Think about the audience first. The more a planning team considers the experience of the audience, the better the event will be. This means that planners need to think about who is likely to attend, what value they are looking for and what message your organization wants to relay to them. When pivoting from an in-person event to virtual, you might have a lot of the same audience tuning in but you also may need to account for new faces. These are all important factors to consider right at the onset of your planning journey.
As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Pelesko.
Daniel Pelesko is the Manager of Events at eMoney Advisor. He has more than 15 years of event marketing and planning experience. He lives in Skippack, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two daughters.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in North Jersey, the youngest of three brothers. Throughout my adolescence, I was involved in a variety of extracurricular activities ranging from theater to sports, but I have always been more of an introvert. Despite this, however, I had a knack for planning gatherings. I went on to get a Bachelor’s degree from Widener University before I even knew event planning was a career path.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
As I mentioned, growing up, I was always the person organizing parties. However, I never knew that I could make a career of it. So, after college, I started working in marketing. One year, while working at an advertising agency, I organized a holiday party for my team and a mentor of mine noticed how much care and detail went into the event. He was the one who recommended I pursue a career in event planning. The rest was history.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Prior to working at eMoney Advisor, I was with a company called Vanguard Group for 15 years, where I had accumulated most of my event planning experience. There, I learned the ins and outs of planning a webinar (prior to their recent popularization in the digital world). One instance, I didn’t anticipate the number of attendees and the phone line crashed. This put a big damper on the event, but every situation is a learning experience. I look back and laugh about this now.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I am both an avid reader and podcast listener, but I remain a big fan of the classics. My favorite book is “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I am a big fan of the characters and the plot, but, more importantly, no one knew how to throw a party like Jay Gatsby!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Make the most of the time you have. As I grow professionally and personally, it becomes clearer that the amount of time we have is finite. It’s important to spend it doing what makes you and those around you happy and fulfilled.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?
Before I joined eMoney Advisor, I hosted webinars. As I mentioned before, however, this was during an era in which webinars were a pretty foreign concept. Therefore, there was no real roadmap for how they ought to be planned and run. But, this opportunity excited me and I viewed it as a chance to really take ownership. While it wasn’t anything glamorous, planning webinars gave me a great foundation to learn the basics of organization, timing, structure and more.
Can you share any interesting stories about them?
There’s many stories I could tell about event planning failures and the lessons that came after. There was a time I was planning an in-person event and I had organized transportation for a group of senior leaders. The driver asked to use the restroom and ended up getting locked in the building. Given this was after the workday, security personnel wasn’t at the site to help him get through the doors. Needless to say, we didn’t get to our destination on time.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
When evaluating a successful virtual event, I think about how the organization thought about its audience and kept them engaged. eMoney’s 2020 Summit went over very successfully because we spent a lot of time thinking about our audience and how to make a virtual event exciting. In terms of other examples, I think Morning Star also did a great job this year. In addition to their outstanding agenda, they incorporated elements like health and wellness activities and virtual reality.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest mistake I have observed is people trying to replicate a live event on a virtual forum. While we may wish it were that easy, it is not. A lot of people make this mistake by simply not investing in the right tech or not doing enough research on which platform is going to help you accomplish your goals. Planning a virtual event sometimes even requires you to rip up your old game plan and create a completely new one. In the beginning of the pandemic, many event planners had to make the online shift in a short amount of time. Some of those events can serve as case studies for what happens when you are strapped for time and can’t do enough adequate research.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
ON24 is the platform eMoney used for our Summit in October 2020, and it was excellent. Based on feedback from attendees, it was easy to navigate and there were no streaming issues. Other companies have used this platform as well and I would definitely recommend it. That being said, every event is different and might require different capabilities.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
When I think about the tools and software my team used, it really goes back to the basic mechanisms that helped organization and communication. For example, Microsoft Excel was useful for managing budgets and project management. PowerPoint proved an effective method to present information internally and to our audience.
Whenever I am vetting a new tool for potential use, I always source feedback from people in adjacent spaces who can relay their experiences using them.
Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Think about the audience first. The more a planning team considers the experience of the audience, the better the event will be. This means that planners need to think about who is likely to attend, what value they are looking for and what message your organization wants to relay to them. When pivoting from an in-person event to virtual, you might have a lot of the same audience tuning in but you also may need to account for new faces. These are all important factors to consider right at the onset of your planning journey.
2. Prioritize communication. Don’t assume the audience knows what to expect from a virtual event. Make sure that the purpose, value proposition, logistics and expectations are clearly defined. This will set the stage for guests’ experience and make for a far more successful event.
3. Virtual doesn’t mean cheaper — keep an eye on your budget. Many people underestimate the financial considerations of planning a virtual event, but just because there’s no fancy venue doesn’t mean it will be any less expensive. To be successful, you have to invest in the best technology. It seems intuitive, but you’d be surprised how many people go for the cheaper option and feel the consequences. My team and I took the time to research which tech capabilities would yield the best results. We had to reconfigure our budget significantly and it ended up being more expensive, but the result was worth it.
4. Don’t try to replicate an in-person event. As I have mentioned before, planning a virtual event is — and should be treated as — an entirely separate process from planning a live event. It’s imperative to really consider which adjustments need to be made to preserve the integrity of the event while making it work digitally. Some of the key aspects to think about when shifting an event virtual are presentation design, user experience, message delivery and entertainment.
5. Create engagement. One of the biggest challenges on every event planner’s mind this year was how to get people to attend and stay engaged. People might assume that a live event is more immersive, but there are plenty of ways to create engagement virtually. At the 2020 eMoney Summit, we secured a professional chef to give attendees a cooking lesson, entertainment from an America’s Got Talent participant and lots of charismatic speakers who captivated the audience. We spent a lot of time on this piece and I think there’s even more opportunity to bring fun, engaging opportunities like this to our next virtual event.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
As I mentioned before, the first step is thinking about your audience and clearly defining what the experience will be for them. Secondly, start vetting different online forums and making an educated decision on which will work best for your event. The next step should be figuring out your budget. Do some research to come up with a realistic budget that will help you accomplish your goals. After you’ve done this, you should begin to outline how the event will be structured and scheduled.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would really like to inspire a movement to motivate young children to pursue their dreams. In today’s world, it’s easy for young peoples’ sense of self to be corrupted by external factors. It’s also incredibly difficult growing up and finding yourself without a strong foundation. I think it would be great to increase the resources that help the future of our society become more confident, self-assured and encouraged to pursue their dreams and talents.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. I’d like to have dinner with
Jeff Bezos. I’ve followed Amazon from its early days.