In recent years, thanks to the increased adoption of flex schedules and global remote worksites, companies and employers have utilized virtual events and meetings as a way to gather while apart.
Now, of course, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting halt to in-person events, going virtual—whether it’s a conference, gala, or webinar—has become a universal necessity. But thanks to a wide range of live streaming and video platforms, hosting a virtual event is easier and more accessible than ever. Here’s what you need to consider when planning a successful virtual event:
As with in-person events, you’ll need to determine why you’re hosting the event and what you hope to achieve from it. First, outline your event strategy including objectives, target audience, and expected results or ROI. You’ll also need to consider how tech savvy your audience is. For example, a black-tie gala might typically draw an older crowd that’s not as familiar with logging into a virtual event or might not have an Instagram account. So plan accordingly. Also, since you’ll potentially be reaching a wider, possibly global, audience, choose a time and date that accommodates the most number of attendees.
The type of event and the expected audience will help you select the best platform to use. For example, a multi-day virtual conference will require a much more robust platform than a two-hour webinar. Make a list of the bells and whistles you’ll need such as live chat, a polling feature, or a marketplace, then research the platforms, such as Zoom, Cisco Webex, and BlueJeans, that might work for you. Also, consider whether you plan to live stream the entire event or if it will be a mix of live and pre-recorded content. This could factor into your tech decision. Plus, are you looking for a turn-key solution with support? Or will your in-house IT team be able to execute the event?
In addition to a strong internet connection, you’ll need to make sure that the participants including presenters, panelists, and speakers have the necessary tools such as a webcam or microphone in order to produce quality video. Depending on the event budget, consider shipping a kit of any required equipment, along with a “best practices” guide that includes tips on setting up devices, choosing the best lighting, and more.
While you would typically charge admission to attend an in-person event, many virtual events are offered for free or for a nominal fee. But this also depends on the perceived value of the event. If you’re providing plenty of content and training opps, charging a fee makes sense. But short webinars are generally offered at no cost. Also, providing content on-demand post-event makes the event worth more to attendees.
When it comes to marketing a virtual event, some of the same rules for live events apply. But instead of handing out flyers on the street to get the word out, you’ll need to rely more heavily on social media, email, and digital advertising to promote your event. You can also enlist event participants like keynote speakers to serve as event ambassadors, promoting the virtual gathering on their social media channels.
Keep in mind that the event website as an information resource is even more important than ever, especially for attendees who may not be super familiar with how virtual events work. Be sure to include guidance on how to join the event and answers to common tech issues.
Virtual events will remain a key component to any event strategy even after we’re able to gather in large groups safely again. So understanding how to plan a virtual event will be a necessary skill set in any event planner’s repertoire going forward.