How to Plan a Virtual Press Event

If there’s some good to come out of a global pandemic and the world embracing virtual events, it’s that this has simplified the planning process for many events that would typically take place in person. While some events do not transition well to an online format, others have proven that this was an excellent model all along – we just needed to be pushed to try it. One such example is press events. Don’t get me wrong, I still value the traditional, in-person press events – such as press conferences, ribbon cuttings, panel discussions, and more. However, I’ve also seen virtual press events executed in a way in which they are well-attended, engaging, and inclusive. Because it’s as simple as joining a virtual meeting from your home office, so many more people can be involved. And this, of course, attracts more media coverage! If your business or organization is considering hosting a press event, keep reading to learn why offering it in a virtual format could add value and simplicity.

First, define the format and agenda.

When planning a virtual press event, you need to first pick the technology platform you plan to use. Obviously, the big ones are Zoom or Webex. Let’s assume you’re using Zoom. It likely makes the most sense to do this in a panel format where only the people you invite to be panelists will be able to turn on their camera or mic. All other attendees cannot be seen or heard, unless that permission is granted. This ensures your agenda will run as planned without interruption. 

Then, think through how the event should flow. What is the agenda? You may want a series of participants to speak. Will you need a leader to act as an emcee for the event? Then, will you open the event up to the media to ask questions either by voice or by chat? Another option is asking the media to submit questions in advance. The more you can iron out upfront, the smoother your event will flow.

Second, determine who will participate.

Next, you need to determine the key players who will have an active speaking role in your event. What order will they speak in and for how long? Map out your minute-by-minute agenda to be sure everything fits within your desired time frame and also so participants know how much time is allotted for their remarks. Once you determine who will participate, you should also include this in your media advisory. Prestigious or influential participants will gain more media attention for your event.

In determining who should participate, you’ll also want to anticipate the number of attendees. You may want to open your event up to a broader group of people beyond just the media. Be aware of the limits your technology platform sets for number of attendees. If you expect a large number, you may need to upgrade your subscription to accommodate the press event. Be sure to do this well in advance to avoid any chaos on the day of your event!

Third, create (and test!) the tech infrastructure.

One of the biggest benefits of hosting a virtual media event is that you can easily do a rehearsal of the event. Because you’re not asking everyone to go somewhere in person, hopping on a Zoom meeting is easy and accessible. Plan to test both your technology and run through your agenda several days before your event. This allows you to work out the kinks before you have an audience. And believe me, there will always be things you identify and wish to change! You should also go over “best practices” with your participates. This includes when your camera and mic should be on, proper attire, proper backdrop, and ensuring they know how to do things like change their name on the screen and access the chat feature.

Fourth, spread the word…again…and again.

Invite the media and any other attendees by putting together an invitation or media advisory that includes all the essential details: who, what, where, when, why, and how. You can also ask people to RSVP in advance for the event. In doing so, you will know how many people to expect and be able to send them a secure link to join the meeting. This prevents anyone who should not attend from doing so and gives you a solid list of the media who will be covering your event. When sending out your invitation or media advisory, be sure to follow up at least once with a reminder. Not everyone will respond the first time, but by following up you’ll keep it top of mind closer to the event.

Fifth, make it easy to participate. 

And finally, don’t make it complicated for attendees to access the link to join the meeting. Send this as soon as they RSVP. Better yet, send them a calendar invitation so when they accept it’s on their calendar which will serve as a reminder. You may even wish to send out a reminder email to all those who have RSVPed just before the event begins to the link to join the meeting is at the top of their inbox. And I can’t overemphasize testing the link as soon as you create it and the morning of the event. If you can’t join the meeting, it’s likely your attendees cannot either! Avoid this chaos by testing and retesting your links and technology to ensure a smooth start to your virtual press event. 

Could your business or organization benefit from media coverage? If so, a press event is a prime opportunity to earn the media’s attention. Keep in mind that if you hold an in-person event, you can still offer this as a live stream or virtual model, with the right technology in place. Providing both options will allow more people to tune in, resulting in a wider spread of your message. 

What do you feel are the pros and cons of hosting a virtual press event? Do you agree with the points above or have something different to add? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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