Have you ever felt so stressed out and overwhelmed by a task, or by a suddenly out of control moment, that you were paralyzed with anxiety? You didn’t know what to do next and so you froze up like a deer in headlights? Those kinds of stress-inducing moments are normal and occur to all of us. The issue, though, is what if those moments are occurring every day? What happens when we are experiencing stress, not as a once-in-a-while kind of thing, but as an all-day kind of thing? What toll is that taking on our mental health?
How do we manage our stress and anxiety so that throughout our days we feel good and focused, and we’re able to operate at peak performance?
That’s what we’re going to explore in today’s episode of The Virtual Event Strategist Podcast.
I was once running a virtual event where the event started on a Wednesday morning and it wasn’t until that morning that attendees were given access. The virtual event platform automatically sent a welcome email to several thousand registrants early that day, letting them know that the virtual summit would be starting soon, and giving them each a unique link to join the event.
Those links were important. Rather than use a username and password system, this particular virtual event platform controlled access to online events through tokenized unique links. Each link could only be used by the intended registrant, in a single tab, so they couldn’t be shared or duplicated in any way. An ingenious way to ensuring access to an event, particularly if it’s a paid one, is controlled.
There was only one problem.
On that morning, when that automated email went out to thousands of registrants to give them each their own unique link to sign into the event – the only way they could access the event, mind you – the links didn’t work. As folks started to wake up and excitedly click click click their event links, they were broken, and no one was able to log into the event.
It was a complete disaster just as I was waking up, excited for the day ahead. As I saw the emails and social posts start to come in from registrants, reporting that they were unable to log in, I felt an overwhelming wave of anxiety and entirely out of control…
Organizing and hosting a virtual event is a stressful activity under any circumstances. It’s a huge task with many interconnected parts and responsibilities, often tackled by people who have amazing talent and vision and capability, but lack experience and resources which would make the project easier to accomplish. And we get to add to that burden a looming deadline because once we set a date and start promoting our next virtual event, changing that date is not a decision to be taken lightly.
That’s why the first four episodes of the Virtual Event Strategist Podcast were designed specifically to help you with the inevitable feelings of overwhelm and anxiety we all feel when starting a virtual event project, particularly if it’s your first time. So if you haven’t yet listened through those episodes, I promise that will be well worth an hour of your time.
You will feel better.
But we also have to be honest with ourselves. The circumstances of the last few years have made everything harder, haven’t they? There’s been greater pressure to perform and succeed at our work, with less relief outside of work.
That’s particularly hard on professionals like event planners. Whether it’s your full time job or just a part of your job from time to time, planning a virtual event is not a nine to five gig. Because you’re facing a deadline, often juggling contacts and vendors across multiple timezones, and managing a project with layers and layers of tasks, you should expect that during a certain part of the planning and execution phase, there’ll be late nights and weekends where you’ll need to work. That’s not always the case of course, but to hit our goals, work-life balance often has to take a hit for a while.
When you add to that lockdowns and the constant bombardment of negative news and information, without the easy escapes we used to thoughtlessly enjoy like going out with friends, we’re talking about the very real increase of stress without relief. It’s no wonder that 88% – nearly nine out of ten – event planners that PCMA talked to in a recent survey said they feel exhausted. 78% said they felt negative about their job, and most of them reported that it was due to work/life balance.
So let me help you with that.
By the end of this episode, you’re going to have a number of options available to you that you didn’t have or didn’t realize you had before. You’re going to write these down or bookmark this episode’s show notes so that whenever you’re feeling stressed, you can turn to these ideas and tactics as reminders of what you can do. Pull out your notebook now, future you will thank you. Because when you’re in the midst of a panic attack, it’s so much easier to deal with when you can look at a Standard Operating Procedure for virtual event mental health that you’ve already put together, and start stepping through the tactics to make you feel better immediately, rather than spending your already exhausted resources trying to remember something you heard on a podcast months ago.
We’re going to talk about how to maintain or improve your mental health while you’re planning your next virtual event, whether that’s days or weeks away, and then what you can do during the event itself. You’ll have less anxiety leading into your event, and far less stress during the event itself, leaving you feeling so much better about everything afterwards.
Let’s get started.
Preserving Mental Health While Planning a Virtual Event
Preserving your mental health and sanity when you’re planning and executing your next virtual event is mostly about being mindful of your mental state and circumstances, and being proactive in how you care for yourself. If all of this is new to you, you’ll no doubt improve your overall mental health, which means you’ll be calmer, more focused, and more capable than you’ve ever been before!
