HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR VIRTUAL EVENT
It’s time! You’ve decided to make your gala virtual, found the virtual tech platform that works best for you by asking all the right questions, and written your script; now you need to piece everything together. Don’t be fooled by the preconceived notion that virtual galas are less work than traditional in-person galas. You will be working hard to make your virtual gala come to life!
Rehearsal, Rehearsal, Rehearsal
No matter how many speakers and presenters you have, you will need to practice with each multiple times. These rehearsals will include giving them a tutorial of the event platform, talking through the run of show with them, confirming their microphone and camera are working, making sure their WiFi is not spotty, troubleshooting, and checking their lighting and background. Reviewing presentation tactics with your speakers prior to the event date is also important. You want to make sure that they present well to this virtual audience and articulate their message in order to keep everyone’s attention.
Tutorial of platform
The level of familiarity your speakers have with both your platform and with participating in virtual events in general will determine how detailed your tutorials will need to be. Make sure you cover how the speakers log in, how they turn their camera on, and how to mute and unmute themselves – no detail is too small to ensure the speakers’ comfort level with the experience.
Camera and Mic check
This may seem obvious, but there are some things people do not consider. Their camera may need to be cleaned off with a soft cloth if they look too blurry. If they are using two screens and can’t hear you, they may need to change their settings to allow the speakers to be used. If their camera or microphone is not working, you can purchase a webcam and send it to their home. This is a good time to confirm that your microphone and camera is working as well!
TIP: Let your speakers know that they should try to look in the camera, not at the screen in front of them – it makes a big difference when they make virtual eye contact with the audience.
If the speaker has spotty WiFi, it might be a better idea to prerecord as much as possible for them to limit WiFi usage. Preloaded WiFi cards can also be purchased for faster Internet. Check with the platform about their WiFi and streaming capabilities. Does their system slow down based on how many people are logged in?
Make sure the lighting is good. If the speaker sits in front of an open window, there might be too much light behind them causing their face to be too dark. If they have a light shining on them, their face might be too bright to see. Try different spots in their home to see what looks best.
Try to eliminate background distractions as much as possible. Suggest your speakers sit in front of a blank wall or a closed curtain. If this is not an option, use a virtual background if it is available on the platform. There is also the option to send event décor to the speakers’ homes before the event so they can have a space set up that is on brand with the theme and organization.
Connect with any vendors that are involved to confirm that they are set up correctly and know how to use the platform. Run through the program with them so that they know what is going on and know where they are in the program. Do all the same checks with the vendors as you would with the speakers.
Auction and Live Appeal
Is your auction and Live Appeal platform the same? To make it less confusing for the audience (and you), consider using the same platform. Is your auction live or silent? Check everything! Rehearse with your auctioneer; this is a very important role because this is where donations come in! As you are rehearsing, act as a guest -- make bids on your own auction items to confirm bids are going through, you know how to make a bid when guests ask, and your auctioneer can see the bid as well. Text your vanity code to the short number that was given to your organization for “text to bid”. Place a bid, again, confirming that the bids are going through, your auctioneer sees the donation, and things are working properly. These bids can be deleted from your admin account of the platform before sending the link out to your gala guests. Confirm you know how to process the credit cards and are collecting credit card information before auction bids are placed. Needing to collect all credit card information after the event results in many lost donations.
Do a mock gala with your internal team first to make sure everything stays on schedule and all components are working properly. During this mock gala, make sure you practice switching from one speaker to the next, display your presentations when planned to, play full prerecorded videos, and double-check all the logos and branding are correct and appear when scheduled. Do at least one full run through with all speakers and presenters. Make sure EVERYONE is on mute when they are not speaking!
When having a virtual gala, there are many opportunities for error. The only difference with the errors in a virtual gala rather than a live gala is that the entire audience knows an error was made. Even if you have practiced a hundred times with your speakers, you can’t always plan for every tech issue, like WiFi crashing. We suggest prerecording your speakers in case anything goes wrong, so that they can still share their impactful speeches to everyone in the audience even if you lose them. To that end, have more than one person as an admin or have “host” capabilities as a backup for your designated troubleshooter.
Make sure your team is all hands on deck! It is vital that your team is able to communicate with one another at all times; use a conference line to replace walkie talkies if you are not all in the same room. Assign team members with specific tasks:
- One or two people on call for attendees experiencing technical difficulties.
- One person moving the presentation and videos along.
- One person is on call for speakers if they need any help.
- One or two people answering questions or sending information in the chat and relaying questions to the presenters.
- One or two people oversee the auction, live appeal and/or any competitions that are happening.
- One person set as a “floater” to obtain event feedback and mingle with the guests.
- One person manages the vendors.
- Two or three people in charge of the networking rooms and table set ups to confirm each guest is in the right area.
- One or two people in charge of all the speakers and honorees either at the command center or remotely.