Live events are making a comeback in a HUGE way, and they’re not looking to stop anytime soon. At the start of the pandemic, all of us in every corner of the events industry had to make a quick left turn to keep things moving, and we learned a lot along the way. Now that people are craving location-based events more than ever, how do we continue to leverage virtual meeting platforms to keep our attendees engaged and excited? How do we keep virtual events enticing? And which best virtual event management practices can we use to bridge between online and in-person?
How to Empower Your Virtual Event
One of the easiest ways to launch your virtual event to the next level is by hiring a virtual event company. Preferably one with a digital marketing background, because they know how audiences think and behave in digital spaces. It wouldn’t hurt to make sure they have a history with live events, too, so they have the best grasp of both sides of the coin. Yes, that describes We & Goliath and might be self-promotional, but that’s the kind of agency we would hire if we were in a client’s shoes.
Whoever you hire, make sure they are imparting knowledge to you and your team. You should walk out of your first engagement with a noticeably expanded literacy in virtual event production. At its most basic, this should include a clear understanding of the virtual event platform you’ll be using and why.
Whether for a webinar, conference, virtual exhibition, or virtual festival, virtual event planning follows a similar pattern as in-person event planning. However, some of the variables might change.
If you decide to hire a virtual event company, you can expect a close relationship with your account executive or project manager—or both. Since “close” does not necessarily imply “good,” try to meet & assess the would-be point of contact for your production agency. Make sure they’re someone with whom you could see yourself working.
This individual will be overseeing and executing plans on the event’s day, and will likely have a hand in coordinating directly with speakers, attendees, sponsors and exhibitors. Virtual event management involves meticulous planning of the overall event and individual sessions to focus on sustainable and positive ways to increase social media integration and audience engagement. This ensures that your virtual event will be successful and have greater mileage.
Besides this point of contact (AE/PM), you should also expect to have a strategist assigned to your event. They are responsible for the bigger picture of production (e.g., they need to make prompt and sound judgments on what technology to invest in) as well as promotion before, during and after the event. They should have a deeper understanding of how to leverage social media, email automation & marketing, and advertisements. They also engage with clients early on in the process, helping the client organize goals, objectives, and assets, and how your event will be best distinguished from others.
Of course, every agency has its own spin on the names of these roles. An account executive could be called a “Delight Specialist,” while fancy project manager titles can contain words like “Ninja” or “Scrum Jedi.” In another context a strategist could be called something generic like “Enrollment Officer.” This is why it’s best to think of your partners in terms of their roles. Don’t be afraid to say, “That’s great, but which one of you would be my production point of contact? And my strategist?” And if they can’t answer the latter question, hire someone else.
Event technology is also one of the (if not the) top expenses you will need to determine when hosting a virtual event. Your virtual event management company or event planners will help you determine which software or platform is appropriate for your particular event.
Why host a virtual event?
Virtual events offer various advantages for your organization while also achieving your organization’s goals, including building loyalty for your brand or product, driving leads and revenue, or getting a message about an initiative across to your target audience.
Chief among these advantages is accessibility. Online events make it easier to accommodate guests who are unable to attend in-person. This also means that your virtual event allows you to reach more people, even those who live on the other side of the globe.
Another advantage you gain from hosting virtual events is that they are dramatically cheaper than the in-person option. This is true not only for the event host, but for the attendees, speakers, and performers who would otherwise have to travel. And if your organization is successful at pulling off a few virtual events, you’ll be perched for greater success should you try to host hybrid events — the new gold standard of events!
The accessibility of virtual events makes it perfect for when there is no other option. Whether due to extreme weather or a global pandemic, online events allow you to push through with your plans.
How to Plan a Virtual Event
A virtual event is built around attendee engagement, data, and of course, content. The quality of your video production as well as connectivity will be important. To ensure that your virtual event is seamless, you might want to consider a mix of live and pre-recorded content.
Some of the elements you need to consider for a virtual event include the event website, email marketing, event registration logistics, pre-recorded content, live video or audio, and interactive video conferencing, among others. Below we breakdown the four universal elements across any virtual event type.
This is where all your content can live: from event promotion to registration to FAQs and post-event content, like downloadable slides from the event or a recorded replay of the whole thing! Creating the appropriate design and feel for your event website can help entice your target audience to register.
Registration tools are critical for the success of your virtual event. Registration tools are vital because they can provide you or your virtual event management consultant important information about your guests, such as preferences, personal information, and future engagement details. Some registration tools also make it possible for your attendees to pay if required. Simply put, an effective online registration tool should allow your attendees to register easily and provide you with the data you need to plan a successful event.
