Six Ways to Take the Oscars of Tech Virtual: Lessons Learned From Planning the 2020 Mira Awards Gala
Plans were well underway for the 21st annual Mira Awards gala to be held at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis when COVID-19 hit. Like so many other organizations, our grand event plans were thwarted. But TechPoint isn’t like many organizations. Tech is in our name, and leveraging it was a natural pivot.
With virtual Mira Awards in the record books, we thought we’d outline our process for those who are now in the same boat we were in earlier in the year. Use the following step-by-step recap as a guide from our exceptional Events Team to yours.
There will be glitches
Once the decision to go virtual was made, we alerted our sponsors, nominees and the tech community at-large that the Mira Awards had a new date and format. Next, we connected 1:1 with all sponsors to share how the promised sponsorship deliverables would translate to a virtual platform. Even with the shift, 98% of our secured sponsors remained onboard and a few new sponsors joined. We then set out to determine the best virtual platform to meet our needs and vision–#BeBold!
From the start, we knew we wanted to keep a large part of the broadcast live. We wanted our winners to find out they won during the show and give their acceptance speeches just as they would at a live event. Capturing those genuine reactions was critical. This meant we had to sacrifice some control and introduce some risk. When you’re depending on technology, you have to accept there will be glitches. It’s how you deal with those glitches, and how intentional you are about the entire attendee experience that determines the success of the event.
Think like a TV producer
- Choose your platforms. Determine which components will be live, which will be pre-recorded, and how attendees will engage during the event. This will lead to which tools you choose to utilize (i.e. Zoom, event apps, etc.).
- Include engaging transitions and colorful visuals. Music, lighting, CTAs, ballyhoo and pre-recorded videos will keep your program interesting and fast-paced.
- Condense your overall program and shorten your segments. People are already dealing with Zoom fatigue, and this is supposed to be fun! There is no reason to spend the same amount of time in a virtual program as you would in person.
- Incorporate entertainment elements that involve attendees. When pivoting from an in-person event to virtual, you lose the face-to-face interaction an in-person event provides. We were intentional about showcasing attendees in a virtual format so guests could see each other. This was accomplished in a few ways: we created a TikTok opening video featuring Mira Awards nominees; and multiple Zoom rooms were spotlighted on our large LED backdrop screen; we connected with SongDivision to write a song in live-time summarizing the event, winners and acceptance speeches.
- Select your pre-recorded content wisely. Only use pre-recorded content that adds value and tells a story–don’t use it as filler.
Bring the event experience into guest homes
- Party packs. We mailed an “event in a box” party pack to 1,100 sponsor and nominee representatives’ homes. These packs contained gifts, our printed program, and fun elements and props to be used during the broadcast. They afforded the opportunity to provide sponsor recognition and appreciation. We were happily surprised by the pre-event excitement and social media play these shipments generated. It may have helped that the boxes were very pretty and were a statement piece themselves.
- Personal award deliveries. Virtual events can take away personal and heartfelt congratulations, and Mira is known for being an exciting night full of personal interaction. We weren’t willing to sacrifice that. So, we made personal calls to winners right after the show ended, and house calls the next day to deliver their awards. This gave the opportunity for a brief face-to-face interaction, photo opps, and another chance to celebrate their win on social media.
Maximize the virtual experience through digital media
Being virtual does have an upside in that we could layer in creativity with a major social media play. It’s not polite to have your phone in your hand while at an in-person black tie gala, but a virtual event invites and encourages that! Our Communications Team worked to build a landing page chock full of opportunities to engage before, during and after the broadcast.
The payoff was huge with over 120,000 total impressions and over 4,000 total engagements on social media. Further, on the night of the event, our hashtags #MiraAwards and #BeBold were the top two Twitter trends in Indianapolis and #MiraAwards was the top twitter trend in Indiana. Our digital activation included gifs and stickers, a virtual photo booth, social media sneak peeks and challenges, a landing page and a downloadable program to follow along during the broadcast. We even took this opportunity to set a follower goal for the night for Instagram. With a captive audience already posting on the platform and using our creative elements, we exceeded our goal and drew in new and engaged followers.
Virtual is the perfect opportunity to be more inclusive
For the first-time ever, we opened the event to the masses via live stream. This allowed our sponsors and nominees to include broader teams, family and friends, and it paid off. Our typical 1,400 in-person gala garnered an audience of more than 5,000 across all platforms.
Ultimately, we learned that virtual can be really fun
Going virtual allowed us the opportunity to shake things up and put a fresh spin on our typical event format and really let us live out our Be Bold theme. Being among the first to host a virtual event of this size, we found our audience was grateful for the chance to be together as a community. They gave us grace when the glitches appeared. With the help of amazing vendors and partners like Markeys, Print Resources, Paethos, etc., we were able to provide an upleveled attendee experience and celebrate the impressive work of our nominees and winners.
Virtual may not have been our first choice, but we’ve never been afraid to embrace technology, to be bold and to try new things. We encourage you to do the same.