Planning a major event involves making tough decisions. Everything on your to-do list requires time, talent, and resources to complete. That is why it can be so difficult to make the decision to go virtual. All your careful planning seems wasted. We don’t need to tell you about the challenges events face due to the pandemic, but we understand the frustration you may feel if you need to turn your major event into a virtual program.
AMA Baltimore planned to host the 2020 MX Awards at the Frederick Douglass Isaac Myers Maritime Museum in Fells Point on May 14th. Once the shutdown began, we quickly realized that we needed to come up with a new plan. After tentatively postponing the event to September, we decided to use this as an opportunity to grow and provide a new experience for our community. The MX Awards went virtual in June.
It was worth it. The event was a hit.
Despite being in our homes, we could feel an excited energy coming from our screens. People were engaging with the event on a different level, cheering each other on in the chat and meeting new people. It’s been two months since the event, and people are still reaching out to us about it.
If you have a conference, awards ceremony, sales kickoff, or a standard meeting that you want to take to the next level, here are a few tips for you.
- Think about your audience.
Our goal for the MX Awards was to emulate our in-person event as much as possible. This meant finding a platform that would allow people to view a presentation, connect, and interact with our sponsors. We chose to use Hopin. We were able to stream our presentation from YouTube on the main stage and host a Q&A afterwards. Attendees used the networking chatroulette feature to meet new people and say hi to friends. If random people popping up on the screen felt intimidating, guests could create their own private meeting rooms within the event.
What is the goal for your event? How can you make it engaging for your audience? The platform you choose can heavily influence the outcome of the event. A platform like Zoom may be perfect for most of your virtual programs, but you shouldn’t be afraid to try something new if your event requires a more nuanced solution. Make a list of your needs and look at the platforms available. You may be surprised.
- Have an offline element.
Knowing that we wanted to create a memorable experience for our award winners, we decided to hand deliver trophies created by Crown Trophy Baltimore. Board members drove all over Maryland and into Southern PA to deliver trophies to award winners. Inside their bag, winners found swag items from sponsors, a bottle of wine, a note of congratulations, and a custom backdrop for a social media image of their trophy. It was a special experience for both the award winners and the messengers.
How can you incorporate an offline experience? We’ve seen awards programs that have hosted outdoor drive-thrus where people can pick up their award and stop for a quick social-distance photo on the organization’s backdrop. Creating an offline element will not only help you engage with members of your audience; it will give them a memorable experience.
- Take it up a notch.
Our MX Awards relied on in-person interaction. Last year, we had a fantastic emcee in Dave Rendall. He was funny and interesting, and the attendees enjoyed him. It’s also fun to see the award winner’s reactions in person and feel the celebration throughout the venue. For our online event, we wanted to have a video presentation that was professional and fun to watch. Together with Storyfarm and Adam Yosim Voiceovers, we created a compelling video that was interesting and touched on each winning campaign. In the event chat, people congratulated the winners and supported each other throughout the video. In some ways, this was better than an in-person program because people could interact in real time without bothering the person they were sitting next to.
How can you take your event up a notch? You can rent an office or venue to provide the background for your presentation. Professional video production companies and photographers will create high quality content for your program that will captivate your audience. Virtual doesn’t mean “taking it easy.” If you want to stand out, you need to step it up.
- Pre- and Post-Event Experiences
There’s a certain level of excitement when you’re getting ready for an awards ceremony. Last year’s MX Awards had a cocktail attire dress code, and (most) people showed up ready to party. To keep that excitement going this year, we created a Spotify playlist that attendees could listen to prior to the program. Beyond Definition created all the branding for the MX Awards, and they were able to design a custom cocktail recipe card with MX Awards inspired drinks. Fifteen4 made gorgeous animations that we shared on social and included in our video. For our post-event experience, SR&B developed a landing page that featured our program video as well as highlights from each award-winning campaign.
It is important to remember that your event has a life before the start time and long after it ends. Get creative with the ways you can get people excited for your event and engage with it afterwards. Introduce your audience to your conference keynote with a pre-event welcome video. Create a funny to-do list before a sales meeting. Have some fun with it.
- Communicate with your sponsors.
Communicate early and when you have updates. We had amazing sponsors for the 2020 MX Awards, and they could not have been more supportive of our choice to take the event virtual. We kept them updated with the program’s progress and welcomed any feedback or insights that they had regarding the ceremony. Part of the reason why we chose Hopin as a platform was for our sponsors, HBP, Loyola University Sellinger School of Business, R2integrated, Response Labs, Mindgrub, Neenah, and Sappi. The vendor booth allowed them to have their own space to meet visitors throughout the event.
To thank our sponsors and partners, Coyle Studios created metal prints with a design by Beyond Definition that said, “Proud Sponsor of the 2020 MX Awards.” We wanted to thank the companies that stuck with us and helped make the virtual 2020 MX Awards a reality.
We know how heartbreaking it can be to go from planning a lively, interesting in-person event to a virtual program. Instead of focusing on the disappointments, look at your opportunities. Taking on a new challenge will help you grow as both an organization and an individual.
To learn more about the 2020 MX Awards, check out our press release.