So many things changed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The elimination of live, in-person events was a big one.
Thousands were canceled overnight. Millions of dollars in investment were lost. But some of the smart event operators and business owners pivoted to virtual events.
So does that mean events are a thing of the past? Luckily, the answer is no.
Successful event operators proved that going virtual is possible—and an essential part of your event strategy moving forward.
In this post, you’ll learn more about what virtual events are, how they work, and how you can make them as successful (if not more) than in-person events!
What is a virtual event?
"A virtual event is one where individuals experience the event and its content online rather than gathering in-person," says Cvent.
Almost any in-person event can successfully transition to virtual.
- Annual meetings
- Educational sessions
- Networking events
While virtual events vary, they share the same makeup in many ways. For example, common elements that make up a virtual event are:
- Event landing page and registration
- Online event guide
- Live, one- or two- way content
- Live Q&A or polling
- Presentation (slides) uploading
- Pre-recorded content
- Video conferencing
- Post-event surveys
Why have a virtual event?
While health concerns force many businesses to host virtual events, they can be incredibly valuable because they can increase the number of people who can attend by removing the geographic barriers to attendance. And because you eliminate venue costs, hotel costs, travel costs, and other overhead items, you can also typically charge less than an in-person event while still accessing top-tier guests who can present virtually.
There’s also more opportunity for attendees to interact with live chats, feedback, and more.
How do you make a virtual event interesting?
Unlike in-person events, with virtual events, you're fighting for attendees’ attention. Family life, emails, phone calls, and other online distractions all can pull people’s attention away from your virtual event. Pair that with dwindling human attention spans due to technology, and it might seem like the deck is stacked against you.
Curating an attendee experience on par with an in-person event is possible for virtual event planners. In fact, a venue and in-person attendees are the only things missing from a virtual event. As such, you want to follow a similar path as you would making an in-person event interesting. These are the key ingredients to a good event.
Create a vibe
Walk into any live event, and you immediately get a vibe or impression of an event. Believe it or not, you can do the same with virtual events. Questions to pose are:
- What tone do you want to set, and how will you go about establishing it?
- Are my brand voice, tone, and character portrayed?
- How do you want attendees to feel as they end the event?
Be personable and charismatic
All audiences—no matter the industry—crave a real, authentic, and friendly person. People will be far more inclined to stick around for the entirety of your live event if you and your speakers/guests are engaging and fun to listen to. Even if your event’s subject matter is a bit dull, infuse a little color into the presentation with humor, anecdotes, and stories to tell the audience. These strategies help to foster trust and likeability.
Choose an interesting topic or theme
Tell your audience something they've never heard before. Need ideas? Read the "6 Ways to Come Up With a Winning Webinar Topic" from GoToMeeting. In a nutshell, you can glean ideas from talking with customers or employees (if you have them), using popular blog posts, anticipating trends in your industry, or repurposing existing content (like eBooks or other long-form content).
Find engaging personalities to spotlight
Distractions are a click away in virtual events. "With so many people working in front of their screens all day, your event needs something that will drive sales and get attendees excited to show up," says popular conference platform Eventbrite. "Consider inviting an expert in an aligning field, joining up with an influencer your attendees would love, or even hosting a celebrity for a performance or Q&A."
Keep sessions short and sweet
The human brain can only take so much information at a time. Because of this, it's important to "chunk" up the virtual events by hosting micro-sessions or quick 15-20 minute features. Avoid having one person speak for hours on end.
Select the right online platform
"If you're hosting an event with multi-faceted programming and want to encourage several methods of attendee interaction, a comprehensive digital platform is an ideal solution," says conference operator Wellington. The right online platform allows attendees to interact with the virtual event through chat rooms, message boards, file repositories, polls, online forums, and other services, improving attendee engagement.
Lighten the load of the pandemic
The collective feeling of humanity these days is, in a word, dreary.If it's right for your business, consider sprinkling some fun into your virtual event to make it a little more exciting and lighthearted.
Think about the fun things you'd plan for an in-person event, like happy hours, socials, and more. How could you translate that to a virtual space? To name a few options, you could switch things up by offering:
- Virtual health and wellbeing activities
- Virtual happy hours or dance parties
- Virtual tours of a space or place
- Virtual demonstrations of a new product or idea
- Virtual music or entertainment
Think outside the box and try something new.
Keep the pacing right
A huge part of success in any event is pacing. The host of the online event should always be mindful of keeping a steady (not too slow, and not too fast) pace of the event to maximize attendee attention. Here are a few tips on facilitation techniques.
