Hosting Virtual Events – All You Need to Know to Get Started

The majority of events has been cancelled since social distancing came upon us. Why is that? Because it seems to be easier to just cancel or postpone rather than taking a day to think about a virtual alternative? Because a virtual format cannot replace the planned in-person interaction? Well, maybe this is true for some events such as hands-on trainings or incentive trips. But I’m sure lots of events could be transformed into a suitable virtual event if you give it a thorough thought.

Benefit From Virtual Event Hosting

When I was planning trainings and conferences throughout Europe for one of my previous employers, there were often people from different countries involved in the planning process. While in the past it was quite usual to fly everybody in to the headquarters or the event location, back then I already tried to keep flying around at a minimum.

I get that seeing each other face-to-face is something different than having a conference call. However, if we are honest, most times there is no necessary reason for sitting together in-person. Discussing the topics via video conference calls might even result more productive.

We shouldn’t just think about replacing international meetings with virtual event formats only because we are not allowed to meet in person right now. Getting used to digital tools brings a lot of benefits:

  • We save travel costs which can be used to invest in high-quality event technology.

  • We save travel and transition times which gives everybody more time to work on other projects or be home for dinner with the family.

  • We reduce our event’s carbon footprint and leave a more sustainable impact.

  • We make education and networking available to more people, all around the world.

And one of my favorites actually, when there are those large meetings with many colleagues and parties involved and only one of the agenda topics is actually relevant for me, I am no longer blocked for hours in a meeting room waiting to contribute my part. Instead, I can log in from my desk, work on other tasks while keeping an ear on the conversation, and give my input whenever my expertise is needed. What a time saver!

Choose the Perfect Virtual Event Format

From the above you might already realize that ‘virtual’ events aren’t always complex formats. Anything connecting people from different locations is already considered a virtual gathering. Now, what formats are there to choose the right one for your event?

First of all, you should think about what the key feature of your gathering is. Do you want speakers to talk to your audience, engage your attendees, or shall the participants be able to switch between rooms to access different groups and topics?

Webinars are the perfect tool to have experts present a topic while the attendees can simply tune in to listen to the speaker. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to engage your audience during the presentation, and keep them entertained to watch the whole thing. Webinars can also be recorded easily to upload them and allow others to watch them at a later time, increasing their reach and reusing the content.

Live streams can be used to (regularly) broadcast from a studio or the speaker’s home. While they are very similar to webinars, a live stream is mostly targeted to educate and deliver information to a large group while webinars tend to be more interactive and engaging. When streaming, think about which location will be suitable and how your background looks like. Fun fact: At my home we have two greenish walls which work perfect as a green screen. Like this, I can easily set a virtual background fitting my event’s theme. Also, make sure there will be no interruptions during the live session and keep noises to a minimum.

Web chats are an important tool to give your attendees the possibility to communicate with each other and also the presenter. Since it is best to mute your audience while the speaker is talking, the participants can still submit questions or exchange ideas. It is possible to ask for direct feedback during a presentation to react on the attendees’ interest, or to collect questions for the Q&A session.

Panels and forums can easily be held virtually as well. Create different virtual rooms and think about how each should look like. Shall all panelists be visible in a screen gallery or do you only want to show who is currently speaking? Do you need polling during the session? How will attendees interact with the panelists? Find the perfect mix of tools to create the same atmosphere as with a live stage.

Get the Right Staff On Board

If you don’t feel confident with technology or don’t know what you need for your event, reach out to the best virtual event production company and get those on board who can walk you through all AV and production details. Ask them about their previous experience with virtual events and get a feeling for them being able to rock what you have in mind.

If your in-house staff is not comfortable with the tech lingo yet, it is best to rely on an additional event manager who understands the tech side and can intermediate between you and the tech staff. Like this, you know that your needs will be ‘translated’ right, and you can reach the event manager at a moment’s notice, ready to assist you whenever you need him/her.

Besides of the organization team, you can also scout speakers and content creators regarding their experience with virtual events. Have they participated in a digital format before? Do they know how to deal with unexpected technical issues and can solve them by themselves? Some speakers may be experts in their field and/or excellent on stage, however, they don’t know how to deal with technology. But this is crucial for the success of your event.

