Best Practices for Creating a Virtual Event That Delivers

Feb 1, 2021 | Conferences & Trade Shows, Event Management

Companies have been utilizing virtual events sporadically for years, but the travel restrictions of 2020 have made them the norm, not the exception. Everything from conferences to trade shows, training sessions to recognition events have gone virtual. As a result, some experts say we may be experiencing virtual fatigue. However, companies have found that these events attract a larger audience at a fraction of the cost of an in-person event. So, it seems that virtual events will be here to stay.

As we gain more experience in implementing virtual events, some “best practices” are developing. Here are tips on maximizing engagement for your event.

Start With The Basics

In the excitement of planning a virtual event, don’t jump into the small details of the occasion just yet. Take a step back and start with the basics, just like you would when planning a face-to-face meeting. Here’s where to start:

  • Determine your audience: Who are your participants? Do they share common interests? What will engage them during this virtual event? If you can’t envision your participants actively involved in a live event, chances are they won’t be engaged in a virtual event, either. Figure out what characteristics your attendees share, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a memorable, virtual experience.
  • Determine your key takeaways: What will your audience gain by attending your event? Every presentation, activity, and communication should reinforce these key messages.
  • Define what behaviors / actions you want to inspire: What do you want your audience to do with the information they’ve gleaned after the event? Defining these behaviors will help you establish the impact post-event.

Establish Specific Goals for Your Event

Are you trying to foster brand loyalty, drive sales, generate leads, educate, or simply interact with your key customers? Understanding what the organization hopes to achieve will ensure the event aligns with and focuses on driving the organization’s business objectives forward. Consider the different ways virtual events can help you achieve these goals:

  • Education: Are you planning to implement a new process or launch a new product? A virtual event could help educate and reinforce knowledge among attendees through demonstrations and the opportunity to ask subject matter experts key questions. Take it a step further by offering breakout sessions to complete learning modules, testing or certification.
  • Recognition: You can still help your attendees capture that important feeling of appreciation and pride during a virtual event. In fact, virtual events are a great way to announce winners and allow the entire organization to take part in congratulating them on their success. Imagine the possibilities when you publicly recognize your top performers!
  • Loyalty: Replicate the feel of a “by invitation only” event virtually to share important business information. This allows you the opportunity to convey commitment to your key stakeholders, which leads to building and strengthening relationships.

Content Is King

We are all multi-tasking these days. We live, work, and play in our homes, so time is a precious commodity. If you want your audience to commit their time to an online event, you need to make sure the content is relevant (to them), engaging, and inspires action.

The good news is, we’re used to this! Developing relevant content is equally important when planning a traditional event, and it’s what we’ve done for years. Don’t abandon the basics of a successful event in a rush to get a virtual meeting planned. Here are a few guidelines to help keep you on track.

  • Remember less is more: When planning your agenda and content, limit keynote presentations to less than an hour. Your message is competing with a plethora of digital distractions – constantly pinging emails, wandering family members, and mobile alerts all contribute toward shorter attention spans. Keep your sessions short and to the point.
  • Give them a break: If your event includes multiple presentations, incorporate frequent breaks between sessions so that your audience can stretch their legs, and balance work-from-home requirements.  
  • Incorporate elements of fun: Trivia games, scavenger hunts, entertainment, quizzes, giveaways are all strategies to keep your audience engaged and online and help set a lasting impression of your organization.

Remember, with a single click, an attendee can virtually “walk out the room,” so maintain audience engagement is essential.

Let’s Talk Tech

Choosing the right platform and technology partners for your event is critical. The type of technology needed will largely depend on your goals and the tools needed to best support your content and overall event needs.

Various technologies are offering different features and benefits, from streaming services to “one-stop” virtual platforms. Here are some things to consider when reviewing the capabilities of your potential tech partner(s) – and yes, your event may require more than one:

  • What type of sessions can your virtual event platform support?
    • Live and pre-recorded
    • Breakout sessions
    • Chatrooms
    • Polling and Surveys
    • In-session Q&A tools
  • How easy is it to use?
    • Simple to use and easy to set-up
    • Accessible via any device
    • No special equipment required to attend
    • User-friendly interface
    • No limit to the number of attendees for live streaming
  • How customizable is it?
    • Customization/branding options
    • Does the attendee have the ability to personalize schedules and agendas in some way
  • Are there sponsor & exhibitor offerings?
    • Assistance in soliciting sponsors and monetizing event
    • Sponsor branding opportunities on the platform
    • Ability to showcase exhibitor booths
    • Option to offer awards / badges for attending sponsor’s booth
    • Ability to sponsor sessions
  • How do you evaluate success?
    • What type of data can the event platform collect
    • What reports can be generated
    • Is data held in a secure and compliant environment
  • How much customer support is offered?
    • Type of support provided pre, during and post-event
    • Does the provider offer support for attendees
    • Time zone in which the provider resides

Conducting this upfront research will help you identify appropriate technology partners, leading to a successful event.  

