When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many businesses were forced to host virtual events instead of in-person events. Everything from concerts to conferences moved to the digital world. Although it was initially a huge challenge, it became obvious that virtual events provide many benefits.
Hosting a virtual event is cheaper, has less impact on the environment, and is available to a wider audience. For example, in 2018 Coachella decided to live-stream its event on Youtube. This made it possible for more than 40 million people to see that historic year of the festival instead of a few thousand in-person guests.
With many online tools available, businesses are going online and hosting events. From tweeting to live streaming to video conferencing, there are many options to host a virtual event. How can your company host a virtual event, provide a great digital experience, and encourage interaction?
This article will explain how to host a virtual event. It will analyze some do’s and don’ts for a successful virtual event.
The first step in this tutorial of how to host a virtual event is to know what type of event you want to host. Have a clear goal in mind then decide how best to accomplish it. You will need to decide first who is your ideal audience. Are they peers, existing customers, or new customers? Do you want them to interact or observe? Define clear objectives for the event.
After you decide on the goal and audience of the event, you can think about the topic. Start by thinking of one main word. What word best identifies your objectives? Then build a title around that main word.
After you have a clear objective and a title you can begin to think about the format of the event. How do you want to present the information? Should it be through talks, questions and answers, videos, interviews?
Or you can have a combination of different formats. Think about what will appeal to your audience and what will be possible for you to implement.
Some event format options are:
- Single presenter
One person presents the ideas.
- Dual presenters
Two people split presenting the ideas. They can offer viewers a different perspective or engage viewers in a different way.
- Panel of experts
Several experts offer their ideas and research about specific topics.
- Questions and answers
The audience asks questions and experts answer them. The questions can be prepared ahead of time or they can be on the spot. The audience can ask them through social media, a chatbox, or other.
Interview an expert or a guest speaker. This can increase attendance, validate your information, and interest viewers.
- Product Demonstration
Promote and showcase a product with a demonstration of how it works or with a tutorial.
- “Ask Me Anything”
Let viewers ask you anything to get to know you and your brand on a personal level.
DO: Have clear goals and objectives
The next step is to choose a platform that fits your needs. There are many platforms to choose from to host an event online. When deciding which one to use, try making a list of pros and cons to decide what will best suit your event.
Some important factors to consider are your budget, the number of attendees allowed, and the quality of customer service. The platform’s features are also a factor but depend on what you need for your specific event. Do you need to share your screen, take a survey, or record the event? Write down the features you need and compare them with the features each platform offers.
Some things to consider when choosing a platform:
- Does my audience understand technology?
- What type of device will most of my audience have?
- What type of events does this platform host?
- What kind of metrics does this platform offer during or at the end of the event?
- What design options are available?
- What tools do they have so that I can engage with the audience?
- Do I need any third-party applications?
- Do they have customer service in my time zone?
Virtual event hosting platforms include:
- Google Hangouts
- Adobe Connect
DO: Choose a platform that best suits your needs
The Date and Time
It takes a long time to plan and organize an in-person event, and it also takes a long time to plan a virtual event. So when setting a date for your online event, be realistic.
There is a lot to do such as promote the event, prepare the content, rehearse, and learn the virtual platform. Be patient and plan enough time to get the event well organized. A ballpark number is to give yourself about eight to ten weeks to plan and market the virtual event.
As to picking the actual date and time of the event, here are some tips:
- Do research to make sure there are no other events or holidays that would interfere with your event.
- Think about the various time zones of your attendees. This is even more important if you are hosting a global event. Try to pick a time that works for as many of your attendees as possible. Another option is to record the event or make the content available to those who were unable to attend. Or you could plan multiple events for different time zones.
DO: Set a date and time that allows the most amount of people to attend
After deciding the type of event, the topic, and format you can invite people to speak at your event. You will also have to brief the chosen speakers.
