As countless groups and organizations have discovered in recent months, shifting from in-person to a remote event is no walk in the park. Pulling together a fully virtual or hybrid event that allows some in-person attendance requires a thoughtful, integrated strategy. Read more about how Catholic High School made the pivot to a virtual event during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
Timid truly fails to describe anything in 2020. Instead, it proved to be a year of pivots, painful decisions, tough calls and the occasional leap of faith. For well established organizations with strong traditions and tried-and-true annual events, many of which they depend upon for fundraising, 2020 posed significant operational challenges. At the same time, 2020 quickly became a year for innovation, experimentation, new ideas and discovering new skills.
Catholic High School for Boys found all the above to be true when it came time to plan for its 25th Annual Alumni Dinner. School leadership knew that crowded dinner tables for 600+ alumni for the annual homecoming and awards celebration were out of the question during a pandemic. Instead, they turned to Ghidotti to learn how to host a virtual event that stands out and celebrates their proud traditions in a way that would make both their Rocket alumni and current students proud.
Remote Event Planning
The first tip to remote event planning, particularly when you’re pivoting from a well established in-person event to a virtual event, is to realize that it still takes a lot of work. Maybe you don’t need to worry about catering, but you still need to make sure you engage with your key audiences just as well as if you had the opportunity to sit down beside them. You also need to identify what pieces of the traditional event make sense to carry over and which need to go on hold until another time.
In the case of Catholic High School for Boys, the annual Alumni Dinner was far more than a dinner. In addition to bringing alumni back together inside the school, the school wanted to celebrate three key annual awards: two Honorary Alumna awards and an Alumnus of the Year award. The event includes an annual “State of the School” address from Principal Steve Straessle. Knowing they wanted to keep those key experiences, we were able to build out a run of show for a virtual event and use that as our remote event planning guide.
Pulling All The Pieces Together
Once we knew what would be included, it was time to pull it all together. In order to give the sense of returning back to walk the halls of Catholic High, Alumni Director Steve Aday from the class of ‘02 recorded a point-of-view video walking up to the school at night and exploring the halls briefly before walking to the gymnasium where the dinner typically would have been held.
For the awards, just announcing people’s names is nice, but lacks the desired impact of seeing them there in person. At the same time, it’s hard to surprise someone if you need to specifically invite them to a socially distanced virtual event setting without explanation. Instead, the team at Catholic High recorded video as Father Fred surprised staff and teachers in their classrooms as he presented them with the awards. The result was genuine moments that we would be able to share with the alumni audience.
With all of the pre-recorded videos in place along with some dedicated graphic cards, we were able to begin prepping for our live broadcast that would be timed to align with what would have been the traditional alumni dinner event. In that same sense, email invitations with links to view the live virtual event were sent to alumni.
How to Host a Virtual Event
With all the pieces in place, we gathered at Catholic High early to set up for the event. We had arranged site visits ahead of time to solve any logistical issues, like ethernet port access for the strongest internet speeds, lighting and space limitations. Even if you’re familiar with hosting a virtual event, it’s important to set up early to ensure you have plenty of time to solve any unexpected issues.
In order to create the most dynamic virtual event experience possible, Ghidotti built a setup that consisted of five independent video sources routed through a dedicated live switching device so we could easily transition from one to the other:
- One high quality main camera for the main speakers
- One wide-angle camera to give a sense of space and support speaker transitions
- Several still slides for transitions, branding and key information
- Four recorded video clips uploaded to our live streaming service to play during the live event
- One dedicated computer to stream a much longer video highlighting the experience of Catholic High’s class of 2020
To ensure the highest quality experience too, we provided multiple lights, including a dedicated backlight for our live speakers. We also routed a professional microphone that could isolate the main speaker’s voice while minimizing echo in the large, empty gymnasium. Then, with everyone there early, we walked our key people through the run of show so they knew where to go, when to speak, when a recorded video was playing, etc.
Finally, the Ghidotti team used dedicated software to live stream the event to multiple video platforms. In the case of Catholic High School for Boys, that meant Facebook Live and YouTube, allowing as many viewers as possible to participate. Setting up those events and advertising them early also meant that alumni, families and current students could register to be notified once the live event began.
In the end, Catholic High’s virtual alumni event reached more than 2,400 people and earned waves of kudos from alumni and current students alike for keeping the school’s traditions alive in high style. We were able to raise a total of $39,309!
If you haven’t already, be sure to watch the full event above to see the final product and feel free to contact Ghidotti for ideas on how to pivot your next in-person gathering to a virtual event that you’ll be proud to share for years to come.