How do you plan a virtual event?
In many ways, a virtual event is just like an in-person one. promote your virtual event, book speakers, set up technical aspects of it, engage attendees, and even prove the event’s success.
A well-thought-out plan is essential to producing a successful virtual event. With the right strategy, you can create valuable attendee experiences and a riveting event that extends that transcends the limitations of a computer screen.
You must treat a virtual event with the same preparation and attentionas an in-person event (minus many of the headaches like venue booking, guest flight logistics, hotels, and other big ticket expenses).
So, how does a virtual event work?
Similar to in-person events, virtual events follow a prescribed recipe for success.
Define your goals
What do you want this virtual event to achieve? What does success look like? Is it the number of attendees? Is it leads? Is it the guests you attract? All of the above? Defining your virtual event's goals will help inform you of subsequent steps, like defining an audience, format, and platform.
Define your audience
Who do you want to come? How many? What are their roles? What are the pain points your event helps address for them? Defining your audience will help you better determine the flow of your virtual event.
Define your format
What kind of event do you want to host? Is it an online conference? A webinar? A workshop? Each of these formats have strengths and weaknesses to consider. See below for more details about event format types.
Choose an online platform
Technology is vital to any thriving business — and this is no different in the event space. You should choose an online platform that works for you and your attendees. Some popular options are Boomset, cvent, Eventbrite, ON24, InEvent, Socio, Remo, Zoom, and so many more. Virtual event platform options are abundant, so you might want to start by comparing them.
Hire the appropriate staff
It’s impossible to manage an in-person event alone. And even though there are far fewer moving parts in a virtual event, pulling it off solo may be a bigger task than you think. If you’ve never hosted a virtual event before, consider hiring some help with marketing, technology.
Choose and hire the talent
Whether it's just you or others hosting and/or speaking at the virtual event, the designated talent should be able to engage audiences and drive home the M.O. of the event. You’ll want to look for people who are proven experts in their respective spaces and fields—and have experience in public speaking.
Find a filming location
While no attendees will be present, you need to select a place where you'll put on the virtual event. For example, most people putting on an event will want to find a spot with the proper lighting, audio-visual needs, and sometimes even a stage. Even a small business—like a coach or consultant—hosting a webinar will want to put a fair amount of consideration into where they record the event.
Choose the time and date for your event
If you're live streaming an event, think about geographic barriers, like time zones, as you choose the best time for your virtual event. The date should not coincide with major holidays, competing events, or anything else that could possibly impact attendance. You can also consider breaking out your virtual event into a series over several days. Another option is to create an archive where you can access the online event at any time.
Create a website or landing page
The website or landing page for your online event should be the hub of your virtual event's marketing activities. It will help you capture prospects and provide important event information for attendees that have already registered.
Make sure that your landing page has all the important information on it including:
- The event title
- The date(s) of the event
- What the event is about/what attendees can expect to learn
- Who the speakers are
- Any individual breakout session topics
- CTA buttons throughout
- A simple registration process
Promote the event
The promotion of your online event is critical to getting people to show up for the event, and seeing strong ROI from it.
Create an email campaign to send out to all of your current subscribers. Depending on what the event is about, you may need to create different versions of the campaign for customers, subscribers, and affiliates.
Send the first email 3-4 weeks before the event, and then send a couple of reminder emails to anyone who doesn’t register.
Social media is also a powerful promotion tool. Pair organic messages with paid ones (like Facebook advertising) for maximum lift. You can also leverage online advertising like pay-per-click display ads, online calendar listings, and public relations to get the word out.
Pro tip: Learn more ways to generate leads for an online event.
Determine your success metrics
Measuring the success of your event is extremely important. You’ll learn a ton about what works and what doesn’t. That way, the next time you host one, you’ll have a better idea of where to put time and resources. Cvent suggests you gather the following data at virtual events to determine its success:
- # of registrations
- # of leads
- Demographic attendee information
- Session registration
- Email open and click-through rates
- Post-event survey results
- Buying interest
- Session ratings
- Session feedback
- Social media engagement and reach
Need extra guidance? Visme offers a downloadable online event plan template to get you started.
What are some of the virtual event formats you can use?
Now that we’ve covered what goes into a virtual event and the steps that you need to take to create your own, let’s look at some of the formats. Here are four formats that can help small businesses
1. Online conferences
Like in-person conferences, online conferences are typically industry-focused and can cater to a larger audience. An attendee joins an interactive website, where they can view presentations from a keynote speaker and other speakers, live chat, and interact with attendees globally. With online conferences, you can create various session tracks for attendees to choose from, similar to a traditional, in-person event.
