From Zoom weddings to online conferences, the world is looking to virtual events to “gather” together safely. But even as social distancing restrictions relax and things start to feel a bit more normal, virtual events are here to stay—and will continue to play an important role in businesses for years to come.
Here’s everything you need to know to plan, create, and execute an engaging and successful virtual event.
Planning Your Virtual Event
Creating a plan helps avoid some pretty tragic outcomes. In the case of virtual events, those outcomes include low engagement, poor attendance, wasted budget, and plummeting team morale. So, if you do host a virtual event—whether that be a conference, global meeting, networking event, etc.—you need to start with a plan.
Every great plan starts with setting goals. If you’re taking a traditionally in-person event and translating it into a virtual event, that doesn’t mean the goals should stay the same. Going digital means playing with a different medium—one that, like any medium or channel, has pros and cons. So even if you’ve already set goals for the traditionally in-person event, those will likely need to be reevaluated and reworked.
Some questions to uncover your virtual event goals include:
- What does the event need to achieve to help me hit my marketing goals and KPIs?
- What is the purpose of the event? (For instance, does this event need to drive sales or simply raise awareness?)
- Will the timeline and available budget for the event affect the goal?
- Will I be able to measure the goal?
Setting the budget
Figuring out how much you should spend on the event—especially if you’ve never actually hosted a virtual event—can be tricky. On one hand, virtual events don’t carry the expenses associated with travel, venue costs, and food. On the other hand, the virtual event technology necessary to host a 2,000+ person event could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
When thinking about the cost of hosting a virtual event, there are four main steps—summarized below, but written in far greater depth in our budgeting blog post:
- Determine your needs
- Prioritize your budget according to event goals and timelines
- Identify the resources (both time and campaign budget) needed to execute
- Bucket costs into one-time costs and continuous costs
Creating Your Virtual Event
At this point you have a goal, budget, and timeline set. Now comes the hard part—bringing it all to life in the digital sphere.
Depending on all the above, this could be pretty simple or a bit more challenging. For example, if you just need to connect with a group locally, using a webinar software like Zoom or Livestorm could be an easy, cost-effective way to host your event. But if you’re trying to host a large virtual conference with sponsorships and multiple audience tracks? That gets hairy.
Find the right technology
As alluded to earlier, hosting a virtual event will likely mean buying a new piece of software. When shopping for a new martech solution, you need to know what you’re looking for—or you’ll almost certainly be disappointed, overwhelmed, or feel constrained by the end result.
This is why having a clear understanding of your goals and budget helps with shopping for your virtual event software. It will also help you enter the sales process knowing the questions you should ask to better understand whether the product is a good fit for your needs.
Craft thoughtful content
While you don’t have to have every single word planned out for your event, you should put together a rough outline of the content of the event as early as possible. If you have an outline and know roughly what will happen and when, you can start to figure out how long the event should be and what assets will need to be created to support the event.
For smaller events, this might just translate into creating a run of show template for a single guest speaker or session. If you’re hosting a virtual conference with a handful of speakers and sponsors, the outline will look more like a high-level map of all the event content.
Don’t forget about event promotion
If it’s your first time planning a virtual event, it can be easy to get so dialed into how you’re going to pull the event off that you forget to create a promotional campaign for the event itself. Not only should this include a strategy to get people to register for the event, but it should also include a communication plan once a person registers—that way there’s no confusion for the attendee about how the event will run, how long it will be, and how they access the event.
Ask for help if necessary
Can you run a virtual event all by yourself? Yes. That said, it might also be in your favor to reach out to a full-service marketing partner, agency, or consultancy to help plan and execute the event strategy. Chances are, these marketing firms have used software that may be new to you or your team, and they often have connections with technology partners and other production companies to help bring the event to life.
Again, you could do the heavy lifting of researching technology and planning a virtual event from scratch by yourself. But if you have the budget, reaching out to a marketing partner can help you take your event to the next level.
What Makes a Virtual Event Successful
Was all the hard work worth it? Well, that really depends on the goals you set (can you tell I’m really pushing the goals?).
One of the biggest benefits of hosting a virtual event is that you have the ability to track the engagement and activity of your registrants. Most virtual event technology also comes with analytics, so you can set engagement goals based on the data that’s available in the platform.
Another good tried-and-true method to measure the success of your event is to simply ask for feedback—either in the form of surveys or even interviews.
Regardless of the goals you set out to achieve, a few good questions to ask yourself at the end of the event include:
- Did my target audience get value from the event?
- Did the event achieve what the business needed it to?
- Was the content engaging? Were registrants actively engaging with the event or did it seem pretty quiet?
- Did we get a lot of registrants signed up for the event? Were these people our target audience?
- Did the event run smoothly? Did it feel organized?
- Are we capturing the data from our registrants that we want or need?
- Do we have a follow up plan for the event attendees?
Start With Goals, Then Go From There
In college, I worked in the control room that put on the “live shows” for the Purdue basketball and football teams. We were responsible for the video board (among other things) and sought to create the best in-game experience that existed. We had a crew of 20+ people and our only job was to make sure the “show” was engaging and ran smoothly. We still messed up. A lot.
All this is to say—when you’re planning a virtual event, things will go wrong. The internet will get funky. People will forget what they were supposed to say. There will be a typo. But that doesn’t mean the whole thing is a failure.
Instead, start with your goals and work from there. Half of the battle of hosting a virtual event is getting over the fear of messing up “live.” Don’t let that stop you from planning something great.