Cultivating an email list is one of the best ways to communicate with your registered attendees throughout all the stages of your virtual event, from pre-event and during the event to post-event feedback surveys. It’s best to use an email marketing tool that can deliver personalized and branded emails while providing click-through metrics and open rates.
Mobile event apps
Mobile event apps or online event guides create a home base for your attendees to refer during the virtual event. These apps are also helpful when you’re hosting in-person or hybrid events. They can contain the event’s agenda with links to sessions, putting essential content at attendees’ fingertips.
More comprehensive event apps make it easier for your attendees to network with like-minded people via messaging tools. Furthermore, some mobile event apps also provide you with data on attendee engagement and session popularity—helpful when you need to plan future events.
Virtual Event Types
Better understanding of the different online event types can help you drill down into the nuances of specific event planning and make the occasion more meaningful to your attendees. Below, we breakdown the common virtual event types.
Rise Up for Justice’s Black Lives and Our Collective Future (2020)
Webinars are similar to in-person seminars, where the flow of information is typically one way. It usually lasts for a defined (and typically short) period of time and accommodates attendees from around the world to experience one or more speakers present the content.
Webinars sometimes utilize interactive video conferencing tools that allow for question and answer sessions and the capacity to broadcast pre-recorded videos as well as to present live to camera. Most webinar presentations are also offered as on-demand content long after the virtual event is over. This is a popular format for internal and external trainings.
Centre for Sport and Human Rights’ Sporting Chance Forum (2021)
Virtual conferences revolve around a complex agenda that often includes keynote/plenary sessions, breakout sessions, and more. This virtual event model supports multiple sessions and can also include community engagement tools. Virtual conferences allow attendees to view keynote presentations in real-time, build their own agenda from on-demand content, as well as interact with other attendees, sometimes rivaling in-person events for lead capture and networking opportunities.
AB-InBev’s Creative X Awards (2021)
We’ll explore hybrid events more in-depth in later episodes, but this is the point where live and virtual events meet. This could be as simple as live streaming a general session with equal parts live and virtual attendees, or as complex as incorporating virtual presenters from around the world live on stage at your in-person conference.
Story of Stuff’s Reclaim Nestlé’s Troubled Waters (2021)
External virtual events refer to events held for people outside of your organization, like industry conferences. External virtual events require higher video production levels, which provides attendees an almost similar experience to in-person events.
Buffalo Urban League’s Annual Gala (2021)
This refers to virtual events that you hold for people within your organization, like virtual team building activities, department meetings, sales kick-offs, town halls, and company-wide events, among others.
What’s the Difference Between a Webcast, Live Stream, Broadcast & Simulcast
Dipping your toes in the world of virtual events requires you to be familiar with the different types of broadcasting content. Determining which type your virtual event will be is necessary to determine the appropriate virtual event platform.
Broadcasting refers to one-to-many message transmission. This is the type of transmission used by TV and radio. Technically speaking, any webinar or virtual event is, at its core, a form of broadcast.
Simulcasting is the broadcasting of your message across more than one medium, like transmitting content through TV and social media at the same time. In the virtual event space, people will often simulcast across Facebook Live and YouTube or even LinkedIn and Instagram.
Webcasting is transmitting content over the internet using streaming media technology to reach many people simultaneously. This content format can be distributed live or on-demand. It is essentially broadcasting but via the Internet.
This refers to online streaming media, which is simultaneously recorded and broadcast in real-time. In larger virtual conferences and summits which feature prominent speakers with conflicting schedules, event producers will sometimes mix live stream footage with pre-recorded video.
How to Make Exhibitors & Sponsors Happy with a Virtual Event
The concerns of exhibitors, vendors, and sponsors are the same in a virtual event as with an in-person event: they want to achieve excellent returns on their investment. To do this, you have to be a good listener. You need to find out what their concerns are about the problems their customers and sponsors face. So, you also need to consider the varied needs of their target audience.
You also need to ensure that they get adequate exposure. You can offer a tiered package and have them host a session during the event. This ensures that their target audience will still receive their message even after the event through on-demand content.
Encourage them to tell their stories to you, so you can provide them with appropriate solutions and help them level up their game.
Virtual event management is both an art and a science. While the elements are pretty similar to that of an in-person event, you still need to be open to accommodate your attendees and your event sponsors’ various needs. Only then will you be able to put together a virtual event that does not only send the appropriate message to your target audience but is also memorable for your attendees.