“Virtual event planning.”
You probably never expected these three words would define your 2020, and maybe even years to come.
Chances are, the concept of planning virtual events feels both exciting and daunting. How and where do you begin? How is hosting a virtual event different from a live one? What best practices should you follow? Is an open bar completely out of the question?
First, the bad news: Sorry, no endless bar option. Attendees may need to tap into their own survival beer or wine stash…or you can get creative and mail out cocktail kits to those who RSVP early.🍸
That’s the advantage of virtual event planning, it’s your chance to really think outside of the box and try new incentives to drive meaningful participation in your virtual event.
Recent advancements in event management technology, along with innovative problem-solving happening across the event industry, means event organizers can easily find the right resources for successful virtual event planning, along with emerging creative virtual events examples to inspire new ideas.
Use these tips as you wade through the best practices of how to host a virtual event.
Identify Your Virtual Event Planning Goals
First, consider what you want to accomplish, both for the scope of the event and the takeaway for the audience. Are you trying to boost product or brand awareness, generate revenue via event sponsorship, or wow attendees with amazing content and thought leadership? Maybe all three?
Next, consider your virtual event format. Is this an all-day event or a basic webinar? Will you pre-record the content or stream everything live? Do you want to promote networking? How will you engage the attendees? Do you need options for showcasing sponsors virtually?
You also need to decide how you’ll measure event success and determine your KPIs.
Having clearly defined goals from the start ensures you’ll make informed decisions when planning a virtual event, and helps your team select the proper event technology to pull it off.
Choose the Right Virtual Event Planning Technology
Just as you search for the perfect venue to fit your format and space needs for in-person events, you need the right setting when virtual event planning. With a virtual event, the platform you choose essentially becomes the venue. It’s where your agenda, speakers, attendees, sponsors, and other functions all come together.
That means the type of event management technology required depends on the goals your team sets. If you’re planning a simple webinar, any basic streaming provider will likely meet your needs.
If you envision something more comprehensive, such as a virtual conference with robust engagement, attendee networking, and gamification, then you’ll need to invest in a virtual event platform with more sophisticated, interactive capabilities.
Will your event include sponsors? If so, you’ll need the right virtual event technology to showcase sponsors far and wide. Some effective methods include sponsored splash pages and banner ads, in-app sponsor profiles, sponsored push notifications, and even gamification.
Video streaming is another important virtual event planning consideration. Some virtual event platforms integrate with multiple live streaming providers, giving you more flexibility over your streaming options. Others may only work with a single solution, like Zoom. If you’re planning a more elaborate production with professional, TV-quality video, you’ll want to choose a virtual event platform that offers RTMP.
Also, when evaluating streaming solutions, make sure to keep the attendee experience in mind. Streaming video for several hours from a mobile device eventually gets tiresome. On the other hand, a desktop-only experience could make it hard to engage with other elements of the platform, like networking or chat. Consider a virtual event platform that offers multi-device functionality, including both a web and mobile solution for an ideal streaming experience.
Finally, don’t forget to think big picture when selecting the platform for your virtual gathering. While your selection should meet the needs of your audience and event goals, don’t shell out money for an overly pricey product that only works for virtual functions. Eventually, meetings will return to normal — meaning in-person formats, or a mix of virtual and face-to-face meetings — so the technology you pick should offer functionality that also works for hybrid settings.
Virtual Event Planning: Design & Production
Once you’ve set goals for your virtual event and know the technological aspects required to support those aspirations, it’s time to work on the event design and production. Think of it like producing a live TV show – you need to have a run-of-show listing every detail down to the minute and outlining each individual role with clearly defined responsibilities.
Make sure to come up with a plan for how you’ll communicate with your event team during the event, as well as with your speakers. It’s important to have a backchannel line of communication to help things move along behind the scenes, such as a dedicated Slack channel or group text. This will be extremely important if you experience tech problems or other unexpected issues. (Something always comes up.)
Next, establish your event roles. For virtual events, you need an emcee or host, someone who can run the event technology flawlessly, and dedicated tech support. You’ll likely have several additional key roles. Just ensure each role gets clearly defined and everybody on your event team stays on the same page.
When it comes to producing a virtual event, don’t overlook speaker prep. Sure, your speaker might be a pro, but this is probably his or her first virtual event. Your speaker has never had to set up lighting, configure proper audio, or convert a home office to a “studio.” This is why speaker prep is so important. You may need to literally help each speaker prepare. To ensure quality and consistency, many event organizers send their speakers tools like ring lights, microphones, virtual or physical backgrounds, and even cameras.
Virtual Event Planning: Lighting, Audio, and Video
As you get started, consider where you want each speaker to shoot video. Ideally, it should be a quiet spot without interruptions. Also pay attention to background noises during sound checks. Listen for any distracting buzzing from fans or air conditioners, or any strange echoes, as all of these can drown out a speaker’s voice.
When setting up a camera or laptop, keep it directly opposite the speaker’s face to ensure direct eye contact. When it comes to framing, keep the speaker’s shoulders in the shot to achieve the best angle.
Lighting the speaker also presents a bit of a guessing game, sometimes meaning you must move all available light to the area until the speaker looks normal and not washed out on camera. Direct light on the speaker’s face will likely be too harsh, and lighting from behind creates a creepy, silhouette look. Natural light and desk lamps provide ideal lighting — just watch out for shadows on the speaker’s face.
To ensure an error-free presentation, rehearse with speakers early on in your virtual event planning to make sure the technology works as expected, and establish backup material to replace scheduled live streams, such as pre-recorded presentations, just in case any issues arise during the event. Practice sharing screens, moving people to breakout rooms, and have all participants practice using the event technology. Also, bake in time the day of the show for a “tech check,” usually 30 to 60 minutes before showtime.
Virtual Event Planning: Promotion
You’ve scheduled the speakers, your crew transformed into AV experts, and now it’s time to spread the word about your virtual event. Promotion proves just as important as the work that goes into planning virtual events, because without good attendance, sponsors and attendees will less likely return next time you host.
Don’t overlook the fact virtual events provide a larger potential audience pool. Those who normally wouldn’t attend your event because of travel restrictions or cost now become prime targets, so make a point to reach out to these new audience members.
Your virtual event management team’s marketing plan should include social media ads and a landing page for online event registration. Also, be sure to ask the event’s speakers to help with promotion on their social channels.
Finally, consider sending your speakers and attendees swag or event kits. These staples of in-person events and conferences can add some much-needed familiarity to your virtual event and help build excitement. It can also help with promotion. Include your event’s hashtag with the swag and encourage your audience to post a selfie on their preferred social channel. It’s a great way to build pre-event excitement in the days and weeks leading up to the main event.
Remember, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed by virtual event planning. It’s a new experience for almost everyone, and digging into the details of virtual event planning now will put you on the forefront of ever-evolving virtual conference best practices and how events will be conducted for years — even after we’re all allowed to socialize in the same room again.
Virtual Event Planning: Best Practices Checklist
- Identify your virtual event planning goals. (Why are you doing this?)
- Choose the right virtual event management technology. (Technology equals your venue and plays a critical role in successfully hosting a virtual event.)
- Carefully think through virtual event design and production. (Your speakers and your ad hoc AV team. The best virtual events happen when event production training starts early.)
- Don’t underestimate the value of virtual event promotion. (Post, share, and repeat. If you stream it, they will come!)