5 Lessons learned in pivoting to a virtual party

5 Lessons learned in pivoting to a virtual party

Jenny Baranowski, Awards Director, SIIA

Shelter in place orders started rolling out across the United States in mid-March. At the time, a cruise ship was being held off the California coastline because passengers had tested positive for COVID-19. It felt like a wave was coming. 

Meanwhile, the CODiE Awards were in the final week of the first-round judging, and we were deep into preparations for the winner announcement party, scheduled in San Francisco in May. 

When California began to shelter in place on March 19, it was unclear if cities would be open to visitors again by May, but we knew that we needed to plan for a virtual celebration, and we only had a few weeks to plan, prepare and launch a virtual event if wasn’t safe to travel. We knew we has some big decisions to make, and that we needed to act fast. Here are some lessons learned from that experience:


  • Get educated. Seek out at least five vendors, explain what you are trying to do, and see how each vendor would approach the event, and what the cost would be. This gives you a much better sense of what your virtual event could look like, and how much time it will take to develop and be successful. It’s best if the same person vets all the vendors to provide a true assessment. At the same time, make sure you also understand your existing contracts, and what options you have for changes. Reach out to your audience to see how they are feeling.
  • Communicate! It is so important to share these changes with your community as quickly as possible. It helps build trust and helps them plan. They too are experiencing major changes to their work and lives. We checked in more often leading up to the virtual event via email and social media and provided many of the elements they have come to know and appreciate from the in-person event. For example, we included a schedule at a glance so people could follow along and know when their category would be presented. 
  • Do not assume everything will go as planned. As with in person events, hiccups to your well devised plan will arise. A presenter misses a meeting, spotty internet, a web cam on the fritz, no computer speaker, bad lighting, kids and cohabitants sucking up bandwidth, persistent pets, we have now seen it all. Make sure you add in extra time to your schedule to accommodate. There will be unforeseen issues.
  • Bring in the glitter. It is hard to add personality to an online format. Invite dynamic people to help present and ask them to let their personalities shine. Invite them to share ideas for adding something unexpected to the format – before you scheduled a time to meet with them. Turn up the volume on social media by asking the audience to engage throughout the ceremony and incentivize by adding a contest! We also created a mix your own beverage recipe to enjoy during the ceremony.

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