Failure to Launch: Everything We Learned From Hosting Two Unsuccessful Virtual Events – Event Marketer

Failure to Launch: Everything We Learned From Hosting Two Unsuccessful Virtual Events – Event Marketer

Failure to Launch: Everything We Learned From Hosting Two Unsuccessful Virtual Events

If you’ve been in the event business long enough, you’ve probably got a couple of painful “fails” on your resume that you’d rather forget.

There are the “epic” fails, like when a demo crashes and burns at a pivotal moment in the multi-million dollar launch event. There are the A/V fails, when the sound or video craps out with a high profile speaker on stage. And then there are the fails that may not be quite as noticeable to attendees, but that haunt your dreams nonetheless (you know the ones).

Virtual event failures are not new to the event landscape. But 2020 has brought new focus to the digital conferences and experiences that were once “add-ons” to the hybrid events of the past decade, but are now the only events of our pandemic era. Indeed, the stakes are higher now than ever before for virtual events, and when some part of a virtual event fails in 2020, often the entire event is a failure as well.

cisco-live-2020_teaserRead More on Virtual Event Pain Points:

When the U.S. went into quarantine in March, we at Event Marketer jumped headlong into digital events with a series of panel discussions featuring a wide range of perspectives from all across the industry. These were discussions we knew the community wanted, and we wanted to help make them happen.

On the day of the event, and after a thorough technology rehearsal with my panelists the day before in which everything worked as intended, I clicked the “go live” button on the platform (we used Crowdcast), and then waited for the green light indicating that we were live. Needless to say, despite multiple attempts, getting dropped from the platform and calls to tech support—we never went live. All we could do was watch as more than 4,500 people from all around the world, who were clearly excited to “see” and connect with one another for the first time since the world turned upside down, were confused and disappointed. A few people even compared our virtual event to the Fyre Festival—ouch! (And also, come on.)

Our second virtual event was called the “Virtual Event on… Virtual Events,” and if you think the irony was lost on us that our own virtual event—on virtual events—ultimately failed, you’d be wrong. We got it, and we got it good.

The problems on this one ranged from massive registration issues that prevented more than 1,000 attendees from getting in, to problems with the chat functionality, to our sessions running one on top of another, and more. In this case, we got through the first of seven sessions planned for the day before we decided to call it quits, ultimately offering the entire event on demand afterwards (the platform was 6Connex, and in fairness, we have since held several successful webinars and events on the platform without issue).

While no event marketer can solve for the backend technology issues that ultimately plagued us, and have plagued many of you across the industry these past few months, we do have a few tips that we have employed at subsequent events that can help you reduce the chances of being part of a virtual event that fails to launch—or at least reduce your blood pressure if it does. Here’s our punch list:


Ask your platform provider to send you “server health” updates the day before and the day of your event, by the hour if necessary. These updates can give you a heads-up if they’re experiencing a high volume of traffic or other issues that can impact your virtual experience. One of our providers sends us a red, yellow or green light indicator. If we’re on yellow prior to the event, we’re on the phone with the platform’s team and troubleshooting, and we’re poised and ready to address problems should they arise.



Ask your platform provider who else is having an event the same day you are. We found out after the fact that Twitter was also having an event the same day as us for more than 10,000 attendees and that ultimately impacted our provider’s server bandwidth at the moment when our attendees should have been logging in.



A clearly outlined document explaining what happens if the event is not working properly and who makes the decision to pivot or ultimately cancel the event is critical. Email communication is too slow for virtual events. A Slack channel or group text with all critical team members keeps everyone in the loop in real time.



You don’t want to be figuring out what to say to your attendees in the heat of the moment when you have to postpone or cancel the event. Write allllll the copy you might need in the days before for every possible outcome so all you have to do is cut and paste.



The universal law of virtual events is this: If the event doesn’t work in the first 15 minutes, it’s over. (Or, at least, that session is over. You can still try and salvage a day-long or multi-day event.)



It goes without saying that backup plans are critical for any event, but in the virtual space, it can mean having a completely different technology solution lined up. We hosted our Ex Awards virtual gala on 6Connex but were prepared to push the entire thing to YouTube if we had to on a moment’s notice.  All of the testing for that pivot was done in advance and the email for that scenario was pre-written as well.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to use it—this time.

Photo credit: erhui1979


This story appeared in the August 2020 issue
Jessica Heasley
Posted by Jessica Heasley

Jessica worked for more than 15 years in marketing and events before joining Event Marketer in 2007. She earned her master’s degree from t he Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and her bachelor’s from the University of Washington (go Huskies!). Her last gig before coming to Red 7 was at Psychology Today magazine. Her proudest professional accomplishments include fixing a branded 1972 VW bus accelerator pump on the side of a highway in South Carolina with a paper clip and some string the night before a 30-city college tour; convincing Dr. Laura that she wasn’t writing a piece about lusty event marketers having lurid affairs on the road (which she kind of was); and, while at an independent film dot-com called AtomFilms, using about fifty bucks worth of chocolate chip cookies and a couple gallons of milk to lure film festival attendees away from Steven Spielberg’s (now defunct) big budget “Pop! Multimedia” booth to her company’s tiny living room event space. Although she is a native of Seattle, she never once owned an umbrella or rain boots until she moved to Brooklyn, where she currently resides with her husband and daughter. She was born in Everett, WA, home of the pulp mill.
View all articles by Jessica Heasley →

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