It’s a brave new world out there. Gone are the days of travelling to conferences and meetings in person. This last year has been the year of the virtual event. Virtual events have always been valuable, but more and more businesses have been recognising what’s possible during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
With this guide, you’ll get to know everything about how to plan a virtual event that your attendees will enjoy from start to finish!
When did virtual events start being a ‘thing’?
Virtual events have been around for more than two decades when, in 1993, the world’s first live stream brought us coverage of a dripping coffee maker.
But the technology to create virtual events for a live group became available in 2010 when Apple introduced FaceTime. Virtual events became more popular in the late 2000s as an affordable and environmentally-friendly way of hosting global events and meetings with disparate team members.
Now they have seen another boost, as virtual events have allowed people to connect in the time of COVID-19. And with more people tuned into the technical possibilities than ever, putting on a virtual event is much easier than it may have been in the past.
Now, with mobile and video-conferencing apps like Skype and Zoom or web conferencing platforms such as GoToMeeting, Teams, WebEx and Google+, we can meet almost anyone anywhere in real-time from our desktops.
From live streaming to live-tweeting, organisations, schools, universities and businesses are staging virtual events across the web and reaching people in a whole new way.
The most successful virtual events are well-planned and manage to create the same sense of excitement that an on-site event can generate.
What is a virtual event?
A virtual event is a digital event. It is any meeting, conference, training or workshop that takes place online, rather than in-person, using video conferencing technology to connect attendees from different locations. Virtual events allow people on the other side of the world to meet with others who may be located right next door.
What is a hybrid event?
A hybrid event is a cross between a virtual event and an on-site physical conference. It can be hosted at the same location as the conference or in a different place near your attendees.
The hybrid approach enables you to have some of your events on-site while supplementing them with others via live-streamed video when necessary.
What are the types of virtual events?
Virtual events can be added to the list of any events you host. Indeed any event can be turned into a virtual or hybrid event. They are not a replacement for other types of events but can be seen as enhancing your entire event programme.
As a full-service virtual and corporate event company, Surtees, with 35 years of experience in the event industry, is ideally placed to partner up with you and make your next event engage your attendees from the start and motivate them past the end.
Do you want to create something outstanding?
Here’s a list of the four main types of online events you can host.
Like live conferences, virtual conferences are events where people can come together virtually. A virtual conference is conducted in a similar way to an in-person conference. It includes many different sessions, speakers, workshops, and other smaller events for people to participate in.
Conferences might occur over a day or several days and include keynote speakers, breakouts, workshops, and various other elements. Attendees can choose which parts of the conference they want to attend to create their own conference experience. Even networking can be included with virtual conferences.
Webinars are a form of meeting that allows speakers to present content that is usually informative or educational. Webinars might be used to deliver courses, tutorials and training, whether internally for your staff or externally for other people. Webinars often use video conferencing tools, which can allow people to ask questions and have them answered. They are usually between around half an hour and 90 minutes long, the same length many in-person seminars and lessons might be.
These are events that blend the virtual and physical worlds. The events can occur in a physical location, where attendees have access to screens with streamed content or presentations via live-streaming applications such as YouTube Live or Facebook Live.
This type of event allows for attendees who cannot make it on-site due to time zones, distance, covid etc., to be able to receive the same message as the rest of the entire company. Hybrid events require a higher level of video production so that virtual attendees get a similar quality to ‘live’ attendees.
Interviews and performances
Some virtual events are focused on broadcasting something that would typically be conducted on stage. These include interviews and performances, such as music, theatre, TED-style talks, and even interactive events such as trivia games. These virtual events can be great for entertainment value and provide helpful information and education and keep people engaged online.
Why host a virtual event?
When there are many ways to promote your business and even other ways to host events, why should you consider hosting a virtual event?
A virtual event can cut costs, save time and help you reach a larger audience. It also means that you have much more flexibility in terms of location or timing, so it is ideal for those who are often travelling or anyone with an unpredictable schedule!
In-Person Events vs Virtual Events
When in-person events are also an option, you might wonder what the benefit of a virtual event could be. But virtual events are not simply inferior alternatives to in-person events, to be used when there is no other option available. Virtual events offer benefits even above and beyond in-person events.
We have been choosing between in-person, virtual and hybrid events for years, and each type has its pros and cons. For instance, virtual events can be a great option if you are often travelling and want to keep up with your connections, but they come with the downside of not meeting in person or sharing ideas.
A webinar benefits from being virtual as it is cheaper, but it has the limitation of only being viewed on a computer or mobile device. A live conference can be expensive and challenging to organise but is incredibly immersive for the attendees.
Virtual events can be much more affordable to host, often with no need to hire a venue or create expensive audio-visual setups. This could even mean that money can be funnelled back into speakers fees or other things that might improve the event.
