So, you finally decided to go with technology and host your first virtual event. Now what? Here are some useful tips to keep in mind throughout the planning process.
Pre-Event – Set Goals and Guidelines
In order to choose the right platform and technology for your upcoming virtual meeting or conference, you have to be clear about the main reason of your event. Why are you inviting people to attend? What is the experience supposed to be like? Only once you know this, you can decide what (or which tool) is needed to achieve those goals.
Don’t forget to consider your audience as well when choosing the tools. They should be familiar with the platform or app and/or can easily understand and use it. It definitely shouldn’t be an obstacle for them to attend the event, or else you might lose some valuable participants. Same goes for any speaker you might want to present during your conference.
If you have never hosted your own virtual event before, take a look at other’s virtual events first. This will not only show you what is possible with the respective platforms but also help you to avoid mistakes they made. Copy and adapt successful features, and improve what didn’t go well. In case you have already held a couple of virtual meetings, looking at other formats is a wonderful opportunity to get inspired and find new ideas and features to implement in your events. In the end, technology never sleeps and there are new features to explore every day.
To make up for the lost in-person action, make sure you make the most of vision and sound. Elements that may have been too expensive to create in real life might now be much more affordable digitally. Customize tools to create your own theme and use vision and sound already before the virtual meeting starts. Think about how you want your attendees to feel and set the right mood, e. g. by playing an uplifting song while they wait for the meeting to start. This will make waiting much nicer, attendees are less likely distracted by other tasks, and their attention is captured immediately once the music shifts. It’s an easy thing to do but I hardly ever see it implemented yet.
If you have no time to dive into all possibilities of an event app or platform, get an event partner on board who is comfortable with all the technology used. Benefit from their expert expertise and let them create a memorable experience around your content. In order to do so, it is essential that they understand your goal and vision right at the beginning. A clear briefing is king!
This also accounts for your in-house team. Everyone should be 100 % clear on what you want to achieve with this event, who is in charge of what, and when are the deadlines to deliver. Just because you won’t meet your attendees or customers in person doesn’t mean anyone is allowed to take it easy. Going virtual requires as much effort and passion as setting up a real stage.
Selecting time and date for your event is nothing different from hosting it offline. Check whether your key players are available (block their calendars in advance), and avoid that there are any other interesting events overlapping with yours.
Marketing – Benefit from Easy Multiplier Effect
Virtual events offer marketing space as much as offline events do. Instead of old-fashioned roll-ups you can implement blinking banners. Instead of branded conference doors you can create a digital frame around the video. Sell video clip minutes between each session, or let possible sponsors get their own virtual room to get in touch with your audience – exhibition-style. Compared to in-person events, you can now offer the increased reach of the audience world-wide, gone are restrictions regarding meeting room size.
Another advantage of virtual events is the simplicity to share any content. Since everything is already digital, it can easily be shared with only one click throughout social networks. Make sure to create valuable content which appeals to your audience to generate free marketing from their side by sharing it with their peers.
Don’t forget to ask all involved parties and speakers to post about your event on their social channels. It is a win-win situation for everybody: increased marketing reach for your event and they get to promote themselves by sharing teasers about their keynote topic. Why don’t you set up polls and let the audience vote for their favorite session or give input on a topic they want to see covered? Let them shape the agenda together with you. These upfront advertising measures are a great way to start engagement with the audience and get them hyped to join.
Btw. virtual gatherings can be as entertaining as in-person events. Who says you cannot book that awesome band or the stadium-selling DJ? Get that famous person log in their computer and entertain your audience as they would on stage. On top, hiring them for a virtual performance can even allow you to consider someone, who might have not been available before (time- or money-wise). Remove transportation, accommodation, and other fees from the contract, which would have occurred with a live performance.
Event Day – Final Preps and Details
Especially when your organization team doesn’t run the event from the same office and you cannot remind the staff passing by, it is essential to call everyone in for a final briefing meeting to go through everything. Make sure everyone – you, your team, speakers, service providers, anyone involved – gets their instructions and make time for a virtual rehearsal. Don’t rely on everyone familiarizing themselves with the event app, platforms, or tools but test it before. Schedule tests and rehearsals, and repeat until you feel comfortable.
If possible, you could even try to implement the used platforms in your team’s work before. Make slack the new chatting tool, hold conference calls via zoom, upload documents in a backend folder of your event app to get familiar with the use of each technology.
Let your speakers have test calls with your team to see if they can log in, share their presentation, switch to videos seamlessly, and get comfortable seeing themselves in the camera. This can be quite distracting for some people at first. I advise to have somebody on your team who calls in with everybody on the agenda before their actual speaking time as well to make sure he or she is ready and set, and any technical issues could be eliminated before. No need to create unnecessary delays.
Having those virtual rehearsals also gives you an insight about every speaker’s background. You have time to comment, make any changes, and give tips to improve the recording surroundings.
A digital event might lead to some people thinking they can attend in their pajamas. Nuh uh! That’s not happening! At least not for your staff. Communicate your dress code just as you would when working face-to-face. Additionally, sitting in a professional dress in front of your computer helps to feel the necessary importance of the event as well.
This said, sitting in a place with a pleasant atmosphere, eliminating any disturbing noises etc., will give you more confidence and make you feel more comfortable to join. Turn on your video before just to see for yourself what will be visible in the frame, and clean up any unwanted items in the back. Have you ever tried using a virtual background? Another great possibility to showcase your event’s theme.
Profiles on any event platform are replacing the usual name badge and should display a photo to overcome the anonymity. Knowing who you talk to virtually makes the communication more personal. Be a role model and the first to upload all details.
Depending on the type of event you are hosting, a good social media presence also during the event is important. This means, choosing a unique and clear #hashtag for the event and displaying it prominently at all time. The easier it is for your participants to use the right hashtag, the more media coverage your event will get. Making the use of your hashtag part of an incentive gets the audience started to share content with it.
On this note, don’t forget to assign someone of your team to monitor all posts and comments with the different event hashtags. Like this, you can either react immediately when someone has a question, or clarify and/or delete unwanted, false comments. Sometimes it could even make sense to create and communicate a hashtag which your audience can use solely when facing technical problems, and you have a technical team sitting to solve these issues in the back-end or directly with the attendees.
Besides of giving your audience a platform to chat, it is always useful to have a separate channel for your own team (or even different team channels). This allows your staff to exchange regarding specific topics, troubleshoot problems, or simply relax during the event. Next to technology, communication is the key element to make your virtual meeting successful!
Post-Event – After the Event is Before the Event
Phew! You made it through the event and can lean back to take a deep breath. But not for long! Don’t let the momentum pass and ask for feedback immediately. Want went well? What was a no-go? Feedback from all sides – organizer, speakers, attendees, and involved service providers – helps you to improve your next event.
The sooner you sit down to reflect and take notes, alone and in the team, the fresher the mind. Will you really remember all problems and successes in three months? We tend to block out many things faster than we think we would. So, take the time and quickly list all the tools you want to keep as well as all the features that have to be changed for your next meeting.
Oh, and be proud of yourself for having delivered such an amazing event. You did wonderful! As did all involved parties. Express your thanks to sponsors, speakers, partners, the media, your great audience, as well as your team for a remarkable job!