Nationwide stay-at-home orders and continued concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic have led many businesses and event planners to shift from physical events to a virtual format.
There are many benefits to this move but running a successful virtual conference requires more than just an understanding of video conferencing tools.
If this is your first time hosting a virtual conference or any virtual event for that matter, the process may seem daunting. But don’t worry, a virtual conference allows brands to get creative and show off a new side of your event brand.
If pivoting your conference to a virtual platform, consider these top 11 tips for hosting virtual conferences.
1. Expect that you’ll have a decent number of online attendees
It is relatively easy to estimate the number of attendees that you can expect for a physical event. Advance registrations and ticket sales usually indicate the numbers you can expect. But, these numbers are not as cut and dry with a virtual audience.
With a physical conference guests, and attendees often have to travel to your event venue, book accommodations, and pay for meals. A virtual audience will not have to do any of this. Instead, they will be attending from their own homes on their personal computers or in a collaborative workspace.
Virtual events and conferences can appeal to a larger number of people as they provide more value and convenience for an attendee. But, this wide appeal makes it more difficult to anticipate how many people might show up.
Fortunately, planning for a higher online audience is relatively easy. Be prepared to scale up if necessary and look for a virtual conference platform that can adjust and accommodate a larger audience.
Do not be afraid to aim big!
2. Curate a virtual experience
To draw a large audience, you need to provide content that makes sense for the industry or niche you are targeting.
Your virtual conference should have a theme and an agenda that details the topics of each session.
Think carefully about what your target audience wants or needs to learn, consider the obstacles or challenges they face, and put together a program that delves into these ideas.
This level of care will instantly reveal to potential attendees the true value of your conference and will help support a positive virtual experience should they choose to attend.
Work together with sponsors, partners, and registered attendees through polling or submitted requests for a specific theme or topic. Think in-depth about the virtual conference brand, the virtual conference elements, and the ways that these elements can be incorporated into a cohesive event experience.
3. Get a virtual event platform
Event planning software like Accelevents can do a lot to automate and support your virtual conference. The right platform can provide your event with branded event pages, registration and ticketing support, strong 24/7 customer support, data and analytics, and lead retrieval options.
A virtual event platform is built for flexibility and digital mediums so that every important task can be carried out on a single platform. From event marketing to registrations and event hosting, everything happens in one spot.
With an events platform, attendee management, speaker management, social media integrations, live streaming, virtual meetings, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities can be executed without a hitch.
Consider expanding your capabilities by obtaining a high-quality video production tool to further improve the digital experience.
4. Mix in social
Social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram are a powerful way to connect with your audience and sponsors.
By posting images and videos with trendy, relevant, and branded hashtags, you are providing your audience with another way to connect with your content. Consider live-streaming keynote speakers or popular sessions to give people a glimpse of your conference and entice them to register for your next offering.
Be sure to make it easy for others (like a presenter, sponsor, or attendee) to share your event on social media! Remember, your keynote speaker will want to promote their involvement to their audience, which may then become your audience! Make it easy to access event posts and information.
5. Plan for strong customer support
Obviously, a virtual event relies on technology much more than a live event. This reliance on technology means that it is entirely possible, if not likely, that some online attendees will experience issues.
Be prepared to provide tech support to your audience.
Technological hiccups are normal and want to make sure all participants are comfortable reaching out to troubleshoot a problem.
Provide registrants with a guide to your event platform in your event information package. This will help attendees confidently navigate the space and reduce the number of times someone reaches out to your team. This proactive approach will be positively reflected in audience satisfaction.
Make sure that you have provided all registrants with the contact details for your support team so that if a guest is unable to resolve an issue on their own, they know who to contact. Post a link to contact throughout your virtual event space so people don’t have to go looking.
6. Schedule a virtual session dry run
In recent months virtual events have become the new normal in the events industry.
Even if members of your team have experience hosting a virtual meeting or prior virtual event, know that your presenters, attendees, and other members of your team may not.
No matter the experience level you are working with, you want to make sure that everyone is familiar and comfortable with the technology that you will be using.
When you confirm your presenters, let them know that they will be required to be present for a dry run of the conference. Set the date for a few days before the event is set to launch so you have time to address any possible issues.
