I’ve never been one to look at media companies or the top 1% of innovators for examples on how to transform or change. Because let’s face it, most of us don’t have the budgets, brand recognition, or resources.
But with the first-ever virtual NFL draft, an exception should be made as not only can we learn from how the NFL, ESPN, and The Walt Disney Co embraced this pivot but we can replicate what they did on very reasonable budgets. This virtual event experience was world-class in ways most didn’t even notice.
Now before you throw your hands in the air, I will admit yes, the NFL virtual event included over 600 camera feeds managed by 250 employees live streaming in the homes of 85 draft prospects, 32 head coaches, and general managers and was broadcasted across multiple tv and social media channels. And yes, they leveraged professional on-camera personalities who provided a sports experience to a sports starved social distancing audience.
Yet, if we abstract the broadcast and scale components from experience it’s very similar to every other pivot of an offline event to virtual.
It was hosted by Trey Wingo in a studio with 12 event producers connecting thought leaders and experts from their homes with limited tech, that couldn’t travel, and that was only as good as their wifi signal. That is the same scenario 1000’s of brands, events, and associations are facing today as they pivot their live conferences into virtual events.
Now, in all honesty, the NFL Draft is like a holiday for me as a Steelers fan. I was going to love the draft no matter what but when I sat down to watch it, I wrote down on my paper “3 things the NFL did good and 3 virtual experiences the NFL didn’t do good.”
To my surprise, I ended up with over 15 unique examples of what the NFL did great and 3 or maybe 4 experiences I would love to see integrated with future virtual sports events.
“The success of this year’s draft is a testament to the unprecedented collaboration across the NFL, ESPN, and The Walt Disney Co. in the midst of such a challenging time.”
Watch the video above for additional context around each example and the exclusive debut of the “shoe cam” from my home studio in Virginia.
1. Change is polarizing and difficult for most but you must own that.
The change required everyone involved in the event to adapt from the production teams to the commissioner Roger Goodell to the players getting drafted not from NYC but from their parent’s living rooms!
It’s also extremely important to integrate traditional and familiar elements of the offline event into your virtual event as the Roger Goodell did encourage the live fans on the tv to BOOOO louder as they would in years past.
2. Test and tweak pre-event and document it for marketing
No doubt everyone involved with the virtual NFL Draft had to be surprised that there wasn’t a massive technical issue as I believe there is only one guarantee when it comes to live-streaming and that is that something will go wrong.
About 5 days before the draft pictures started being shared on social media of the coaches and general managers “home war rooms” and players started teasing out how they planned on replicating the New York experience at home.
For events, the pre-event marketing can be very forced and all about sales but if you document the setup, the process and give the audience access to behind the scenes this becomes great content. This content not only can this serve as your marketing but it makes the audience feel as though they are part of the process and in many cases, they’ll do the marketing for you.
3. Go all-in with one host from start to finish
Trey Wingo took on the role of in-studio host and the job he did over the 3 full days was nothing short of remarkable. His great job as host was noticeable by most but if you broke down the little aspects the role he played in the virtual NFL draft success was first class.
Trey Wingo A++ Job hosting Virtual NFL Draft
Reminding the audience regularly about the fact this is all new and we are doing the best we can while not making that a center point of the virtual event.
Rolling with the 2–3-second delay when interviewing guests and adjusting the formats of questions so that guests could jump in without him having to interject each time, therefore, the delay was much less noticeable.
Having high energy and passion throughout the entire marathon while keeping it light and fun as the event went on.
The lesson here for everyone producing or planning a virtual event is INVEST time, money, and resources in a great host not multiple hosts or allowing an executive to host because they thought it would be fun.
Invest in one confident and dynamic host to be the face of the event before, during and after that understands how to roll with the punches, manage expectations and is focused on making others look good and be their best during the event while celebrating the production team that helped make it all happen.
4. Create virtual experiences where ever your audience is and it’s ok to multi-stream
Yes, the TV broadcast was the main product but let’s face it social and live video has been a vital role of all offline sporting events for the last 5+ years. But they could have easily broadcasted the same content across all channels instead not only did they change up the content across channels but they empowered the different teams to create unique experiences for their fans as well.
