Virtual events can offer planners, stakeholders, and attendees an exciting experience when carefully planned and executed. However, planning a virtual event can be difficult because there’s a lot to consider to create memorable event experiences.
Event planners should be acquainted with best practices for hosting engaging events to result in powerful ROI. This article provides insight into how to plan a virtual event and the elements that make the event successful. We’ll cover the following specifics:
- First – What counts as a virtual event?
- Getting started: A checklist for your virtual event.
- Defining Your Virtual Event
- Planning and Marketing Your Virtual Event
- The Main Event
- Following Up After Your Event
- Virtual Event Best Practices
This guide will take your virtual event planning from stressful to stellar.
First – what counts as a virtual event?
Whether your virtual event is small or large and whichever industry you are dealing with, savvy organizers have pulled off memorable virtual events in the past year similar to your event size and industry. Below are some engaging ideas!
APMP needed to pivot from in-person to a virtual event, and the first thing they did was to identify a virtual event platform that is the right fit for their event needs. Once that was sorted, they leveraged the platform’s features and solutions to drive the conference to success.
Specifically, they pre-recorded their webinars and used embedded chats and polling functionality on the platform for interactive Q&A sessions with presenters while recordings were streamed. They also hosted concurrent sessions so attendees could attend their session of choice.
APMP used Custom Agenda Features with a “Session Genres” page that gave brief descriptions of the session and a quick overview of what to expect. With that, attendees could add sessions that interested them to their agendas and schedules, giving each attendee a unique event experience.
Attendees engaged with one another in-group networking meetings, forums, private messages, and private meetings.
To ensure effective content delivery, APMP allowed speakers to present in either webinar-style or a “group” style that enables attendees to participate with their webcam on. APMP also offered exhibitors and sponsors dedicated sessions and created purchase opportunities for longer sessions.
APMP’s event recorded 2200+ attendees and hosted more than 120 sessions over the 32 hours of the virtual conference. There were more than 10,000 messages exchanged both privately and on public discussion forums.
Learn more about how APMP planned and executed their virtual event successfully in this report.
Since the past year’s uncertainties wouldn’t allow meeting in-person, NASCAR opted for virtual to connect 100 B2B partners and engage them about the industry and promotional opportunities. So they chose Pathable as a virtual platform that could help them engage the audience through general sessions and networking opportunities.
After securing the platform, NASCAR had only two weeks to execute their event and provide critical content to their partners. Thankfully, the platform provided a customizable experience and functional interface that helped them set up the meeting just in time.
To keep the webinar-styled sessions polished and high-quality, NASCAR pre-recorded video content using their in-house production team. They also held breakout sessions to foster networking.
NASCAR relied on the event platform’s notification and bulletin communication features for internal conversations and sending prompts and reminders to attendees. This increased attendance and engagement throughout the day’s schedule. Attendees were also able to join with iPads, phones, and desktops, thanks to the platform’s multi-screen capabilities.
Learn more about how NASCAR planned and executed their virtual event successfully in this report.
Innovation Forum prides its events as “PowerPoint-free presentations centered around conversation.” They decided to transition to virtual with some of their events last year to facilitate critical conversations in the middle of the pandemic.
With interaction and open dialogue at the center, they weren’t sure what the initial approach would be in a virtual setting. Therefore, they sought a platform with a user-friendly experience and customizable features that could allow them to create their own event experience, which they found in Pathable.
Innovation Forum hosted the event content through the platform’s pre-set template and built their pages to make planning and execution more manageable. They chose live webinars to present content through the embedded video functionality, and they also used some pre-recorded portions as well in the event.
To foster interactions between attendees, they adopted the group and breakout meetings format and encouraged attendees to participate in the meetings with their webcams turned on to enable face-to-face interactions. They also enabled attendees to message each other privately and schedule 1:1 live video meetings. The event had seven networking sessions that hosted 254 attendees and working groups that had 165 attendees.
Notably, there were more private meetings than the number of attendees, which indicates that attendees were closely engaged with each other. Sponsors were given brand exposure throughout the event site and through virtual trade show floor offerings.
Learn more about how INNOVATION FORUM planned and executed their virtual event successfully in this report.
Getting started: A checklist for your virtual event.
So how do you go about planning your virtual event, and what are the things to consider? Since there is a lot to keep track of, use the below list as your virtual event planning checklist.
Defining Your Virtual Event
Who is your audience?
Being clear about who your target audiences are is essential. Like the case studies provided above, the organizers knew their audience and what resonated with them the most. For example, APMP targeted their association members, NASCAR targeted their B2B partners, and Innovation Forum targeted professionals in the sustainability and supply chain industry. You also have to know who your targets are.
What is the goal of this event?
Your event goal has to do with organizing the event and the main benefits you want to achieve. Your motive could be:
- To create an interactive atmosphere for your members
- Provide immersive learning and networking experiences
- Create brand awareness for your partners
What matters is being clear about your goal before you get started.
What platform should host your event?
Once you are clear about what you want in your event, the first significant step is choosing a virtual event platform. The platform you choose plays a major role in driving your event to success. Look out for a software with:
- Webinar capabilities
- Embedded interactive features
- A customizable experience
- Real-time communications tools
- Multi-screen solutions, event analytics, and more
With these, you’ll be able to choose the right platform for your event.
What budget do you have for this event?
Does your organization have a regular budget for events or is this your first virtual event? In your budget consideration, think about your event size, cost of event platform, marketing and promotion expenses, as well as event registration software, among others.
Where is your content coming from?
Do you have speakers in-house, or you need to search for speakers? Will they be presenting live webinars, or will you pre-record your content? These are important considerations so you can have a plan for getting all your content in on time.