The purpose of the dry run is to practice using the event technology and test the transitions between sessions.
The presenters will not be required to go through their entire presentation but will need to check that each piece of technology they require is in working order. Can they upload and connect their slide show? Do they have proper audio and video setup?
Take time to make sure that each presenter knows how to use the chat functions and is aware of the event schedule and when they are required to be online.
7. Make the conference Simulated Live or include true live sessions
A Simulated Live conference, also known as a SimuLive conference, uses pre-recorded content during a session with included live elements like a Q&A or live chat to give the illusion of being fully live.
Pre-recorded content allows for greater flexibility in scheduling the conference and it allows you to add the session to a content library for attendees to access even after the session or conference is over.
When running a digital event that features pre-recorded content, be creative in your scheduling, and mix-and-match true live sessions with SimuLive sessions.
While it might be appealing to use all SimuLive or pre-recorded content for most of the conference, live video will provide some benefits to your virtual conference.
Live video is extremely important for audience engagement because it allows the audience to feel more connected to the presenters, event brand, and staff. They aren’t just watching remotely, they are a part of the action.
But sometimes scheduling for live events can be difficult. Using SimuLive allows your team to schedule more flexibly. And it also ensures that technical difficulties are out of the way.
When using true live or SimuLive, be sure that there is a scheduled live Q&A at the end of the session so that participants feel like they are getting more value than they would from canned content.
8. Expand scheduling options in the virtual medium
Most attendees will not be able to sit at the desk for 12 hours a day so you might want to schedule the conference out over multiple days (or weeks) in smaller chunks of time.
While that might seem like it brings less hype and excitement, it might be a more powerful option.
When content is spread out over multiple days, event organizers are allowing virtual attendees more time to attend, digest, review, and reflect upon what they are learning during the online conference. This time gives attendees a greater opportunity to retain information and apply it to practical situations.
With an expanded schedule, event organizers don’t have to feel rushed or like the conference is competing with work or personal conflicts.
Spacing means that the schedule does not need to be as tight and using Simulated Live sessions means you can schedule sessions to accommodate attendees in other time zones.
9. It’s okay to pester with event reminders
Online events like virtual conferences are becoming mainstream in the industry. Certainly, COVID-19 accelerated the shift but virtual events have been on the rise for years.
And because people do not have to travel or make arrangements to be in a specific physical location at a specific time, they may forget the particulars of your event.
Send regular reminders to registered attendees so your event stays top of mind. Early on, send updates. If you have new speakers or sponsors coming on board, send an email to guests to let them know.
Closer to the conference launch, send an agenda, instructions on how to log in to the event software and how to navigate the platform, and anything you want or need attendees to have on hand.
If you have a list of tips or tricks for getting the most out of your conference content, share it at this time.
10. Think of attendees as collaborators
This might be a strange one, but event organizers will need to ask attendees for support throughout the conference. After all, your attendees are intelligent and they know what they are doing and what they want out of your event.
So don’t be shy to ask for their input and accountability. They will want to help your conference run smoothly and they will like being involved.
When event organizers think of attendees as collaborators, it opens up the conference to more creative collaboration and industry exploration.
Ask attendees to provide more information about themselves and what they are interested in before the conference. Then integrate some of those interests in event gamification or attendee engagement tactics.
11. Include a virtual networking opportunity
While this might not feel like a traditional conference, you can still provide attendees with networking opportunities.
Virtual networking can be facilitated by the conferencing or webinar platform that you decide to go with. There can be virtual meeting rooms designated for things like breakout sessions and mingling.
If your conference has a virtual exhibit hall, make sure that you have given attendees guidance on how to interact with kiosk presenters. Enable a virtual lobby or Great Hall so that attendees can freely mingle as they would at a physical event.
Set up specific networking sessions, create teams for gamification, and consider hosting a virtual cocktail hour to provide attendees with the most opportunities to meet and mix with other attendees.
Remember, most individuals attend conferences to learn AND to make connections with other professionals in the industry.
At the end of the day, hosting a virtual conference is not that different from hosting an in-person conference. By following the tips laid out above, you are sure to make your virtual conference a rousing success.
When you are ready to get started with your virtual event, reach out to Accelevents to learn more about how we can support your content and your event goals!