If you need them to be part of your event no matter what, here are some tips to prepare them for it.

  • Give them tips on how to engage an online audience compared to offline feedback.

  • Remind them that there will be no immediate feedback and they should be prepared to continue talking while waiting for polling answers to come in.

  • Provide tips and a summary of all features of your chosen tool to show how they can use the platform best.

  • Let them test the platform with your team beforehand to familiarize with all features for a smooth running.

  • Remind them along the way to adapt their content to the new format to make it as engaging as possible.

I would recommend to give a quick coaching to everybody involved on the use of the specific technology, the equipment required to participate, sound and lighting settings as well as how to engage with the audience properly. You don’t want to hear anyone falling asleep.

During the planning phase of your virtual event you may realize that you need further tools or adapt the platform according to your needs. Ask your AV company to send you updated quotes automatically when the new costs differ e. g. more than EUR 100 from the previous quote to keep an eye on your budget. Adding small things here and there and adjusting along the way is normal; better stay on top of your costs to avoid any surprises in the end.

Saving on technology when hosting a virtual event is clearly the wrong way. Blurry transmission and cut off voices will definitely not sell your company well. Instead, plan your AV budget in advance including a buffer and keep track of expenses by comparing estimated vs. actual expenses. This lets you react quickly when unexpected overspending is happening. Make your budget as detailed as possible (wherever it makes sense) and split it in categories of expenditures. When you face an overspending in AV, maybe there is some budget left from another category to shift. Important is that you keep the budget up-to-date at all times or at least update it regularly.

Decide for the Ideal Tech Tool Mix

After having decided for the type of virtual event you want to host, it is time to find the perfect platform to run it. There are many platforms and tools out there. Some of them are so-called all-in-one platforms and others are specialized tools for certain features. I would recommend you to find the perfect mix of the best tools you really need, instead of taking a mediocre platform that offers lots of features which you might not even need. Why? Simply because the separate tool providers are experts in their field and deliver best quality. Provided that they can be integrated with each other, in most cases this will be the best option for you.

However, think about all features you need in advance and also keep your audience in mind. Which tools do they normally use? Are they familiar with them and can navigate them without trouble? Check each tool for ease of use before you decide to add it to the mix. And should the amount of individual tools become too much, maybe it is time to reconsider a (customized) all-in-one platform. Compare all costs and decide what is the best fit that is within your budget.

Don’t just think about the main feature the tool should have. Explore additional useful options the different specialists can offer and how these can be used. Can sessions be recorded to be uploaded for future access? What do they offer to keep attendees engaged and does that fit your target audience?

If your event is expecting a large audience or is recurring and with complex content, it might be useful to look into creating an event app. It will help you to keep your content organized, everyone updated, reducing questions via email, and you don’t have to start from scratch for the next event edition and can build on previous content. A great event app gives you the opportunity to share content with everybody at different stages, remind participants with notifications, get their feedback, track your ROI, and also monetize sponsors. Especially for larger events, the chatbot feature will be a big relief for your event team. The bot gives consistent responses to the same questions and can deal with most common asked questions. The larger the audience, the more supportive it will be by providing general information to everyone.

When contacting event app providers, make sure to tell them what the app is supposed to do for you. As with the special tools above, again you want your app only to show the features you really need for your event. Should it send push notifications, allow crowdsourcing, enable networking, and provide live polling during the sessions? Customize it to your needs to make it as easy as possible for your attendees to use it. However, customizing the app will need more time, so you better talk to the developers in time to guarantee there is enough time to test it thoroughly before going live.

Last but not least, don’t forget to check the security protocols for all tools used to host your virtual event. Be up to date with all security protocols of the companies behind the tools and technology you are using for your event to guarantee your own and your attendees’ data protection.

Are you ready to make the step into the virtual world? Or do you prefer to discuss the possibilities for your event in detail personally? I’m happy to receive your call or email to see how we can transform your event into a successful virtual experience.

Stay connected, even when staying at home.

Best wishes

Kristin Sammann

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