Gospel Brunch at House of Blues Anaheim Photo by Marcie Taylor

How To Turn Your Live Event into a Virtual Event with a Splash

As a social media marketer for live events ranging from theater performances to community festivals, our current world-wide health crisis has hit me hard. With lockdowns taking effect mid-March and events getting cancelled one after the other, coming up with a Plan B has been essential. There’s nothing like a LIVE event. It’s that feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself; it’s standing there next to other people sharing your experience; it’s the smells, the sounds (and in the case of a food event, the tastes), it’s a whole multi-sensory communal experience. As I helped organizers navigate this new world without gatherings, I realized that there is no reason that the communal experience aspect of live events could not still take place. From the safety of our homes, we can still experience the joys of watching a concert, a show and even a festival!

Last March, I was psyched to be a part of what was to be the first ever Filipina Festival in celebration of Women’s History Month in San Pedro, CA. We had performers lined up, volunteers on the ready, food vendors on hand. Alas just two weeks before the event, stay at home orders were enforced. We watched as the world changed overnight and social gatherings became off limits.  Just when we thought our epic event would not happen, the clever organizers “Reimagined the event– ONLINE.” And thus, the first Virtual #FilipinaFest took place. I was fortunate to have been selected as one of the event hosts. In person – this would’ve meant going on stage, microphone in hand and facing a crowd which could be nerve-wracking for me; but online, this just meant I had to be in front of my computer, camera ready. I think choosing four hosts to divide the segments was a good idea. That made the festival feel like an organized program rather than a really long telethon.

Next, we had to contact the performers and check to see who could still perform given the new technical requirements. Was their number something they could do on camera? Did they have the tech to pull it off?

Then came the next decision: what platform would be used to broadcast the festival. I personally recommended a variety of ways ranging from the crude and basic i.e. taking turns taking over the Instagram account to meeting up at a studio one at a time keeping the proper social distance.  In the end, our talented producer selected the be.live platform– this meant that there was a level of control that doing a purely Facebook LIVE video did not have. Our producer/main host was able to control who got to be onscreen, when and for how long. She was also able to add graphics, crawling text, and video when needed. Best of all, the entire stream could be downloaded for later use and posting to other channels.  Our be.live stream was broadcast on Facebook LIVE. Two members of the team updated the Instagram channel in real-time as well – sharing what was going on in the FB live stream.

The first part of the festival garnered over 10,000 views and the second part received 14,700 views.

The event was a massive success – as we reached people who would not have made it to the in-person event otherwise. The scope of the guests and attendees went beyond Southern California! While there were a few technical issues like sound not working etc., overall that “communal experience” came through.

Here are things that YOU can do to make your virtual event a success:

Make a Plan

Once the decision has been made to take your in-person event online, you will need to make a plan.

First, decide what your goal is for doing your event virtually. While an online event will never replace the excitement of being in a crowd and experiencing the atmosphere in person, doing an event online has its advantages foremost of which is reaching an even larger audience worldwide.

Next, decide if you want the event to be free or paid, who will be involved in the production etc. and plan accordingly. There are many tools that will help you stage your virtual event successfully.

Choose Your Platform

You can directly stream to Facebook, Instagram Live, and YouTube Live. However, if you want to get creative with graphics and text, you can try out platforms like Be.Live (For Facebook and YouTube) or Streamyard. For multiple guests, you can always try Zoom or even Skype. By the way, Be.live and Streamyard can also accommodate multiple people.

You can coordinate with your guests to come in LIVE based on a schedule.

You can also edit together LIVE video with a mix of Pre-Recorded video. Like they did for the recent Global Citizen Livestream curated by Lady Gaga and the Sondheim Birthday Tribute.

After the pre-show and show proper Livestream, the performance videos were released individually on YouTube. This is a moving collaboration of “The Prayer” by Lady Gaga, Andrea Bocelli, Lang Lang, and Celine Dion.
This livestream broadcast was shorter than the Global Citizen show but you MUST watch this epic moment featuring Meryl Streep, Audra Day and Christine Baranski.

Now Promote

Create social media graphics.

Post your event on online calendars and send out a press release as you would a live in-person event.

Ask key players to promote their participation.

Ask community groups to host Watch Parties of the actual event

Release teaser videos

Mobilize the Community

In these days of isolation, now more than ever, we seek connection. Use this virtual event as an opportunity to connect with people before, during and after the event.

The teaser videos and promo graphics will help fuel discussion before the events. Ask people to sign up for email reminders for the LIVE VIRTUAL EVENT.

Send an email blast out to remind people of the LIVE event. And invite people to host watch parties to build excitement for the event.

Post recorded video of the live event to YouTube and social media channels for those who miss the live event or for those who just want to re-watch it. 

Final Thoughts

It may be a while until we have large-scale live events again due to the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. So why not make use of the available tools to reach wider audiences virtually – at least for now.