Event planning – for both real and virtual events

Events are a great source of fresh new leads. They provide true permission-based marketing, bringing potential buyers directly to you. The type of event, however, varies significantly. For example, you may be inviting accountants to talk about tax legislation changes or targeting estate agencies to advise on conveyancing law changes. Alternatively, you may have secured stand space at a national exhibition.

Another variation is whether the event is “real” (at a physical location) or “virtual” (an online webinar). Webinars are delivered over the internet and received by your audience from the comfort and convenience of their own desk. You can reach people who are not based in city locations and you can expand into new markets. You can deliver your message to hundreds of people all at once and cheaply.

A consistent approach to organisation will ensure your events pass without a hitch, nothing vital is missed, your attendee list is healthy and branding is memorable. We recommend a checklist-style approach to event planning.

What are the main checklist items and what does each one involve?

Save the date cards

Which of your lawyers, staff and external speakers are key to the event? Check their diaries for a mutually agreeable date and time, then send a save the date card or email notification advising them to keep it free for your event.

Book a venue or choose your webinar software

For real events beyond the scope of your own office, you will need to liaise with hotels or other conference room venues for availability and quotes. Consider the convenience of the location and the equipment provided as part of the room hire charge.

For virtual events, have you got an in-house system or do you need to research external webinar hosting solutions? Arrange product demonstrations so that you can look at software features, request quotes so that you can compare prices and note contract periods so that you don’t get locked into restrictive, lengthy contracts. Take advantage of any free trials. Citrix GoToWebinar and Cisco WebEx are two key products and there is a lot of useful information about how they work on their websites. There are also free to use systems, if you can cope with the distraction of adverts.

Set your agenda, send your invites and promote your event

Plan the format for the event which may involve an introductory welcome, key note session(s), guest speaker(s), refreshment breaks and more. Set the title and theme.

Your invitations could be a glossy postal mailer or a quick and easy email. Whatever form it takes, ensure it contains full details of the location and timings, including maps, directions or joining instructions and how to RSVP.

Promote your event in your communications, on your website and through public relations. The more people know about it, the better attended it will be.

CPD or non-accredited CPD

To offer CPD hours to delegates, you need to apply to become an external CPD provider with the Bar Standards Board or the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Application forms can be downloaded from the respective websites, completed and submitted along with the relevant authorisation fee. This can be a fairly time-consuming process, demanding that your events meet specific criteria, you obtain feedback from delegates and maintain details of each CPD-accredited event held with attendee lists for a 2-year period. You will also be subject to routine monitoring.

For a trial event, it may be better to promote it as non-accredited because a percentage of barristers’ and solicitors’ annual CPD activity can be gained from unaccredited events.

Brief your internal contacts

Produce an event brief and circulate accordingly, reminding them of the earlier save the date communication. The brief should also be submitted to any guest speakers.

For real events, the brief may include a dress and behaviour code so that you look like a unified team, rather than collection of individuals. This doesn’t necessarily mean a 2-piece suit with matching ties. If the event is casual in nature, the code could be something like casual black clothes.

For an exhibition event, the attitude of your stand staff is critical. They shouldn’t be reading a newspaper, working on the laptop, chatting huddled together, talking on a mobile phone, eating or drinking. They should be energetic, enthusiastic and attentive, as your next big client could come along at any time. Schedule regular breaks and possibly introduce a bit of gentle competition (eg person who logs the most leads wins a bottle of champagne).

For virtual events, submit housekeeping rules such as requesting use of the mute button. Someone coughing or tapping away on their keyboard (or worse, yawning!) in the background is very distracting.

Exhibition equipment or software testing

For real events, work out what type of equipment you will need. It could be a nomadic frame with interchangeable graphics, an easy to assemble selection of roller banners or a fully built shell scheme incorporating plasma screens. You may need tailored graphics specific to the event and extra lighting to avoid dark spots.

For virtual events, familiarise yourself with the webinar software by setting up dummy webinars with colleagues as attendees. Resolve any technical hitches well before the live date. Make sure you know how to link with speakers or panellists, show PowerPoint slides, set up polls and surveys, provide email notifications and upload photos of hosts or guests.

Establish a backup plan in case your laptop crashes during the live event!

Arrange the logistics – collateral and other materials

For real events, it’s now time to arrange the logistics for your marketing collateral, including any delegate packs. Does your existing stock satisfy the requirements of your event? Do you need any new items produced? Are any print levels of your brochures, newsletters, case studies etc running low?

What about other merchandise such as giveaways, prize draws, stationery items, name badges and lead forms? Do you need to transport furniture, IT, multimedia and electrical equipment? Food and drinks for refreshment breaks, possibly from caterers?

PowerPoint presentations

Even veteran speakers get nervous before presenting. A well-planned, structured presentation will go a long way to helping you feel prepared and banishing those pre-event butterflies. Or your PowerPoint may be needed for a rolling demonstration on a plasma screen.

Even if your event is virtual, PowerPoints can be presented in much the same way as for a real event. They provide an easy way to display and share information. Some webinar platforms even give you the flexibility to drop out of PowerPoint at any time and share whatever is on your desktop, such as a website or document, which gives participants something different to look at.

There are three important factors to consider when creating your PowerPoint – design, content and delivery.

Design. The template should be branded so that your chambers or firm is recognisable from first glance. A PowerPoint is a visual medium so images are important and should correlate to the words on screen, thus reinforcing the message. Use special effects sparingly.

Content. Keep it short and punchy. Use the notes section of the PowerPoint for detailed content as a speaking prompt. If you cram loads of text-heavy slides into your PowerPoint and simply read the words on the screen, your audience will switch off. Check the accuracy of your content.

Delivery. Don’t be a slave to your PowerPoint. The best presentations are conversations, not monologues, so build in lots of opportunities for audience participation. Ask questions and invite questions from the audience. Speak loudly and clearly, just as you would in court. Maintain eye contact with audience members.

And then have a trial run and refine your presentation accordingly.

There’s more besides

Your preparation may need to consider other, equally important, items: objectives and measurement metrics, accommodation, travel arrangements, insurance and contingencies to name a few. All these fine details make a big difference.

Turn up, enjoy and follow up

For virtual events, join early, say 30-45 minutes before you’re due to go live. This way, you can make sure everything is set up, the speakers are logged in, the audio sounds good and the slides are in position.

For their part your participants will need to follow the link within their email registration notification to log onto the webinar system. Generally, they don’t need to download any software beforehand. It’s just a straightforward process of linking through to an online platform.

If you have the ability, record the webinar during the live broadcast. You can use this later.

It doesn’t end when you’ve said goodbye to the last stragglers or logged out of your webinar software. Plan follow-up activity to respond to any leads generated, thank people for attending and say “sorry you couldn’t attend” to those who didn’t. For virtual events, you could send the recorded webinar to non-attendees and post on your website or social media if appropriate.

You may even like to remind delegates of your next event planned!

Catherine Bailey is Managing Director of Bar Marketing, specialist marketing consultants for the legal profession. They are also experts in event planning!

Email catherine.bailey@barmarketing.co.uk.