Mental Health Personal Check-Ins
Start by scheduling a five minute personal check-in every morning. Ask yourself how you are feeling, what needs are or are not being met currently, and if there’s anything on your mind that might get in the way of work. In an article, Social Tables points out that habits like these are easier to implement and maintain if you link them to an already established routine. So prop your journal up next to your coffee maker or set a calendar reminder for when you first sit down to check your email in the morning.
You may know by now that I’m an Evernote fanboy… Evernote is my second brain, and is where I do all my writing, whether that’s blog posts, podcast scripts like this one, or journaling. If journaling isn’t already a habit for you, it will be new and uncomfortable and you’ll question it. That’s ok. It’s a good thing to wonder whether we should do one thing or another. Imagine what a relief it will be though when you constantly have an outlet for your thoughts and troubles, and when your mind has been freed to focus on the goals you want to achieve, and what it will take to get there.
That’s a large part of what journaling will do for you. Commit to the task of journaling for five or ten minutes every morning for 30 days. After a month, it’ll be a habit and you’ll have experienced the benefits for yourself, which might also include brainstorming and capturing all kinds of ideas and information you might have otherwise forgotten about. And that’s why I prefer Evernote. As an app, it’s on all my devices, so I’m never looking for a special notebook or pen, and the notes are all instantly accessible to me at any time. If I had ideas about something I’m working on, whether that’s the virtual event or something else, it’s easy to copy and paste them into Asana or Slack or wherever I need to action it.
The next habit I recommend developing revolves around quality sleep. While poor mental health can adversely effect our ability to get a good night’s sleep, the reverse is true too. If we do not get sufficient, quality sleep, we can become irritable, moody, and we will handle added stress poorly. “Just like our electronics need to be charged, sleep may recharge or reset the brain to optimize functioning,” says Elizabeth Blake Zakarin, a clinical psychologist at the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders.
Determine exactly how many hours of sleep you need to feel well rested in the morning and build a schedule around that. I know that one of my super powers is that I sleep in three hour cycles and function best on two cycles, that’s just six hours of sleep. I can also decide to go to sleep and then actually fall asleep at night almost instantly, which means I can turn off my light at 11:30pm, be asleep almost instantly, and get up at 5:30am feeling great. Being aware of that allows me to schedule my days and nights accordingly. Whatever your needs are, you need to be aware of them so that you have enough time set aside every day, consistently, and can compensate if you need to stay up late or get up early now and then.
Evening & Morning Habits for Mental Health
Consistency is a big deal. Not only will a consistent schedule help you do a better job of getting enough rest, it will also be one less thing you need to actively think about. Another part of that consistent schedule should be what you do just before you go to sleep and as soon as you wake up. You might not think that watching TV late at night or using your iPhone has an adverse effect on your sleep or mental health, but just like journaling, try a new routine for 30 days and see what impact it has, and whether that’s a habit you wish to continue.
Studies have shown that television and smart device usage typically acts as a stimulant and when we stimulate our brains just before trying to go to sleep, it can make it harder to go to sleep or harder to sleep well. Try reading a book, meditating, listening to music, or talking to your partner for a while. Similarly, in the morning, rather than jumping into emails or Slack messages, do something specific for yourself for at least a few minutes.
Many recommend journaling in the morning but personally I’ve found it to be more helpful in the evening, as a way of emptying my bucket for the day. Of course, there’s nothing that says you cannot journal more than once a day!
Walking is another habit that will help you deal with stress, through the combination of physical exercise, fresh air and sunshine, and some separation from your office and work environment. I literally have four ten-minute walking breaks scheduled in my calendar throughout every day. I don’t always take the time, or go for the walks right at those moments, but the reminders and blocked time help tremendously.
Meal Planning & Prep
Another habit to consider is meal planning and advance prep. Just like sleep, our bodies need great, nutritious food to function at peak performance, and you want to be at your very best, particularly when you’re working on an important project like a virtual summit, don’t you? That’s right.
The problem is, when we’re time-crunched or already stressed, our food choices and diet pays the price. We turn to junk food, fast food, and over-priced delivery services. These short term solutions might make us feel better in the moment, but have ramifications, including energy spikes and fatigue later on, weight gain, and more.
