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How to Set Up a Virtual Conference: A Step-by-Step Guide

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In a series of recent posts about virtual events, we’ve covered a number of topics from the value of virtual conferences, to how to host a successful virtual event, and how to transition from a physical event to a virtual one. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on face-to-face events and conferences for the time being. Instead of canceling events, planners and organizers are trying to find ways to connect their audience with their content online. To that end, we want to take some time to lay down some steps and show you how to launch a virtual conference! [embed]https://youtu.be/Z1btEWNwUCk[/embed] Here’s what you need to know:

Step 1: Identify Your Audience and Vision

The first step in launching a virtual conference is to identify what you want the event to be and who the event is for.

Identify your audience

Before you can get into the finer details, you need to understand who the event is for. If you are reworking an established conference, or one with plans and marketing well underway, you have already identified your audience. But, even if you have established your target audience for a physical event, it might be worth reconsidering in a digital environment. Virtual events open you to a much broader demographic so taking a little time to expand your audience wouldn’t hurt. By eliminating the hurdles associated with an in-person event, you find that your audience is likely to grow. If you can build content that speaks to your original target, as well as this new audience, it is likely that you will see an increase in registrations. Before you can narrow down your vision, you need to know your audience.

Identify your vision

Now that you know who the event is “for,” you can begin to think about other details. Think about it: what do you want the event to look like? What topics do you want to cover? Answering these types of questions can help you hone your vision and build stronger, more valuable content. Understanding your audience and knowing what you want to present to them enables you to find speakers, sponsors, and vendors who are interested in reaching that same audience. The stronger your vision, the easier it will be to sell speakers and vendors on participating in your event. And perhaps just as significant, the stronger your vision the easier it will be to sell registrations. People don’t want to be hazy on your message. If they can see the value of your conference, they will want to attend.

Step 2: Determine Your Content

Now that you have an idea of your conference, it is time to start reaching out to speakers and vendors. Again, if you are transitioning from a live event to a virtual one, you may already have some or all of your speakers lined up. Just take a moment to reach out to them to make sure that they are still interested in participating in the new format. For those in the beginning stages, put out a call for speakers via your website, email, and social media channels. Work your contacts. Make it clear in your call for speakers (as well as in any direct requests or invitations) that this will be a virtual conference. Curate this content as you would a live event but keep in mind that a virtual conference can create a content library, accessible to attendees, speakers, and your team, long after the event has finished. The more value the content, the more return visits you will see and the longer your brand stays front of mind with attendees. All of this contributes to a positive attendee experience and makes people more likely to register for one of your conferences in the future. And don’t forget, moving to a virtual format may actually expand the scope of your conference. Just like attendees, travel can be an obstacle for speakers and vendors. A virtual conference opportunity might lead to an increase in speaker availability. Based on your vision, decide what type of content is going to work best. You might, for example, want to consider live streaming teaser video through YouTube Live or Facebook Live to engage a broader audience. Will you replace a planned workshop with a webinar? Will you feature keynote speakers followed by dedicated breakout sessions? Will there be fireside chats or panel discussions? These details of your content, and the conference agenda, will depend on the type of conference you are planning and the audience you are trying to reach. At the very least, when reaching out to potential speakers and vendors, have some idea of how you want to highlight and share their presentations.

Step 3: Identify the Right Virtual Event Platform

One of the biggest challenges to launching a virtual conference is finding the right virtual event platform. It is the technology that online events differ most from a physical one. Ideally, you will want to find a platform that makes your life as easy as possible. While most audiences are fairly forgiving at the moment, that goodwill won’t last forever. The further away your event is from the start of this pandemic, the higher the expectations will be. It is not enough to use video conferencing platforms to string together a series of static and pre-recorded videos. You can, and should, do more whenever possible. The right virtual conference platform can create an integrated, seamless, process for you, your speakers/vendors, and your attendees. A platform like Accelevents can handle sales and registration, social media integrations, video production and live streaming, networking through breakout sessions and virtual meetings, as well as virtual exhibitor or sponsor booths. No matter which platform you choose, 24/7 customer support is non-negotiable. Make sure that your platform provider offers round the clock live chat and accessible support options. The last thing you need is to experience some sort of glitch and have nowhere to turn for troubleshooting help.

Step 4: Promote Your Conference

Now that you have established the basis for your virtual conference, it is time to start the promotion. Fortunately, marketing an online event is not really much different than marketing a face-to-face event. If you’d like to sell out your conference, here are some marketing channels to consider:

Event Website

One of the most important steps in event promotion is creating a branded website. It serves as your conference’s online home and gives people a place to go to find out more details. It can help people know what to expect from your event and serve as a place to check specific event details. Use this platform to create a cohesive message and draw attendee interest and attention. Yes, you can sell registrations through your site but it is also where you will post speaker bios, share relevant blog posts, and link to any event sponsors.

Email Invitations

Email remains one of the most effective online promotional tools available. By reaching out to industry contacts or individuals that have attended your events in the past, you can expect to get some registrations. But here’s the thing, email inboxes are inundated with garbage on a daily basis so you will need to put some effort into your email campaign to ensure your emails are both seen and have the opportunity to convert. For tips on How to Write Event Email Invitations that Convert, check out our guide, here.

Social Media Posts

Social media channels are a great way to reach your target audience. Create profiles or event pages linked to your brand. You can then invite people to follow or join for more information and event updates. Social media can provide great reach and allow the event to be seen by an audience that may have otherwise been impossible to find. Encourage audience engagement by posting teaser videos, sharing blog posts, highlighting speakers, vendors and sponsors, and even running a social media-based contest or giveaway. The more you can get people talking and sharing, the more registrants you can reach.

Get Speakers, Sponsors, and Attendees Involved

Don’t limit the promotion to your in-house team—get all of your stakeholders involved! Ask your speakers to share their participation with their mailing lists and social media followers. Industry leaders often have large followings and it is likely that their specific audience will be interested in attending. Sponsors can use their mailing lists and social platforms to share your event as well. Their target audience overlaps with yours so the more they can do to align themselves with your event, the more lucrative the partnership will be for them. To increase your social media presence, allow registrants the opportunity to share on their own social profiles that they will be attending. This can be set up in your event platform to be done at the time of purchase. Create an event hashtag and encourage everyone to use it when posting about the conference.

Step 5: Launch

Now, there is little left to do but launch your conference! Unfortunately, launching doesn’t mean your work is done!Before the day of your event, you’ll need to set up and run through all aspects. Run a test of all video feeds. Touch base with speakers and presenters to ensure that everything is in working order. Run an audio and visual test with them and make sure they understand how it all will work. Test all portals and links to individual live sessions, virtual booths, virtual meeting rooms, and pre-recorded video. It is a good idea to assemble an internal tech team to help address any problems that come up in real time. Yes, your platform should offer support but it can cut down on turnaround time to have someone on hand to offer support to attendees. Schedule emails to go out the night before or day of your event reminding attendees of where and how to log in. Be sure to include detailed instructions and contact links for your support team. After your event begins, have someone monitoring each chat room, your social channels, and your event hashtag. This will help mitigate the pain of technical issues and ensure that all conversation remains focused on the topic at hand. Current global conditions have led event organizers to dramatically change the way they plan and host events. With large scale gatherings and face-to-face meetings out of the question for the foreseeable future, events and conferences have been forced to move online. But far from being a disadvantage, a virtual conference can expose you to a wider number of people, which will increase your reach and revenue and set you up for further success in the future. Fortunately, launching a virtual conference is not that different from launching an in-person conference. The 5 steps listed in this post can help you navigate the differences that do exist and help you to launch a truly successful virtual conference.

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