This week on the show I’m joined by the wonderful Janet Murray to talk about how to produce a virtual live event successfully.
Janet Murray is the brains behind Sorted 2021, and she helps entrepreneurs, coaches, and creatives build and monetise their online presence. She’s a podcaster, author, and speaker who has spoken all over the world about content strategy, marketing, and building online audiences. And she’s also the creator of the media diary, a content planning tool for coaches, consultants, experts and entrepreneurs.
What You’ll Learn?
[2:50] Why did Janet Murray make the decision to produce a virtual live event?
[7:39] How does Sorted Live usually run?
[10:19] When did Janet start booking the live event?
[12:21] How did Janet think the virtual event worked out?
[18:16] How did Janet convince people that this would be different from other online events?
[23:29] Was Janet nervous about hosting a virtual live event?
[31:48] Why did Janet decide to use different platforms?
[36:09] How important was the back-up plan and schedule to the live event?
[40:44] How important is it to have a team?
Why Did Janet Make the Decision to Produce a Virtual Live Event?
Listen at [05:16]
Like many event organisers this year, Janet Murray had to make a decision...cancel or postpone her live in-person event.
But those two options just weren’t good enough. So, she went all out to create what I think was the best ever live virtual event. And she hired me as the event producer.
Together, we planned out the two day event with multiple keynote speakers, interactive slides, videos, and in more.
How Does ‘Sorted Live’ Even Usually Run?
Listen at [14:54]
Sorted Live is usually an in-person, annual content planning event, which has been running in different formats for five years. It was looking like they would have around 400 attending the event this year (up from 150 the previous year).
“Basically, everybody comes together at this content planning event to plan their content for the next year”
The keynote speakers were supposed to be travelling to Newcastle where the event was due to be held, in the Hilton Hotel.
"People were starting to book their hotels and get excited for travel and a few days away. And then COVID happened, and it became quite apparent that it was not going to be able to happen the way it was planned."
Janet took the huge decision to run the event online and it ended up being bigger, and better than expected, with ten keynote speakers.
When Did Janet Start Booking the Live Event?
Listen at [20:14]
Before deciding to take the event online, Janet had already sold 150 tickets at the previous year's (2019) event. Plus she had booked some of the speakers and the venue.
"Obviously, it's planned at least a year in advance, but the actual donkey work of pulling it together and selling tickets is normally from around three to four months in the run up to the event."
People don’t realise the leg work that goes into filling a room for an event, even if that’s is a virtual room. But selling tickets for events is one of the hardest things, so you’ve got to put in the work.
How did Janet Think the Virtual Event Worked Out?
Listen at [24:18]
"I just thought it was amazing. As you know, I am quite self-critical. I'm not somebody who usually finishes an event and goes on and that was amazing. I felt like the overall experience and the learning that went on was actually better than you would get at a live event. Because people really put aside the time so that they could really focus on it."
Once it was decided that the event was running online, Janet realised that she had to make it bigger and better than ever before. It was important to hold people’s attention, which would be challenging after a year of zoom fatigue.
Janet realised that they had to do something to emulate the real-life experiences and conversations that people would get when they attended an event. So, they created level up sessions - and booked a panel of speakers and a host for each session.
"I realised that the bit people were really going to miss with the socialisation. So we created these level up sessions, and I booked a panel of speakers for each session and a host. We picked topics that are the kind things you end up talking about in a coffee queue or over dinner like: how to deal with copycats and trolls, dealing with mental health and getting paid on time. That sort of thing."
In the end there were three tracks with different events. Sometimes live in-person events can be a bit distracting, but people really took the time out to focus on learning.
"I was completely exhausted at the end of it, but there was something really nice about running it from my own home."
How Did Janet Convince People That This Would Be Different From Other Online Events?
Listen at [36:08]
With zoom fatigue at an all-time high, Janet had her work cut out of her to get people excited about attending the event. But as a positive person, Janet wanted to turn the lockdown and pandemic into something productive.
