By: April Wood
I hate to begin a blog post by talking about how COVID-19 has changed the communication industry, but to write a blog about “normal times” feels disingenuous. Public relations and other communication departments are rapidly adapting to communicating at a time of uncertainty and illness. A particularly challenging aspect of public relations during the pandemic has become apparent to me in the last few months: event planning. All of the relevant skills remain, and a new set of often unintuitive skills is becoming necessary for many event planners.
As Important as Ever
- Writing and Design – The tone of writing you use and the style of design you implement depends on your audience. These are foundations of public relations. Writing and design will always be necessary skills in this field, even and especially in event planning. If you do not communicate your event and its intentions well, no one will participate.
- Contingency Planning and Being Flexible – It is inevitable that something will go wrong the day of your event. Take time BEFORE the event to create a list of things that might possibly go awry and devise a contingency plan for each of them. If and when something doesn’t go as expected, you have a solid plan for how to handle it that can be tailored to fit the issue perfectly. A crisis that could spiral out of control is stopped with minimal damages.
- Organization – Planning for a virtual event still requires careful organization using traditional event-planning measures. Guest lists need to be compiled, invitations sent out, registration organized, plans established and executed, and so much more. Do not assume that you can just hop in on a call and your event will go off without a hitch. That would be like assuming that if you give everyone a time and place to meet that the event will just happen naturally. “Planning” that way will only lead to disaster.
- Event Scripting – I’ll admit that this one is more of a grey area. It is an old skill applied in a new way. Usually, you would have an itinerary in the program you hand out at the event that outlines the order of events, in addition to a more in-depth one that lays out the timeframe of each section of the event. When live video enters the mix, however, it gets a bit more complicated. Depending on the type of event, you may want to play a number of videos, present a PowerPoint, and also have some live content. Your files need to be clearly named and ordered and a script should be developed to tell you exactly what order they are played and at what times. Delays in getting videos or presentations started will delay your whole event and throw off the schedule for the night.
Skills of Emerging Necessity
- An In-depth Knowledge of Your Broadcasting Program of Choice – The program you choose to host your meeting is a critical component of the event-planning process. It is like selecting your venue and support staff for an in-person event. Choose one that you are familiar with, has a good reputation, and is user-friendly. If you are not particularly adept at technology, take an online course on the program or try it out in advance to experiment and get comfortable with its use. Take the time to learn the program and host a dry-run with your fellow planners to locate any potential problems and resolve them before the event.
- Troubleshooting – Be prepared to handle technical difficulties if they arise the day of the event. These problems will likely be both on the host’s side and on the virtual attendees’ side. This means doing research beforehand on possible technical issues and their solutions as well as having someone available on event day to monitor the chat, email, and social media pages for attendees who may report issues. They can only be swiftly resolved if they are swiftly identified. When it comes to event planning, today’s public relations professionals must learn how to provide technical support in addition to their usual skills.
This is clearly not a comprehensive list – I’ll leave that for the academics -, but it serves to give you a realistic picture of what you can expect to undertake in order to get your event off the ground.