The current global health crisis has forced many event organizers and planners to move from in-person events to virtual events.
If you have never attended or hosted a virtual event, you may be picturing dry webinars or low-quality streamed video. But, the reality of virtual events is that they can be every bit as dynamic, interesting, interactive, and valuable as face-to-face events.
To help you transition your event into a virtual environment, we have created this helpful guide on virtual events!
By following this guide you can put together an incredible virtual event as if you’ve been planning it this way all along!
What is a Virtual Event?
A virtual event is an event where the primary activity and interaction takes place online instead of in person at a central venue.
Virtual events can take a variety of forms. These can include virtual fundraisers, virtual conferences, networking sessions, virtual trade shows, yoga classes, cooking classes and even virtual performances like concerts or comedy shows.
Why Host a Virtual Event?
Reasons to host a virtual event include:
- Increased accessibility: Live events and conferences can be expensive for attendees. Not only do they have to consider the cost of registration or admission, but they may need to factor in travel, food, and accommodation. With a virtual event, most of those potentially prohibitive costs are eliminated. All one needs is an internet connection and a screen, opening your event up to a much wider, possibly global, audience.
- Greater ROI: Because event planners do not have to worry about paying for a venue, catering, staffing, or other costs associated with an in-person event, virtual events present a greater return on investment. Consider passing some of these savings on to the attendee by reducing the registration fee, which, in turn, will increase the perceived value of your event and may lead to a greater number of sign-ups.
Steps for Planning a Virtual Event
Planning a virtual event, in many ways, is like planning any other type of event. Here are the steps to consider when launching a virtual event:
Identify Your Audience
In order to properly curate content and promote your virtual event, you need to understand who it is for.
If you have hosted similar events in the past, you may already have an idea of your demographics. But don’t forget to think beyond that target audience.
A virtual event makes it possible for people to attend from all over the world without the complication of travel. Being online means you can reach people all over the world. Factor in this audience growth when developing your theme, speakers, content pieces, and marketing strategy.
Reach out to industry leaders and innovators that may be of interest to your audience. Attendee engagement is fostered through, you guessed it, engaging content. If you can line up keynote speakers, presenters, or exhibitors who can share actionable insights and information with your core audience, then you are more likely to generate interest.
Keep in mind that all content produced for virtual events can be archived in a “content library” that is accessible to attendees and participants long after the event is finished. This type of resource adds value to your event and ensures that attendees never have to feel fraught when choosing between concurrent sessions.
Offer as much variety as you can. Try to include live streaming video, pre-recorded content, virtual exhibition booths, breakout sessions, networking meetings, Q&As, and live chats.
Approach Potential Sponsors
Virtual events can be very valuable to event sponsors. Approach sponsors who are attempting to reach the same audience you are. Virtual event registration can mean greater access to attendee data, providing more bang for a sponsor’s buck, so to speak.
Inform sponsors of your audience segments and design specific sponsorship tiers that are unique to the virtual experience. Do not try to use your old sponsorship packages. Making clear adjustments will lend credibility to your event and to your brand. Sponsors love someone who can get them in front of their customer base in unique and creative ways. Think outside the box.
It is worth considering free or reduced admission in exchange for more attendee data. Some attendees may be more than willing to give up more personal information in exchange for a free ticket!
For advice on how to sell sponsorships for virtual events, check out our guide here.
Choose a Virtual Event Platform
Having the right event technology will go a long way to supporting your success. There are many virtual event platforms to choose from and it is important that you do your research to determine which is the best fit for you and your type of event.
Basic features to look for in an event platform include:
- Event Website: Look for a platform that gives you the ability to build a dedicated, branded event website. This site will be your primary marketing tool. It will be where people can go to learn more about your event, read about your speakers/vendors/performers, check out event sponsors, and purchase tickets or registrations. Your event website will be your base of operations.
- Registration/ticket sales: Choose a platform that easily enables ticket sales and registration. This will make it easy for attendees to register and make it easy for you to collect important data that may help improve the event overall. If hosting an event with multiple sessions, this feature can allow guests to plan and schedule their event experience.
- Social and Email Integrations: An event platform that integrates with social media or email campaign platforms like MailChimp will help your marketing and promotion strategy. Social media integrations enable attendees to share on their social media profiles that they plan to attend, expanding your reach and exposing you to an audience you may have otherwise missed.
Email integrations make it easy for you to send our announcements, reminders, and instructions to all registered guests.
- Networking and Live Streaming: The ability to stream live video and promote networking between attendees will be the bread and butter of your event. Look for a platform that allows you to stream video, host networking sessions, set up virtual meeting rooms, create virtual exhibitor booths, and hold keynote and breakout sessions.
- 24/7 Support: It is always a good idea to have technical support at the ready. Choose an event platform that offers 24/7 live chat so that if something goes wrong at any time, you have a team in place to help you out!
Promote Your Virtual Event
Whether you are holding a fundraiser, a conference, or something else entirely, marketing and promotion will be essential.
Take advantage of your digital format and use the internet to promote yourself.
Email marketing is still one of the most effective methods on earth so do not be afraid to create an email invitation campaign, followed by periodic reminders and new information to both entice people and to keep your event front of mind.
Create a Facebook event, share teaser videos on Instagram and YouTube. If appropriate, share your event in networking groups on Linkedin.
Consider writing blog posts or other relevant content on your event website and sharing it to your social media channels or including it in emails to potential guests or registrants. Creating shareable content increases the likelihood that you will be able to extend your reach beyond your initial target audience.
Ask your speakers and vendors to promote their involvement on their websites and social platforms as well. It is likely that they will have their own fans/following and those people may be interested in your event simply to have an opportunity to speak with/learn from these individuals.
It is a good idea to ask your sponsors to share their participation as well. The more people spreading the word, the better.
Provide Tech Support
Just as you need an event platform with technical support, your attendees and speakers/vendors need support as well.
Before you launch your event, take some time to test everything to make sure it works. Try your video feeds and audio. Make sure that all breakout sessions and meeting rooms are accessible. Are your virtual exhibitor booths functioning?
A day or two before the event kicks off, send all registered attendees detailed information on where and how to log in. Explain how to navigate the platform and let them know that you will be available to help if needed.
Assemble a team of individuals with tech experience to help you. Give them time to familiarize themselves with the platform and make sure they are available during the event to resolve anything that might pop up.
Let speakers and attendees know in advance that tech support is available from your team and make sure that you share the contact information. Have at least one person monitoring all group chats to address problems before they snowball and get out of hand.
As we all try to navigate this new and startling reality that is COVID-19, it appears that virtual and live streaming events may become the new normal.
Fortunately, hosting a successful virtual event is really not that complicated! If you follow the steps laid out above, you are sure to provide a valuable experience to all involved while satisfying sponsors and turning a profit!
When you are ready to get started on your virtual event, reach out to Accelevents to learn what we can do to help you manage, market, and host an amazing event.