Take a Bow - Producing and Planning in the Theater of Virtual Events

By: Diane Devitt
It’s all showbiz, kids, it’s all showbiz.  

The mad rush and drive to stake claim for a digital presence didn’t escape meetings, events, exhibits and most forms of communication. In a blink, planners became producers and through ever-adapting production technology created space for their events on the virtual stage before their coffee got cold.    This new landscape demanded learning and adapting new skills, and developing technology for the neophyte and the seasoned pro because the show must go on. I believe that challenges are the fuel for creativity and yet, I suspect that many of you do not appreciate the challenges faced as logistics continue to play supporting roles to technology.

A few years ago I coined the phrase “Theater of Events” (Meetings, Exhibits) relating to all aspects of real life (f2f) interaction, as there is a direct dichotomy not only to the progression of the event but to the functions of the event manager and stage manager that is growing closer day by day. Whether you like it or not, companies must continue to re-think how to manage a team for on-site logistics and virtual production all while seamlessly appearing in control to the audience, the participant. Planners new and old will decide where their talents lie, while companies must recognize that a logistics engineer is not a digital producer. And that real life events are one expertise while live theater and virtual/hybrid events demand a different skill set with production and broadcast mentality.

Here is a little food for thought about the correlation of in person events and theater/film:
In the industry, the experiential / production companies always used the term Show. Planners used Event or Meeting or Conference as the umbrella word. Now, the entire event is a Performance more than ever, with the three distinct stages of pre, onsite, and post having more prevalence than before. 

Like anything deliberately planned or produced, it is not what you plan or produce, but how. I often cite the Four Pillars of Event Management – Time, Human Resources, Finance and Technology as guidelines since they all have relevance and important roles to play.   
  1. Timing:  How long are the segments?  Are the times varied to keep attention?  How are you using technology for effects and control?  Are you coordinating digital timing with physical and what are the related actions to be taken, i.e. if there is a physical break, is there a digital at the same time? If physical attendees are being fed, has there been an effort to deliver or send virtual attendees a coupon or meal or snack? This is more than the wine-tasting event for all.
  2.  Human Resources: Hybrid demands more rehearsal time, meaning more labor. Having staff to plan, rehearse, recap and coordinate is critical to a successful event. The shortage of trained staff as we onboard new talent presents challenges to the most seasoned pro.  Or does it?   For over 20 years, I have ‘urged the merge’ of advertising, public relations and marketing to integrate more and more with meetings and events.  Perhaps now is the time more than ever for these disparate, yet identical, groups to come together under one mission, to deliver a message.   We are all playing on the same stage, after all.  
  3. Finance: There is a big misunderstanding out there that virtual and hybrid meetings cost less.  Okay, they do in certain areas, but as broadcast demands increase and quality of production elements increase, so will the production costs related to the meeting.   Production companies need staff, trained talent and equipment to keep up with the demands of quality broadcasts.  Someone has to pay the ticket price for these investments.
  4.  Technology: Where do I start? This is the reason you read this newsletter. It seems like yesterday (or more like ten years ago) when Covid hit in March 2020. Unbeknowst to me, I was one of the first producers to jump in and produce a series of shows for the industry. I was compelled to use the medium, digital technology, to educate on legal, finance, security and other areas as the industry fell into quicksand. An industry icon, and digital pioneer, Mary Ann Pierce, founder and creator of MAPDigital and MetaMeetings tm, jumped in with me – the first series are like silent movies compared to the latest films we watch, but we did it, we all did. I continued the series and presented a plethora of topics still available today – enjoy them!
What’s the bottom line and how do you keep up with it all? Remember, that you have a show to produce, an experience to deliver to willing participants, to a hungry audience who want to be motivated, stimulated, educated. It is up to you to think creatively to enhance this experience. 

And, I’ll remind you, to count to three, take a bow, and, above all, remember It’s All Showbiz, kids, all showbiz.