It’s a known fact that whatever can go wrong, will. That isn’t to say that everything which can go wrong during an event or webinar will, just that there will be issues. If you host enough virtual events, you’ll likely gain experience with all of those things that can go wrong. Knowing that, what’s important then is to have a virtual event backup plan.
The backup plan, though, is actually not a plan but a series of smaller, individual plans that are designed to anticipate and consider the most likely scenarios and plan for how to mitigate those problems.
With proper planning and training, the savvy virtual event planner will be positioned to ensure that attendees, speakers and sponsors of the event never know that anything’s wrong.
How do you put together a virtual event backup plan, particularly if you’re on a budget? That’s what we’re covering in today’s episode of the Virtual Event Strategist podcast.
Recently I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz and SparkToro, for a virtual event put on by Airmeet. Event-Led Growth Summit was a one-day event dedicated to helping event professionals prepare for what’s next in the event industry, and Rand was going to help us understand the new frontier of audience identification.
You see, using SparkToro, brands can plug in some details about their target audience, such as what they’re interested in and where they’re located, and immediately identify key brands and influencers those individuals tend to follow. This is terrific for identifying partners and communities to potentially tap to raise awareness of your upcoming event!
But there was a problem. As the event host and I joined the back stage area and Rand logged in to join us, we could hear him but not see him. In fact, he said there were no cameras available to him to select at all!
Now, Rand is no stranger to live streaming and virtual events, I’ve been watching his videos and presentations for years, so I knew immediately something was very, very wrong. He had never used the Airmeet platform itself, but he knew to check his Google Chrome settings to allow Airmeet full access to all cameras and microphones.
While Airmeet’s host put out a call to their tech support and Rand left to reboot his machine and camera, I was left alone for a few minutes to consider what to do next. How would I resolve this? Was there something I could suggest Rand do? If he wasn’t able to join on camera, would he even continue? Would I be the one answering my own questions?
I had just minutes to try to sort all of this out.
One of the appeals of offering any kind of live experience, whether that’s a live video stream, webinar, or virtual summit, is that the content of the experience will look and feel authentic. Try as one might, any recorded content will always be identified by attendees as recorded and therefore seemingly less than.
Attendees know that a speaker can record and edit a session in advance. They don’t know if took one take or twenty. They also know that no matter what they say or ask in the comments, the speaker will not acknowledge them or address their question live. Plus, whether it’s stated or not, they likely assume that a recorded session can be watched at their convenience since it’s already recorded and available. They’ll treat it as On Demand, which means they’ll be less inclined to give it their undivided attention.
Contrast that with a live ten minute presentation from a speaker followed by fifteen minutes of live Q&A where attendees can ‘come on stage’ and ask whatever they want… that’s the kind of engaging session that garners rapt attention.
The problem of course is that any live video presentation has multiple points of failure or technical issues which can occur. And that’s to say nothing of all of the other moving parts and machinations that go into making the entire virtual event experience possible.
The good news, with sufficient planning, there are backup options and contingencies for virtually every issue you might run into.
While I usually prefer to think about positive outcomes, and encourage my clients and friends to always look for the best that can happen in any situation…
…now is not one of those times.
We can proceed with a positive mindset and remind ourselves that this part of the virtual event planning process is designed to ensure our virtual event goes off without a hitch and is as stress-free as possible. However, we still need to devote this time to actively thinking about and considering what can go wrong to build a virtual event backup plan.
We have to What If ourselves for a while. Sorry about that.
What if your WiFi goes out?
What if the registration system fails?
What if a speaker is a no-show?
The more What If’s we can list out and think about, the better prepared we will be.
But before we go too far down that road, some ground rules.
First, recognize that not everything that can go wrong needs to have a contingency plan. Some potential issues are so remote as to be not worth worrying about, while others may simply be outside of our control or budget.
I mean, what if my top competitor decides to pay all of my speakers to go to Disney World on the day of my event, and they all accept and none of them show up? That’d be pretty awful, right? But so unlikely as to be pointless to plan for. (But just in case, I have emergency speakers on speed-dial.)
So when we get to the brainstorming part, write everything down, but then begin thinking about the probability that something will actually occur. Maybe that’s a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is so unlikely it’s almost a Science Fiction scenario, whereas 10 is an issue you’re virtually guaranteed to have to face.
And there’ll be some of those!
There will be someone in your audience who says that they cannot hear anything, even though the event and speaker’s audio is fine. What will you do for that attendee?
While the cost to implement or have a backup plan available for any particular issue will need to be considered, that doesn’t have to be part of your initial brainstorming – simply because you may not know!
Having a backup for your WiFi is a really good idea, particularly if you will be personally live streaming or remote live producing any part of the virtual event. But unless you’ve already looked into it recently, you likely have no real idea what that could cost you, what the different levels and time to install might be, so leave that to think about later.
Just keep brainstorming issues and jot down ideas for contingency plans as they occur to you. If you haven’t already, you can steal this virtual event plan and use the backup plan worksheet to help you get started.
