Is your event going virtual? Here’s how to execute it flawlessly.
Virtual conferences have been on the rise for a while. And now, with the world on varying levels of lockdown, they’ve quickly become more important than ever.
So, in case you’re planning a virtual event (or scrambling to make a formerly in-person event a virtual success), today we thought we’d take a deeper look at how to execute it like a pro.
Consider this your virtual event checklist:
Prepare yourself and commit
Virtual events sound like they might be easier than their in-person counterparts. But, as anyone who’s run one can tell you, they come with their own unique set of challenges. According to Marketo, they can take a good four to six months to plan and plan well. And, of course, the bigger the event, the longer the planning.
So before you dive in, make sure you’re giving yourself enough time, committing enough resources to the effort and finding experienced partners to help you execute.
Decide what type of event you want to host
Are you running a large, multi-session virtual event or will a single-session webinar or webcast do just fine? The trick to answering this question starts with your goals. If you’re trying to take something as large as SXSW virtual, you’ll take a different approach than if you are running a customer conference, or a one-day, expert lead, workshop.
Figure out the scope of your event early and it’ll inform every other decision you make: how long you need to ramp things up, who you’ll market to, where you’ll promote, what kind of platform you need, etc.
Choose your adventure…err, platform
If you’re shifting a small workshop, a one-hour roundtable, or a half-day of marketing panels from in-person to virtual, your platform needs are probably pretty simple. Video. Audio. Group chat or question functions. The bandwidth to host whatever group size you’re after.
If you’re moving a huge summit online, on the other hand, you’re going to need a bigger boat. Which is where more robust options like Intrado—where attendees can network and take meetings, as well as watch presentations or participate in activities—become important.
So what kinds of questions should you ask when choosing a platform? Here are some starting points:
- In addition to video and audio, what else do we need to pull this off? Do we need exhibitor space? A way for attendees to network and meet virtually? Interactive options for workshops? Booth games? Giveaways?
- What kind of branding do we need? Will a free webinar program with no branding options cut it or do we need something more?
- Do we need space for sponsorship branding? What about exhibitors?
- What types of sessions are on offer and will they all be real-time, recorded, and available one at a time or simultaneously?
Nail down your price point
Will your event require tickets or be free to attend? Will there be different levels of access, as there are with many in-person events? How much will you charge?
There are lots of pros and cons to the free vs. paid discussion. Free events may attract a larger audience. Paid events will attract a more serious one. Paid events may deal with higher audience expectations. A technical difficulty on a free webinar is easier to brush off. And paid events, especially with early-bird discounts, will get earlier sign-ups and call for longer promotional schedules. For free events, about 45% of people will book on the day of the event.
There’s no one right answer, so the answer to this question should always circle back to your goals and what price point will help you reach them.
Confirm your dates and times
If your event is live—and especially if it’s interactive—just like an in-person event, you’ll need to nail down dates and times early. This will impact your speakers, your pre-event promotion and content creation process dramatically.
Get high-quality speakers and great content
As with physical events, speakers can be a big selling point. The earlier you can get exciting pros and interesting topics on your roster and in your promotional materials, the better your early sales and sign-ups will be.
And if you are the speaker? Make sure your topic, slides, examples, and talk are on point. If the presentation is a new one, test it on someone in your target audience or one of your creative partners before you dive in before a live audience. It’s important to keep virtual events engaging and the trick is to do so without the live feedback you may be used to receiving face to face or even in front of a large audience.
Find the right partners and sponsors
Running a great event is a team effort, and the bigger the event, the more that holds true.
Which is why you should make sure you contract the right creative and strategic partners (psst, we can help with that), identify trusted technologies, and find sponsors (if applicable) that are a good fit for your event goals and audience.
Schedule some practice sessions
Not only should your speakers be practicing their talks, but your team should do some run-throughs with the technology. Ask speakers to submit their slides at least a few days before the event and have your team test them out. Troubleshoot any microphone issues. Get through any learning curves and figure out any tech glitches so that you don’t have to deal with them during a live event.
Promote at the right time to the right audience on the right channels
Just as with an in-person event, having a multi-channel promotion strategy is a recipe for success. Long before you open your virtual tours, you should be strategizing and then executing promotions across social media, email, website, ads, etc.
Pamper your online attendees with extras
One of the benefits of virtual events is their flexibility. As HubSpot’s marketing manager suggests, use this flexibility to offer up extras like more Q&A time, one-click special offers, or a bonus session.
Offer games and prizes
Part of the fun of in-person events is cocktail hours and games, raffles and prizes. This is just as easy (scratch that: easier) in a virtual event setup.
Measure your results
Understand what talks your audience responded to, what encouraged sign-ups, and how your attendees responded to everything from keynotes to games to your live blogging efforts. Not only can this data help you make small changes during the event to make it smoother and more delightful for your audiences, it can also help you improve your next event.
Follow up with your audience
Speaking of measuring results, one of the best ways to take that measurement from quantitative (straight data) to qualitative (a sense of overall customer feeling) is by sending post-event surveys to find out how attendees felt.
And follow-up doesn’t stop with surveys (or, at least, it shouldn’t). Stay connected with your audience. Send them links to recorded content and other valuable post-event bonuses. Invite them first for early-bird discounts on your next conference. Surprise and delight them with the fact that the value doesn’t stop at the end of the last presentation.
As any marketer can tell you, keeping the engagement going is most of the battle. After all, increasing client retention by just 5% can knock your sales up by as much as 95%.
Nodding along with everything above? We’re always here if you need some help planning, creating marketing materials, or doing anything else related to virtual events. Contact our team anytime.