Live events allow for more interaction and create a bond for a more meaningful experience. In hybrid events and live virtual events, providing the opportunity for your online audience to engage is key, but can be tricky. Consider a chat feature, an interactive app or polls for greater audience participation.
As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vivian Chaves.
Vivian Chaves is an avid event enthusiast. With 15 years in the event industry and a 9+ year career at Eventbrite, she has been the producer and attendee of countless events. With the pivot to online events in 2020, Vivian was lucky enough to partner with virtual event experts around the world as the entire industry transformed.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
One of the interesting threads running through my childhood is that I’ve always loved the theater. As a child, I loved to perform and was always enamored by the art of live events. It’s something that carried into my studies at university, where I did a major in theatre, and then into my professional career.
I constantly performed as a child and was on stage at the age of six. Aside from being on the stage, I also loved putting on plays and directing friends in the backyard or building puppet show theatres — organising immersive concepts in my head came naturally to me. At home, I’d perform for my parents and their friends, and was always waltzing into the room in some form of elaborate costume.
In high school, I got into musical theatre, where I continued to dance but also found a real passion for choreography. I choreographed all the musical theatre in my school, including shows like shows like Fiddler on the Roof, Westside Story and Copacabana. In fact, I ended up winning several awards from the American Conservatory Theatre for these productions. Choreographing over 60 high school students in musicals taught me production skills, how to manage big groups — and how to navigate large personalities!
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
After I graduated, I felt I had to choose between working in the events industry or pursuing a professional office career path. I tried to juggle both for a couple of years but then I discovered Eventbrite, which provided me with the perfect avenue to bring all my passion for events and theatre together in a strategic and professional way. I always wondered whether I should take a professional path into economics or the like, and that maybe I’d chosen the wrong major, but to work in the arts in a professional capacity made me feel like I had superpowers!
I started at Eventbrite answering phones and helping with product support, I really loved working with our event creator customers. I worked my way up from there and have enjoyed an exciting and versatile career path. My passion for events has given me a deep empathy for event creators and it’s been hugely fulfilling to be in a role that has involved me helping to build the creator community. I still create my own events, so I know what it’s like to be in their shoes, especially with the challenges they face. I’ve also been in the trenches with them during the pandemic as they sought ways to navigate this new world and learn new skills. In marketing meetings, we understood what creators were going through and we endeavored to help them every step of the way — it was never clinical, but always very personal.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I have several stories along the same vein that were mortifying at the time, but really gave me courage for the future.
One time I was hosting a show at a San Francisco venue and we forgot there was no light tech on duty that night. When I’m on the stage, the lights usually turn on to a round of applause from the audience, but nothing happened, so I was left standing alone in the dark for five minutes. A similar thing happened when I was acting in To Kill a Mockingbird. I was on stage alone for three minutes when another actor missed his cue. Three minutes is a long time to improvise, but I did it and after that I knew I would be okay if it happened again.
Both times it felt like a superpower kicked in and it wasn’t the end of the world. You need that superpower when you work in events as there’s lots of opportunities for things to go wrong and you have to buy time. That’s not scary to me now. At Eventbrite’s recent Reconvene summit for event organizers in May, my computer froze, live, in front of thousands of people, and I had to stay on camera while frantically pressing buttons to get up and running again. These things happen though, and I just had to push forward. It happened to another keynote speaker not long after me, but the beautiful thing was that the audience of event creators was so supportive in its comments, and it turned into something positive because there’s an empathy and understanding in our community.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I fell in love with Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering, which discusses how to be intentional with gatherings, why coming together is so important and how to make guests feel significant. Every event creator should read it. The author really understands her subject and this shines through; you can tell she has vast experience of events and the way it’s written makes you change the way you think about gatherings. The book helps you think about why gatherings are happening in the first place and how to bring that to the party. In a time when the event world was turned on its head, this was really grounding for me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” — Mary Oliver
This quote is important to me because I’ve always tried to remember life is a big gift. It can be stressful and challenging but it’s also a treasure. Mary Oliver has many poems that resonate with me, but this quote says to me ‘make brave choices and make the most out of everything’. Every creator is brave when they put on events because they also make themselves vulnerable and open up to criticism, as things can and do go wrong. I think they’ve shown great courage in gathering people in a pandemic, safely in-person or online.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?
I’ve been producing events professionally for about ten years. It’s always been a personal passion, and I’m lucky to have started doing it for my career. I’ve done everything from small intimate client gatherings to 400 person summits to industry conference activations.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
Most of my experience was in live in-person events prior to Covid-19. Once the pandemic hit, I started navigating virtual events like so many other event creators. It was a journey and a learning experience and I’m lucky to have had a few experienced mentors in the space to show me the ropes of OBS, virtual platforms, and best practices.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
There’s a company called CraftJam based in New York City that pivoted online and brought crafting classes, such as calligraphy and cross stitch, into peoples’ homes in a brilliant and personal way. That creator, Nora Abousteit, was amazing in the way she pivoted and I was impressed by the business’s resilience and creativity. CraftJam found ways to train remote teachers and found innovative ways of connecting with attendees. They shipped kits to peoples’ homes; it was exciting for attendees to have something they got to touch and create with. Crafting together and pausing while others caught up gave it a real feeling of a live event and was the closest thing they could get to a personal gathering. CraftJam also made it really fun, which was what people needed at that time. It was a highlight in the pandemic for me.
Others could learn a lot from what CraftJam did. The founders really challenged themselves to rethink their business structure; they didn’t just do what they normally did, but online, instead they changed their business to make it work for online. What we must remember is that a virtual event is not simply an in-person event on a screen — it’s a different kind of experience and it’s important to find ways to make it work better.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?
