“Hey, I want to throw a conference on the other side of the country. What do I need to consider?”
“I’m planning this big virtual event. How can I make it great?”
If you’ve found yourself asking these kinds of questions, congratulations! You are on your way to orchestrating something pretty impressive. A virtual event is unlike anything else in the world of conferences and seminars. You’re essentially building an experience for people who aren’t even there with you. It’s exciting stuff!
So how on earth are you supposed to pull that off? If you’d like some guidance on virtual event planning, let us take a look at this helpful checklist.
Think about your participants, your audience, and your format
Remote events are often more intimate than traditional face-to-face ones. What you lose in physical attendance, you gain the potential for deeper connections with people across time zones. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be challenges. Keep these things in mind as you put it all together.
The most important thing to consider is that you’re designing an experience for the attending people. What do they want out of it? Will your event achieve its goals if people check their email or get distracted by other online activities during the course? If so, then you might need to incentivize participation to maintain engagement.
Who is your event for? You want to aim for an appropriate balance of experts and newbies so that everyone gets something out of it. Don’t forget to consider what makes this event unique. What will attendees get from being a part of it that they won’t get from attending a different kind of program? Think about how people can benefit most from participating.
How will your sessions be structured, and how much content should be covered in each one? Be mindful of balance. Too many full-day events can sometimes feel overwhelming, but not holding enough sessions can mean valuable opportunities don’t get expressed!
Once you already have some ideas about what topics might be covered, then put together a draft schedule, and think about whether or not the timeframes are appropriate. Also, it’s crucial to have a backup plan in case your virtual venue interrupts your session feed. Will there be anything that needs to be discussed off-camera?
Plan sessions and content (and consider live streaming)
There are many ways to engage people through online events these days. Whether you’re looking for something casual like an AMA or aiming for more formal presentations with Q&A opportunities, it’s up to you! You can run single-speaker roundtables (i.e., demos, workshops), panel discussions (across time zones!), master classes.
The possibilities are endless. Make sure everyone attending has access to everything they need, and feel free to experiment until you find what works best.
Think about the speaker lineup and audition them for your event. If they can’t speak on camera or text chat easily, consider having them pre-record their content instead of doing something live. Make sure your team knows how to best communicate with everyone who signed up!
Have everyone introduce themselves before the event starts so that people know who they’re talking to (and be sure to tag speakers during Q&A sessions!). Encourage people to ask questions at any time by using hashtags or chat commands.
It would be best to plan things like “lightning rounds” where all participants are asked the same question at once and ways to make sure everyone can weigh in on group discussion topics.
As far as the live stream goes, it’s essential to think about whether or not you’ll be able to broadcast your sessions or if you’d prefer for them to remain closed. If you decide to go live, you should also plan for any potential breaks during your virtual event, depending on which platform(s) are used.
Also, consider what content might need to be recorded/archived afterward. Are there specific parts of the session that people will want to revisit later? And lastly, how much audio and video quality should be expected?
High fidelity is always best, but it’s unrealistic if too many variables are involved! There’s no perfect solution, so be realistic about what kind of equipment you can use for this event.
If your event is just one big free-for-all, you should also think about mediating different conversations around the virtual room! Set up some guidelines before starting. Perhaps only allowing people to speak if they’ve first introduced themselves by their name and organization?
You can even set up your moderators depending on how serious or unruly things get (knowing who will support these kinds of decisions beforehand is vital).
Settle on logistics (and do your homework)
Once you have an idea about what kind of format or theme your virtual event should follow, consider practicalities like what time your event will start and end if any. Are there specific times that work better for certain participants?
I’ve personally found that it’s easier to plan around a loose set of hours instead of a strict start-and-end time. Just in case some unforeseen circumstances come up, you won’t have to worry about being “on the clock”!
You’ll also want to coordinate with your venue so everything can run smoothly. Do they have all of the equipment needed? Do you need a separate room for audio/video/etc.? If not, then be sure to explain what kind of connections people might expect (e.g., low-quality video chat is okay when something like Skype is used).
And make a note of which software will be available for your participants, but also think about logistical concerns like time zone differences and whatnot.
You should also provide logistical information in the invitation. Where people need to go, what they need to bring (if anything), etc. Also, keep in mind that travel costs may play a part in some peoples’ decisions to attend. So you’ll want to make sure it’s worth their time!
And lastly, if there is any equipment required for participation (e.g., webcam or headset), let people know upfront about how much it might cost if anything (and consider creating an Amazon wishlist with suggested donations).
Once you’ve made all of these decisions, then it’s time to take care of the details! Set up the necessary equipment, ensure everyone knows where to go, and follow whatever codes of conduct you set up beforehand.
Send out invitations and collect RSVPs
As soon as you have some details worked out about your virtual event, it’s time to let people know. It would be best if you kept things open for people to suggest different formats or topics.
After that point, you’ll want to send out a more formal invitation with all of the information included, start date/time(s), end date/time(s), relevant logistical information (location address, travel tips, etc.), etc.
Most importantly, be sure members can easily contact each other through whatever platform is being used! And if possible, try to include some of the information in your email marketing materials.
It’s also essential to have a clear call-to-action at the end of any promotional materials that people might see. This way, it’s super apparent how they can sign up for an event or activity!
And lastly, be sure to collect RSVPs to have an idea about who will be there. This will help with logistical arrangements and inform participants about relevant opportunities, like special guests attending!
Virtual Event Promotion
The internet has made it easier than ever before to reach out to people worldwide with relative ease, but sometimes physical mail can still make a stronger impression. How you decide to communicate with your participants is up to you, but here are some strategies I’ve found work well:
Promoting a virtual event through email marketing – use your email database
This includes people who have signed up for emails from you as well as those people who have purchased something from you in the past. When it comes to planning an online event, things can get limited if there’s no method of promotion that allows a steady stream of new participants without a ton of effort.
That being said, why not send out one more round of emails advertising your upcoming virtual event/activity? We all know how much time and effort it takes to build a comprehensive list, but if you haven’t been using it regularly, now is the time to make it work for you!
Social Media Promotion is another excellent way to promote your virtual event
Not everyone uses Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Hence, it would be best to think about where all of your potential participants are hanging out online that might also be relevant to your topic or format.
If possible, I suggest creating at least one social media account before the event starts, even though they’re kind of “work-intensive” in terms of maintenance.
The point is that there will be updates happening all the time during an online event, and some people may miss it on the first notification. Seeing multiple posts on someone’s newsfeed can help ensure more awareness throughout the entirety of an activity. That said, if you can get even one other person to help you manage it, that would be ideal!
Don’t forget about sponsorship opportunities
Many companies are looking for exposure through virtual events and activities, especially relevant to their industry! If you can find a few companies interested in your event or activity, perhaps ask them for donated prizes or giveaways that could also serve as an incentive.
Then it would be best if you mentioned it when you sent out your invitations. It would be great to have any social proof like testimonials or endorsements but without someone using the product themselves, so try to see if anyone at the company might be willing to do something like this before asking.