Our Top Tips for Hosting the Best Virtual Event Possible
Virtual events are here to stay, even if world conditions allow for in-person events to happen. In part, this is because virtual events do offer some unique advantages over in-person events, especially when it comes to wider participation and inclusion. While some seized upon virtual events and ran with them over the past eighteen months, just as many were hesitant or canceled their events altogether. In other words, there is still high demand for learning how to host a virtual event. These are our tips for hosting a successful virtual event.
The Type of Virtual Event
There are many types of virtual events, and each type has different needs and requirements to keep in mind. Virtual conferences and summits are substantially different from virtual job fairs, virtual trade shows, and virtual corporate events. Virtual fundraising events can run the gamut from auctions to concerts, to sporting events and more. Any kind of private event could also be adapted to happen virtually. Instead of drilling down into the details of what’s involved with each specific type of virtual event, what you’ll find below are general tips on how to host any type of virtual event from ideation to planning to execution.=
The Big Picture of Goals and Objectives
You do need to choose what specific type of virtual event you will host, but before doing that, take a step back and think about the bigger picture. What do you want to accomplish with a virtual event? And will it be all-virtual or a hybrid event that allows for both in-person attendance as well as virtual attendance? How you make these decisions depends on a variety of factors.
If you were previously known for hosting a specific kind of in-person event, what did you do the last time around? Did you cancel altogether? In that case, you need to decide whether you’re ready to go with an all-virtual or hybrid version of the event this time around. If you took it virtual, conduct a thorough evaluation of how it went. Was it awesome or disappointing or something in-between? Did you receive participant feedback about it? Think about ways to improve the event this time around.
Achieving clarity about what you want to accomplish and reflecting on your most recent event experiences will help you decide the specific type of virtual event you want to host. Pay particular attention to the following:
- Ask yourself, “Why?” Why do want to host an event? What is the purpose of the event? What will attendees get out of it?
- Event objectives: What do you specifically want your organization or company to achieve with the event? Raise brand awareness? Fundraising? Educate attendees about a specific issue or topic? Introduce a new product or service? Advocate for political or social action? Your virtual event can have multiple objectives.
- Target audience: This is a critical piece to figure out because it will help you determine the best way to get the word out to the kinds of people you want to attend, again keeping in mind what they will experience or get by participating.
Conceptual Planning for a Virtual Event
Once you have clarity on what you want to accomplish with a virtual or hybrid event and have chosen the specific type of event you think will get you there, then you can go on to give your virtual event a more concrete shape. If you’re going all-virtual, you’ll have fewer restrictions than either an in-person or hybrid event in terms of what you can do. Keep the following in mind:
- Don’t Reinvent the Wheel: Whatever you’re dreaming up for a virtual event, you can bet others have done it. Do your homework to find out what has worked well for others, what hasn’t worked, and how you can improve upon the experiences of others.
- A Standout Theme: If you want your virtual event to stand out from the crowd, devote substantial time to developing a fresh event theme along with other marketing-type ideas. Pay particular attention to sound and sight because the audio and visual aspects of a virtual event are what will have the deepest impact on attendees.
Virtual Event Budget and Marketing Plan
A virtual event can be as expensive or as inexpensive as the budget you have available for it. But you have to decide what you are willing and able to spend on your virtual event, both in terms of all the logistics and technology as well as marketing it to get the word out. Be sure to include a contingency or emergency item in your budget. Call it Murphy’s Law, but there are sure to be last-minute issues and expenses you didn’t anticipate. Setting aside some funds to deal with those is smart planning. Are sponsorships important to your event budget? The sooner you start working on those, the better.
In terms of a marketing plan, tailor it to your target audience. What’s the best way to reach potential participants? Have you developed the theme, title, slogans and marketing taglines that will catch the attention of your target audience? What marketing channels are the best for reaching your target audience? Social media is bound to play a key role in promoting and marketing your virtual event, as will email outreach if you already have lists of people you think will be interested in attending.
Logistical and Technological Planning for a Virtual Event
Figuring out how to meet your logistical and technological needs for a virtual event are where a million details have to be handled with precision, including the following:
- Date and Time: Be strategic about selecting the date and time of your virtual event so it’s optimal for your target audience and mindful of what else is happening to avoid conflicts with other major events.
- A/V Production: The audio/visual aspects of your virtual event are primary considerations. Do you need to hire a production company to help with these aspects? Thoroughly vet potential vendors and their quotes for producing your event. A quote can be a moving target as things change throughout the planning process, so be sure the vendor updates the quote so you don’t suffer from sticker shock down the road.
- Technology Needs: As you might expect, technology is front-and-center for any virtual event. What platform will you use? Does it have the features and functionalities you need for the type of event you want to host? How user-friendly is it from the perspective of attendees? Does the platform include adequate security to safeguard everyone’s privacy? Will there be an event app and what functionality will it include? Is there robust chatbot functionality for when participants have questions or need information?
- Speakers/Presenters: Do you need to book speakers or presenters for your event? Come up with a plan for how reach out to them and be sure to include honoraria in your event budget if you need to pay speakers and presenters.
- Entertainment: Do you need to book entertainment as part of your event? What’s the right type of entertainment for your target audience? Be sure to include an entertainment line item in your event budget.
Plan the Work, Work the Plan
As you can see, there are just as many moving parts to a virtual event as there are to an in-person event. If you go hybrid, there are even more aspects to figure out because you’ll have to cover both in-person and virtual planning. Whatever route you decide to go, however, the key is the well-known management adage of carefully planning the work and then working the plan.