Overcommunicate to participants — Realize that your audience has a variety of learning preferences and you should create training materials to reflect that. An auditory learner would appreciate a recording discussing the platform, while a visual learner wants to see screenshots with typed instructions and a kinesthetic learner would prefer test-driving it on their own pre-event. Imagine you have never been on the platform and go through every single step as an attendee would
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 Deanna Nwosu.
A leader in the meeting and event industry, the Deanna offers valuable support to planners and speakers alike. With experience on the venue, vendor and planner sides of the business Deanna excels in delivering top-quality experiences, striving to always exceed the goals set by clients.
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”?
I grew up in Ohio and had a really active childhood. I played sports and was in every extracurricular imaginable. My parents both worked corporate jobs but also made time to host family functions and volunteer at church. Looking back, we were always on the go and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I went to college as a typical undecided student. I started joining campus organizations to make friends. And I got more involved by seeking leadership positions. During my sophomore year I was voted as the Social Events and Fundraising chairperson for our Gospel Choir. I knew nothing about events, other than hosting family functions. But I loved it. I went on to find other ways to work on events through my sorority, our campus diversity office and more. It helped me settle on my business major because the college of business had a specialization in Hospitality Management. I have been working in events ever since!
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?
Well it really goes back to my college days, yet again. My sorority had a male scholarship pageant and it was the biggest event of the year for us. I was tasked with managing it my junior year and it was a major flop. The biggest lesson learned was not creating a scope and delegating tasks from the outset. The next year I took the same leadership position for a chance at redemption and I nailed it. I created a clear list of subcommittees and responsibilities as well as a project timeline of when tasks should be completed. And then I delegated based on my sisters’ strengths and abilities and followed up on an ongoing basis. The event was flawless and I felt so fulfilled. Failing and succeeding at the same event helped build a foundation of event fundamentals that has stayed with me to this day.
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’m very late to podcasts, I really only started listening this year, but my favorite right now is probably the Hello 7 podcast with Rachel Rodgers. She really breaks down the mindset barriers that keep women, especially minority women, from wholeheartedly going after what they desire, including wealth. As a new entrepreneur that podcast has spoken life to me, motivated me when I didn’t feel like it and helped me remove so many unnecessary mental barriers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. I don’t know exactly who said it first, I know it’s been attributed to Will Smith. And if that’s not an event planner’s mantra, I don’t know what else is! This just means don’t be complacent and always have a growth mindset — that way when opportunity knocks, you can open the door and run with it.
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 have worked in association and corporate events since 2007. My experience includes annual meetings, tradeshows, board meetings, seminars and more. I earned my Certified Meeting Professional designation in 2017 and earlier this year I became a certified Digital Event Strategist as well.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
My first foray into virtual events was during the great recession. I worked for a trade association and our members were primarily automotive suppliers. In a typical year I would coordinate 10–12 small training seminars, but in 2008 almost all of our live events were cancelled. Members couldn’t
I do remember it was the early days of GoToMeeting and was pretty one-dimensional. You had a powerpoint and the speaker’svoice (through the phone line only!) and that was it! Virtual platforms have come a long way since then.
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?
I think Haute Dokimazo has done an excellent job of honing in on engagement and connection during virtual events. One, I don’t think they’re afraid of failure, two they will try anything once and three they’re really quick to make improvements based on their learnings. They hosted an Age of Conversation event in September, and I am still involved on the Slack channel they created for it — the conversation has yet to end.
To replicate it will take some bravery on the part of senior leadership at other organizations. Event planners are chomping at the bit to be creative and take risks with virtual events and many of us are being directed to create webinars and call them events — they’re not.
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?
If your platform is new to your audience, you really have to invest in educating them on it — before and during the event. As planners we see it from the behind the scenes and we work with the platforms for weeks or months to set it up so it seems intuitive to us — but for our audience many times it is anything but.
I have also been in the position as a sponsor or exhibitor for virtual events and most organizers have yet to figure out how to really create ROI and make it worth investing. If I’m not getting leads or engagement with any attendee, why on earth would I spend money sponsoring a virtual event?
Lastly, make sure your event is adequately staffed and there is a moderator in the room that can manage the back-end of Q&A panels, launching polls, etc. and allows the speaker to stay fully present in their content.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
That’s such a trick question because it really depends on each group and their specific needs. I can say there are platforms that I have enjoyed more than others because of their ability to allow attendees to connect one-on-one and they are Hopin, Hubb, Shindig and InEvent.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
I love seeing planners use Google Suite files to create participation and collaboration during an event — from allowing attendees to post their contact information in a google sheet to creating a docs page for attendees to type in notes. I also think Slack channels are great for keeping a central hub of communication post-event.
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 a platform based on your audience’s needs — Make sure you really understand what your group needs and create your list of must-haves versus nice-to-haves before you ever setup a demo with a salesperson.
- Create excitement pre-event — FOMO is real and by engaging those who have signed up, you provide opportunities for them to share their excitement which will prompt others to do so. For a work team holiday event I did, we gave everyone a wrapped gift and told them to wait for instructions from Santa (their boss). Then a few days after letting them stew over it, we instructed that they would need this gift for the virtual cocktail party scheduled later in the week. Some of the employees didn’t plan to attend, but the curiosity of why the gift was needed caused them to change plans and join in the end.
- Over communicate to participants — Realize that your audience has a variety of learning preferences and you should create training materials to reflect that. An auditory learner would appreciate a recording discussing the platform, while a visual learner wants to see screenshots with typed instructions and a kinesthetic learner would prefer test-driving it on their own pre-event. Imagine you have never been on the platform and go through every single step as an attendee would
- Practice, practice, practice — Murphy’s Law (whatever can go wrong, will go wrong) is an absolute with virtual events as there are so many potential pitfalls for things to go wrong. We did a virtual Santa visit for employees’ children and there were definitely some snafus that could have been avoided with more adequate practice. While we tested an event and made sure our Santa could log in, we didn’t practice the event agenda — if we had, we would have realized that Kris Kringle needed to do the song and storytime for the children BEFORE individual family visits, not after. Some of the younger children didn’t have the patience to sit through it so some families logged off early before talking with Santa. Practice helps you identify potential problems in advance so you can create a strategy to avoid them.
- Keep the conversation going — create call to actions for your group that will keep them engaged with each other and your organization. You can give them social media sharing challenges, create permanent social media groups for them to continue networking and more. Haute Dokimazo actually created a book from the notes gathered during their Age of Conversation event, so once again it is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
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?
First answer this question — who is my audience and what problem am I trying to solve for them? Audience experience should drive every decision made. Don’t create an event that you personally would love to attend — create an event that your audience will crave and keep talking about long after it’s over.
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.
I want meeting and event professionals to realize that they are More Than Planners. We have one of the top 10 jobs in terms of stress-levels (alongside military members, first responders and airline pilots, go figure) and we are treated like admin. We aren’t given a seat at the tables where strategy and mission-driven decisions are made. And during this pandemic my industry friends and colleagues were discarded, easily — while other industries refused to see their value and that their skillsets were transferable. So I hope to help my fellow meeting and event professionals realize their worth and create opportunities for themselves to shine, whether that’s at their full-time job or not.
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.
I really respect the hustle of Netflix CMO Bozoma Saint John — her personal brand is super impressive. I would love to sit with her and pick her brain.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.