Leveraging speakers, hosts, sponsors, and employees of the brands and associations around the event to create content and unique experiences. Not only is this great for marketing the event but it also provides a “choose your own adventure” aspect for the audience allowing them to consume content how they want, where they want and in the format they want.
5. Create swimlanes & freedom allowing awesome to happen
Virtual is a drastic change for everyone and with drastic change, we naturally have a tendency to create rules and strict guidelines in an attempt to mitigate this risk. But in most cases that leads to very structured and boring copy cat content that no only is boring but limits the creativity of the talented people involved in the event.
But I firmly believe LIMITATIONS INSPIRE CREATIVITY and to enable creativity you can’t limit or control the talent involved with the event. But having no rules or giving them a whiteboard of possibilities won’t work either.
If you create a list of “swimlanes” that includes what you can’t do and what to avoid while also giving ideas and the freedom to try different things the possibilities are endless and in the case of the virtual draft the creativity led to dogs making draft picks and the families of the coaches being a massive part of the experience.
6. The right mix video of live streaming with pre-recorded and production
On a majority of the virtual event strategy calls I’m on with clients the question is always asked “Should we do this event live-streamed or not?”
I believe that isn’t the right question to ask rather every virtual event should include a 3-way mix of video content depending on the goal of each segment.
Production Quality Video
Live Streaming Video
The virtual NFL draft did this amazingly and the best example was prior to the Cleveland Browns draft pick they announced that Fletcher on behalf of St.Junes would be making the pick. Now they could have easily sent Fletchers family an iPhone as they did players and done this with live streaming but why take on that risk?
Instead, they had a pre-recorded video of him sharing how excited he was and setting up the pick before kicking it back to the studio where the official “live draft pick” was announced.
Having a mix of video content is essential for maintaining attention but also adding dynamic elements to virtual events but most importantly is understanding when and which type of video content is best for each aspect of a virtual event. I share more on this in a video I created last week.
7. Include a variety of access and vantage points but only if they have a specific purpose.
As reported on ESPN, the players that were being drafted were given two iPhones one to provide a tight shot and one for one on one interviews after they were drafted.
You might not have also noticed but they had the “live look-in” of the coaches, GM’s and owners letting us see their reactions but no audio was included which I’m guessing was for privacy. But what this allowed was the ability to have others in the room without worrying about them disrupting the broadcast. The end result was a family affair of dogs, friends and kids coming in and out of the draft room.
You’ll also notice no interviews were given via that wide shot as the emotion you want to convey with interviews and thought leadership level content needs to be intimate and much tighter.
The combination of multiple shots was beautifully done but be warned this can be overdone as many speakers will buy multiple cameras, I have a 3 camera shot for my virtual events, which is great but only if each camera has a specific purpose and emotion associated with it.
8. A strategic change of content formats including broadcasting, interview types, music
The area of entertaining or fun content is an area that almost all virtual events overlook as they include networking breaks and in many cases happy hours but seldom include musicians, comedians or influencers.
The NFL took this up a level with multiple pre-recorded videos from multiple different brands. Although there was some backlash on twitter when one of the artist’s video was played rather while draft picks were happening. The lesson here includes entertainment and fun but make sure it’s not disrupting what the audience is there for rather it should be complimenting and amplifying it.
9. Manage expectations while rolling with the punches
Virtual events are not only new for brands and associations putting them but also new for the audience and it’s essential that expectations are managed and we educate the audience on what’s expected from them, the variety of content available, and the different engagement aspects that will be included.
Remember many attendees when they think virtual they picture a boring webinar that they usually move to another tab and ignore and it doesn’t matter how engaging and exciting your vide is if the audience has already put you on tab 1,310 in their browser.
Must educate the audience before and during the event while managing expectations around technology and any changes to what was scheduled.
With the freedom and swimlanes as discussed above, you also have to be prepared for some of the odd and risk that will be taken which was on display with Titans head coach Mike Vrabel although it was done all in good fun.
