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What is a Virtual Press Conference & How Can I Successfully Plan One?

9 tips to rock your virtual press conference

A virtual press conference is a news conference conducted using online internet tools to connect an organization’s newsmaker(s) and working journalists with audio and video for real-time interaction without the need to be in the same location.

These days, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic when travel is restricted and in-person events are discouraged or forbidden by authorities, public relations professionals face a dilemma: how do we conduct media briefings, new product launches and other important news announcements during these restrictions.

Many PR pros are finding they can achieve their media relations objectives, get their news out, facilitate interaction between their subject matter experts and reporters, and actually do it at less cost than before – by switching from an in-person live press event to a virtual press conference format.

Virtual press conferences come in all shapes, sizes and formats – from small media briefings to large formal product introductions – and they have several advantages that can yield benefits to both the hosting organization and the media.

Virtual press conferences can offer multiple benefits, in that they:

  • Enable some “face-to-face” interaction and a chance for the speaker to share visual cues and expressions that help in communication, that is lacking on pure audio conferences;
  • Reduce costs over in-person events by eliminating facility and catering costs;
  • May result in greater media attendance, especially from reporters from other countries and time zones that would not normally find it easy to attend an in-person event in your locale; and
  • Offer enhanced efficiency, since participants eliminate travel time and expenses top attend the event.

And, because most of the more popular virtual conference platforms allow the host to record and archive the video virtual meeting, you can do a post-event follow-up email with a link to the archived event. This will deliver your event directly to journalists (and guests) who were unable to attend the event “live” due to other commitments or schedule conflicts.

This also enable participant to go back to the replay to capture quotes and sound bites.  

While there is no perfect substitute for a well-executed, in-person press conference, and they will always have a place, the virtual press conference is a good substitute during the pandemically challenged times we’ll face for the foreseeable future.

So, if your organization needs to conduct a media event to get your big news out over the next several months, here are nine tips for making your virtual media event successful:

1. Choose the right video conference platform – There are numerous options available to you. We recommend you consider the functions you need, such as chat, screen-sharing, sharing of files, polling, integrated invitations and follow-up emails, number of participants, ability to record, and other factors.

The more popular platforms – such as Zoom, GoToMeeting/GoToWebinar, RingCentral, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex – tend to be easy to use and by now, most media will be familiar and comfortable with them. (For ZDnet’s review of best videoconferencing platforms, click here.)

2. Get your invitations out early – Reporters have indicated that despite less travel, their schedules are more hectic and disjointed than ever. Send a save-the-date email a month or more before your event to help them protect your time slot, followed up by a detailed invitation two weeks or so before that enables registration  (and solicits any special requests) and then send occasional reminders leading up to the event.

It helps to send out a final reminder the day before your media event that features the link to your virtual event and any last-minute instructions.

3. Make sure your presenters and moderator are hard-wired for optimum connectivity – Assure that your presenters connect to the video platform with a hard-wired connection to high-speed robust internet service.

We suggest that presenters go to their corporate office for the best possible connection during the conference …rather than risk relying on slower, weaker and less stable home Wi-Fi service. (To test your internet connection speed click here.)

4. Use an experienced moderator or master of ceremonies – Nothing can tarnish your virtual event like clumsy handoffs, awkward silent periods or fumbling with platform function. To keep your event moving smoothly and professionally, use a skilled facilitator that is comfortable at controlling the videoconference platform, at moderating question-and-answer session, and in steering the conversation.

If you don’t have such a person on your staff, your PR agency should be able to provide or recommend a capable, experienced moderator.

Your moderator can control whose microphones are on and off, can ask participating media to leave their questions in the chat window, and can call on reporters with questions during the live Q&A session to keep things orderly and organized.

5. Schedule some extra time into your virtual event – If your event will have 30 minutes of live comments, schedule 60 – 75 minutes for your event, so that reporters will protect enough time to be able to participate in the entire Q&A session … and perhaps stay after for a one-on-one discussion with the presenter.

One-on-ones after the formal Q&A can be the most important part of your event for some of the best journalists.

6. Coach your presenters in advance – Help your presenters get comfortable with using the chosen video platform. Help them optimize their performance – yes, it IS a performance – by coaching them on the appropriate camera angle (not too high or too low), proper lighting, external microphone, sound proofing and other factors.

You may want to purchase and experiment with  an external microphone (for microphone reviews, click here), video light and other equipment in advance to make sure their presentation looks and sounds professional.

Make sure you coach your presenters to turn off any other laptop/desktop programs or applications and silence their mobile phones prior to presenting.

7. Conduct a tech check – Leave nothing to chance when it comes to technology glitches. At least one week before your event, conduct a basic tech check with your presenters using the exact same location and equipment they will use for the actual event. If the sound or video is bad, you’ll lose your audience.

Test your internet connections, laptops, lighting, microphone, setting and background to make sure everything works as intended. Look for potential problems with ambient noise or disruptive activities that might interrupt your event.

A tech rehearsal can help you eliminate things that might detract from the presentation – such as a squeaky chair, glare from reflected sunlight, a wonky microphone, etc. – and allow you ample time to make any needed corrections or improvements.

Establish an alternate location with a different power and internet service source, as a back-up in case of any last-minute problems at your presenter’s office.

8. Plan to share materials – Use a Dropbox (or similar file-sharing application) link to share your virtual press kit materials (releases, fact sheets, images, videos, backgrounders, biographies, etc.).

Have your moderator mention that the link is available in the chat box and post the link immediately following the presentation in the event’s chat box, and again in any follow-up emails to reporters.

9. Test your connections just prior to your actual event – Plan for the unexpected and check the internet connection an hour or so before the event. In the unlikely event of a power or internet outage, this will give your presenter enough time to move to your “Plan B” alternate location.

While most of us will be conducting press conferences virtually by necessity rather than by choice for the next several months, they will likely become a common tool in the post-pandemic PR toolkit, especially as the technology advances and executives get comfortable with it.

If you would like more insight on conducting virtual press conferences, please email us at bianchipr@bianchipr.com.

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