Second, remind yourself that it’s not all on you to figure this out. Remember in our last episode, we talked about all of the places – the people – you can turn to for help and hope! Colleagues and coworkers, of course, but also friends and family and peers.
You do not necessarily need solutions or staff at this point. What you can ask folks you know is simply what they may have seen go wrong or unresolved at virtual events they’ve attended – and everyone’s been to a virtual event of one kind or another at this point.
These stories and ideas and instances from other people’s events will form the basis for your virtual event backup plan. And as you talk to all of these people about these issues, some may offer solutions and some may even be in a position to help!
A friend might tell me about the time they were about to go live and their mic stopped working, so now they always have a backup mic. And then they might offer to loan me their backup mic so that I’ll have a backup during my event!
Which reminds me, another great resource you can tap into at this point is event and live streaming communities, like Ecamm’s Facebook Group. These communities are treasure troves of experienced experts who would love nothing more than to help you ensure the success of your event.
With those points in mind, it’s time to start listing out potential problems, how likely they are, what a good solution or contingency might be if you have an idea, and whether there’s a cost associated. That’s the backbone of your virtual event backup plan.
Start with your virtual event platform, because this is where you’ll have a certain amount of built-in assistance.
Reach out to your platform vendor and ask them to share with you their backup plans! At a minimum, they will have backup plans in the event their site or service fails or is overwhelmed. They should also be able to tell you their Test Threshold – the maximum number of simultaneous live attendees they’ve ever tested within a single event environment successfully. Maybe that’s 20,000 or 100,000… what matters is that they have done stress tests on their systems and that the size and scope of event you have planned is nowhere near the maximums they’ve explored.
If it is, find a new platform provider. You do not want your event to be their next stress test.
And of course, these platforms have certainly been involved with their fair share of online summits and conferences, and may have existing virtual event backup plans that they can share or suggest.
Next, focus on everything that’s going to be happening live and the elements those sessions and activities are going to be depending on. I mentioned WiFi – that’s a big one. All of your live hosts and speakers and moderators must have reliable WiFi. At least 10 megabytes per second upload, with faster download.
Ideally, they’d be able to plug a Cat5 network cable from their computer directly into the router and bypass their wireless network completely. Which would also give them the option of disabling the WiFi in their home or office for everyone else that’s potentially going to use and compete with it. That’s typically not a necessary step but it’s the kind of contingency plan you’d need. What if someone’s internet access is slower than usual? Can they plug in? Can they restart everything? Can they kick everyone else off? Can they make sure there are no background processes like DropBox running in the background taking up bandwidth?
And what happens if there’s an outage? Is there’s a cellular hotspot to connect to, and if so, is it sufficient for live streaming? Is a backup internet connection needed, at least during the time of the virtual event?
For most of the virtual events I personally host, the critical potential failure points are with the other speakers and their WiFi, not so much mine. But if I were doing more of a remote live streaming production where all of their feeds were to first come through my system, using Ecamm or OBS, and then be broadcast back out to the virtual event platform, that makes ME the most critical potential point of failure. I can use an app like Speedify to tie together available WiFi and cell service into a single stream, but even then, I’d still look into adding a backup or even dedicated Internet service. That’s something I could likely add for just $50 for a month and have tremendous piece of mind, as well as optimum event day performance.
These are troubleshooting steps that you might take which you’ll want to know about and have documented in advance.
When I work with clients, we talk through these scenarios, and more, so they can begin to make plans. Not only do they get the benefit of my years of event experience, they get that personalized touch which can only occur when we’re on a call and I’ve learned about your specific event needs and details.
Next, think about the various elements that will be happening during the live sessions themselves. Will you be playing videos, displaying graphics, sharing files or presentations, or other elements? What if you can’t find a file or a file doesn’t work? What’s the backup plan for that?
You might, for instance, make sure that you have a local and a cloud copy of every file, every video, graphic, presentation, and audio clip, so that you or anyone else on your team has instant access to anything that’s needed.
It also helps at this point if you have a Run Of Show document for each session and your entire event, built into your virtual event plan. The Run Of Show indicates what’s happening, when, at any given moment of your event, who is involved, what assets are needed, and where those assets are found.
Not only will this help anyone involved to know which files are needed and where they might be, it’s also the basis for another critical point of failure:
What if you have to miss your event?
Oh wow. You hadn’t thought about that, had you?
We don’t need to be morbid and consider life-threatening scenarios, but there are plenty of circumstances in which you might simply be unavailable for a scheduled event. What if you were traveling the week before and due to a COVID outbreak at your destination, found yourself quarantined and unable to return home for fourteen days, missing your event?
Whatever the reason, it’s possible you might be detained and unavailable and in such an instance, you’ll need to consider what your backup plan might be. Is there someone who could fill your role for a day? If so, what documentation, tools, and access would they need? And if that’s not possible, that’s OK… what will your backup plan be in that event?