It mimics the structure of an in-person conference, but it's entirely online.
While maybe one of the most time-intensive virtual events for you to plan, they can be lucrative for you and valuable for attendees.
Here are some examples of successful online conferences:
- Adobe Summit - The Digital Experience Conference
- Content Marketing Virtual Summit
- DNN Summit
- Global Growth Marketing Virtual Summit
- Home Flipping Workshop
- Sales Growth Virtual Summit
- Sales Hacker Summit
- Women in Tech Summit
According to Merriam-Webster, a webinar (a portmanteau of “web”and “seminar”) is "a live online educational presentation during which participating viewers can submit questions and comments."
While shorter in length than a standard conference, they can help get the word out about your business, launch ideas, expand your audience, and educate audiences about your product or a topic around your product in a shorter amount of time.
"In the last decade (and especially in the last few months), webinars have become a staple for educating students and potential customers, lead generation for your business and captivating large online audiences," says Venngage.
During these online presentations, a host speaks about a specific topic for a live, virtual audience. They often include live chats for the host or speaker to answer questions during the event where a host answers questions posed by the audience. Most webinars are accompanied by a slide presentation or series of visuals to guide attendees in their learning.
Some examples of successful webinars are:
- Bigger Pockets Real Estate Webinar
- Beauty Business Network
- Harvard's Institute of Coaching Webinars
- National Restaurant Association
3. Online workshops
Online workshops are designed to provide actionable training to the attendees. So if you’re showing people how to complete a specific task or learn a skill, this might be the right format for your live event. The workshop usually concludes with a completed project or takeaway that attendees can refer to afterwards.
To set up online workshops, the Young Academics of the Association of the European Schools of Planning recommends:
- Doing two (2) full dress rehearsals
- Having a co-host
- Starting slow and have natural breaks throughout your session
- Using a breakout room feature to get interactive
- Getting a bluetooth headset
- Having a clutter-free background
- Adjust the lighting so attendees can clearly see you
Workshops can easily transition into an online event. For instance, if you're a marketing consultant, you could host an online workshop showing attendees how to create a content strategy. If you're a health coach, you could do an online yoga workshop. If you're a mommy blogger, you could host a workshop on how to make a homemade gingerbread house with your kids.
Workshops can come in many formats, like:
- Charettes (a participatory workshop)
- Conversation cafes
- Focus groups
Here are some examples of successful online workshops:
- Ms. Lexia - Poetry Writing Workshop
- National Geographic
- Professional Development Society - Teacher Resource
- Strathmore Workshop Series
4. Live-stream social media events
You can also host a live stream on social media. Live streaming lets viewers watch videos in real time, similar to live television.
While live-streaming on social media got its start in 2013, it has seen a huge jump in popularity, year over year, partially in part of the Coronavirus pandemic. According to Tech Jury, the online live streaming industry has grown 99% between April 2019 and April 2020.
Here are some facts curated from Dacast that prove that:
- 82% of viewers say they prefer seeing a live stream rather than a brand’s social posts. (Tech Jury)
- 79% of marketers say live video facilitates a more authentic interaction with an audience. (Go-Globe)
- 61% of marketers say a benefit of live video is that it creates content that can be viewed or repurposed later. (Go-Globe)
You can live stream a social event from each social media platform, like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. This Vimeo post outlines how to stream live video on each network.
To promote live-streamed events, post messages on all your social media channels to encourage people to join. Provide details like the subject you’ll be discussing and when it’s happening—and even the link if you’re about to go live. You can even let other people in your industry know about the live-stream so they can help you promote it. For example, Visme had an online launch party of Visme Unleashed, where they went live on Facebook to share the news. View other social live streaming examples.
The final word on hosting a virtual event
Virtual events were already surging in popularity before COVID-19. The virus likely only accelerated their use. And there’s no question that they’re here to stay.
After all, they allow you to:
- Build authority in your vertical/industry
- Demonstrate product or service knowledge
- Educate existing and new audiences about a specific topic
And, they do it all without all of the drawbacks, expenses, and headaches of an in-person event.
But the most important role that virtual events play in your business?
When you host any online event, you're gathering valuable details about potential customers when you use the appropriate lead generation form. That means opportunities to market to new leads, upsell to current customers, and just stay in touch with a receptive audience.
Remember, every online/virtual event needs a landing page where traffic can learn about the event and register for it. Leadpages offers hundreds of templates for both websites and landing pages that make it easy to market your online event, and get people to sign up for it.
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