10. Provide access you can’t get anywhere else
In my personal opinion, the reason Live Streaming Video is a gamechanger is when it’s used as participatory content not just one-way broadcasting. This means including comments and shootouts from those watching live and even better bringing on audience members and special guests to be a part of the experience and participate in the direction of the content.
The NFL did this in a variety of ways, although I feel like the Facebook Live, Instagram and TikTok content could have done this more it was fun to see the #DraftAThon with Roger Goodell & Friends engaging the live audience.
11. Keep it fun and relaxed and lean into what works
As I mentioned before I believe Trey Wingo did a world-class job at hosting the NFL Draft but it was his report with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that stole the show in the fun and relaxed category. Early on the teasing and joking about Roger’s man cave was fun and witty sparking meme’s on social media. As the draft wore on into the 3rd day Trey doubled down on this making comments about Roger’s Sunday entire and Roger even going as far as making draft picks from his lazy boy recliner.
This kind of banter and fun might sound easy and natural but it’s only made possible when the host and guests are provided the freedom to be themselves and then a good production team and host see’s it’s working and leans into it.
Ps. The fact that the NFL social media accounts also got into the fun posting their own competitions made this even more of a success.
12. Up-cycle virtual content to amplify event & drive conversations
For offline events, the promotion and sales of tickets and attendance are 99% frontloaded to a pre-event activity as you need time for travel and manage attendance driven aspects of an event like seats, food and fire code.
With multi-day virtual events, the ability to amplify the event in real-time and up-cycle content across different channels can not only drive additional sales for the event but it can also create social conversations putting the event in the feed of those that maybe knew about the event and forgot or didn’t know about it at all.
With virtual there are also lots of questions about integrating sponsors and one of the ways that this can be done is by including virtual badges, hashtags and swag within the virtual experience. The NFL did this by simply providing virtual backgrounds for all 32 teams which can be used on Zoom, your social media cover photo or the background of your desktop.
13. Include sponsored content that connects with an event in real-time
When it comes to virtual events I believe the possibilities and value for sponsors can be massively greater than traditional offline conference but it requires a collaboration mindset that goes beyond just the day of the event to include speakers, hosts and even other sponsors. This can be done in a variety of ways from videos to swag to contests and more.
The NFL has always done a great job of this and that was included in the social media content and #OneTeam charity focus throughout the broadcast.
14. Be social & connect your content across virtual experiences
Leveraging social media in collaboration with a virtual event is a no-brainer but to do it well it requires a unique strategy for each social network as well as multiple creators creating a variety of content. You can leverage everything from event hashtags to user-generated content to exclusive giveaways.
The NFL did a great job of this by sharing out unique content aspects from the main broadcast for teams to leverage on their feeds. They also went out of their way to create custom content directly on the platform including TikTok and Instagram stories.
The key to making this all happen is having a production plan beyond the live content and easy ways to share this amongst the different teams involved with the event which can be a shared drive or tools like slack. It’s also about empowering the right people that have the right level of access. I really enjoyed the different fans and players taking over the brand accounts or doing live videos throughout the draft.
During the draft, I was amazed at how quickly the broadcast level content was turned into 2 minute twitter videos and dynamic virtual videos being shared on Instagram. This doesn’t require a big budget rather a very strategic approach to sharing content across social media channels in real-time.
15. Keep an open mind to the new possibilities
Virtual events WILL NEVER replace offline events but if you create them from a virtual experience mindset the ability to create new experiences and amplify offline events is almost a guarantee. Yes, it takes a team to put on a virtual event and I the fact the NFL draft went virtual in less than a month with only 250 people supporting it made the success of this event that more impressive to me.
This video after the Virtual NFL Draft with Roger Goodell should be shared with every executive and leader that questions the value of virtual experiences both in the short term and what they can empower in the long term!
The question is what virtual experiences will you learn from as you create a virtual event and maybe even more exciting is what will ESPN, NFL and The Walt Disney company do for the next virtual sporting event that is no question coming as they’ve set the bar pretty high to start!
