Our Tips for Making Sure Your Virtual Conference Runs Smoothly
There are many types of different virtual events an organization or company might host, but one that deserves special attention because of the complexity involved is a virtual conference. There are all kinds of tips for making sure your conference runs smoothly. Here’s our take on virtual conference best practices.
Big-Picture Planning for a Virtual Conference
If your organization or company is used to having a regular conference, you’ve already had to answer the question of whether to go all-virtual or not at least once if your conference happens annually or even bi-annually. If you’re a first-time conference convener, you’re no doubt wondering whether your event should be in-person, virtual, or hybrid. Either way, if you decide to go all-virtual for your next conference, a good deal of big-picture planning needs to go into a virtual conference.
If your conference happens on a regular basis, then you already know you need to come up with the goals you want to accomplish by holding the event. These may not change much from one convening to the next, but what will (or should) change is the specific theme or topics covered this time around. If this is your first time planning for a virtual conference, take the time to achieve clarity on the “why” of holding the event, who your target audience is for attending, and what you want them to experience and take away from their participation. This is essential for developing a dedicated marketing plan to reach your target audience and event goals.
Once you have clarity on the overall purposes and goals for your virtual conference, establish a set of metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of your event such as total attendance and link those back to your marketing efforts so you find out what were the most effect outreach channels.
Conference Elements and Virtual Event Platform Functionality
One thing to figure out sooner than later is the event platform you’re going to use to run the event while it’s happening. There are many options out there these days, and what drives your decision on which one to use will be a combination of what features and functionalities you need to match the elements of your conference, as well as the cost of the platform. Here are some of the common conference elements that may be in your event’s mix:
- Registrations/admission: If registrations happen through one process and platform, but the virtual conference is being run on another platform, how will those be integrated?
- Keynote speakers: Selecting high-impact keynote speakers is critical, and might also come with a substantial price tag to get the best.
- Breakout sessions/tracks: Additional presenters for break-out sessions also need to be carefully chosen. They may or may not include honoraria, but thorough vetting is still essential to keep the quality as high as possible. Carefully plan the schedule and make choices between tracks and sessions easy for attendees.
- Networking sessions: The networking aspect of a conference is typically one of the biggest draws to an in-person event. It can also happen virtually with the right platform and features. Some platforms include a kind of social media feature or app that makes it easy for attendees to connect with each other and engage in private text or video chats.
- Public live feed: Having an open area or “wall” in the platform or conference app where people can post their thoughts and comments during the event can help foster networking connections and opportunities.
- Exhibit hall: Many conferences have an exhibit hall that functions much like a trade show. If you want this to be part of your conference, make sure to choose a platform that can handle that with virtual booths.
- Entertainment: If offering entertainment, this would be booked and handled in much the same way as a keynote speaker and could be offered at specific times throughout the conference.
- Engagement: Keeping attendees engaged is a huge priority in the virtual environment. What features such as easy audience polling during sessions does the platform allow?
- Feedback: What features does the platform offer to allow attendees to provide feedback about your event while it’s happening or as it’s ending?
If your conference will feature all those elements, you’ll need to make sure you choose a virtual event platform that can handle them. A Logistical tip to keep in mind is that in the virtual environment, sessions typically need to be shorter to hold people’s attention. Unlike an in-person session where people might be self-conscious about getting up and leaving, those restrictions disappear in the virtual environment. Short and sweet is the name of the game! Additional platform considerations include the following:
- Customization: If it’s important the conference carry your branding, be sure the platform allows for that kind of customization.
- Capacity: How many attendees do you think you’ll need to accommodate? Be as accurate in estimating total attendance as possible as this will likely affect the cost the platform charges for your specific event.
- Reporting/Analytics: What level of reporting and data analytics do you need the platform to provide?
- Integrations: Can the platform integrate with your event planning software or other apps such as your CRM and marketing apps?
- Support: How much support can the platform provide during the event? There are always glitches, so make sure people will be available to problem-solve, whether it’s speaker log-in failure, attendee admission problems, connectivity issues, or whatever else might go wrong.
- Recordings: Can the platform record all the different sessions? These can be turned into evergreen content for your company or organization. Smaller snippets and clips can be used in marketing future events.
After the Event: Virtual Conference Debrief and Evaluation
Among the most important virtual conference best practices happens after the event is over. If you’re going to be doing future virtual conferences, a thorough debrief with your team about what worked and what didn’t is essential. You also want to go through all feedback offered up by attendees, including a focused post-event follow-up with attendees in the form of a survey. A thorough post-event assessment will help you understand what needs to be improved for next time.