A virtual event does not have the same flow of pace as an in-person event. Plus, many people are still adapting to virtual platforms. Make sure the speakers you choose are able to manage and adapt to the virtual platform.
It is important to be brief and to the point. Remember that a question and answer session takes longer on a virtual platform. Attendees may have trouble turning on their microphones or have internet problems.
One solution is to have scripted questions. This also allows the speaker to prepare his answers. Another is to have the attendees send questions in advance, through social media, or chat. Take into account that virtual audiences are harsher because they can hide behind a screen.
Here are a few more tips for the speakers of a virtual event:
Have a Rehearsal
If anyone is new to speaking at an online event they need to rehearse to get used to it. Even if someone has experience talking at an online event, it is best to rehearse to smooth out any bumps.
Experiment with the Platform
Get to know the platform well and master how to manage it. The goal is to limit as many technical problems as possible. Make sure speakers know how to unmute themselves, share screens, remove filters, etc.
Seek out the Best Location for the Event
As many viral videos have shown, pets, children, and other things can interrupt speakers during a virtual event. Search out in advance a quiet place with an attractive background and minimal distractions.
Beware of Gestures and Mannerisms
At in-person events, the audience can see the whole body of the speaker. Video conferencing has limited what they can see to a close-up of the face. Speakers need to be careful about any eye-rolling or other distracting mannerisms. Hand gestures during a physical event make the speaker look natural but gestures on camera can look awkward or difficult. Practice speaking and gesturing into a camera. Pay attention to which gestures look appropriate and do not detract from the message.
As with physical events, get sponsors involved to promote and generate capital for your event. Create packages with different commitments, prices, and returns of investments. Reach out to several people to see if they want to sponsor or partner with you for this event. Packages and customized options will help you gain a wide selection of sponsors.
It is not difficult to include sponsors in your virtual event. Use videos, live streaming, social media, etc. Dedicate some of the event’s time to them so they can showcase themselves or their product. There are several options to display their logo and content that have the same impact as at an in-person event.
The next step in how to host a virtual event is to promote it. Promoting virtual events is no different than promoting in-person events.
Here are a few ideas:
Write a Blog Post
Include in the blog post what inspired you to plan this event, when it will take place, and what it is about. Tell people why it is relevant to them now and how it will improve their lives.
Share the Blog Post on Social Media
Use hashtags to reach the most people. Creating your own hashtag for the event is a great idea that will allow the audience to engage during the event. They can ask questions or post their own content with the event’s hashtag. This will encourage engagement and expand the reach of the event.
Send out Emails to your Subscriber List
Use an email list to send out information about your event. Include the information that you would write in a blog post or send them a link to the blog post. Send a thank you message to those who have signed up to attend. A few days before the event starts, send out reminders to all the guests. After the event is over, ask for feedback to help you improve your virtual hosting skills.
Make sure that marketing emails and event materials are consistent with your brand. Use the same color scheme, font, and brand elements to provide a consistent experience and make your brand more recognizable.
DO: Promote the event with a consistent brand aesthetic
When planning a virtual event, it is hard to focus on anything other than the technology and all the scheduling details. However, it is important to remember the content and the story. Technology is the tool to create a larger narrative but the content is what is important.
Prioritize creating content that will teach valuable lessons and is interesting. Do not write vague talking points but instead be specific. Hone in on specific areas and offer your attendees something worthwhile.
People are busier and more distracted than ever. Virtual events compete with their guests’ children, pets, and everything else. Create a storyline that resonates with your audience and holds their attention.
Remember that virtual events are not the online equivalent of physical events. They need to have a different format to adjust to the different needs. For example, it is hard to ask someone to be at their computer eight hours a day for a whole weekend. Be realistic and adaptable so you can appeal to people despite the challenges of a virtual event.
DON’T: Forget the story
DO: Adjust the story to suit the different circumstances of a virtual event versus a physical event
It is not possible to create the same experience that your guests would have at a physical event. But it is possible to immerse them in a good experience. You can start with the landing page. Design a landing page that impresses and captivates your viewers.
