In 2020, the number of events occurring exclusively online has skyrocketed, but that doesn’t mean that all virtual events are created equal.
When it comes to putting on a virtual event, it’s key to realize that event design is paramount and impacts your results. The best virtual events may appear effortless, but they are the result of excellent and meticulous planning.
Here are some best practices and tips for accomplishing your best possible virtual event:
Outline Clear Goals and Tailor the Experience Accordingly
Too frequently, hosting an event can involve simply going through the motions, rather than making sure that it’s being used to achieve specific goals. Especially when an event goes online after having an in-person version, it’s crucial that you answer key questions beforehand that help you align the event structure to your goals. For instance, you could ask yourself and your team:
- What do we want audience members to learn or accomplish during this event?
- What enjoyable aspects of this event do we need to create space for?
- What professional value will this event give attendees that they can carry forward and share with others?
- How can your online event replicate the valuable networking or socializing experiences that many people associate with in-person events?
These questions serve as an excellent starting point, but it’s important to consider any others that might help you to define your event goals. Try to get your team aligned on three main goals so that you can come back to each one as you make decisions along the way. Examples of goals in your event could be for your audience to learn a new skill or to grow their brand loyalty to a product.
Choose the Right Online Platform
One factor to consider when choosing a platform is whether your audience members would have used it before (and therefore, understand how it works). Another factor involves which tools or features are available on that online platform.
If you feel that your audience may have limited experience with some formats, it might be a good idea to choose a more widely-used platform. If however, you would like to make use of particular engagement tools or a unique interface for your viewers, a more out-of-the-box option might be the best bet.
Understand Virtual Event Technology
Once you select your ideal platform, make sure that you get to know the strengths and pitfalls of it. No one wants an excellent and well-planned event derailed because the program is malfunctioning and cannot be fixed before the go-live time.
Here are a few things to consider:
- If you are expecting many viewers, reach out to anyone you know that has organized large events using that platform before. Do they have advice on the potential issues, such as viewers being locked out after a certain number of audience members enter the event?
- If you know you want engagement at very specific parts of the program, can you send any ahead-of-time tutorials and information to help your audience members prepare so that they can engage quickly and without technical difficulties?
- Do your presenters and other major stakeholders understand the technology inside-and-out? Your team might know the program well but the event will appear less polished if even one presenter seems lost.
Doing what you can to avoid these issues will give you a better chance of pulling off a polished, professional event that is both valuable and enjoyable for audience members.
Choose the Right Date and Time and Market Effectively
Virtual events can be a hard sell when many people have been joining a lot of them lately, so don’t forget that marketing is key, as is timing. Pay attention to the attendance and response from past events and decide which times might work best for your audience.
Give your potential audience enough notice — a week or two should work for free events but you might need to give them more notice for paid events. Make sure that signing up is easy and clear, and that you effectively and attractively share the event on social media and through as many channels as possible that will reach your target demographics for the event. Sometimes, this could even mean sending out the event to very exclusive circles, increasing the interest by highlighting the fact that you are inviting them to participate in a limited and valuable virtual event.
Develop Seamless Ways to Engage with the Audience
Audiences are less likely to zone out or leave your virtual event early if you check in with them occasionally or give them ways to share their opinions. Many telecommunications tools contain chat boxes, applause buttons, or even ways to ask one’s question on video, but be sure to discuss which ones you want to use with your team ahead of time. With break-away rooms, larger events can even segment into smaller groups, increasing engagement.
Thinking through which features you will use reduces chaos in the meeting, allowing you to deliver information clearly and restrict engagement time to a specific segment of the event. You still want to have plenty of time for everything else your event team has to offer!
Ensure Your Event Has a Beginning, Middle, and End
One key element that audience members may not readily identify is that an event needs to have a clear beginning, middle, and end, and these elements need to be smoothly achieved. A call or a meeting can start and end abruptly, simply because members need to go to another meeting, but it’s vital that you ensure your virtual event stays on track, achieves its goals, and wraps up well so that it leaves the audience members satisfied and fully aware of the value of that experience.
Once the core plan is in place, work with your team to strategize how you can ramp up the intensity of the event at the beginning, maintain momentum throughout, and create an excellent key-takeaways section at the end that won’t feel rushed and will make your audience members empowered to put their learning into practice.
Incorporate Feedback from Your Participants in Future Events
The next step after your virtual event should be guided by what your participants say about it. You may have a great virtual event and learn, from feedback forms for example, that the audience expected something entirely different. This is very valuable and a chance to really shine with your next event.
Let this feedback guide either how you market and describe events or how you execute the actual event in the future. There’s no reason to take event feedback personally; learn from it to make your next event even better.
Aim to Create Virtual Events that Shine
The best virtual events don’t feel cluttered or rushed. The participants marvel afterward because they had a great time and learned a lot. This feedback is possible because you’ve minimized technical difficulties, maximized the use of engagement tools, and structured your event very carefully. Much like in-person events, great virtual events are fundamentally dependent on strong planning. Following best practices is the path to a great online event.