5 Tips for Throwing a Successful Virtual Event

5 Tips for Throwing a Successful Virtual Event

With Covid-19 and Social distancing being the new normal and Virtual Events being the latest response to traditional events being outlawed, everyone has taken to the internet for connection and celebration. Virtual Zoom Parties, IG Lives, Twitch Streams, and Mixcloud Broadcasts have become the new night clubs where party goers can jump from room to room within a couple of clicks.

A virtual night out might now include Club Quarantine with D Nice, a Zoom Party for Toca Tuesdays with Tony Touch, a Saturday Night IG/ZOOM Dance Party with @HouseOfYes, Virtual Festivals on Twitch and Virtual Concerts and DJ Sets in Fortnite! All right from your couch and in a series of clicks. Online it’s all happening right now when it comes to events and entertainment. I, myself, have now hosted and performed for a series of Virtual Birthday Parties, Virtual Corporate Celebrations, Virtual Workshops, Virtual Networking Groups, and even a Virtual Group DJ Set with the Sinister Syndicate Crew which was broadcasted out to facebook and live to join over Zoom.

I’ve watched some of my favorite bands like GoldFinger re-release live songs recorded safer at home from their individual home studious. And can we just take a moment and enjoy the epic Verzuz battles that have brought some of our musical greats together. Jill Scott and Erykah Badu gave us LIFE in the most recent installment of the Verzuz series of IG Battles. The possibilities are quite endless when it comes to events and entertainment in the online space.

Similar to all of the good that we’ve seen, the internet and technology have produced some rather ugly and awkward moments for virtual event goers and producers as well.  By now, I’m sure you’ve attended at least one event that turned into a constant sound check, experienced one awkward zoom moment, or at least you saw the Teddy Riley and Baby Face Verzuz fail where poor tech required the whole event be scrapped and rescheduled.  Needless to say, I’m sure you clicked on this article because you don’t want that awkward experience to happen to you. Keep reading for 5 Tips (plus some pro-tip extras) to make sure that next awkward moment doesn’t happen to you.

1. Plan Your Event! The importance of planning, especially in the online space, and especially if you’ve got multiple things going on in the course of your event, CANNOT BE OVERSTATED, I personally like to have a run of show ( itinerary or timeline ) that tells me what should be happening through the course of the event. Here’s a couple of examples:

Virtual Networking Event

5:00p – 5:15p – Introduction with Live Stream out to Facebook (no music)

5:15-5:30 – music / host introduction

5:30-5:45 – Break Out Room Networking Activity / DJ in main room

5:45-6:50 – DJ with Networking Activity

6:50 – 7:00 – Debrief and Closing (no music)

Virtual Birthday Party

7:00 – 7:10 – Background music while guests are joining

7:10 – Slide Show for the Birthday Girl

7:15 – Grand Entrance with Music

7:20-7:30 – Group Introductions

7:30-8:00 – Birthday Girl Trivia Game

8:00 – 9:00 – Dance Party with DJ

Virtual Events and Parties are very much like live shows. It makes for a much smoother end user experience when there’s some kind of plan and someone’s taking the lead to move things ahead.  An extra pro-tip that helps to move things along is to have someone as a dedicated host or Emcee to help with transitioning between activities.  In the Virtual Networking event outlined above, the Client was the host and I followed her lead and the itinerary. For the Birthday Party, I hosted so I was able to make the transitions between activities planned before hand, and the client was able to just enjoy her party.  In another event I did, there was no host, but each performer was supposed to introduce the next performer – only someone forgot and it made things kind of awkward.

2. Test the Technology –  Another Step that in the virtual space cannot be over stated. [Remember Teddy Riley… 🙁 ]  Once you’ve determined your event and the timeline of your event, it’s time to commit to the tech and test it.  Some things you should be considering:

1. Where will you host the event? (Zoom, IG, Facebook, GoToMeeting, House Party, etc)

2. What are the technical requirements and capabilities of that tech as it relates to your event? (is there going to be sound other than people talking? Will anyone be performing, etc) Something as simple as broadcasting music can be a little more complicated to get the desired affect in the online space.

3. When can you test? (Make sure to do this well in advance of the event so you’ve got time to troubleshoot if something doesn’t work right the first time) I can personally tell you there’s nothing worse than trying to troubleshoot tech that doesn’t work while the clock steadily ticks down to start time.

A pro-tip when testing is to join the test from a different device than the one you’re broadcasting on so you can get a feel for the actual audience experience.  What seems fine from an AV perspective on your broadcasting device may be very different than what the end user is experiencing.    Another pro- tip – pretty much anything you’ll come across can worked out with a youtube video. I’ve been able to find tutorials on fixing a blue screen on a pc to setting up OBS software to broadcasting OBS to Zoom and beyond. When it comes to troubleshooting, YouTube and Google are your best friends. Use them.

3. Sound Advice – It’s important to note that sound on the end user side isn’t automatically the same as what you hear on your side. Our devices and the programs we are using to stream have compressors that change the integrity of the sound. Strength and stability of internet connection for both the broadcaster and the viewer can also have a negative impact on sound. Also noteworthy, on almost every broadcasting platform, there’s a slight delay from broadcaster to viewer.

I played a party recently where the host wanted me to play background music for the solo singers and dancers. We had to work out that each performer, especially the singers, would be responsible for broadcasting their own accompanying music to help eliminate the problem of delay and competing audio.  For example, notice on Zoom that it’s difficult to hear multiple speakers at the same time. If I’m playing audio and a singer is singing to what they hear, what the user hears will be delayed and out of sync. Also there will be audio fall out between both contributing sound as Zoom tries to toggle between each to determine who’s audio to project.

