P is for pre-production perfection

P is for Pre-Production Perfection

It’s what goes on behind the scenes that creates the on-screen magic

Illuminate 2021 the virtual experience featured A-list speakers, exclusive industry insight, interactive polls, Q and A sessions, prizes, entertainment and loads more. While the half-day corporate travel event was just a few hours long, the virtual experience was the shot in the arm businesses needed to get excited about travel again.

Illuminate’s punchy format and engaging content was no coincidence. The event was meticulously planned and closely aligned with the organising committee’s objectives.

The secret to the event’s success, according to FCM Meetings & Events Senior Producer, Rosie Thompson-Jones, was the extensive work that went on behind the scenes to help speakers and the production team create magic on the day.     

Pre-production work for a big gig, Rosie said, can start as early as 12 months before the event goes live.

Find out what your client wants

One of the first steps to creating an impactful event, whether it’s an in-person, hybrid or virtual experience is to understand what the customer’s key messages are and why they are holding the event.

“The initial meeting with the client is about learning what the purposes are for holding an event and understanding what their key objectives are. Do they want to showcase new products, update customers about processes or talk about industry trends? Or is it a combination of a few things?” Rosie said.

“The primary goal for Illuminate is for Flight Centre Travel Group’s corporate brands to reconnect with their clients, ensure they have market experts and suppliers who can provide important industry and business updates and provide thought leadership on key industry trends.”

Having a clear understanding of what a client wants to achieve will shape the format of the event, the agenda and determine what sort of content or products are showcased.

Designing the virtual experience

Regardless of how an event is being delivered – the goal is to connect with guests and garner an emotional or intellectual response from your audience. For a virtual or hybrid event there’s a few tricks of the trade, production teams will use to create an engaging experience.

With virtual or hybrid events you need to be really tough on content,” Rosie said. “With in-person events we generally allow for 30 minute or 40-minute sessions for speakers and a high-profile keynote might speak for as long as 60 minutes, but with a virtual event where you have people sitting on their own in front of computer screens or watching a screen in a boardroom in small teams – the onus is on production teams to keep content interesting.

“This means keeping the sessions short and sharp. If you only have one person speaking – we’ll keep the session to 15 minutes. If it’s a panel session or there’s a few people on stage, the session might go a little longer. But overall, we keep the agenda succinct with short sessions that give the on-stage conversation pulse.”

Create drama with content

The saying content is king has never been so royally important. And when it comes to a virtual event, the mix of content is event more critical as guests can easily log off with a single click if they’re bored.

“For Illuminate we spent time thinking about how the event would flow in 90-minute intervals to create the first and second legs of the event. Interspersed between these legs was a break where guests could have a bite to eat, listen to music from a DJ, explore our supplier showcase or talk to one of the suppliers,” Rosie said.

“Having the right mix of content is important to keep the audience engaged and interested. This means including different speaker sessions that are interspersed with music, graphics, live content, pre-recorded sessions, audience polls, audience chat, prizes or guest Q and As. With virtual events it’s all about the mix of content … and you have to work a lot harder and get to the point quicker.

“Most of Illuminate’s sessions were quite serious so it was important that we had a bit of comic relief with some jokes and light-heartedness from the MC. We also had a mix of live content captured across two studios, one in Sydney and the other in Brisbane.  As well as pre-recorded sessions that were filmed both in studio and using virtually recording studios in the weeks before the event.”

Lock and load your speakers

Locking in your headline speakers early is a pre-production priority. Once your main speakers and your locknote (final speaker) are confirmed there is more time to flesh the rest of the event out with sessions that add depth to the conversation.

If any of your speakers are public figures it is also important to keep abreast of current news and media.

“You need to keep tabs on all of your speakers leading up to the event. Keep an eye on the news and check out what they’re saying in the media or at other external events they might be involved in. If your speakers have their own platform or are public figures with strong views about a topic, it’s important to have tricky conversations with them early in the piece to ensure they leave the audience with a message that’s aligned to your event.”

Rosie said it was essential to comprehensively brief your speakers.

“Don’t just book your speakers and then leave it to them on what to present. Provide a detailed brief on what is expected from them, what key messages you are hoping the audience will walk away with, what might be helpful for the audience or what they’ll be keen to know. Guide your speakers on how to frame their presentations,” Rosie said.

“With Illuminate we worked very hard in the pre-production phase to help all of our presenters make their sessions jump. For Q and As, it’s about asking the most relevant questions for the audience and for lone presenters giving them a framework to build their points on according to the timeframes they were given.” 

Stakeholder management

Managing the various stakeholders in the lead-up, during and following the event makes up a huge part of the event production remit.

“While content and production are part of my role, an even bigger part of my role is stakeholder management. Balancing the needs and objectives of the many different presenters, event partners, teams, managers, brands as well as the event and production teams is significant. There’s a lot of push and pull to get an event exactly where you need it.” 

But that’s all part of the magic, Rosie said.

“Just because a virtual experience is delivered differently the creation of the event requires the same amount if not more expertise, financial investment and time, to piece everything together, so it runs seamlessly and takes your audience on a journey of discovery.” 

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