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'This Is a Learning Experience for Everyone': Covering Virtual Events

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by Ronn Levine


Undoubtedly, most association and B2B editorial people will be called upon at some point in the coming months to cover an online event. I actually got to cover my first one this week, as SIPA—another division here at SIIA—held its annual conference.

Despite truly missing catching up with many acquaintances I’ve built up over the last 10 years, I enjoyed it and feel like I did a good job. But it’s different. There were very few breaks built into this conference, so lunch came practically between “alternative” and “data” on the first day, and “all things” and “LinkedIn” on the second.

There was only one track so I didn’t have those tough session decisions to make. If you do, however, make them beforehand  because you may not have much time. I took detailed notes but also knew that it was all being recorded. The other biggest advantage, believe it or not, was the ease of asking speaker questions. In person, there’s often not time to ask questions, or I want to let the members ask theirs, and then afterwards—when a speaker might typically hang around—I have to rush off to something else. Virtually, sufficient question time was built into the sessions, so I asked away. And if a speaker could not get to a question, the organizer saw to it that she answered me later.

There was an article this week on Cision’s PR Newswire titled
10 Tips for Covering a Virtual Event, written by Erienne Muldoon, a senior customer content specialist for Virtual Press Office. Let me combine a few of her tips with some of my own here:

1. Make an agenda.
“As you read the event updates, jot down moments that interest you and then create a plan,” Muldoon writes. “Some events may have one single stream that you can tune in and out of throughout the day, while others will offer multiple channels for different types of content, so schedule your time accordingly.” For me on the second day, I looked where I wanted to take my breaks. And I also started thinking what exactly I wanted to get out of a session so I would be ready for questions.

2. Test your equipment.
This one is big. There are so many platforms out there now for virtual events. Okay, we’ve all zoomed in and out, but we are going to see more variety, I believe, moving forward, as the tech giants play catch-up. “Are you using a new device or working remotely in a space you’re not used to?” Muldoon asks. “Be sure to check system requirements for any streaming services or software the event may be using.” Will you be on camera? If so, get an early look at what your personal box looks like. You may need to adjust your position and lighting. (My bicycle seat behind me gave me one very large shoulder.)

3. Keep up with communications.
“Without a tangible welcome packet, bright signage, or crowds to follow, make sure you know where to be online and when,” Muldoon writes. Definitely check their website early and often, and, of course, your email for any updates.

4. Research the speakers.
 
You’re going to be pretty busy taking notes, so you might want to spend a little time before looking up the speakers—will make questions easier as well. I was fortunate to have had interviewed both keynote speakers, so was ready with a couple follow-up questions.

5. Get your social on. 
“Even if you are not doing live coverage via social media, you should still participate in the conversations,” Muldoon writes. “Depending on how the event is structured, Twitter may be the only way to have discussions with other attendees—and can be a source of unexpected insight.” You may need to interview other attendees—find out how that might be best done. (Some platforms have discussion rooms.) There’s also a good chance that your association will want you to live-tweet or live-Instagram. 

6. Watch for trends and surprises.
“People and companies push the stories that they want to tell,” Muldoon writes. “As a journalist, you’re often reading between the lines of the story you’re presented with to find an even better one.” When I cover a conference or panel lecture, I like to find the places where speakers intersect. This week, it was about culture change, so I led with this quote by the keynote speaker: "If you ever wanted to do things differently—change your culture—now is a great time to start," said Don Harkey, CEO of People Centric Consulting Group. "This is a big opportunity. We're all disrupted. It's a good time to put in new habits.... Focus on systems that impact your culture." Seemed like it summed up the day. 

7. Give feedback to the event organizer.
“If you’re a few weeks or months out from the event, be proactive and let them know what you would like to see (e.g., emailed news alerts, a media resources page, etc.),” writes Muldoon—especially if it’s your own association! “Post-show, give them pointers on what could have been done better.” I’m recommending breaks! “After all, this is a learning experience for everyone.”

Ronn Levine is editorial director for SIIA.


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