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The 2020 Allie Awards & The Challenges of a Virtual Event

  • -Brad Gibson, Director of Marketing and Business Development, Active Production and Design, Inc


2020 has seen our Full-Service Audiovisual Production company shift from live event after live event to primarily producing Virtual Events. The reasoning is solid, large gatherings are a BIG "No" for most people during this time of a global pandemic. While Virtual Events will never replace the energy and atmosphere of a live event, this is our safest way of gathering people to hear a universal message with some sort of interactivity. Like all uses of technology, producing and delivering a Virtual Event comes with its' fair share of challenges. This is why having an experienced production team is paramount in the success of a Virtual Event. And there is no better example of this than the 2020 Allie Awards, which were delivered virtually on August 23rd, 2020.

Active President Matt Clouser delivers a message of Solidarity early on in the Awards Presentation.

The Allie Awards, if you are unaware, are a ceremony that highlights the best events in Georgia from the previous year. Disciplines range from Catering, Audiovisual, Planning, Décor, and several other awards that celebrate Event Industry Icons. This years' ceremony was slated to take place at Zoo Atlanta's brand-new Savanna Hall on March 22nd, 2020. This was of course right when we were given isolation and shelter-in-place directives so the event had to be postponed. At that time the event was postponed until June, as we had no idea what 2020 would bring. As June approached, we knew that this live event wouldn't be happening in 2020, so the decision was made to host the awards virtually. Easy pivot, right? Well… that all depends on how you want to produce a Virtual Event. The Allies Committee (of which I am Vice Chair) had an ambitious plan to get all planned presenters and acceptances while keeping the entire awards portion pre-produced and the winners a secret.

Food and Beverage Chair Kelli Swint and Awards Chair Ashely Hess film their segment for the Awards. No heels needed!

Pre-producing your Virtual Event content helps to keep technical mistakes low and offers a more polished product on the screen of the attendees. You can ensure that every line is delivered effectively and know exactly what the message will look, sound, and feel like. With the Allie Awards, we worked with our Production Chair and the entire committee to schedule presenters in pairs in a way that kept the people in the Active Studio to a minimum and followed strict health and safety precautions. To say we marveled at the commitment of all participants would be an understatement. We were able to get nearly everyone who would have been on stage at the live event in front of the camera for the virtual event. Now the tricky part, how do you keep the surprises of the winners with so much of the content being pre-produced? The committee worked with EVERY nominee to send in an acceptance video as if they had won their award. Only the Active Video Team and Awards Chair would know which acceptance video would be edited into the final product. It was a labor of love, the hours were long and the time was TICKING AWAY. We were right up to the week of the Allies making sure our content captured the feel of the Allies and was seen as a great message of solidarity for our Event Industry who has struggled like so many industries in 2020.

If you're still hanging with me here, I want to break up this story to show you a brief and hilarious clip from Wayne's World that adequately shows what producing a Virtual Event can be like... 


Ok, moving on to THE DAY OF THE SHOW. It's early the morning of the show and we're fine tuning the streaming platform, we've done our test streams and we're putting the last day-of touches on everything. It all goes swimmingly, and then 2:45PM rolls around and we're off and running! The pre-function DJ is playing and people are on their webcams at home and at viewing parties having drinks and catching up. It was nice to see so many familiar faces. Now, we're coming up on time for the awards and Active is already starting the stream to the virtual "Stage" where the awards would take place. Then (I feel like I'm telling a campfire ghost story right now) the stream is getting an error message when trying to connect to the stage. They try again, and again, and again. Error. Error. Error. Now we're immediately chatting with their customer service and it is time for the awards to start! We are learning that this service does weekly maintenance on Sundays and there was a patch problem with streaming to the stage and they can't fix it in a timely manner. We were never informed and now we're in a virtual pickle. We do have a backup plan with the Awards ready to stream from another site, because technology is technology and it doesn't always work the way you practiced it. At this point we're coming up on 15 minutes past when the show should have started. At a live event, holding doors for 15 minutes is not typically a big deal, and is often expected. At a Virtual Event, when you're staring at your screen 15 minutes feels like 2 hours. At just about 13 minutes, I ask if the stream will connect to the pre-function that we were just in. The tech team confirms that yes it will. So we corral all the virtual people at the virtual stage back to the prefunction room for the awards! And it works! Whew! 

This is only a portion of the setup of a Virtual Event...

Now that brings me to another challenge of hosting a Virtual Event. Nearly every attendee is streaming the broadcast from their own computer. And each person has a different relationship with technology, has a different internet connection, varying speeds, and varying qualities. Immediately when the awards start I am being bombarded with messages that the sound is not right or the video is blurry. Now on my end, from my personal computer, everything was crystal clear. And some attendees were also saying on their end this was no problem. This is probably the biggest hurdle in producing a Virtual Event. And although we didn't really change anything on our end, after a few minutes everyone said that the problem was fixed. This is most likely that the stream had stabilized on their end, so that was good. After that the Awards were given out, the production went merrily along and it was a big day for many of Georgia's finest Event Professionals. We then streamed LIVE to an after-party DJ who kept the party going with on-demand tunes and attendees partying on their webcams.

The event did what it was intended to do, bring Event Professionals and their supporters together for a celebration. It doesn't replace a live event, but it did bring some solidarity to a tumultuous year, and there were heartwarming moments, funny moments, and moments where we got to "oooh" and "aaah" over the talent and creativity of our industry. As of now, the Allies is scheduled to happen LIVE next March at Zoo Atlanta, picking right back up where we left off, only this time I guarantee the appreciation for the event and our colleagues will be exponentially greater.

If you would like to see the Awards Presentation, check it out below! 

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Saturday, 26 September 2020