When I’m playing music, I’m able to get the best quality of sound by plugging my DJ gear directly into my broadcasting device using an audio interface. When broadcasting with a phone, many DJ’s are using an IRIG system that allows XLR or Qtr Inch to 35mm so you can connect to your phone. When broadcasting with a laptop, many DJS are using a USB audio interface or USB enabled mixer to plug directly into the broadcasting computer.  Pro Tip – Some broadcasting Programs like Zoom allow you to change audio settings or to use the audio from a usb mic or another assigned source. You may need to explore these settings and options to get the best possible sound.

Another Pro-Tip – close out all programs you aren’t using on the broadcasting device to make sure it’s full CPU is dedicated to the broadcast especially if you’re using Wifi.  If you’re on a laptop, hard wire to your modem from the broadcasting laptop if at all possible. Wifi can be unstable, and those internet related sound issues are pretty much out of your hands.

4. Be Adaptable – Despite how much you may have tested and planned, sometimes in the live environment, things go awry. You’ve got to be prepared to shift on a moment’s notice within the capacity of your platform so that the show can go on.

For example, In a birthday party I hosted on Zoom, we were playing a trivia game. I was asking the questions, then playing music while they answered in the chat, and then taking the answers from the chat and putting them into a spreadsheet to keep score. This process was taking a very long time; longer than we had anticipated in practice. So, I switched my scoring method to stopping the music and calling each person’s name from the spreadsheet and letting them answer aloud. (instead of in the chat) This made the game move quicker and allowed for a more interactive experience in that moment because each person who answered could also tell a little story or make a joke with their answer.

In another example, someone Zoom Bombed one of the events I was attending. The Host didn’t have the waiting room setup and had the feature that allowed all users to share their screens enabled. So a user came in and started sharing his screen over top of the performer and doing all kinds of inappropriate things. The admin who was running the room and producing the broadcast feed was able to quickly fix the zoom preferences and kick the person into the waiting room. If he hadn’t been quick to notice and respond, the outcome could have been a lot worse.  Pro-tip – use the Waiting Room and Password features in Zoom and keep your software updated to be on the most secure version to help keep your event secure.

In a final example, I was doing a back-to-back DJ set with a friend of mine who is a popular DJ in London. Her sound setup was completely different than mine, and we’d tested on multiple occasions, including just before the show. The day of the show, however, I changed my complete sound and broadcast setup from the setup I’d used multiple times prior.  We tested it several times, but when it came for showtime the new setup ran into all sorts of sound issues that  hadn’t shown up in sound check and I wasn’t able to broadcast my part.  I was communicating with her privately on What’sApp to explain what was happening as I frantically tried to troubleshoot on my side.  She ended up playing the entire set (both mine and hers) while I’d chime in on the mic occasionally and interacted in the chat. Either way, we adapted and allowed the show to go on. None of this is to scare you by the way, it’s just to highlight the need to be adaptable when broadcasting or hosting an event in the online space. I feel like you have to be adaptable when doing ANY type of live event, but most especially in the online space.

5. Practice – After you’ve done all of your planning and prepping and testing, the only thing left to do is to execute. But before you do, I recommend that you practice – even if it’s just with yourself.  The same way that actors in a stage show don’t just show up and “wing it” neither should you when preparing for your live event.   Keep in mind that the live online environment can be intimidating given that it’s so different than what we’re used to.  I find I get more performance anxiety going live than I ever did performing in person.  Which brings me back to practice.  Pro Tip – You don’t grow while you’re live, meaning that when you’re in that anxiety ridden-spotlight moment, you’re going to revert back to what’s comfortable. And the best way to to make sure that you deliver a stellar performance is to practice enough to make it comfortable.

I had a client who brought me in to DJ for a virtual Girls Empowerment Event who wanted to share a video during the run of show, but was concerned because she wasn’t very tech savvy.  I had her hop on a practice call with me where I talked her through sharing her screen and playing the video and then had her practice doing it several times as though we were live.  When it came time for her to share her video during the live event, everything went flawlessly and she breezed through the process with ease, all because she took the time ahead of time to practice.  You may not have any issues sharing your screen, but if you’re performing in any way in a live event, it doesn’t hurt to run it through a few times first. They don’t say “Practice Makes Perfect” for nothing, ya know.

So that’s what I’ve got as far as tips, all stemming from my own awkward experiences and findings as we adjust to this new technology driven interaction. Apply even just a few and I guarantee your event will run smoother than it would if you hadn’t. “All that and $1.50 will get you a cup of coffee”, as my grandfather used to say.

No one knows what a post-covid society will look like or when it will actually get here, but something tells me that Virtual Events are here to stay. That said, I want to encourage you to embrace the technology.  Don’t let the shut downs destroy your plans for a live event.   Covid-19 has brought us together and shown us that SO MUCH is possible in the Online Event Space, with much less cost and logistics.  Once you get a handle on what works for you, the possibilities are endless.  So go forth and practice, and may the Online Event Success Odds be ever in your favor.  Happy Eventing!

PS! – Have an upcoming virtual event that you’d like to integrate a DJ into?  Maybe you need a second opinion on what’s possible within the online event space? If you’re looking for more information, I’d love to help.   Drop me a line by clicking HERE and let’s chat!

See you on the internet!