Instead, I recommend having a set time each week when you plan ahead most or all of your meals for the week. To save yourself time you can order groceries online, and to save yourself money you can schedule a pickup, rather than delivery, at a time when you know you’ll already be out and about. At my house, we plan meals and order groceries on Fridays for pickup on Saturday afternoons when we’re on the way home from my daughter’s dance studio.
If you’re really pressed for time during the week, I recommend Cook Once, Eat All Week, a cookbook my bestie told me about that you’ll use to plan your meals and do the majority of the cooking, in bulk, on Sundays. Each weeknight you’ll be able to assemble healthy, home cooked meals in minutes – enough for the whole family.
Mental Health Support Systems
Speaking of family, now’s a good time to talk about your support system at home. They’re a part of your mental health and stability as well, whether we’re talking about family that live with you or near you, or close friends you consider family. Whomever that is and whatever those relationships look like for you, I talked in episode 4 of the podcast about how important it is to identify these people as part of your available resources. Maybe they can’t help you plan a virtual event, but maybe they can help you with household chores and meal prep.
On top of that, these are the people that you’re talking to every day. Make sure they know in advance what you’re going to be working on, how it might impact you, both the good and the not so good, and how they can help. Often it’s a huge help and relief just to have someone to talk to at home who understands what you’re going through and can be mindful of your needs. Maybe they can’t shoulder the burden for you, but they can definitely help by not adding to the weight you’re carrying.
But what if you don’t have that kind of personal support system, or what if you’re looking for support from someone who has a greater understanding of what you’re working on, specifically? That’s what a Mastermind Group is for. If you aren’t already part of a mastermind, start one today. Find some professional colleagues you like, who perhaps are on similar journeys and stages of their career as you, and start meeting on a weekly basis to share each other’s wins and challenges.
My mastermind group with Stephanie Liu, Amanda Robinson and Jenn Herman, has been actively supporting each other since 2018, and I’ve said many times how I’d be in the tall weeds without them. My wife and family love and support me, but it’s unfair of me to expect that they’d understand any professional challenges I might be going through. They’re not familiar with my industry. You’re going to need people you can turn to to ask questions, bounce ideas off of, and help them in turn.
If you’d like to learn more about how to form and structure a mastermind group, I have a free course you can go through at bloggingbrute.thinkific.com.
Mental Health Coaching & Therapy
When it comes to mental health though, sometimes we need the help of someone who has actually been trained in that area. Perhaps I should have said at the outset, but I am not a psychiatrist. My certification is in Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP, which is a study of psychology and human behavior, and how to mirror excellence. The advice I’m sharing with you is based on my personal experience and opinion, and my NLP training.
As an NLP Coach, the one significant advantage I have, and offer my clients, is a series of tools and exercises we can use together to deal with stress and anxiety. Sometimes our stress is triggered by past emotions, which I can help remove through timeline therapy, and sometimes what we need most is a way to boost our motivation or confidence when we need it, and that’s something I facilitate through anchoring those positive emotions.
I also recommend finding and working with a therapist who can serve as that professional resource for you. Something Stephanie always reminds me is that there are resources in relationships, and she’s referring to both personal and professional relationships. I admire how quick she is to turn to professionals in her network whenever confronted with a new challenge, getting the help she needs to maintain her focus and performance in her areas of strength. You can mirror that behavior in all areas of your life.
If you have health insurance, start there. Many health insurance plans now include wellness and counseling options that can provide you with a wealth of help. For instance, as an Agorapulse employee, I have health coverage through United Healthcare and we have access to virtual visits, and even emotional support via app. I can log into our portal and get help finding a great therapist with whom to talk through these kinds of stressful situations and environments. Someone who will give me additional tools and tactics to assist.
My final recommendation for preserving your mental health while planning your virtual event is to find sources of laughter and indulge often. Maybe that’s your friends or that mastermind group or your kids, but they aren’t necessarily available on demand. (By the way, the reverse of this is true… be mindful of your energy and avoid friends and family who tend to be negative, toxic, energy-sucking people. You can’t afford to spend time around them right now.)
Start watching and studying comedians on Netflix or your preferred streaming service. And here’s a Life Hack: on Instagram or TikTok, seek out comedians and start watching and engaging with their Reels, training the algorithm to know that you’re interested in funny content and the networks will fill your feed with laughter-inducing posts.
During your breaks throughout the day, and whenever you notice you’re feeling stressed, interject some laughter.
Preserving Mental Health During Your Event
Now let’s talk about what you can do to help your mental health and state of mind during the actual day of your online event.
