Lessons from the NFL Draft on Hosting Virtual Events

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What we learned about hosting virtual events from last night's NFL draft
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The NFL hosted the much anticipated 2020 draft last night. It was the closest thing most of us have had to a live sporting event in over a month. After the NFL hosted a simulated, test draft early this week that suffered many technical glitches, many were worried that a virtual draft may not work. But it went well with very few technical problems, though less drama from trades and surprise picks than some would like. At Taoti, we have been helping our clients with their virtual events for the last six weeks and as we watched the draft, we were also paying attention to find some things we could learn from the NFL.

Your backdrop matters

One of the highlights of the draft was getting to see the homes and home offices of the players and general managers. They ranged from the opulent and well-staged to the basic and disorganized. While you can read the whole breakdown of the best and worst backdrops on the Ringer, we want to note the importance of the camera angles and backdrop size.  Some teams tried to print backdrops to add professionalism, but the backdrops were too small, or camera not close enough leaving a cheesy, underthought look. A nice home office or bookshelf would have been better.

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Make sure to ask questions to specific panelists

In the most awkward moment in last night’s draft, host Trey Wingo tells a story about one of the players while six panelists are shown on the screen. Wingo ends the story without a question or directing the conversation to any panelist leading to six solid seconds of totally dead air and was forced to pick up on his own. When hosting a panel online, it is important to always name who should speak next. While this can feel a bit cheesy with handoffs that feel like the local news (And now to Ken to talk about next steps!), it is far better than dead air or people talking over one another.

Don’t forget sound quality!

The NFL was clearly looking for ways to add fun without a crowd full of fans. They prerecorded fans that were added to NFL Commissioner Goodell’s screen as he read the draft picks. While it was far from perfect, it did add some fun and was a solid attempt at engaging their fans. I thought it was particularly interesting how the piping in crowd noise made the presentation more fun. While it is hard to match the production value of ESPN, adding introduction music, or adding applause or cheering may add to your virtual event.

Adding a philanthropic component is good PR and the right thing to do

The NFL added in a heavy dose of Coronavirus focus videos and pitches to donations for relief efforts. For people worried about their event feeling out of touch, adding a call to donate to help first responders or a foodbank both helps a great cause and keeps the event feeling culturally sensitive to the time that we live in.

Embrace the idea of working from home

With so many people working from home, the NFL chose to embrace the chaos of working at home. The kids of coaches and GM’s regularly made appearances as their parents worked. While we want our events to look great and pretend our kids are not fighting in the next room, people have empathy and we are all in this together. I appreciated the NFL leaning into this fact and think events can learn by breaking down the “work from home” wall. You could have people bring their favorite coffee mug to an early event with prizes for the best, have a breakfast briefing event and encourage people to brunch and learn or have a “bring your pet” happy hour to encourage networking.

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How can we help?

Taoti Creative can help with your organizations’ challenges and execute your event. This includes technical logistics, sponsorship integration, event promotion and live production, among several other services. Yes – your organization’s virtual event can be even better than an in-person event and we are here to help you make that happen.