"I'm a big believer in putting the elephant in the room. I knew what people would be thinking and saying. But I just felt like people needed this."
Janet turned people’s objections into fun marketing tactics to encourage them to attend the event. This is not a succession of dreary zoom calls, became the mantra for the event.
"Let’s face it, what else are we going to do. Are we going to sit at home alone, or try and create a really great event."
Janet has spent years building an audience via social media and podcasts, so people trust her and are willing to invest their time and money in the vision that she created.
Ultimately the event was the same, or better as the in-person one. It was all about delivering their 2021 content plan.Let’s face it, what else are we going to do. Are we going to sit at home alone, or try and create a really great event. @jan_murrayClick To Tweet
Was Janet Nervous About Hosting a Virtual Live Event?
Listen at [46:34]
It’s always nerve-wracking hosting an event, especially when it’s online and anything can go wrong.
"I always tell people that I’m nervous. It's like the biggest icebreaker in the world. But I was really nervous, particularly about the tech side of things"
In order to ensure that the day ran smoothly Janet put in palace multiple contingency plans - back-up of backups.
She took insurance out and had back-ups and recordings of all of the events to ensure that if the tech did go down, that people would still get the content that they paid for. Plus she gave away loads of free content that would usually be an event upgrade, to ensure everyone felt like they were getting lots for their money.
"My biggest fear was that the internet would go down!"
Hiring me helped to ensure that the content was professional, investing in an upgrading kit helped ensure that everything ran smoothly on the day. You get what you pay for.
Why Did Janet Decide to Use Different Platforms for the Event?
Listen at [03:12]
Normally, all the learning takes place in one room together. However, keeping people engaged was going to be a challenge, so they had to utilise different platforms to allow for keynotes, break-out sessions and socialising.
The event was restructured to help people concentrate and get the most out of the event.
The first day was a fringe day, with speakers who could help the guests reach specific content goals. It allowed people to pick and choose what would be important to them and their business.
The second day was the day when the content plan would be made, so there were a few keynote speakers, but it was mainly Janet teaching them how to build their plan.
Attendees were encouraged to attend what they wanted, and keep up their energy. Everything was available for recordings.
"It was just about acknowledging that two days is quite intense online. And a lot of events try and pack too much into that, then you end up feeling exhausted"
How Important Was the Back-up Plan and Schedule to the Live Event?
Listen at [11:54]
Having back-ups of back-ups was crucial. And everything was scheduled down to a tee - including the speak times.
"I've had that awful experience in the past where speakers have gone overboard and I’ve practically had to drag them off the stage. It’s never a nice place to be and online it’s a bit harder"
So, it was scheduled minute by minute, and rehearsed to ensure that nothing ran overtime and people were never left waiting. The team were so glad of this, as it made sure they knew exactly what they had to do and when.
How Important Is It to Have a Team?
Listen at [21:04]
If someone is putting on an event like Sorted 2021, then they need to have a team behind them to ensure that it runs smoothly.
"If you haven’t done an event before, then there is no need to jump to the big ticket item right away. Do a masterclass or something smaller before jumping in."
For Janet it was really important that everyone knew what their job was and when they had to do what.
"There’s so many moving parts to an event, people get so confused."
The team has to anticipate all the things that will go wrong and know who will be in charge of those things if and when they do. This involved multiple rehearsals with the team and keynote speakers.
Janet mapped everything out on Asana, there wasn’t much they didn’t think of.
This Episode's Sponsors
This episode is sponsored by Content10X and Restream
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Who is Janet Murray?
Janet Murray helps entrepreneurs, coaches and creatives build and monetise their online audience,
She is a podcaster, author and speaker who has spoken all over the world about content strategy, marketing and building online audiences.
Janet is also the creator of the Media Diary - a content planning tool for coaches, consultants, experts and entrepreneurs.