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How do you plan a virtual event?

What is a Virtual Event?

Odds are you’ve attended a webinar online, watched an on-demand workout class, or joined a meeting using a video conferencing tool. You might even have attended a conference from the comfort of your desk. These are all examples of virtual events. A virtual event is one where individuals experience the event and its content online rather than gathering in-person.

4 Main Types of Virtual Events

Customer Success Virtual Webinar

When it comes to your total event program, virtual events can be added to the mix of events you host, events you attend, and your internal events. Virtual events are not a replacement for other types of events, but a new type to add and to enhance your entire program. Below are the four main types of virtual events. 

1. Webinars

Webinars typically last somewhere from 45 to 80 minutes. Holding webinars virtually allows attendees from around the world to join in and listen as one or more speakers present the content. Companies can charge attendees to join webinars using online payment services or can be offered for free. Webinars typically use video conferencing tools that allow Q&A, the ability to present live or a pre-recorded video, and be offered as on-demand after the fact. Due to their one-off educational nature, webinars have thrived with 100% virtual attendance. These can also include internal and external trainings.

2. Virtual Conferences

Much like in-person conferences, virtual conferences are built around a live, complex agenda that includes keynotes, sessions, breakouts, and more. Virtual conferences include multi-session content and can involve community engagement tools. While not as effective in terms of lead capture and networking as an in-person event, virtual conferences allow attendees to view keynotes in real-time, build their own agenda from relevant, on-demand content, and interact with other attendees.

3. Internal Hybrid Events

These are town halls, sales kick-offs, companywide events, trainings, department meetings, and more. For organizations that span countries, even continents, internal hybrid events are used to share a message to the entire company when employees are not all gathered in the same place. While it would be great to fly every employee to your organization’s headquarters, it would be incredibly costly, and the scheduling required would be time-consuming. The next best option is to host events that are part in-person, part virtual.

4. External Hybrid Events

These events are held for those outside of your organization. They can be user conferences or industry conferences. These events require higher levels of video production so that virtual attendees are provided a similar quality to in-person attendees. These events allow attendees who are unable to travel to the event to participate and learn. It is challenging to provide the same value at external hybrid events, as in-person attendees are able to network more freely and engage easily with content than those attending virtually.

How to host a virtual event

There are a variety of ways to host a virtual event. Here’s a round-up of the different formats along with some of the best virtual events platforms you can use.

Live tweeting

Start an online discussion by live tweeting an event, asking a question, or hosting an Ask Me Anything. Use a hashtag to help people find and follow the conversation.

Social Stories

Stories are a great platform to share videos and visuals of tutorials, interviews, and more. Add filters, special effects, and stickers to take questions, conduct polls, host an influencer takeover, and more. On Instagram, you can add them to a highlight for future viewers.

Webinars

A typical webinar is an online presentation held in real-time. But they can be shared and viewed afterwards as well. Most of the time, a presenter will share their screen to go through slides or demos, while narrating. Participants can ask questions by voice or through a chat feed if the platform and presenter allows.

Social livestreams

Just about every social media platform has a live video feature. Livestreams are known for driving engagement. According to Facebook, live video averages six times more engagement than regular video.

Easy Steps to Successful Virtual Event Planning

Thanks to video streaming services, companies can achieve virtual event planning without geographical constraints. Virtual events can be a standalone venture or accompany a live event. Whichever the case, event streaming is definitely something you should be exploring if your company caters beyond a local demographic.

Here are a few tips to help you kick start your first virtual event with a remote audience.

Understand Your Audience

You need to have a solid gasp of your audience’s general psyche. Are they more inclined to partake in virtual event planning? How tech-savvy are they? There are so many more questions you need to be asking in order to build a strong demographic profile.

A few other questions to ask include:

  • What subject areas in your industry are they most interested in?
  • How familiar or active are they with basic social media?
  • What types of offer do they respond best to? (e.g. discount codes, sweepstakes)

Define Your Format

Just like live conferences, virtual event planning comes in many formats. It could be a seminar with one person taking the stage, or it could be more like a tradeshow or workshop. The key is to create a unique experience, something that is different than what the competitors may be doing. If your budget allows, you can also hire a design firm to create a personalized theme or “storyboard.” This includes a visually attractive background and an easy-to-use navigation system for both the staff and guests.

Choosing a Platform

There are so many livestreaming services out there. Some of the popular options include Periscope, Facebook Livestream, and YouTube Live. These services more or less offer the same basic features; it really is more a matter of personal preference. Most services also offer a free trial where you can perform dry runs before the event. This allows you to familiarize yourself with the basic functionalities while testing virtual event planning services, such as the timeliness and helpfulness of live technical support.