Telling stories is central to what we do as keynote speakers. It draws us to our audience and makes what we teach and deliver within our keynote presentations memorable.
With the rise of virtual presentations, that crucial emotional connection has become harder to sustain and even more important. While at the same time, the future of virtual innovations such as augmented reality and virtual reality are all about reinventing how we convey virtual emotion. But sadly when most speakers, event teams and brands talk about virtual events or online keynote presentations that have a bad taste in their mouth thanks to webinars, “almost live” product demo’s and the random live streams of their neighbors cat that they’ve seen in their Facebook Live feed.
Way back in 2018, the National Speakers Association asked me to deliver a 10-minute keynote and 60-minute hands-on workshop at their Winter Conference to teach and inspire fellow speakers on how the next wave of technology will allow an audience to step into our shoes and interact, virtually, with the powerful emotions of a narrative. I give NSA credit as this was not only an innovative way of thinking within the rise of offline events but it was also helping to provide additional revenue streams for speakers.
But for most speakers, when they thought about virtual experiences or the impact of online technology, they either associated it with innovations around augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence or linked it to the 30-minute webinars they’ve provided over the years. In my session at NSA Winter Conference which you can watch below, I worked hard at opening my fellow keynote speakers’ minds to having a new perspective on what virtual and online provided both on-stage and online. Here are a couple of the most tweeted quotes from that talk:
“Telling stories draws us to our audience and makes what we teach memorable, the problem is that because of the rise of virtual presentations, it’s getting harder to sustain an emotional connection with our audience.”
“Relatability is the secret of online success, and live video is the gateway drug demonstrating participatory real-time interaction that will force us to rethink the power of virtual experiences!
“Virtual events, webinars and online summits don’t contain the same limitations as offline events which as speakers means our virtual event experiences have endless possibilities and the only real limitation is our imagination and willingness to think differently on what we deliver, how we provide and the technology we leverage to present our messages!”
Fast forward to 2020, and the transformation Covid19 has forced postponing worldwide conferences and forcing not only conference but speakers to deliver virtual keynote presentations.
Although the keynote below and the workshop were received very favorably by the NSA audience, I felt many linked my passion for virtual experiences and my desire to disrupt the virtual event space to the fact I was a millennial and had built my speaking business on the back of content marketing, social media and live streaming video.
“As speakers simply taking what we do great on stage at offline conferences and providing that online won’t cut it and will force you to lower speaking fees for #virtualevents and ultimately do more harm than good to your speaking brand!
Focus on shifting perspective and understanding the emotion your body & visuals are evoking!”
As the conference event industry and the professional speaker world point their attention, budgets, and brands towards developing and delivering virtual experiences the directions they can go are endless. I’ve made it my mission to do everything I can to disrupt and reinvent with those I coach, advise, and partner. Not only on the importance of reinventing what the virtual stage is but also the need to educate speakers, event professionals, and virtual event attendees on what is possible, what is expected, and the future we can ultimately create together!
Give this video a watch and join me in shifting the perspective of virtual experiences and removing the limitations we have placed on virtual events. As I believe the only limitations that exist in the virtual world are within our own imagination.
For additional resources and to view the soon to be launched Virtual Experience marketplace click here.
Live streaming isn’t new and in 2014 it drasticatly disrupted the marketing and social media world as apps like Meerkat took over SXSW, Twitter launched Periscope, Facebook went all in with Facebook Live and even YouTube, Instagram and Linkedin integrated live streaming.
For professional speakers and event planners’ live streaming was a “nice to have” for marketing and it did make the broadcasting of the opening keynote more accessible to a larger audience but it impacts truly was felt in the wake of Covid19 canceling offline conferences forcing everyone online.
Since 2014 I’ve done 3500+ live streams including launching live video campaigns for my clients on Facebook Live, Blab, Instagram, Periscope as well as webinars and online summits. But much how the world is changing to adapt to working from home so have the live streaming platforms and software in regards to functions, features, ability to multi-stream, custom overlays, multi-person integration and this is across a wide-range of solution types.
