - We’d be remiss not to mention our own platform which is dedicated to the nonprofit sector. We can take care of everything for you, providing you with a dedicated event page featuring seamless transition between sessions, virtual networking opportunities and much, much more.
- Bespoke Website - If you have the resources, you can run your event through your new or existing website. This allows you to fully control the appearance and experience, but obviously leaves you more susceptible to things going wrong.
It’s time to decide whether this is a free or paid event. How much will you sell your tickets for? Rightly or wrongly, people still tend to feel virtual events should be cheaper than their real-life counterparts. Is there an opportunity to offer free tickets to attendees who meet certain criteria (for example, the Fundraising Everywhere conferences are free to small charities).
Use deadlines and ‘earlybirds’ to offer a sense of urgency in ticket purchases. Virtual events are great because they don’t necessarily sell out. But this can make attendees lackadaisical about booking. You’ll find that your ticket sales will often spike the day before or even on the day of the event!
There are no shortage of ticket selling platforms. Eventbrite seems to be the most popular and they have a really great platform. If you already have an e-commerce feature on your website then consider selling tickets there as well or instead. Most platforms charge a percentage or fixed fee per ticket - Fundraising Everywhere Plus is the same.
You’ll find the same challenges as any sales or fundraising efforts. It’s almost always harder to sell tickets than you think, so consider your potential audience carefully and have a plan in place for how you might access them.
One of the key differences between a traditional webinar and a truly virtual conference is the level of interaction and engagement offered to attendees. Most platforms allow text-based chat alongside the video and this is a great opportunity for your team and speakers to chat with attendees and answer questions. Some platforms (such as Fundraising Everywhere Plus) even allow attendees to privately chat with each other by text, voice or video while they’re watching your event.
Encourage speakers to ask questions in their videos and prompt viewers to type answers. Read comments and questions during the live segments of your stream so attendees feel more involved. And consider running competitions or surveys throughout the day. You can just stream session after session, but we really recommend a ‘host’ ties them all together.
You can also encourage attendees to watch in groups. For example, Fundraising Everywhere ‘watch parties’ have allowed attendees to access great content on a big screen while still offering real-life networking breaks.
Have A Back Up Plan
Things can and will go wrong. They’re predictably unpredictable so ensure you have at least one backup plan. If your livestream falls apart then pre-recorded sessions give your audience something to watch while you try to get things fixed.
Prepare your ‘technical difficulties’ emails and web pages in advance...just in case. And ensure your audience knows where to go or what to do if something goes wrong.
What’s Your Call-To-Action?
As with all events, this is a great opportunity to inspire people to take action. Be clear about what you want them to do: buy tickets for the next event, donate, sign-up, share...whatever it is...know what your goals are going in to this.
Share your call-to-action through your videos, through captions, in the chatbox and through follow-up emails. People are going to be fired-up during and just after your event. But this doesn’t last forever so try to tap in to this energy while it’s there.
Fundraising Everywhere+ (FE+) is a no-hassle, virtual add-on for your physical conference, or service for virtual-only conferences.
While you focus on delivering a great event to attendees, we provide the platform and logistics to amplify it to a larger audience across the world.
You can stream a mix of live and pre-recorded content to support your existing event or provide a virtual-only conference for a global audience. Virtual attendees can watch on any device and virtually ‘network’ with other attendees and speakers through the FE+ platform.
We provide everything from virtual conference curation and speaker stewardship, right through to providing the accounts and streaming platform - so all you need to do is tell your audience where to watch.
We’re already working with some of the charity sector’s top conferences to provide their virtual version. Email us at [email protected] and find out how we can do this for you too.