Back in Spring 2020, I realized that my signature retreat, which was projected to take place in the Fall, would need to be reimagined. With so many of my client events being postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19, I was loath to do the same for my own event, which I had hosted for the past 3 years. Hence began a new plan that would take several months to emerge.

By enrolling in PCMA’s Digital Event Strategist on-line course, I was able to create a digital strategy for the event and ultimately weave in unique experiential aspects that were integral to the success of a virtual retreat. Here are some of the winning tactics that I chose to implement:

1. Design appropriate content for the digital event. Topics were aligned to the theme of wellness and self-care and embraced various aspects from mindset & rhythmic reframing to sound nutrition. Fourteen sessions were created for the day-long event with an average duration of 25 minutes each. Digital experts agree that shorter sessions are key for successful virtual events.

2. Reach out to potential sponsors as early in the planning cycle as possible. Since many companies were adversely affected by the pandemic, this became even more crucial.

3. Partner with exhibitors who could round out the programming and/or donate products to the delegate event kit. Programming elements included an essential oil demonstration, making a smoothie, and a sound healing session.

4. Choose a trusted supplier for the assembly and shipping of the event kit. Angela Koshman from pcnametag was very collaborative throughout the process. She ensured that all the products were safely packed in the kit (a wine glass was one of the offerings), the labelling included all the exhibitor and sponsor logos, and that the event kits were delivered to the delegates’ homes, which were all across Canada! The event kit, which was made possible through the generosity of exhibitors, consisted of meaningful items for a wellness retreat such as protein shakes, herbal supplements, essential oils, a malal bracelet, and coupons for discounted or free services.

5. Promote the event early and often. I showcased select speakers and exhibitors via Zoom interviews that were recorded and then posted those interviews on LinkedIn and Instagram. The original footage was given to Chris Noble from Noble Productions. Chris ensured that the Health Care Event Planning branding was incorporated, added music, and a call to action for each video. I believe that a professionally branded product was testament to the commitment for excellence in the design and promotion of the retreat.

6. Ask your suppliers, exhibitors, sponsors and speakers to share the videos and other event posts on their social media networks.

7. Include innovative elements to the virtual event. It was fortunate that Agata Jakuszko from Draw the Words sponsored the graphic recording for the retreat. She graphically represented the major takeaways from each session. It was very entertaining to check in with her throughout the retreat to see her unique digital drawings and added another engaging element to the day.

8. Ensure that your speakers are comfortable in a digital setting. Rehearsals were an integral part of this process. This included sound & connectivity checks, lighting adjustments and camera angle tips.

9. Choose to prerecord certain sessions. Because of possible internet connectivity delays, I chose to prerecord a video of a singing performance which enhanced the quality of the session.

10. Delegate the production aspect to professional event planners* who can assist with dry runs, script finalization, creating & launching polls, monitoring the chat box, and adding website information about each speaker/facilitator right after their session. This will free you up to run the show while ensuring the smooth functioning of the event.

At this point, I am unsure whether next year, the retreat will be offered in a live or hybrid format. However, these tips will continue to serve me well in the planning and execution of experiential events.

*Thanks to Nichol Turner, DES; Nickel Concepts Event Management and Sharda Sukdeo, BA, CMP; Eventures – event professionals extraordinaire!

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