Jun 25, 2020 by zkipster Editorial Team

Watch Online: Case Studies for Successful Virtual Special Events

Watch our Global Roundtable with more than an hour of hands-on tips and advice from event pros about recent virtual event successes

With real-life events waiting in the wings, an entire trade is trying to crack the virtual code. What seems to work for corporate mixers turns out to be a complex challenge for special events and galas.

For this roundtable discussion, we convened a discussion with Bryan Rafanelli, Lincoln Center’s Tamar Podell, The Business of Fashion’s Michael Alshooler, and virtual event expert Brian Fanzo to learn from their online successes. The conversation lasted more than an hour, and covered tips for virtual galas, how to engage smaller groups and breakout rooms, when to use live and recorded video, overcoming content fatigue, and much more.

Thank you to all the panelists for a great discussion, and the hundreds of viewers who tuned in and contributed thoughtful questions.

Key topics from the panel discussion:

Good hosts are just as important at virtual events as they are at live events. One common concern can be around the ‘Zoom bubble’ and guests finding it difficult or awkward to start conversations compared to a live event where it’s easy to turn to your neighbor and start chatting. The solution, championed by Tamar Podell and Bryan Rafanelli from their recent events, is to make sure that each session, group, or virtual table is assigned a host who is chatty and charismatic, and can help get conversation flowing and guests speaking up. Even at a main event, where guest interaction may be more controlled than in a breakout session, a good host who can manage the energy and flow of an event is a critical asset when all attention is on one screen.

Throw out offline limitations for online presentations. Digital futurist Brian Fanzo said it, and all the panelists agreed – thinking of online problem-solving in terms of offline solutions is an easy trap to fall into, and can limit your creative toolkit. Don’t be afraid to lean into technology solutions or approaches that wouldn’t work in a live setting. For example, if you normally have 40 tables of seated guests and couldn’t schedule VIP hosts or sponsors to visit every table in person, a virtual event opens that up as a new possibility. And on the flip side, just because a problem is digital doesn’t mean it’s brand new – Bryan Rafanelli pointed out that, practically speaking, dealing with guests who signed up using the ‘wrong’ email address isn’t much different than dealing with guests showing up unexpectedly at the door in person.

Event teams, especially with non-profits, will need to tap into a different kind of talent pool. According to Tamar Podell, we’re not as adept in the areas we need to be, as an industry, to fully take advantage of the new tools and hurdles that a virtual landscape presents. So that means prioritizing new kinds of digital skills and roles. Michael Alshooler echoed the sentiment by pointing out that content and Zoom fatigue is a very real phenomenon. People are saturated with all kinds of content being pushed on them, and events need to get around that by bringing the community element in, and making sure guests have voices and ways to participate, not just passively consume – even if it means reimagining your event format.

For further reading, panelist Tamar Podell and her team generously created a behind the scenes guide for the Global Roundtable community on how they organized Lincoln Center’s recent Connecting for Culture virtual gala. Panelist Brian Fanzo also posted an in-depth analysis of the Virtual NFL Draft event, with 15 key takeaways for virtual event planning.



Bryan Rafanelli

Bryan Rafanelli is a creator, convener, and storyteller. Over the course of two decades, Bryan’s passion for storytelling has manifested itself in Rafanelli Events, a full service creative strategy and events firm, best known for its customized approach to every project and commitments to intention, design, and unparalleled service.


Tamar Podell

Tamar has led Lincoln Center’s fundraising staff for 19 years, where over $50 million is raised in contributed income annually from individuals, corporations and foundations. Previous leadership roles in development include at 92nd Street Y and Central Park Conservancy. A graduate of Clark University, Tamar holds a Master’s Degree in Social Service Administration from Columbia University and recently graduated from Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Exponential Fundraising.


Brian Fanzo

Brian Fanzo is a digital futurist keynote speaker who translates the trends of tomorrow to inspire change today. His customized and personalized programs showcase real-world stories and examples of forward-thinking people and businesses. He teaches companies of all sizes how to leverage technology in real time in order to engage their customers at the right time. Brian has a gift for bringing people together online and offline. He has worked in 76 countries, highlighting his passion for change, collaboration, and technology.


Michael Alshooler

A born and raised New Yorker, Michael has spent his career creating innovative experiences and campaigns across the global fashion and luxury industries. After years of success in the agency world, he joined The Business of Fashion as the Global Head of Experiential, launching initiatives such as VOICES and BoF Live. He is a senior leader known for his open, strategic, collaborative, and transparent mentality.