I’ve had so many questions about live streaming that I wanted to create a live stream showing the tools I use and what scenario is best for each… So if you are a virtual event speaker or running live zoom calls or wanting to make your live webinar more dynamic here are the tools I use…
I break the live streaming software into these categories:
As I stated in the video I do have a relationship with these tools but I also have a relationship with other tools that I didn’t show as these are my favorites for presenters, teachers, meeting leaders, and keynote speakers!
Live streaming video has exploded during these times much like it did in 2014 but what is it’s role in virtual events and how do we know when to use it versus pre-recorded video.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Live streaming took the world by storm in 2015, and I for one was a major fan! I helped deploy live streaming initiatives for companies like IBM, the Superbowl and SAP. For a while, live streaming was my go-to strategy.
In the video above Brian uses Prezi Video to go live on Facebook Live. Brian answers the 9 most popular questions being asked around live streaming video and its role in virtual events in 2020.
As conferences move from offline to online they are looking for ways to create true virtual experiences and Brian believes live video is essential. But you might be surprised by some of these answers as there are many use cases where Brian doesn’t believe live video should be utilized.
Live video will never replace production video and the power of editing can transform an average presentation into a great one.
If there isn’t a plan for active engagement or the presenter won’t see or adapt to the live conversation, live only adds complications. All of the moving pieces aren’t worth it if you are not going to live to its greatest ability.
When you want to have a unified look or controlled audio and video settings, live is not the way to go.
If you need more than one take or you’re doing a demo or you’re going aspects beyond the presentation might malfunction.
4. Which platform is best for live video?
There’s no one platform that is better than any other.
You must first determine what success looks like for your live video. Ask, who you are trying to reach? What format & style do you plan on creating? (Interview or mobile or vertical)
Understand the benefits and risks of streaming to multiple platforms at once
Have a plan to manage comments, questions and the live audience on the channels you are streaming.
5. When should a virtual event include: Live Video vs produced vs pre-recorded
Live Video: Providing access and leveraging the participatory component of the video!
Produced: Telling a story that must go beyond the presenter’s words and slides through things like b-roll, sound effects and story format.
Pre-Recorded: When you want to control and manage the audio, video and length of the video while doing multiple takes. Also if you want to add closed captions and mitigate risks involved with live video.
6: How do I combine produced video with live video to maintain audience attention?
Manage expectations at the start
Be Transparent with what aspects of the virtual event will be recorded vs live
If the speaker will be doing Q&A after a produced video tease that before and during the produced video session
Leverage live video before a produced video to add context and take questions teasing what is to come in the produced video
Balance the desire to have evergreen videos with live to provide the FOMO and excitement available beyond the produced videos you can watch later!
7. How can we use live video to promote a virtual event before and after?
Q&A with speakers
Behind the scenes planning
Giveaways and contests
Preview of the day
Key takeaways to create FOMO for those that didn’t attend
Digital Futurist, Keynote Speaker and Virtual Event Producer Brian Fanzo shares his tips for not only creating a successful virtual event but the mindset shift required to build out goals, measure and track success. He also touches on selecting the right platform and using a combination of video collaboration tools and live streaming tools to engage today’s digitally disconnected audience.
The process in a nutshell
Brian has perfected the process needed to create a successful online event after producing over 3,000 live streams, speaking in 76 countries and helping Fortune 100 brands deploy their virtual events. He’s pretty much broken down to this:
1. Define Success and Set Measurable
Success looks different for everyone involved in an offline conference – sponsors are looking for potential clients, the hosts may be looking to increase loyalty and the attendees might be looking for people to add to their network.
An online conference has the same dynamic, but often people don’t take that into consideration when they are planning. So, the first thing needs to be first when planning a virtual event – define what success looks like for everyone involved.
Where most people go wrong is defining success without setting goals. If success looks like creating brand loyalty and an engaged audience, your goals should be return customers, social media mentions and numbers of messages in the live chat. The number of attendees doesn’t matter, nor does the amount of money made.
Just remember, these should all be things that can be tracked and measured.
