Remind participants how to engage. People register for events and then forget all about it. Make sure that you send regular reminders about the event. Include clear instructions on when the event will occur and how to join. Don’t assume that your guests saved their registration confirmation; make it incredibly easy for them to join, even at the last minute. Build excitement online via social media and email beforehand.
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 Lisa Machac.
Lisa Machac is a musician and director of the Omni Sound Project, an organization dedicated to being the most accessible point of entry to the music and audio industries. Omni Sound Project strives to provide affordable opportunities for learning to under-represented communities as well as spotlight the talents of female and gender non-conforming audio professionals. Omni Sound Project’s website — omnisoundproject.com
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”?
Thank you for having me! I was an only child and I think that made me very inventive. The adults in my life used terms like “creative” and “confident” to describe me. It was only when I entered school that the less generous adjective for kids like me was “bossy”. I learned to embrace my ability to organize other people in the form of event planning!
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I entered college with the intention to pursue a career in physical therapy, but struggled with some of the classes. (If I’m being totally honest, I mostly struggled with balancing the distractions of social life and academics!) I was in my junior year when I discovered a degree plan called Parks, Recreation, and Tourism that encompassed event planning and hospitality. I simply could not believe that this degree existed, and I eagerly switched my major.
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 think that event planners are always ready to roll with the punches, so mistakes don’t really stand out to me. We adapt on the fly! Looking back now, I think what stands out to me as funny is the things we were able to accomplish without the technology we have today. How did we execute events without cell phones? We used two-way radios, as we do today, but I can’t imagine how hard it was to not be able to quickly check documents, emails, and texts during an event. I think a lot of paper was involved!
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?
Without a doubt, The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker changed my entire outlook on planning events. As I mentioned, having been deemed “bossy” as a small child, I tend to try to suppress my organizing abilities when planning more casual, social gatherings. Parker’s book underscores the fact that the best events are carefully and thoughtfully planned with an intention for the guests in mind. It helped me recognize that my guests will appreciate boundaries and structure and that there’s nothing wrong with providing them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love reading spiritual books and interviews with thought leaders, so I’m always influenced by original insight. The text that guides my day to day, though, is the Prayer of Saint Francis. I return to it over and over when remembering my life’s purpose: to be an instrument of peace. It helps remind me that I am not the center of the universe; rather that caring for others should be our focus.
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?
Early in my education and career, I assisted in the execution of large events like conferences and festivals. My first professional job was planning Austin’s Earth Day festival. It was in this role that I solidified a few beliefs going forward: that events should have a low environmental impact, that sponsors should support the mission of the gathering, and that even large events should focus on intimacy and community building. I carried this experience into planning much more intimate events in hospitality and wellness before finally combining my personal interest in audio engineering and music with event planning.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
I started the Omni Sound Project in February of 2020 with two live events per month planned for the entire year. After four live events, the pandemic forced a shutdown of live events in Austin, Texas, where I reside. Instead of cancelling, we shifted everything online, creating a global community instantly! Fortunately, I had recently read Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering, and decided that with a few adjustments, I could emulate the warmth and openness of our live events virtually. We hosted 37 virtual events in 2020 and have no intention of stopping.
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?
As a consumer, I have not yet engaged in the type of live virtual event I like to plan: one that builds community and allows for connection, as well as creates excitement and invites exploration. Specifically in the audio world, many of the events focus on knowledge sharing exclusively. As a participant, you are simply an observer. This is valuable, but not engaging. I think the events industry is in a holding pattern of “wait until things get back to normal”. We should instead be embracing this new medium and finding new ways to create exciting virtual events.
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?
The most common mistake I’ve seen is simply being unclear about what the event is and when it will be held. I think a lot of people make the assumption that these details are clear, but if participants have to hunt for this information, they’ll spend their time elsewhere. Make sure that you not only have a dedicated landing page for your event, but that you reiterate these details in your marketing as well.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
I’m not sure why anyone hosts events anywhere other than Zoom right now. Nearly everyone with a computer now has a Zoom account, so it’s the most accessible platform. While other platforms may appeal to different age groups or possess a more sleek aesthetic, the best way to reach the most people is to use the most popular technology.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
Try as I might, I haven’t been able to replace the event planner’s most used tool: the spreadsheet. There is simply too much information to compile in a CRM or project management software. The event software I’ve tried doesn’t encompass everything I need. So, as rudimentary as it is: Google Sheets and Excel are still the industry necessities.
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.)
1. Remind participants how to engage.
People register for events and then forget all about it. Make sure that you send regular reminders about the event. Include clear instructions on when the event will occur and how to join. Don’t assume that your guests saved their registration confirmation; make it incredibly easy for them to join, even at the last minute. Build excitement online via social media and email beforehand.
2. Plan opportunities for connection.
Remember that your participant list is made up of living, breathing beings that are staring at a screen, alone. Take frequent breaks to open up the chat and build conversation, using icebreaking questions. Plan short sessions where you highlight individual guests, clients, or sponsors. Encourage as much participation as possible. For Signal Gain, our full day audio engineering conference, we had a “seventh inning stretch” where I asked guests to volunteer for an impromptu interview. I spoke with a few guests in a conversational style about their audio experience and the other participants were enthused to meet new friends and hear personal stories.
3. Start on time.
Your guests have carved out time in a busy schedule for your online gathering. The worst thing you can do is to disrespect their time by telling them that you’re waiting for latecomers to begin. I have never understood this practice, but it’s especially egregious for online events, where latecomers can slip in without disruption. Starting on time shows your guests that you are professional and organized.
4. Hold a tech rehearsal.
Virtual events are different from live events in many ways, but the most obvious being that they are much more reliant on technology. Make sure that you and your speakers hold a rehearsal where they practice sharing their screen and audio. Request copies of any materials that they intend to share so that if they suddenly have issues, you can share it from your screen. Send out a timeline to all staff and speakers so that everyone knows exactly what is happening when.
5. Continue to connect participants after the event ends.
Your event should create a community of like-minded new friends. Give them opportunities to explore new connections by forming a Facebook group, a Slack channel, or more virtual gatherings. Even the simple use of an event-specific hashtag will allow them to find each other afterwards.
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?
I’m a broken record here, but reading The Art of Gathering should be a prerequisite for anyone planning anything! I’d say the number one recommendation I have is to be inventive. Instead of simply waiting for things to get back to “normal”, imagine ways to engage and excite your audience. Think of things from a participant standpoint. What would make you excited about attending?
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’ve always been a “more the merrier” type of person and would love to see the world become more inclusive and communal.
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.
Honestly, I’d rather meet Dolly Parton than any VC executive or sports star. Not only is she a great talent and savvy business person, I admire her spiritual insight and commitment to kindness and inclusion.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.