Three things you must know before hosting your first online event

If you're used to running offline events for your business and need to figure out how to get the same value from online events, Andy Mitchell from EGIA has some advice.

Andy Mitchell is the head video producer at EGIA in California. EGIA is a nonprofit that provides resources to home services industry professionals, now including live streamed training sessions.

Andy and his team had to pivot from in-person to online training events. The lessons they learned are super helpful if you're looking to do the same.

Three ways your online events can make dollars and sense for your business (and a bonus hot take)

1 - What worked offline doesn’t necessarily work online

Andy says you should "surrender to the platform." What does that mean? It means that each platform has its limitations, its rules and its way of working.

The key takeaway from this is that you need to take the time to learn how a platform works before going live. This includes how to setup your broadcast, how to chat with viewers, how to take questions and manage whether or not viewers can participate in the live feed.

If you're like me, in-person events were fun and fruitful. They are a ton of work, yes, but they're an awesome way to connect with people who already know you and those who don't. So, if you're looking for a way to recreate that vibe online, this is an important lesson to learn.

Know what you can and can't do on the platform you're using to broadcast your content. For example, Andy mentioned that live training sessions would last for eight hours. One limitation of a digital event is that no platform is going to keep people's attention for eight hours when they're working from home, or they have a dozen browser tabs open. EGIA had to adapt by shortening their sessions and Andy and his team are still experimenting to figure out the right length for their audience.

2 - Question everything about your live streaming production

No, I'm not suggesting that live streaming tools are shady. But I am suggesting that you and I have assumptions about how a live stream will do, how an audience will interact and engage.

And it's important to note those assumptions and challenge them.

We have to learn what works and what doesn’t for the people we're talking to. Here's what I mean...

Andy and the EGIA crew serve home service professionals who sell and install things like air conditioning units. Most of their viewers are busy tradesmen who are used to conducting business in person and doing their learning the same way. Andy can't assume that the same people who raise their hands at a live event will furiously type questions into a chat box.

The EGIA team has learned that they can't assume people will participate, so they've adopted a proactive style to their training sessions. The trainers still ask questions, but one change they've made is to throw questions back at the viewers -- they ask other participants to step in and answer the questions.

Not only does this give a chance for an audience member to show his or her smarts in front of peers, it also means the trainer isn't lecturing his students and he's involving them in the learning.

Before you set up a live stream, ask yourself and your team to write down your assumptions. Then one by one, work through them to find fun ways of testing them. Remember this though - you're not going to get it 100% right and that's 100% OK.

Which leads me to this...

3 - Use fast feedback loops to make your video and live streams better every time

Not every video or live stream is going to be perfect. But your audience isn't going to expect it to be either and they will be much more forgiving than you might think.

Andy told me about a live stream session where they had a full studio setup ready to broadcast when the software crashed last minute. They were forced to run the whole day through a single laptop's webcam.

The result? Glowing feedback from the audience.

EGIA's content was super valuable, so the fact that it was broadcast from a laptop didn't mean anything to the viewers. They were watching to learn something and that's all that mattered to them.

Andy and his team do a review of each session so they can share what worked well and what didn't. For example, when one of the trainers realized that he could get audience members to answer questions from others, the team took that on as a lesson learned. Asking viewers to jump in and help answer questions is now a regular part of EGIA's training sessions and their students love it.

This doesn't have to take long. The important part is that you debrief with your team (even if your team is just you ;) and take a few minutes to reflect on how you can make the next one even a little bit better.

What's the hot take?

Large, live, in-person events will not be the mainstay of business growth that it was even nine months ago. CNBC recently reported that Amazon has saved nearly $1 billion in travel expenses since the pandemic started.

No matter how big or small your travel budget was pre-pandemic, once you figure out how to adapt to new ways of working - in this case, leveraging live online events in place of destination conferences - how likely are you to go back to the old ways?

Video has always been a fantastic connector. Live video, too. Now that more of us have been forced to replace in-person meetups with live streamed video (yes, even Zoom counts) and we can see how much less it costs, I think it's going to be important that we all learn how to do it more effectively. Just like Andy and his team.

Peter Preston

Peter Preston

I'm a Saas marketing manager at ThinkTilt, makers of ProForma for Jira. I'm also the founder of Dear Video, a recovering podcast host, and learning how to grown a brand on YouTube.
Brisbane, QLD