Chat It Up

Chances are your potential participants are being inundated with emails and invites. Your challenge is to make sure your message stands out from the clutter. Rather than taking the “one and done” approach and letting your registration site or a single evite do all the work for you, create a robust communications campaign that includes multiple touchpoints to keep your event top-of-mind for your audience. Consider these promotional elements in your communications plan:

  • Save the Date notice – reach out early and maintain open communications.
  • Registration site with a link to the event – build excitement by asking attendees to submit questions, answer surveys, and provide feedback in advance.
  • Emails promoting the event’s agenda / speakers / presentations – use automated emails to maintain interest in your event. Remember to frame it in terms of benefits for the attendees.
  • Social media assets – create a number of social media posts that you can share on your handles with the program theme and logo. Depending on the event, you can also ask attendees to share these graphics as well.  
  • Day-of-Event email reminder – make it easy for attendees to join the fun on the day of the event. A great way to do this is to resend the link so people don’t have to search through their inboxes.
  • Post-event thank-you with link to on-demand content – follow up post-event with attendees to keep their enthusiasm high.

In addition, consider utilizing a variety of marketing strategies to communicate your event. This includes everything from a traditional direct mail approach for a select group of attendees to a drip-email campaign. Don’t forget to promote your event to that social media audience you have been cultivating.

Make It Memorable

Remember the good old days when your conference was held in an exciting venue. Staging for keynotes speakers was designed to WOW your attendees and dozens of sponsors were vying to be included in your exhibit hall? The virtual platform is now your venue, and there is still a need for quality production to promote your brand. The right platform can help you create an engaging online environment that features holographic images, interactive assets, and videos to bring your message to life for your attendees. Moreover, your virtual environment can replicate the live experience of an in-person event. Here are some venue “locations” that can be incorporated into your event:

  • Lobby/Campus with branding opportunities for sponsors.
  • Main Hall to “stage” keynote addresses.
  • Breakout Rooms, chat rooms to encourage interaction and attendee feedback.
  • Exhibit Hall / Booths to promote sponsor products.
  • Resource Center for attendees to access information on agenda and sponsors.
  • Networking Lounge to encourage networking.

Virtually every aspect of a physical event can be re-imagined – well, virtually. So, don’t focus on what can’t be done in the virtual world. Instead, look for creative ways to duplicate the experience.

Practice Makes Perfect

Just because the attendees are joining your event from the comfort of their homes (possibly in their PJs) doesn’t mean that you can afford to be casual in your delivery. Use the same diligence in rehearsing your virtual event that you would an in-person one:

  • Consider pre-recording individual sessions to avoid glitches. Have speakers available to answer questions in real-time during their presentations.
  • Do a complete dry run of your entire event to work out the kinks.
  • Test microphones, video cameras, and other devices that will support your event.
  • Ask speakers who will be presenting live to test (and, if necessary, troubleshoot) their Wi-Fi connection before the event.
  • Anticipate the troubles people may have by preparing easy-to-follow guides or FAQs.
  • Prepare back up plans for speakers and live demos in case of technical issues.

In other words, be prepared. If glitches do happen, you will be able to transition quickly to Plan B without losing your audience.

Mine Your Data

Utilize data to evaluate the impact of events and capture leads.

In some ways, virtual meetings offer more opportunities to collect data than face-to-face events. In many cases, every interaction is automatically tracked. From the minute attendees log in, you can view what they watch and how much they interact. Information that can be gleaned includes:

  • What sessions did registrants attend, how long did they stay, and where (within the platform) did they go when they left?
  • Who visited your booth and what collateral did they download?
  • Did multiple attendees from the buying group engage with your content at the event? 
  • What engagement strategies had the most significant impact (networking, chat rooms, Q& A polling, etc.)?

Data is invaluable to help determine your event’s success and figure out what improvements you need to make in the future. Plus, this data is also essential for your sponsors and exhibitors. It can be used as one of your sponsors and exhibitors’ main incentives to keep reinvesting in your event.

In conclusion

The virtual world continues to evolve, and even as we post this, new trends are emerging and the list of best practices is expanding. If you have additional successful strategies to add to the list, let us know! We are all looking for tips and guidelines to help us learn to navigate the new normal. Learn more about One10’s virtual event capabilities.

Natalie Woodson

Natalie Woodson

Natalie has worked in the performance improvement industry for over 30 years and has been an One10 associate since 2012. She has worked with a wide variety of Fortune 500 clients to help them assess their performance improvement needs and develop programs that significantly impact their financial objectives. This includes experience in developing employee engagement and sales channel initiatives for both internal sales organizations and channel partners.