When planning a major event or conference, it’s best to investigate all of the ways you can maximize your event’s success. Many people and organizations have heard of a virtual event, but have no idea how to pull one off. If you count yourself among them, then these 6 Steps to Successful Virtual Event Planning are sure to set you on the right course to planning and maximizing the success of your event!
Before we dive into the 6 steps, we’d like to answer a few key questions first:
- What is a virtual event / virtual conference?
- What are the benefits to hosting your event virtually?
- What are the best methods for delivering a virtual event?
- How can a virtual event compliment your in-person event?
What is a virtual event / virtual conference?
A virtual event or virtual conference mirrors that of an in-person event but takes place online. Many include informative sessions, speaker panels, and opportunities to network for businesses, organizations, and schools. Instead of attendees being physically present, they are able to attend virtually from wherever they’re comfortable through your virtual event platform of choice!
What are the benefits to hosting your event virtually?
By hosting a virtual event, you create opportunities to save money for both you and your attendees as well as potentially turn a higher profit.
Maximize Your Event ROI
The investment of adding virtual delivery to compliment physical events can pay itself back on the day of the event AND in the months following. Offering live stream and on-demand post-event content allows for control over what content is free and what is for purchase, and for whom. So, what would normally be one-time ticket sales are now an opportunity for year-round content sales, and a space for email marketing campaigns to send target audiences.
If you are not hosting your event in person at all, the cost savings are even more evident. Not requiring physical space for an event or conference means you’ll save on pricey venue rental costs, less event equipment, and less food (if you provide).
Increase Advertisements / Sponsorship Spots
One creative way to leverage a virtual event is by creating a “menu” of add-on content in the form of additional panels or sessions. If your virtual event is large enough to host more sessions, this is a great way to increase event revenue while offering specialized content to specific target groups that may be attending. In the same vein, your virtual event also creates opportunities to plug advertisements between sessions (or before/during/after sessions) for your key products and services. By pairing a time-sensitive deal with a “Buy Now” call to action button within your virtual event platform, you place your product table front and center.
Increase Audience Reach
Another benefit to hosting a virtual event is the opportunity to increase overall attendance. A virtual component is often more accessible, so you may reach members of your audience who wouldn’t have otherwise attended live.
You might also consider using the added capacity of a virtual event to your advantage and experiment with attendee “stretch-goal” experiences. With this strategy, once a specific threshold of attendees is met you would begin offering additional virtual event sessions from already confirmed speakers to spur an increase in ticket sales. Stretch goals such as these create a PR buzz around your virtual event and encourage those already signed up to promote the event for you! For example,
“If our virtual event reaches 1,000 attendees, our keynote speaker will offer an additional 90-minute session on Topic X, and if our virtual event reaches 1,500 attendees, then we will also offer our ABC platform/service/tool/etc. at 50%-off for 2 months to all attendees.”
We understand that sometimes events must be cancelled and a virtual event simply won’t suffice. If such an unfortunate situation occurs, there is a right way (and a wrong way) to cancel your event. Make sure you know the 101 Checklist to Cancelling Your Event so that you maintain your relationship with your attendees.
What are the Best Methods for Delivering Your Event Virtually?
Since the quality and success of delivering a virtual event depends on what video equipment and conferencing software you have at your disposal, it’s important to find a provider that you know you can rely on.
Beyond the platform itself, these are the most popular formats for virtual delivery, all of which can be offered complimentary or for a fee depending on your goals:
- Live streaming
Choosing to deliver your event virtually isn’t an either/or option – you can blend a combination of in-person and virtual event sessions to get the best of both worlds! Though some events might need to be 100% virtual, either to reduce cost or to react to a rapidly changing situation, a hybrid approach to delivering a virtual event may prove to be the best way to familiarize yourself with the process. When planning any type of virtual event, make sure you have the tools to create memorable online experiences.
How can a virtual event compliment your in-person event?