Choosing a Host/MC

Who will be hosting the event? You can hire a professional speaker or it can even be an in-house staff member who is comfortable enough presenting live before a remote audience. Whoever the designated person is, he/she should be able to speak clearly, respond to questions fielded though social media, introduce speakers, and so on. The host should also be comfortable looking straight into the camera and not at a script in his hands.

The host also needs to respond at the spur of the moment to unexpected events. If the scheduled speaker is late, for example, could the host continue to come up with things to say to keep viewers from signing out?

Finally, keep in mind that you can also have two hosts that can speak to each other as well as to the audience. This can be really beneficial if the two hosts have a strong rapport and can respond to one another’s zingers and one-liners.

Market Your Event

Virtual events have to be marketed just like a typical live event. This is where social media comes into play. Yes, there’s the usual methods of Facebook posting and tweeting. You have to go beyond that, though, and also incorporate other methods.

Perhaps you can use Instagram or Snapchat to show viewers the venue where the event will take place. Social media posts can also include links to other content, such as speaker bios, vlogs, or a tutorial video on how to log into the livestream.

Finally, don’t forget the event hashtag and use it frequently, while urging followers to do the same. If you have email subscribers, use your newsletters as another promotional tool with links to the event signup page and other promo material.

Choosing the Venue

Just because it’s virtual event planning doesn’t mean it should be held at your office. Yes, technically you can do that, and you will save a lot of money by doing so. However, remember that there will still be a live speaker and/or workshops and tradeshows, and you need space for those accommodations. While you don’t need an overly lavish and spacious venue, you still need to find a venue with the basics like a stage with a podium and audio/visual equipment.

Finally, remember that the camera will (or should) be zooming in and out, and viewers will be getting a good view of the background. If the event is held at your office or at a cramped briefing room, the whole thing will look cheap.

Choosing a Time and Date

Geographical concerns are a total nonissue with a virtual event. The time, however, is still just as relevant as ever. Naturally, the best times are weekends during the early evenings. However, it’s not that simple. Is there other important stuff going on at the designated event time? Does the event time coincide with that high-profile sports game or finale of Dancing with the Stars?

You can even ask your audience for time and date suggestions and go with the one when most people will be available. Another thing you should take into consideration is the number of oversea followers and whether the time difference will work for them. Ultimately, though, you can always upload the video on YouTube after the live show, so don’t get too caught up in finding the perfect time.

Livestreaming an event is more doable than ever in the information age. Take advantage of this technological breakthrough to build your audience and make your brand a household name.

Tips to Plan a Successful Virtual Event

The popularity of virtual events has been on the rise in recent years and the growth looks set to continue. With pressures on budgets and time increasing, it’s now more challenging than ever to communicate to a globally-distributed workforce. I have a background in the conventional events industry and the difference between a regular conference and a virtual one is not as great as you might think. Both require preparation, planning and a professional approach, and both offer different opportunities for planners and delegates.

Like all conventional events, there are tried and tested methods that can help you produce a successful end product. Here are the top five tips that will help you plan a virtual event:

1. Don’t Panic

A virtual event is simply an event that you can view on your laptop or mobile device via the Internet. With one or two exceptions, a virtual event and a live event are very similar — with the same kind of preparation, planning, and preproduction.

2. Focus on the Audience

This is the big difference between virtual and live: Your audience can log-off, switch to another task, or simply get up and walk away from their laptop whenever they like. There must be a strong reason for the audience to log on, stay connected and remain fully engaged. And you must define that reason — if you can’t, then cancel the event until you can. Also, you need to decide the size and distribution of the audience (where they live). A UK-based event for 30 delegates living in the UK will be less of a technical challenge than a global event for 3,000 delegates simultaneously logging on from every point on the globe.

3. Less is More

A virtual event is much, much shorter than a live event. Thirty minutes is a good length, more than 60 minutes and boy there better be a good reason for the audience to stay watching.

4. Decide If The Event is Going To Be Live Or Look Like It’s Live

Take my advice and make it look live, rather than being live. Most of the programming that you see on your television screen is prerecorded, and for a very good reason: It’s much easier to control the content, quality, and creative excellence. Don’t choose the live event as the moment to end your career.

5. Source a Suitable Venue

This is where you can waste, or save, a lot of money. I have two pieces of advice:

Rehearse the whole event (as best you can) in a meeting room at your offices — miles before you get anywhere near the actual recording venue. Taking this approach will tease-out the gremlins from your planned event and allow you to edit the raw content down into a manageable program.

Book a professional green screen studio, or virtual studio, to record the entire event: they will have things onsite, such as sound, lighting, cameras, prompt, PowerPoint, video record and experienced crew.