When my homie Stephanie Liu had a change of plans and needed to travel, on a day she was to be hosting and moderating a live event for MDMC, she tapped me to run the event. She was able to send me the entire package of scenes and instructions for Ecamm and I was easily able to remote live produce the event without a hitch.
There might actually be several instances of issues you can imagine where the only resource is to cancel and reschedule the event. Trust me, you wouldn’t be the first event to reschedule!
Just this year I was scheduled to sponsor a major in-person event in San Diego, the week after Social Media Marketing World. Put on by a significant organization that’s well known for their annual conference, this was a smaller event that made sense for Agorapulse to sponsor, so we’d invested ten thousand dollars to have a booth and of course extend our travel plans and accommodations so that I could attend.
Two weeks before the scheduled event, they postponed for two months due to poor ticket sales. That was a simple business decision they decided to make which had consequences, but of course they hoped that the ultimate outcome was a positive one.
Whatever the reason, if you have to cancel or postpone your event, it will be OK. Just have a plan for what you will need to do and what you will need to communicate in that instance so that, if it happens, you can focus on doing what needs to be done rather than debating and trying to brainstorm what steps to take.
I’m a huge fan of author and retired US Navy SEAL Jocko Willink who said, “The more you practice, the better you get, the more freedom you have to create.” That applies 100% to every aspect of virtual event planning and execution.
In the military, soldiers practice and drill and train, day after day, so that when they’re in the field, they can focus their attention on the problems in front of them that need to be solved, not on trying to remember how to do a particular task.
The same should be true for your next event. Document all of your backup plans, review them, and practice any necessary steps so that in the event of a problem, you know what to do and where to look.
Which brings us to the final point I want to make, Communication.
If you are literally the sole virtual event planner then you can write everything down wherever you’d like. But if you took our last episode to heart and have a team in place, whether they’re full time staff or not, all of your backup plans need to exist someplace where others can find them.
And that needs to be communicated in advance.
I recommend having a central planning Sheet or Document that exists in the cloud, like a Google Drive, and everyone involved has the link from the start of your planning process. That way whether an issue comes up six days before your event or six minutes in, everyone knows where to look for any existing plans and guidelines.
As a part of that plan and documentation, note for each key issue who should be involved, what their contact information is, and if anything needs to be communicated to outside vendors, attendees, etc.
For instance, suppose there’s an outage with your virtual event platform. Your backup plan should have the vendor’s contact information and service level agreement (SLA) so that we all have the same response expectations up front. It should also include direct contact information for all speakers, sponsors, and other vendors involved with the event so that they can be notified, and a means by which to inform attendees. That might be an email if you have an email system set up outside of the virtual event platform, or a post to your social channels, and so on.
Another aspect to communicate is the priority of each potential issue. Clearly an outage takes top priority but some of the other issues you might potentially run into won’t be quite so clear. Give that thought in advance and rank your backup needs quickly so that, if there’s more than one issue happening at once, you can more easily triage.
As Willink says, “Prioritize your problems and take care of them one at a time, the highest priority first. Don’t try to do everything at once or you won’t be successful.”
Remember when we talked about noting for each potential issue just how likely it is to happen? For the things you think are extremely likely to happen, you can take a moment here to actually prepare communication and other details in advance.
Every detail you prepare for and handle in advance is one less thing you’ll be tasked to do in the middle of a pressure-filled moment, which leaves you more free to focus on what matters most, as well as keeping your mental health taken care of! Even when the minutes to your virtual event launch are ticking down.
Just like the minutes were ticking down as I waited for Rand to return to our virtual event where, in moments, hundreds were waiting for me to pick his brain about audience determination.
How would we proceed if rebooting his system didn’t work?
We’d turn to a backup plan, that’s what.
I was already using Ecamm to broadcast into the Airmeet stage and Ecamm, if you aren’t familiar, has an Interview feature of its own. Ecamm is software running on my Mac that allows me to utilize my nice Sony DSLR camera. It also lets me add custom overlays and effects, and it’s the platform I use multiple times a month to host our Agency Accelerated live show for Agorapulse.
The Virtual Cam feature of Ecamm lets me select Ecamm as a camera in any other app, which is what I’d done that morning for Airmeet. It occurred to me that if Rand wasn’t able to get his camera working, I could give him my interview link, bring him into my Ecamm instance, and he’d then be on camera as expected for the virtual event and interview that was now less than 2 minutes away.
Fortunately, we didn’t need that backup plan because Rand had one of his own. He, too, had intended to use a DSLR and when that wasn’t available to him, he went to a different machine with a different camera, fired it up, logged into Airmeet, and that worked.
Moments to go before we needed to be live and all was well. A stressful moment, but a crisis averted thanks to backup plan after backup plan.
In our next episode, mental health is so important… and so challenging… we’re going to devote the entire conversation to that topic. From tools and tactics, you’ll come away from that episode of the Virtual Event Strategist feeling far more in control of your sanity during your next event.
If you haven’t already, make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast so you don’t miss this critically important episode, and if these topics have been helpful to you, please drop me a review on Apple podcasts. I’d love to know what you think!
Talk to you then.