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Virtual Insanity

The rush to virtualise events as the world has grappled to deal with the global pandemic is evident from the deluge of blog posts, social feeds, and webinars that are currently flooding the internet. Even for those of us that consider ourselves “tech-savvy”, the learning curve in terms of the products available and which one will best serve our requirements has been insane. We are being bombarded with information, ideas, and solutions. It’s simple; ‘If you are connected to the internet and your remote attendees can get online, then you’ve got everything you need to host a virtual event’! But is that fact or fiction, because as most of us have discovered, at one crucial point or another, not all internet is equal and if physical events can have hitches, then virtual events can most certainly have glitches.

You wouldn’t be satisfied if your main stage, or live feed was blurry, with audio fading in and out, so why settle for anything less than perfect for your virtual event, when it is a simple thing to fix. According to some quick-fire research, the tick list for a great virtual event includes finding the right tool or online platform, making your content unique, engaging, and relevant, inviting inspiring speakers, setting your space; the list goes on. However, there is one crucial element to this that rarely even gets a mention…. the internet connection, and not just yours.

In the old world of live events, the internet connection for a live stream, guest, and press would have been provided by a dedicated, enterprise-grade link with a backup connection installed that would kick in seamlessly if there was a problem. Surely then, your virtual event should be afforded the same consideration when it comes to connectivity, and not left to the mercy of key speakers and delegates alike, joining virtual events on a whole host of different internet connections. Local networks vary massively in terms of quality and consistency and this can spell big trouble for the overall success of your event. If the CEO of the brand you’re hosting the event for, suddenly disappears halfway through their presentation the whole virtual exercise could be a complete waste of time and money.

The problem of varying quality internet connections is also compounded by the local network at the user’s home. For example, usually on a Monday morning, the connection is fast and reliable, but since lockdown, there is an extra load on the network with gaming consoles, Zoom calls, and other homeworkers taking up valuable bandwidth, causing connections to slow down. During a typical physical event, the network QoS is strictly monitored, different users are pushed over dedicated bandwidth and prioritised based on their importance to the event and any issues can be quickly resolved by the onsite network team but who does the keynote speaker call now when their connection fails?

This is where careful pre-event planning and testing can help make a difference. In the days leading up to the event, the internet and local network of all key stakeholders should be thoroughly tested. This can range from running a series of speed tests on the same day and time of the actual event to having an event WiFi expert dialing into the network remotely via the user’s laptop and checking both LAN and internet performance. If required, you can even have a dedicated connection installed at the speaker’s home. As well as this pre-event testing, a live support function is also an excellent addition to your online event infrastructure. This could be via chat bubbles on the event homepage, dedicated IT helpline, remote dial-in support, or a combination of all three.

Of course, budget is always a consideration, but if you have already invested the time, effort, and expense of designing and producing your perfect virtual event, then investing in its technical viability seems a small price to pay.

Posted 15th May 2020