We launched a digital sub-brand, Swirl in the Cloud, at the beginning of lockdown. Subsequently, we’ve quickly built extensive experience in running all kinds of virtual events, especially B2B virtual tastings.

Some of these may sound like obvious tips but as Clare Malec noted in our recent interview, people are beginning to separate the wheat from the chaff. Having the capability to run efficient, engaging and professional online events is not something which is going to be optional going forward, even after IRL events recommence. At Swirl we’re very much of a mind that it’s worth doing something right, so here are our top tips to make your virtual tasting stand out from the crowd.

Attention to detail

Simple in theory – but more challenging in practice. We approach all of our virtual events with as much of an eye for detail as any in-person event. In fact, we actually go further as the digital format makes it easy to share more supplementary information for attendees to get their teeth into.

Limit attendees – and then really go to town

We’ve hosted a number of webinars which naturally lend themselves to larger audiences. However, we’ve found that virtual tastings are far more impactful when limited to a select audience, cultivated with as much care as a press trip guest list. With small groups, everyone has more of a chance to engage and have their say – plus, it frees up budget to be able to send everyone a wine or two to taste.

Send samples

As mentioned above, sending at least one sample is the way to go for virtual tastings. We’ve partnered with Sensible Wine Services who’ve been managing this even through the tightest lockdown weeks with their characteristic efficiency. However, if you’re going to send samples it’s imperative that they get to the attendees in time for the tasting. If this means you need to firm up your guest list further in advance than you might like, then so be it. We’ve experimented with sending a single sample (for example a Prosecco tasting) and a range of samples (for example some Wines of Georgia tastings). Be careful to cultivate your talk content so that the absence of more samples doesn’t feel problematic – but either approach works in our experience.

Get interactive

Make time at the beginning to allow attendees to introduce themselves. It allows everyone to feel involved and means they engage more with what follows. Successful additional approaches include asking attendees to present their sample – though do allow room for them to be sent two of the samples in your budget so they’re able to taste the first in advance of the virtual meeting.

Presenter vs. host

The role of the presenter is more important than ever. Virtual tastings are made by having a charismatic presenter who is enthusiastic and wears their knowledge lightly. But we advise splitting the role of presenter and host. Having a dedicated host and moderator enables someone to be entirely focussed on timekeeping, process and gives the presenter a safety net if they run out of steam. The interaction between presenter and host also keeps the tasting interactive and as interesting as possible.

Advance comms are as important as the live content

Clarity ought to be your fundamental concern when planning and executing a digital event. This means considering your comms at all points prior to, as well as during, the virtual tasting. If you use Eventbrite, add your branding and don’t neglect the copy for the sign-up confirmation emails. Make sure to clearly communicate the process of joining the tasting. Give instructions for chilling and serving and samples. We use Releasd, a great platform we already use for PR reporting to ensure that attendees have all the information they need located in one easy-to-navigate place. Check out this example. This enables attendees to peruse the technical and supplementary information at their leisure so they can be fully engaged during the event.

But don’t forget to follow up

Thoughtfully devised post-event follow up is even more important with virtual events than live ones. Even if it’s just a thank you and a request for feedback – make this last piece of contact count.