Whether you are a seasoned event organizer or brand new to the industry, the move away from physical conferences toward virtual or online conferences can feel challenging at best.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus may have made virtual events necessary, but the truth is that their implementation has been trending upward for years.
In order to capitalize on this momentum and host a successful virtual conference, there are a few foundational elements and processes that absolutely need to be considered or addressed.
At Accelevents, we understand how complicated it can be to launch a virtual conference. So we have put together this list of virtual conference best practices to help you hit the ground running and host the best conference possible!
Best Practices for Running a Virtual Conference
A virtual conference, in many ways, is similar to a physical conference, but that does not mean the two should be planned or facilitated in the same way. By their very nature, virtual events carry different requirements, logistics, and challenges. Here are some tips to help you overcome these obstacles.
1. Plan Carefully
All events should be planned carefully but extra care should be taken with virtual events.
Because virtual attendees do not have to travel to and from your conference, it is important that you make sure that you have chosen a date with little or no conflicts. This means checking conference and event schedules and avoiding all major holidays. It might be easier to attend a conference from the comfort of your own home office but it is also much easier to be distracted by other things taking place online and in the ‘real’ world.
More than just choosing a date, you also need to develop the conference agenda.
For starters, a virtual conference could potentially attract a global audience. Do your best to plan your programming in a way that accommodates different time zones as much as possible. Schedule keynote speakers and major sessions for a time that could work for as many people as possible.
It may be tempting to cram a ton of content into your conference to increase its value, but it is possible to offer too much of a good thing. In-person conferences and live events have natural lulls where people mill about, chat, grab a snack, or use the restroom. Make these breaks possible by planning a little downtime in between sessions. This allows attendees to stretch their legs, grab some coffee, and regroup. It also helps them process information they’ve just been given, open up networking opportunities (see below), maintain audience interest, and improve the overall virtual experience.
2. Facilitate Networking
One of the biggest benefits of conferences is the possibility to network with industry leaders and colleagues and one of the biggest worries people have about virtual events is that these opportunities will disappear. This does not need to be the case.
As a conference organizer, you can (and should!) make networking a part of your conference. The good news is that facilitating networking at your virtual event is not that difficult. Beyond making room for it on your agenda, consider:
- Creating virtual meeting spaces so participants and attendees can discuss and share their thoughts on the previous sessions.
- Enabling live chat and video, which allows presenters, exhibitors, and keynote speakers to address attendee questions and comments in real-time, further audience engagement, and creating more value in the session.
- Scheduling breakout sessions after the major sessions and presentations to give attendees space to discuss and constructively expand upon the ideas that have been shared.
- Making connecting fun by enabling things like a virtual lobby where attendees can meet one another and chat. A virtual cocktail hour is a fun way to bring attendees together in a more casual, social, way.
3. Promote the Conference on Social Media
Because you are planning a digital conference, it simply makes sense that a large portion of your promotion and marketing should take place in a digital space.
These platforms can help you reach a global audience but it also is a space you can use to generate interest and excitement for your event. Share speaker bios and vendor profiles. Ask your followers questions or prompt them with things to think about before the event so that when they arrive, they are prepared and already engaged with the topics.
Share video teasers and set up a video stream of a live session or two so that you can grow your event brand awareness and generate buzz for future events. There are lots of people who may have wanted to attend your event but were unable to do so for one reason or another. Sharing a little taste with them helps keep your brand front of mind and encourages them to follow and find out when you are hosting another conference.
Get your event sponsors and invited speakers on board with social media promotion as well! It is likely that your keynote speaker, for example, has a following and a pool of potential attendees that you may have otherwise been unable to reach.
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