It is entirely possible that your virtual event will be easy, smooth, and stress-free. And the more prepared you are, the more likely that is to be true.
Virtual Event Plan
So, start by having a detailed run of show and a virtual event plan in place for the entire day. Your plan will outline what is happening when, who is responsible, and what resources are necessary, leaving you free to focus on the tasks that need to be done, rather than wondering what’s supposed to be happening next. This is an area where it helps tremendously to be a detail-oriented person because the more detailed our plans are, the less uncertainty can seep in during the day. And whether it’s you not knowing something or the people on your team, it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, the questions come to you and it’s up to you to answer them.
Minimizing questions throughout event day will reduce your stress levels magnificently.
Virtual Event Backup Plans
Next, have a series of backup plans in place to help handle issues as they arise. We devoted an entire episode of the podcast to creating backup plans, and it’s a significant part of the time I spend with clients in a VIP Strategy Day. The more we’re able to anticipate and plan for issues before they arise, the more peace of mind we’ll have during our virtual event. Additionally, if we have backup and contingency plans already in place for our virtual event, issues that arise will be a little less stressful because we’ll know we can handle them.
We can also schedule tech rehearsals and practice sessions in advance to help maintain preparation and make the day of the event run as smooth as possible.
As you know, stress is how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened. It usually happens when we are in a situation that we don’t feel we can manage or control. With great virtual event plans and strategy in place, it’s far less likely we’ll ever find ourselves in a situation we cannot manage.
One area that’s easy to overlook during a busy virtual event day, yet can add to our own stress levels, is forgetting our own basic needs. If possible, have a buddy who’s job it is to check on you periodically and make sure you’re drinking enough water, have food, and so on. If you don’t have someone like that, stock up on snacks and schedule reminders on your phone to Drink or Walk or Eat Yo Food. That will help!
I’ll always remember how, at Social Media Marketing World once, I was responsible for our Agorapulse booth and it was one of those rigs where you assemble it yourself. I’d never done it before so I was learning as I went, and while there were other staff members there to help, I barely knew what I was doing, so I couldn’t really direct them to help in any way. But Stephanie was there and the one thing she kept doing was asking me if I was drinking enough water, where was my water bottle, when was the last time I took a drink… while I was puttering around the space and up and down the ladder. It was a huge help because I was focused on a new task, but still needed to stay hydrated.
Mental Health Recovery Day
Finally, do yourself a favor and plan for a full day of recovery after the event. Schedule the day off, or at least block it off from any meetings. You might not need the time off and may feel great, particularly if you’re employing all of the tactics here, so then you’ll have plenty of time to draft your event retrospective and thank you notes. But just in case, let’s delay that amazing budget meeting for at least another day.
When you combine all of the habits we talked about, the resources we walked through, and the tactics available to you during the day of your event, you will position yourself to be far better able to manage and control all of the most important aspects of your virtual event, and the circumstances happening around your event.
Just like, after a few initial moments of panic that morning when our virtual event welcome email links were broken, and none of our registrants were able to log in, I remembered my plans and options, and I took back control over the situation.
I knew that I could rely on my virtual event platform support to correct any issues on their end.
I knew that I had each and every registrant’s contact information stored within HubSpot and it would be a simple matter to send a follow-up email just as soon as the problem was resolved.
And I knew that I did in fact have time to resolve this issue. Several hours in fact. Thankfully, I’d gotten a good night’s sleep so I was well rested and focused. I had my virtual event plan and backup plans in place, and was able to concentrate on solving the problem, rather than being frozen in panic.
Do you want to set yourself and your next virtual event up for success? Start with the positive mindset and supportive mental health habits we’ve talked about today, and add layers to protect yourself, such as having a robust virtual event strategy and plan. And surround yourself with positive and supportive people and minds that will help you, and you them. I guarantee these steps will carry you through all aspects of your life, not just virtual events.
In our next episode, we’re going to continue to talk about virtual event plans, specifically around revenue, finances, and monetization. Whether your events are free or paid, sponsored or not, there should be, ultimately, a plan in place for how your event will provide a return on your investment.
Meanwhile, please share this episode with your network. You and I have no idea who else might be struggling with stress or anxiety, and could really use some of the advice and ideas we’ve talked about here that could help them with their mental health. Invite them to listen, whether they’re planning a virtual event or not, in case one of these tactics resonates and helps them. Give them that chance.
Talk to you soon.