Then create an immersive experience with the resources you show at the event. Use well-made videos, images, graphs, and other visuals to enthrall your guests. Finally, engage your guests. This is discussed later in this article.
DONT: Try to create the same experience as a physical event
DO: Create an immersive event with the virtual tools available to you
The success of a physical and virtual event depends on how it is managed. This means more than finding a host platform for the event and some video conferencing tools. To manage an event well, you need to display the event on your website, accept sign-ups, payments, and more.
There are many management tools available that give you flexibility. They also automate event planning processes so you do not waste time doing it by hand.
Here are a few management solutions:
If you are looking for a reliable event booking plugin, Amelia should be your top pick. It is a powerful all-in-one booking specialist, yet it is very easy to use. On top of that, it manages your bookings 24/7 so you can spend more time focusing on more important aspects of your job.
Amelia sends automated notifications to the users and your staff, helps the clients pick the service and the employee that best fits their needs, takes care of invoicing and payments, and more.
On top of that, it is a highly customizable event registration service which means that you will be able to customize it to fit your brand as best as possible.
WP Event Manager
All-in-One Event Calendar
DO: Use the best management software
People today have short attention spans and have to deal with more distractions at home. To combat this and hold your guests’ attention, audience engagement is key. You need to provide opportunities for engagement to get your guests involved in the event. Plan times to invite your audience to participate.
Here are some ways to do so:
- Make a pop quiz
- Use interactive features so audience members can respond to questions or take a poll
- Allow the guests to write questions or comments in the chatbox
- Take requests and suggestions
- Ask for feedback
- Use social media to let the audience send in comments or post content with a specific hashtag
- Use scavenger hunts, leaderboards, etc to play a game during the event
These audience engagement ideas will give your guests a lasting impression of your event and organization.
DO: Plan ways for your viewers to participate
Make sure your event is accessible to every attendee. Often overlooked are those who are visual or hearing impaired. Incorporate features that allow everyone to capture the information.
Some ideas are to add captions to pre-recorded videos. Or use a large font in any visuals or provide a manuscript of the event afterward. Think about other ways to include every attendee in your specific virtual events.
The Backup Plan
One thing you can expect is technical difficulties. This is common when hosting virtual events. It is more prevalent now because of the high demand on broadband networks. Nevertheless, you can prepare for it ahead of time and put into place a few backup plans so that the event runs without a hitch.
Here is how you can prepare for technical problems:
- Do test runs
- Before the event, test speakers, microphones, and internet connections
- Have a technical support person or team ready at all times to help with any issues
- Have backups of visuals and presentations
- Have backup speakers if someone’s internet crashes
- Plan how the event will proceed if someone experiences technical difficulties
- Have someone help you mute and unmute guests
- Know the host platform well
DONT: Expect a technical difficulty-free event
DO: Prepare backup plans for problems you may face
One huge benefit of virtual events is that they capture helpful data. Many virtual platforms offer built-in tools to provide reports of the event. Use these tools to capture registrations and add them to your CRM and mailing list. Use content insights to measure your ROI and optimize your KPI metrics.
Remember that the measurements of virtual events are different than those of physical events. So the virtual event results might look different. Learn to read the reports of virtual events to understand if an event was successful and how to improve. Talk to business partners about expected results to measure the success of the event with accuracy.
DO: Take advantage of virtual events to collect in-depth reports
Ending thoughts on how to host a virtual event
Online events are not going to disappear, so it is time for your business to learn how to host a virtual event. Planning a successful event online is more than downloading a platform and speaking into a camera. It takes careful planning and organizing.
Forethought needs to go into rising to the challenges of virtual events and taking full advantage of its benefits. An effort is involved to engage the audience and provide an immersive experience.
Applying the do’s and don’ts in this guide on how to host a virtual event will maximize your online event success. Using the best software to manage it will make you an unstoppable virtual event planner.
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