We've all attended truly awful digital events. The webpage takes forever to load, there's no agenda to follow, speakers are lackluster, and after eight hours, you have little to show for your time spent on Zoom except for stiff legs and sore eyes.
Experiences like these can leave you hesitant to attend a virtual, or even hybrid, event ever again.
Luckily, it doesn't have to be this way. Strong virtual event planning can lead to a successful and positive event experience for your attendees. Well-crafted virtual events have a host of benefits:
- They can help you reach a larger number of attendees than in-person events.
- You spend less money on venue rental, catering, and other expenses.
- Virtual events can be more sustainable than in-person events.
- They increase event accessibility for folks spread across geographic distances, with mobility or health concerns, or specific sensory needs.
Despite the obvious potential of including virtual events in your offerings, it can be hard to know how to make these events as memorable as your in-person events. Start by incorporating the following strategies into your event planning!
Choose the Right Type of Virtual Event
To start, think about the goals of your event. What do you hope your attendees will get out of the experience? Do you want them to:
- Leave with new professional connections?
- Learn new skills and strategies to use in their work?
- Discover and potentially purchase new products or services?
- Actively engage in the virtual space, or passively consume information?
- Make a donation to a nonprofit or foundation?
- Simply have a good time?
Whatever the goal may be, clearly defining this at the beginning of your event planning process is critical. This will help you choose the proper event format from the beginning, helping you avoid major event redesign partway through the planning process.
Any of the following event types can work well in a virtual format:
- Webinars and trainings
- Networking events and conferences
- Fundraisers and galas
Know Your Why
Why are you planning a virtual event? Do you want to reach people around the globe? Are you hoping to use technology to facilitate key parts of your event?
Digital event technology has greatly advanced in the last few years, and it's easy to become overwhelmed by all the options available to you. Deciding why it's important for you to utilize a virtual event platform will clarify which tech solutions you should invest in and how to prioritize your event planning funds.
Design for the Medium
A common mistake that first-time virtual event planners make is trying to recreate the live-event experience in a digital arena.
And this makes sense. After all, if the majority of your experience lies in in-person event planning, why wouldn't you lean into that experience as much as you can?
However, this can often lead to virtual events where it feels like "something is missing." Even subtly, you risk creating an event that feels like a poor imitation of an in-person event, leaving your attendees less than satisfied with the experience.
Instead, start by thinking about how you can design an event specifically for the virtual medium. Play to the strengths of virtual events, rather than trying to make up for a perceived lack by not being in person.
Focus on the Full Attendee Journey
For live events, we usually think of the attendee's event experience as starting when they walk in the doors of the event space. For virtual events, the attendee journey starts as soon as they register for the event.
Set up an auto-email to go to the attendees as soon as they register for the event. This serves as a confirmation that their registration was successful, and it's a great way to get an immediate touchpoint with your attendees. Not to mention, it gives them a place they can reference later with all event details.
Think about how you can continue to engage your attendees between registration and the event date. Continue to send them email updates as the event gets closer, and remind them if there's anything they need to prepare for the event. Provide them with FAQs and video guides on how to access the event day-of.
Make It Easy for Attendees to Network Later
In meeting rooms, encourage using the chat feature to privately share contact information with other attendees you're making a connection with. If you have a keynote session or speaker panels, have them all share their contact information both in writing and verbally.
If you're using a virtual event platform that allows attendees to make personal profiles for the event, encourage them to fill out the provided form fields as well as they can, including personal bios, contact info, and location. This helps attendees find other folks that they might be able to connect with on their own, in-person or virtually.
Plan Live Event Support
Even with the best of plans, sometimes technology just doesn't work the way it's supposed to. Plan to have a digital expert staffing the duration of the digital event so that if something goes awry, you have someone available to troubleshoot immediately.
It's also a good idea to have a public-facing tech support contact that your attendees can reach out to. This person serves as the point of contact for the event for any issues with registration or accessing the virtual event space. This individual should also be available for the duration of the event and accessible via email in the days leading up to the event.
With the flexibility that virtual mediums afford, allow yourself to get creative with your event planning. Is there anything you've always wanted to do at an in-person event that you just couldn't make happen because of the time or resources it would take? Now's the perfect chance to see if that idea's more feasible in a virtual format.
Feel free to take inspiration from other virtual events. Make a habit of attending virtual events when you can, and take note of what works well and what could use improvement. This research will help you walk in the shoes of your attendees and help them avoid some of the more common frustrating experiences that can come with virtual events.
Invest in the Right Tech Solutions
If you took the time at the beginning of your event planning process to thoroughly evaluate the goals of your event, choosing a virtual event platform should be relatively pain-free. Use the discoveries you made then to conduct a competitive analysis of the most popular virtual event platforms on the market today.
Don't Neglect Event Marketing
While it might be easy to think that all you have to do to promote your virtual event is post a few graphics on social media, online events deserve just as much attention to marketing strategy as in-person events do.
First, make sure access information for the event is included in all promotional materials. Think of the Zoom link or event website as you would a physical address for an in-person event; without this information, your attendees don't know how to find your event!
Next, advertise your event across multiple channels. Be proactive by sending out invites via your email list, social accounts, physical mailing list, and other advertising channels. Depending on the type of event you're creating, even traditional marketing like TV, radio, and print ads can be effective.
If you want your in-person audience to attend your digital events, find ways to market your online event during in-person gatherings. Consider handing out postcards with a QR code to the event registration page, mention the digital event in your pre- or post-event announcement, and include your digital offerings in any event calendar you provide to attendees.
As much as you can, have all the calls to action in your ads and invites lead back to a single, comprehensive event webpage. This benefits both you and your attendees. If you need to update event information, you only have to do so in one place, and your attendees only have one online location they need to visit to find event details.
Across all your advertising materials, use cohesive brand elements like images, logos, and fonts to help potential employees identify your event.
Avoid Reinventing the Wheel
While a lot of the content above is specific to designing and marketing digital events, some of it is just good event-planning advice in general. Don't be afraid to lean into the skills you already have from planning in-person events. If any of your existing strategies will work just as well online as they do in-person, use them to your advantage.
Virtual Event Planning Made Easy
Hosting a virtual event doesn't have to be the insurmountable task that it seems to be. If you lean into your existing skills as an event planner, design your event specifically for a digital medium, and thoughtfully engage your attendees, you'll be on track to hosting an event your attendees won't soon forget!
If you're anything like the average New York event planner, you're constantly on the lookout for ways to up your game and connect with other professionals in your area. The event planner expo is just the place to do both of these things. Get the latest news on New York event spaces while learning about the latest strategies in virtual and live event planning.
Get your tickets to The Event Planner Expo 2024. You won't want to miss it!