Planning and Marketing Your Virtual Event
Pick the right format for your event
Will it be in-person? Virtual? Hybrid? If safety allows, consider hosting your event in a hybrid format with in-person offerings for a limited group. But before you bring people together in-person, you should have a motivation for doing so. Do you have a section of your audience that prefers an in-person format, and what safety measures will you have to instill attendees’ confidence in your event?
If hybrid, do you have the additional budget required to make the event engaging for both in-person and online attendees? Therefore, choose the format that works best for you.
Build a foundation on your website, or create a microsite
Create a well-branded page on your website as your event landing page. On the page, outline your event title and focus and provide descriptive text to communicate your event’s driving motivation and what attendees stand to gain from attending. Then list event speakers alongside their headshots, and also include the logos of your event sponsors.
Lastly, provide Calls-to-Action (CTAs) and a clear link or tab for ticketing and checkout. You can also create an event microsite to give your event its own identity.
Plan your branding strategy
Your brand strategy cuts across your event registration, microsite, communications, and virtual event platform. Therefore, you need to communicate a cohesive message with your logo, fonts, colors, imagery, tone of voice and text, and other brand elements you plan to use throughout your event lifecycle.
Find your audience online
No matter who your target audiences are, you can always find them online. This might be on social media, via email outreach, or by placing your event on popular sites, using paid search strategy, or creating social media ads to target them. With a couple of these strategies, you are sure to reach your target audiences online.
Open registration for attendees and vendors
Use popular event registration software, and open registration early. Ensure that your registration platform can easily move an open API and data to third-party platforms. Once registration is set up, let attendees and vendors continue to register even if your event platform is not ready yet. When the platform is prepared, you can migrate attendee data and create automatic profiles for users.
The Main Event
Triple-check that your platform is ready to go
Run several checks on your event platform to be sure everything is set. Ensure that all pre-recorded content is ready to play and that embedded interactive tools are working fine. For live presentations, run a test with speakers to ascertain they can connect to the platform without hitches. You can also hold a mock event where speakers, sponsors, and few volunteers can test to ensure that every aspect is working fine.
Update your attendees during the event on any changes
Technical difficulties could still come up despite all checks. Therefore, have emergency communication ready on hand. Administrators can use in-built communication tools such as those included with the Pathable platform to communicate with attendees and stakeholders.
Provide in-event feedback opportunities
Provide channels where attendees, speakers, and sponsors can provide feedback. You can create a chat box where people can log complaints and receive instant feedback from representatives. You can also use live polls to know how people are finding the event experience.
Following Up After Your Event
Stay in touch with your attendees
Continue with your platform and email communications. Start with a “thank you” email, then invite attendees to check out session recordings and other resources that you might have added to the platform after the event.
Package your content for future purchase
Maximize ROI from your event by packaging your event content for sale. Your organization can sell the content to those who were unable to attend your event but expressed interest. You can also create additional content and offer them for sale to those who participated in the event and showed special interest in some specific content, such as a topic that wasn’t well covered during the event.
Offer a year-round community for attendees
Open up your platform for interaction year-round. Keep interactive tools like meeting scheduling, 1:1 video chats, and public forums active, and encourage attendees to continue to use the platform. Also, enable push and email notifications whenever anyone receives an interaction on the platform. You can also sustain the conversation on the public forum by posting fresh topics that will generate discussions.
Measure success to improve for next time
Retrieve event analytics to know how attendees engaged with content, speakers, sponsors and interacted with one another. Then go a step further by sending out post-event surveys to attendees and sponsors and ask specific questions about their event experience. Gather the information and use it to improve on your event next time.
Virtual Best Practices
To make the most of your virtual event, check out these lessons that we’ve learned from virtual events over the past year:
Build an agenda that works across time zones
Build an agenda that works across the time zones of your target audiences. You can schedule main and networking sessions at times that are not too early in the morning or too late for anyone. If that is not practical and you have sizable audiences in widely-varied time zones, you can host different events for each time zone so everyone can participate effectively.
Be prepared for technical difficulties
You should always have a backup for things like registration data and event content. Also, anticipate possible tech difficulties from the speakers’ end. To be safe, consider pre-recording webinar sessions so that you can play the recording in case you lost a speaker in-between a presentation. Also, request stand-by technical support from your platform provider so they can take charge when things go wrong.
Bring on an expert to help
Involve an expert to help you with the intricacies of planning a virtual event. With that in place, you can focus more on other aspects of your business, and rest assured that your event will go smoothly.
Focus on inclusivity
Make your event accessible to all by using a platform with clear and logical designs and consistent navigation. Also, provide alternative text for non-text content such as pictures and images so that people that rely on a screen reader can have the content read to them.
Provide closed captions for both pre-recorded and live videos, and make all written content clear and easy to read. You can also use a sign language translator for those who would benefit.
Choose a host or MC to keep your event moving
Assign an event host or MC to enable smooth transition during your event. The host will introduce speakers or provide guides on some activities before they begin. They can also provide additional instructions before or after sessions. In some cases, the host can help the presenter with comments and Q&A in the embedded chats. They can also help regulate time with facilitators or moderators.
Set your KPIs ahead of time
What determines success or failure for your event? Is it attendance, the learning experience, networking, engagement and interactions, positive feedback, or sales? Set your KPIs ahead of time so you can know which metrics you will use to measure your event performance.
Give yourself extra time for planning
Only in rare cases will you be able to plan and execute a stellar event in two weeks. Therefore, start planning your event early. Think about event platform availability, speaker availability, content preparation, event promotion, platform preparation, and sponsors. Try to quantify the amount of time you need for each of them and provide some extra time within the available calendar.
Have questions about virtual events? Talk to us.
Each virtual event requires a unique approach. If you have questions about your event specifics, don’t hesitate to talk to us for expert consultation from start to finish.