Once you have your goals laid out, it’s time to determine what kind of content can get you to your goal and create the experience you want to. In this step, you’ve got to think about what is going to get the point across, live video? Produced video? Ask me anything style?
How are you going to create your experience? Themed chat rooms? A choose your own adventure style event? What about podcasts for those not interested in the live video? There are so many ways we can facilitate a similar experience online to offline, but they require planning (something most forget with online events).
3. Choose Your Platforms and Speakers
Now that you know what kind of content and experience you want to create, you can start to determine the best platforms for hosting and interacting. Here is the thing though, just like everything else, the best results come from collaboration.
There is no such thing as a “do it all” platform.” They all have their own strengths and weaknesses. It’s about finding the platforms that can work together to create the perfect experience.
After you have the who, what, when, where and why of your event set you can focus on hiring the best speakers. You want to make sure that the speakers are ready to make a great virtual event and that they understand that it’s not the same as a 30 – 90 minute keynote. You also want to make sure that they are able to create the type of content you are hoping to have.
4. Create a Digital-First Mindset
Creating the best virtual event experience requires a digital-first mindset. Again, what goes on offline can’t just be replicated online, it’s a much different venue, so you have to retrain everyone on what it means to create an engaging event.
Why haven’t virtual events or online conferences replaced offline conferences? Because they can’t!
But… If we redesign the experience from a digital-first mindset, it’s possible to provide a complimentary digital experience that bridges offline conference experiences 365 days a year and can supplement the value we aren’t able to deliver during times like now with the Coronavirus.
What won’t work and hasn’t worked:
❌ Back to back webinars called digital events
These are impersonal and often time unengaging.
❌ Live video platform streaming offline keynotes
While these may be more personal, they’re still not super engaging if the speakers don’t engage with the audience comments like they would if it were any other live stream. The problem with that, is that this makes it less “conference like,” how do we find the happy medium?
❌ Speakers using the same slides, story, and presentation structure for digital talks
Virtual events are far more accessible for most, so how will we ensure that our audiences aren’t seeing the same thing over and over again? How can we create a unique experience without feeling the mood of the room?
❌ Events built with tech-first their your mindset still have to focus on format and audience experience
We can create all of the tech-first events we want, but the tech itself won’t be enough to create a great customer experience.
✅ Great creators such as YouTube stars don’t make great speakers.
Being able to speak at a live event and creating well-produced, audience-specific content require very different skillsets. Virtual summits, specifically ones that happen live, will require keynote level speakers.
✅ Just as many speakers won’t make great digital keynote speakers
Just like YouTubers don’t always make great in-person speakers, we can’t expect that many “traditional” keynote speakers will be great in a digital format.
? Sadly, just like offline, the host/emcee of digital events are key, yet seldom valued or included in strategy!
Cutting corners is not acceptable. Not even in the digital space. The host/emcee of your event is the only constant in the attendees’ experience and you’d be surprised how important that constant is. So don’t leave them out!
? Virtual Reality isn’t the answer either
However, understanding VR content, storytelling with creating 360 degrees of access, and how those interactions work is a mindset digital events must factor in.
The questions we must be asking for digital events are:
1. What experience and interaction will maintain attention with an audience that is easily distracted and has unlimited other options for content?
2. How do we connect the theme and hypothesis of the event throughout every aspect of the digital event without it being obvious?
3. What does success look like for our digital event and how does that differ from our traditional events? How do we manage those expectations for audience, sponsors and executives?
4. What is the emotional link to the content we want to create.. FOMO no recordings or JOMO exclusive access?
5. What are the measurable touchpoints that we can track for success & driveability to adapt and pivot?
6. With no venue but no doors to keep the audience in, how do we use that money from butts in seats to butts not clicking off?
We Must ReInvent
When designing a virtual event we must go beyond the platforms and even beyond the conference experience to build a truly digital-first experience! I’m working with multiple companies and associations on doing just that with what I’m calling a “Choose your own digital event experience” framework. Stay tuned for more insights and information on how we are doing this and if you want to learn more or believe your software platform would be a great fit send me an email at Brian@isocialfanz.com.