Virtual events are also very scalable. There may not need to be a limit on your audience, whereas venues usually have a capacity limit. A virtual event is also excellent if you’re looking for comprehensive data and analytics. Hosting your event online makes it much easier to collect important information on attendance, engagement, and more.
Tip: When deciding whether to make your event virtual, you should consider what you are trying to achieve, whether it is a good fit and how well your goals can be reached in-person vs virtually.
Three reasons to host a virtual event:
(And the most obvious!)
1.You can’t physically meet in person, and there’s no other option. We have plenty of experience of changing live in-person events to equally successful virtual ones.
2.The event is cheaper to host. Digital events can be more affordable to produce. They are more cost-effective for attendees, eliminating the stress of travelling costs and doing it at their convenience from home or office.
3.It’s easier to plan. Planning a virtual event means you don’t have to worry about which venue is best, if there’s parking nearby, where people will stay. Plus, everyone can be accommodated wherever they are in the world.
How to plan a virtual event
Planning virtual events is not as simple as it may seem. However, there are some fundamental elements to take into account. There are a few key steps and essential elements to follow for your event to be successful and avoid hiccups along the way. If you think of virtual events as an opportunity to create something big that lasts beyond just a computer screen, then you can make an impactful experience that lasts too.
-Virtual events, like live events, must have good marketing. If people don’t know about them, what they’re about and what they expect the outcome to be, they won’t log on.
-Content is SO vital in virtual events because it’s the only way for a participant to be engaged in your event. Often they won’t be able to ask questions or see you present, so it has to captivate them and relay each piece of information quickly and efficiently.
-An event strategy is a must for a successful event and should outline your objectives and how you’re going to meet them. It would be best if you covered everything from whether your event is paid or free to when it will be and what metrics to measure to determine its success.
-Choosing the appropriate virtual event software is a significant part of hosting an effective event. You need to consider your audience’s needs, like whether they want live video or just slideshows and audio recordings.
Tips for hosting successful virtual events
All types of event come with logistical challenges, and virtual events are no exception. Luckily, there is a lot of guidance out globally to help you through each stage of planning an event online.
Determine the Target Audience and Goals of Your Virtual Event
Start with a key goal or idea. Every event must have a clear strategy, whether it’s a small meeting or a large international event. The more time you give yourself to plan, the better.
Before planning a virtual event, answer the following questions
– what is the virtual event for? To generate leads? To share a message? To educate?
– who are you hosting it for?
– why have a virtual event instead of an in-person one?
– how will attendees interact with each other at the virtual event, or how much interaction do they need?
-what experience do you want your attendees to have?
-what is the virtual event agenda, and what can participants expect from it?
-how will they be notified about updates, future meetings, etc.?
-do you need a moderator for this virtual event, or are guest speakers moderating themselves?
-who needs access to the room before
-will the event be free, or will you charge
-when is the best time for the event’s attendees to participate?
-will there be a live stream or video call for the virtual event, and if so, how will they attend?
-what are some of your best practices to ensure attendees have a great experience at your virtual event?
-will people still have access to the event once it’s over
-what are the KPIs you need to track to determine how successful the event is
-will you require event registration
Choose the best time
Choosing the best date and time for your event is very important, regardless of whether you are hosting a virtual event or not. This is because the time of day can dictate who will be able to attend and what they will have on their schedule at the same time as your event. Before you book it in, do a bit of research to ensure no conflicts would lower the attendance.
If you plan to host a global event, pay close attention to the time zones. Some people will be able to partake in your event in the evening or on their day off from work; others might not have access because it is during the night for them. If everyone can’t attend simultaneously, make sure content is available after the live presentations.
Promote the event
The value proposition must be clear in the event’s marketing. What are the benefits of attending the event? Is there a noteworthy speaker? What will attendees learn at the event?
‘Promote it, and they will come’!
Email and social media are still effective ways of spreading the word about a virtual event, but using platforms like Facebook Live or YouTube is also an option for live streaming your event.
You could create an event countdown on your company website or social media pages, a landing page with information about the event and registration details or even an event website. And always include a registration link.
Tip: Event registration is widely thought to spike two or three weeks before it starts, so it’s good practice to focus on marketing at that time.
The more opportunity there is for attendees to engage, the more they will be engaged. For example, if the audience can submit comments or questions through a chat tool, they will be more likely to watch to see if it gets answered.
Pretty much every virtual event platform has a chat tool built-in, and often you can integrate with Facebook Messenger or Slack to create a more engaging experience.
Tip: make sure you have a moderator there to monitor the comments and questions and be sure to allow for time, including the Q&A session at your virtual event, so that audiences have an opportunity to mingle, ask questions, be entertained etc.