One way to make a virtual event work for you is the ability to sell more tickets without the need for more physical space. Once your in-person event or conference has completely sold out and a waitlist has formed, you could offer “reduced rate” tickets for people to attend virtually. This will unlock your waitlist earnings potential and ensure that you’re not leaving money on the table.
Lastly, you can build a virtual event option into your in-person event ticketing model to up-sell. A “Basic” ticket would give your attendees access to the event while an upgraded “Premium” ticket would give them an All-Access Lifetime Pass to be able to go back and watch speakers/sessions/panels again.
Ready to Host a Virtual Event?
6 Steps to Successful Virtual Event Planning
Now that you know what a virtual event is, the key benefits of hosting one, and how to make it work for you, you can effectively implement the following 6 Steps to Successful Virtual Event Planning. Make sure you read to the end for a bonus tip!
- Assess your audience
- Choose a configuration
- Pick a platform
- Hire a host
- Market your meeting
- Determine a date (and time)
Step 1: Assess your audience
Before you decide to host a virtual event, ask yourself if it’s the right move for your audience. How would they respond to the opportunity? Are they likely to embrace the new technology? If so, what’s the best way to promote this to maximize attendance and ensure success? Most importantly, ask yourself what you want attendees to get out of joining.
If you host multiple events each year and are considering adding a virtual event to your lineup, consider asking attendees in a post-event survey what they think in order to determine if it’s the best option for you.
Step 2: Choose a configuration
There are numerous ways to host a virtual event and no one format that works best. This depends on what resources you have available to you, how you normally host events or conferences, and how you think it best to blend (or replace) your in-person event.
You might consider running your virtual event exactly the same as your past in-person event in order to make attendees feel more at home with the change, or you may want to consider changing things up to fit the virtual landscape more appropriately. You could do this by moving to more seminar-style sessions or hosting more personalized workshops.
Step 3: Pick a platform
With many options to choose from, the success of hosting a virtual event falls largely on which platform you choose to deliver the event. While there are major names like Periscope and YouTube Live, it’s best to vet true event management software providers to make sure you’re delivering the very best experience to your attendees. After all, they deserve it!
When researching your options, make sure you have the tools to create memorable online experiences.
Explore ePly’s Virtual Event Platform
Step 4: Hire a host
Since the virtual event space differs so much from an in-person event, hiring the right host is imperative to planning a successful event. They need to be knowledgeable about the event's topic and your industry, cause, or organization as a whole. They should also be fun, engaging, and able to keep the attention of your attendees when transitioning from activity to activity.
Additionally, you may find that you’d benefit from hiring two hosts who can have a conversation to promote a more organic feel.
Step 5: Market Your Meeting
Every great event needs the right exposure and marketing tactics to be successful, even virtual events.
Make sure you leverage an email list for segmented promotion, reach out to past event attendees, use social media to increase awareness, and think of a clever hashtag to ensure people know about your virtual event.
Keep in mind, with a virtual event, many people wait until closer to the event date to actually register!
Step 6: Determine a date (and time)
Since your attendees don’t have the same limitations for attending a virtual event as they would an in-person event, you can get a little creative with your event’s date and time!
That said, there are still some important timing details to consider include:
- What’s the optimal event times if attendees span multiple time zones?
- Does my event coincide with a major sporting or live-television event?
- Will time of year affect virtual attendance? (Winter may be a better time to host a virtual event due to potentially inclement weather and less sunlight)
Bonus Tip: Virtual Venues
Though you might not initially think that a venue is necessary if you’re hosting a 100% virtual event, think again. How you present your event online will stick with attendees and affect future attendance. Remember, you’re still hosting an event! Resist the urge to treat this as simply a podcast session with a live video feed and find a virtual event platform that will truly act as the central location for housing event sessions, sponsorship activations, and more.
This article was originally published on 3/25/20; updated on 11/10/20 for clarity and added value.