This, right here, is what a totally cool virtual event looks like… With screenshots! (obviously)

Virtual events are happening. Everyday. Everywhere. They may not be perfect, but they are definitely working — creating experiences that are real, funny, and actually kinda cool. We took a look at 3 big events — the DNC, Comic-Con, and WWDC, and made some notes on what really popped off of the screen.

The Democratic National Convention

Natural, and maybe a little surreal (in a good way).

Two men standing outside, with a Rhode Island Landmarker. Caption: "Our state appetizer, calamari, is available in all 50 states."

 The “just do it outside…”

Standing on a beach, with a masked chef holding a giant plate of calamari. That’s all it took for Rhode Island to steal the show during the delegate count at the DNC’s virtual event.

It was visually interesting — the chef, the calamari, it was all unexpected and slightly surreal to the eye. But it was also completely natural. The natural thing to do during these times is just bring everything outside, whatever it is you need, even the calamari. You probably wouldn’t do your whole event outside. But maybe a segment or two. The lighting will be good. The weather might even be good. It’s safer for everyone. And what you end up with will be something visually unique, a little surreal, and maybe even an unintentionally viral moment.

GIF of DJ floating up out of Frame in front of a green screen displaying the White House and a psychedelic sky

The green screen afterparty…

At the end of the DNC Diplo DJ’d a virtual afterparty for everyone at home. The visuals were psychedelic, Rick and Morty-esque animations, superimposed behind The Whitehouse. It was surreal, funny, catchy, relatively low budget (aside from the Diplo budget). And Most importantly, it felt like something to talk about. To unwind with. The best virtual event afterparty isn’t a rock show, it’s a conversation starter. The moment your event ends, everyone at the virtual event is already at the afterparty (AKA home). It’s a dedicated audience that stuck it out to the end and is probably looking to chill out and make new friends. All you need is good tunes and some green screen fun to make the most of it.


Organize your talking heads. And don’t fear the close up. 

GIF of 5 men talking on a virtual call

The talking heads need structure… 

People go to Comic-Con’s moderated discussion and Q&A segments to listen to creative gold from actors, writers, and basically any type of artist they admire. It’s on a stage. It’s live. There’s back and forth and surprises, and there’s a moderator keeping everything on track. To help recreate this vibe, Comic-Con offset the moderator to the left, while the panelists remained on the right. Now, this may seem like an insignificant adjustment, but with 5 talking heads on a standard zoom feed, it’s really easy to lose track of who’s leading the discussion, or what you planned to talk about, or even what day of the week it is. Offsetting the moderator gives the virtual event panels a narrative structure that’s easy to understand. Someone on one side asks a question. People on the other side answer. And this keeps going. And everyone can just sit back and enjoy the show. 

Close up shot of a woman wearing sunglasses

The close-up…

Virtual events put people closer to the presenters than ever before, really close. We call the above shot the “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids” shot. YouTubers probably prepared us for this, Tessa Netting, pictured above in her cosplay segment for Comic-Con, is in fact a youtuber and actress. And as with many youtubers, they have the uncanny ability to speak directly to their audience (something we all want to do at events). So don’t be afraid to get closer to the camera. Think of your virtual event as starting a youtube channel. No-one starts by going viral or getting 100k followers, they get right up to the camera and just start talking. And it’s the closeness, and the candidness, that does the rest of the work.


Sci-fi. And a really good slide show.

GIF of a man speaking while standing behind a desk with a computer

The Bladerunner shot…

 At Apple’s first fully virtual WWDC event they recorded a few segments from some pretty sci-fi looking digs. In particular, there was a blue-hued development lab complete with a polished chrome chair and all kinds of bits and bobs and circuit boards. It felt like at any moment a robot could walk in and make a cup of coffee. These shots were undoubtedly cool and impossible to replicate, but that’s what Apple is. That’s the apple life. No one is going to make a virtual event that looks like Apple’s. But, if you have a cool space. Cool equipment. Any cool contraptions that you work with that people would be interested in. Use it. And show it. Because a virtual event might be the only time to do it. And this was also probably the only time we would see into Apple’s crazy blue rooms.

lines of code on screen with snapshot of a man's face in the bottom right corner

The Apple slide show, plus…

In addition to Apple’s epic blue rooms, the bread and butter of the WWDC event was slides. Really clean slides. Oftentimes these slides were animated, with in-screen footage, recorded video, sometimes even talking augmented reality faces! But at its heart, it was another one of Apple’s top-notch slide presentations. A slide presentation can be comforting and informative. It can even add some drama. Steve Jobs pioneered creating drama around slides with pictures of new products. A virtual event may be a chance to reinvent and get creative, but never rule out the highly polished and dramatic slide presentation. Apple hasn’t.

OK! You’re ready to go virtual. No really, you are!

No doubt virtual events are a step into the unknown. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from this, it’s that all you’ve got to do is make the most of what’s right in front of you. And yes. That includes the camera on your laptop. But it also includes the great outdoors, green screens, slide shows, and most importantly, an open mind to whatever feels right. Just create an easy, comfortable space, virtual included, and good, funny, and real things will happen. What else could you want?

September 3, 2020

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September 3, 2020

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