Virtual event components
Like any other event, a virtual event is developed around content, engagement, and data.
These are some of the different components needed to make a virtual event successful:
– virtual setting
– virtual tools
– event registration
– question and answer
– speakers/facilitators – who are hosting(s), what is their background?
– event website
– interactive video conferencing
– live polling
– live/one-way audiovisual
– feedback survey
Essential Virtual Event Tech
One of the most critical parts of a virtual event is the technology required, as that’s what they rely on. The exact tech needed will depend on the event’s makeup and how large it will be. Your event might require a registration or ticketing platform so that you can register your attendees. You will need software and tools for live streaming, plus the necessary equipment to broadcast your stream.
Other tools and tech can be helpful too. Event planning software, event marketing software, and even virtual reality tools can enhance your event. Of course, you also need to have a solid internet connection to ensure your event can go ahead.
Here are some of the most important pieces of event tech:
The event website is key for event promotion. It’s the home for all your event details and should provide all the information attendees need before signing up. It needs to include the goal ad value of your event, the event schedule, speakers, FAQs and, of course, registration.
Event registration needs to be straightforward and provide event attendees with the ability to create an agenda, set up reminders for themselves or others and receive updates on their registered events. Well thought out event registration provides planners and marketers with data to plan future events and analyse event success.
A mobile event app is just as important to in-person events as it is to virtual ones. An event app should provide agendas with links to sessions, messaging tools, speaker information, FAQs and the ability to have all information at their fingertips. Event apps make it easy for mobile-savvy users to quickly find what they are looking for without having to dig through a website or flipping through pamphlets at a live event.
Event feedback is vital to the success of any event, virtual or in-person. Asking attendees for feedback at an event allows planners and organisers to gauge what went well and what needs improvement to make adjustments before hosting future events.
How to prepare your attendees for a virtual event
The main thing to remember is that not everyone is tech-savvy, and when technology is involved, there is going to be an element of fear of the unknown.
To prepare your attendees for a virtual event, it’s good practice to send out a guide with all the information and resources they want or need upfront, giving plenty of time before the event starts. – and not just before the event starts – explaining what time it starts, where to go on the computer/phone, how to access the event and the event sessions, include a link to download the virtual meeting software on their computer etc. The email could include an introductory video from the host.
Virtual event engagement and networking
Virtual events do also provide opportunities for attendee engagement. As well as the sessions, virtual events offer a space for networking opportunities.
Virtual event sessions can include live Q&A and live polling, and the messaging capabilities in mobile apps mean that attendees can set up meetings and meet virtually. Utilising social media well is also a great engagement tool. An event hashtag can be created that attendees can share on social media and help reach a wider audience; promotional graphics can also be shared, as can pre and post-event content (in advance of the virtual) and Facebook Live.
At a virtual event, just because attendees can’t meet in person, it doesn’t mean that they can’t network. It’s just different. Mobile event apps can connect people and let them schedule appointments with each other, exhibitors or sponsors. They can also link attendees with similar interests and set up group chats and breakout sessions.
Virtual event data
Event data is gathered before, during and after to provide you with the insights and results to help you plan your next virtual event. Learn what attendees want from a virtual event, how they spend their time online during an event, qualify leads and show which technologies are most effective at driving engagement.
Some of the data that can be gathered at virtual events:
– Log in times
– Attendee engagement time with the event content
– Length of video and slide views
– Scroll rate for text, slides or videos
– Amount of chat messages sent to other attendees during the virtual events.
– Number of registrations
– Demographic information
– Email open and click-through rates
– Session ratings
– Social media engagement and reach
– Content downloads
– Total number of shares on social media networks.
Measuring the Success of Your Virtual Event
At the end of your event, you should be prepared to measure how successful it was. This will help you determine an ROI for your event and help you learn lessons for your next event. You might use several KPIs, including registration and attendance numbers, engagement metrics such as how many people joined in with virtual discussions, how long attendees stayed online, social media mentions, and more. Sending out surveys and questionnaires to gauge audience response can also be a good idea.
How to turn your live event into virtual at the last minute
During the last year, we have had many occasions where clients have asked us to help them turn it into a virtual event instead of cancelling their live event. We’ve found that it isn’t that difficult to move the content from in-person to virtual if you have the right strategy.
As long as the schedule can be moved to a virtual setting, there is a virtual solution and technical support in place, and the attendees have everything they need to attend virtually, then there is no reason why your live event can be turned into a successful virtual event.
Our event services have been helping people turn their fantastic ideas into outstanding events for 35 years.
We have more than enough experience to advise you or manage the whole operation for you, and we’re always up for something new to test our expertise!
Contact us today to find out more about how we can turn your great idea into a fantastic event!