Planning a Virtual Event? Start Here.
Six months after we all had to scramble to transition spring programs to digital delivery, we are still mid-pandemic with no end in sight. The future of events is unsure at the moment but the need to connect our attendees, sustain our communities, and serve our audience is still here! If you are embarking on a virtual event journey, include these steps in your plan for a successful virtual event.
Get really clear on what you’re looking to accomplish and what your event is.
Define your purpose and get to the core “why” for your event with fully briefing your team (and maybe even yourself) on the objectives, goals, target audience and what they need right now. Make decisions early on about if and what to charge, structure, engagement, and length of the event. Include your key stakeholders and “doers” on your team in this process - differing viewpoints are the biggest asset you have in planning your event.
During this process, be absolutely certain that you want to produce a virtual event. If you’re not offering networking or connection between attendees it isn’t a virtual event - it’s a bunch of webinars. And that’s ok. Webinars have their place in a marketing strategy. Just don’t make the mistake of calling a webinar, or series of webinars, an event.
Create a plan and a budget - be thorough.
Take the work you did and create a project plan. You can use a solution like Monday or Asana but you don’t have to. Your project plan can be an excel or google sheet so long as you are tracking your tasks, due dates, status, comments/updates, and you include a RACI element so you know who is doing what.
Your plan is your north star. Your team should be updating their tasks they are Responsible for directly and you should use the plan to drive your planning meeting agendas. Don’t create it then ignore it. Use it! It will evolve over time, you might need to delete moot tasks or add new tasks - this is a good thing. Like all best laid plans, your original iteration will not survive the planning lifecycle and that is ok.
Resist the urge to change due dates. I make it a point to never change due dates but to also record the date something actually happened. This helps me fine tune future project plans and set more realistic timelines.
Choose a Technology Partner
This is often the toughest part of planning a virtual event. If your briefing process is thorough, it will make this part much easier. When selecting your technology platform, start with a list of required and preferred functions. Be really honest here. You won’t find something that achieves EVERYTHING (if you do, we want to know about it!). But starting with this will help you objectively reject any non-options right away.
Your required functions should always include attendee to attendee networking. If you don’t provide engagement between attendees and quality networking, it isn’t a virtual event. Most people attend events to meet new people, cultivate existing relationships, and grow their network. This is the itch we are trying to scratch when we curate an online experience and something that cannot be overlooked.
A helpful tool during this process is a simple table. Create your comparison table with your list of required and preferred functions in one column with your tech options across other columns. Mark off with ✓’s and x’s to visually represent which tech solution has what. Use your list to guide conversations and demos with the platforms you’re considering. Get at least 3 proposals and use your tech table to make sure you compare apples to apples.
Update your marketing and communications
When marketing your virtual event, start with a strong value proposition. Let your audience know why this event is essential for them to attend and focus on what they will walk away with. Highlight your speakers, content, and of course your networking opportunities.
Create a strong landing page that doesn't just include an agenda but also detailed information on the experience. What can your attendees look forward to? Create an FAQ so you can answer some of their concerns before they have the chance to realize they have them.
When developing your marketing plan, include pre-event communications to registered attendees. Include joining links and instructions in multiple communications and drive excitement for the event.
Create a media kit for your speakers and any micro-influencers, movers, and shakers on your guest list. Give them a discount or a percentage of ticket sales for anyone who registers with their code. Get them motivated to co-promote your event.
Optimize your content for digital delivery
The first step to optimizing your content and programming for an online audience is to redo your agenda. Your agenda will look very different for an online event versus a live event. People won't attend an online event from 8am to 9pm. Trim your keynotes to 20-30 minutes max. Breakouts or plenaries can be longer, up to 45 minutes, but only if they include a workshop element to them.
People’s attention spans are shorter than ever. And with an online event, people will be getting email notifications and have distractions directly in front of them. It is hard to resist an urgent message from a client or colleague, especially when you are sitting at your desk! Make it really easy for people to join your event by keeping sessions short and providing for plenty of breaks between sessions.
Make sure you are carving time out specifically for networking within the agenda. Encourage people to meet one on one. Many platforms have built in speed networking and matchmaking which is a delightful attendee experience!
Invest in Audio Visual
Audio visual for a virtual event elevates the experience and engages your audience in a way a speaker sitting at a laptop can’t. A good AV partner will use software and tools to create dynamic camera angles with a regular laptop camera, add lower thirds with information on the speaker and session which is helpful for late joiners, and seamlessly weave in pre-recorded content or videos with live speakers. If you are taking the time to produce a virtual event, make sure you have the team behind you to make it spectacular.
This isn’t everything
Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list of everything that goes into a killer virtual event. You can create value for your attendees and increase revenue streams by creating and selling sponsorship packages. You can also increase engagement with attendees with purely fun additions such as giveaways, a virtual photo booth, and entertainment. But this is a great place for you to start. Include these pieces and you’ll have a solid event.