When working with a live audience, one of the most common mistakes is overcomplicating the event, giving yourself a huge tech challenge early on and opening yourself up to risk. We’ve seen organizers bite off more than they can chew with things that initially seem simple, like bringing on multiple guests in quick succession, or cutting back and forth between experts. However, these things can’t be accomplished on a basic streaming platform, and actually takes a lot of production and budget. It’s always wise to keep your first streams simple when you’re starting out. It’s okay to start small and focus on the content then add the bells and whistles later.
Another mistake is not testing enough. The solution to that is rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse some more. Not rehearsing like you would for a live show is a huge error. Live virtual event organizers must make sure the tech works, they need to know the flow of things and that they have support for back-end processes, so they can concentrate on the audience. The solution is to get help from the pros. They can help brands, event creators, educators and entertainers find the right equipment and work smarter within their streaming environment. In addition, they can also offer virtual remote-control rooms where streamers can bring in remote guests to add a whole new element to their broadcast.
Finally, another mistake is failing to have a two-way conversation; a lot of us have screen fatigue so creators need to get the audience learning and engaging rather than just talking at them.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
There are so many streaming platforms that are effective, as they can work in different ways for different audiences. Eventbrite is compatible with most major ones, which means that the ticketing side is taken care of. For the live stream itself, event creators need to think about what they want the event to do and feel like, then find a platform specific to their needs. For example, Zoom can be good for a small event as it can be private and many of us are already familiar with the platform. It has chat, breakout rooms and Q&A features so it’s a powerful tool for smaller gatherings. For large events, YouTube Live is great. I love the way people can chat in comments as the event is happening. It means people can see the comments in real time and it encourages attendee interaction. Twitch is also being used successfully.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
Eventbrite can take care of your ticketing needs, both for online and in-person events. Apart from that, I’m obsessed with Canva. Taking your idea and giving it shape is one of the most critical aspects of event planning and Canva is an easy and free graphic design platform, which requires little to no graphic design experience to master. It helps with design graphics, posters, and other visuals for things like your event listing, day-of collateral, and social media. It also has plenty of ready-made templates to use and an intuitive drag-and-drop feature. It’s a great tool for event organizers to make their design look branded and professional. I would also recommend Mmhmm, which is a virtual camera tool that makes video calls exciting. It allows creators to do presentations that look professional, but also really fun and interesting.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Choose the right tools — There are seemingly limitless options when it comes to livestream and video hosting platforms. You might find yourself asking ‘which video hosting platform should I use?’ The answer to where you should host your virtual events depends on the type of event you’re hosting. This link will show you which platform you can use. It can be overwhelming to find the right one, as no two events are the same. Zoom, Vimeo, Facebook Live, YouTube and Twitch are some of the better-known tools, but there are other smaller ones such as RunTheWorld, SpotMe and Maestro.io.
- Visuals — For livestreamed and hybrid events, it’s critical to have top-notch visuals. Whether your event is a party, a seminar, a workshop, or a simple meeting, be sure you know what your best video options are as the likes of Zoom, Facebook Live and Vimeo all have different strengths. As for the video camera, look for one with 1080p resolution or better. Since many people stream on their mobile devices, a 4K camera is likely going overboard for a simple webinar or workshop. If you’re hosting on Facebook Live, consider a device made for this type of streaming, like the Mevo. Along with technical capabilities, it’s important for the user experience to be uncomplicated. Be sure to seamlessly blend your virtual and live experiences for your attendees. Test your tech before your event starts, so your in-person audience can enjoy your event, rather than having to wait for AV equipment to be fine-tuned. Don’t forget that if your event is going to last longer than your camera’s limited battery life, you’ll need an electrical hookup.
- Lighting — Good lighting is an often-neglected subset of visuals, but it can elevate the experience by providing a professional gloss to make your visuals pop. Be sure the visual focus of your event — like the speaker, performer, or host — is lit appropriately. Hollywood cinematographers have long understood how lighting can focus the eye, so take lessons from the best and use a mix of fill lights, key lights, and back lights. Consider using colored filters for even more visual variety. You’ll be amazed by the difference it can make.
- Sound — If you want your audience to hear your message loud and clear, you’d better be sure your sound tech is solid. No one wants to hear screeches and feedback, so securing equipment and technology that can deliver your event sound smoothly and clearly is key. Microphones, wiring, and speakers are all important parts of your sound setup and should all be double-checked before the event. Choosing the right technology will let your virtual audience get closer to the in-person experience. One technique for helping your virtual audience get a sense of a live event is to place microphones in the audience, either hanging from the ceiling or placed surreptitiously around the venue. This can help those joining remotely better feel like a part of the crowd. And if you have live music, a separate audio console for your livestreaming will help separate the various audio streams for a clean mix. Hiring a professional sound engineer, if one isn’t provided by the venue, will take the quality to the next level.
- Interaction — Live events allow for more interaction and create a bond for a more meaningful experience. In hybrid events and live virtual events, providing the opportunity for your online audience to engage is key, but can be tricky. Consider a chat feature, an interactive app or polls for greater audience participation.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
There are four key things — the prep work, where the event is being hosted, the target audience size and what you are trying to achieve. Always think ‘what’s in it for the audience’. Also consider marketing — how you’re going to get the word out and where people can register. Once you figure that out then think through the details — what’s the flow, what happens when people first log on and how they’re going to interact. It’s all about the attendee experience.
Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Wow what a great question. I’ve been so inspired by so many of the activists and leaders who have leaned into mutual aid. Here in the United States, there are communities that struggle greatly due to lack of resources, and what so amazing citizens have leaned into is mutual aid groups to take care of them. It’s incredible to see what people can do when they band together. If I could start a movement, it would be to inspire everyone to support at least one mutual aid group.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Probably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s been such a beacon of light and powerhouse; I’d love to know what keeps her motivated every day to get up and fight.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.