Events are all about human connections. We gather together to share an experience, to learn together, or to get to know each other. It may feel that planning a virtual event where attendees are located in different places is the antithesis of a successful event. But these are the times we live in. And thank goodness! Imagine if we did not have the technology to gather together digitally right now. If nothing else, a virtual event keeps us in some sort of contact with the world outside our doors.
To build digital connections and keep brands relevant, smart event planners are planning virtual events. But virtual events are so new, there are very little best practice resources to help in planning and hosting a virtual event. How do we know what event element will be useful, watchable and most of all, engaging?
We are here to help. Here are 7 tips for planning an engaging virtual event.
1. Before You Do Anything, Make Sure the Need is There
You may think there is a need for your event but have you verified that with actual data? We tend to fall in love with an idea or jump on a trend and move full steam ahead without doing any due diligence. It’s important to ensure there is interest in your idea and in the option of experiencing that idea online. Research your idea by looking for similar virtual events in other markets. Check to see if there are competing events coming up. Also, research whether comparable in-person events exist and how successful they are. Investigate your intended event audience and ask them if they would attend your event. You will save yourself a lot of time, money, and heartache if you take this step first.
2. Find a Differentiator
Even if you find that you don’t have much competition, brainstorming an element that makes your virtual memorable is still a great promotional tool. If you have competition, a differentiator is essential. An effective differentiator should be true to your mission and beneficial to your audience. Here are some questions to help you strategize:
- What exclusive item, information, or service can you provide?
- Can you provide access to industry leaders or influencers?
- Can you provide a unique or one-of-a-kind experience?
- Make your virtual event stand out from the crowd with a show-stopping value-add for your guests.
3. You Don’t Have the Follow the Traditional Presentation Model
If the success of TED Talks has taught us anything, it’s that humans like short, snappy, and authentic presentations. The traditional presentation model of lectures and Powerpoint is not the only way to plan a virtual event. A TED Talk-style presentation is just one alternative. Feature a live or recorded small roundtable discussion format or a fireside chat. If your event is live, use a polling app to survey your audience and let them decide on the content of a discussion. The sky is the limit. Technology offers us the ability to be creative.
4. Plan an agenda and content that is unique, valuable, and HUMAN
A virtual event could include a full day agenda just like a regular conference, but this rarely works for most planners and attendees. A full day virtual agenda is complicated and expensive to pull off online and chances are high that virtual attendees will have other distractions pulling at them during the event.
If you do provide multiple sessions, keep each one less than 60 minutes and space them out so there is a break in between. This will give attendees time to address other concerns and your time to set up your speakers and technology. Just make sure you give attendees a compelling reason to come back after the break. Content is key.
Offer content that is engaging and creative. Tell stories, be authentic, be HUMAN. We sometimes forget that there are people on the other end of a video chat or livestream. Remember, if your content is boring, it’s really easy to leave a virtual event. You don’t want that. Also find ways to include audience participation with brainstorming, whiteboard activities, polls, chats, and other gamification. Include following activities like demonstrations or behind-the-scenes tours. Your audience will feel like they are there with you in spirit.
5. Make your event as accessible as possible
The diversity of our society makes us better. It can also make your virtual events better. Create a virtual event that accommodates all people. Make your event ADA accessible with close captioning or sign language interpreters and large fonts on all presentations and websites. Feature a diverse group of speakers so guests feel like they can relate to your content through the presentations. A range of voices is always better. The more inclusive you are, the more engaging your virtual event will be.
6. Test and retest your platform and equipment
Production quality matters. If your connection is spotty or glitchy, you’ll lose your audience before you even get started. We’ve all left webinars 5 minutes in because the audio was terrible or the presentation wouldn’t advance. Avoid this by asking your speakers to do a dry run before the event. Make sure the camera angle, lighting, audio quality, and appropriate backgrounds all work well and look good. And ensure that all internet connections are strong. This is especially important if your speakers are in different locations. This step is non-negotiable. Do it before every event, even if you are using the same equipment and platform.
7. Offer ways to connect
Even with virtual events, attendees do not need to feel disconnected from each other. Offer easy ways for guests to connect before, during, and after your event. Create memorable hashtags to use in all social media marketing and promotion. Start conversations using the hashtag or host virtual meetups on applicable social media channels. Set up message boards on your event platform for guests to interact with each other. Include a chat function during your event for guests to ask questions and interact. All of these activities will offer guests the chance to feel like they are engaging in a personal way. Keep the conversations going after your event is over on the message boards and social media channels. This gives you the perfect venue to announce and promote your next virtual event.
The future is here. Even when this time of social distancing is over, virtual events can still be an effective way to engage customers and promote products. Creativity is key to making sure your virtual events are engaging and impactful.