Current events have forced organizations to quickly adapt their in-person events to a virtual environment. While we’re all wishing we had some in-person interaction, we’ve learned there are some essentials for an impactful virtual event that closely emulates in-person gatherings.
That said, there are some things that simply cannot be replicated from being in-person, but that makes the focus on the attendee’s user experience even more vital to the success of an event. It’s important to keep in mind what type of event you are hosting and who your audience is. Below is our shortlist of essentials to elevate your event from another day sitting at a computer to an engaging and positive experience that leaves your attendees talking about it long after the final keynote!
The best virtual events begin in the planning phase. A creative and intentional event content strategy is a vital element in ensuring your event is cohesive. You should define the overall theme of your conference and what you are hoping your audience will do as a result. Planning your overall theme will help you curate the experience, decide on speakers, and guide the session topics you’ll be offering.
In the planning phase, you will also want to think through the flow of the event schedule, and leave ample time for opening messages, transition time in between sessions, and breaks for attendees throughout the event. Your event’s overall content will also include designing the look and feel of the event through graphics, presentation decks, and virtual backgrounds speakers can use during their session. Once your theme is nailed down, you will want to give your creative team sufficient time to design all of the artwork to include social media images and slide deck templates if needed.
No successful event happens by accident. When it comes time for the live event, an operations center will be key. But don’t be scared off by the term “operations center”! Ideally, this is a person or two with a hard-wired internet connection to ensure internet connection issues are less likely. If your operations center staff are still not in one location, it’s common to have a conference call going during the event exclusively for organizers to make decisions and share updates. The people or person managing the operations center should also have reviewed and access to event contingency plans in order to effectively communicate with other team members or speakers in case any issues arise. The contingency plan will also need to be put into place well in advance of the event going live. When planning the operations of an event, you should think through the following as well:
- Broadcast tools and production level: Before you start a live stream, it’s essential to ensure you’ve sorted out the technical requirements from connection to hardware and software. Deciding on your production level will help you know what equipment you’ll need and the staff needed to execute your event.
- Breakout rooms: Like at an in-person conference, breakout rooms provide a place for attendees to gather in smaller groups. Smaller breakout rooms provide a way for attendees to meet and feel connected to others.
- Moderators: Who is running your sessions? Will you have moderators to help your speakers get started? It is always a good idea to have a moderator assist during sessions whether that is answering speakers’ questions about getting set up, introducing the speaker, or interviewing and interacting with the speaker during the session. This provides another barrier to ensure no one is left figuring something out on their own and an element of interaction for a more enjoyable experience for your attendees.
- Communication with attendees: Over-communication is key for a successful virtual event. Because most people are working remotely these days, they tend to be more understanding and forgiving if hiccups happen, however, it makes for a smoother event if you are able to quickly identify any mishaps and clearly communicate them to participants. From attendees’ login information, websites going down, or a delay in the schedule, ensure you have a way to quickly communicate this to your attendees.
- Accessibility: Making your events more accessible ensures that your content is more inclusive and easily available for a wider audience. When executed well, these tips will make your virtual presentation smoother and easier for all audiences.
- Surprise and delight your audience: Consider offering attendees something that is not disclosed when they register, whether that is a gift card for coffee or a surprise speaker or musical performance. By not telling attendees everything, it leaves something to be pleasantly surprised about and goes a long way to creating a positive memory about the event.
One of the most important aspects of an impactful virtual event is incorporating engagement among the attendees. This could include ensuring the chat rooms are enabled on the event dashboard or during the sessions, attendees are able to engage with one another through an app, and having a social media strategy for the event in place. For social media, you should plan which channels you’ll use to engage with your audiences. Questions to ask yourself include:
- How often will you post on social? This will depend on a few things including the event team resourcing capacity, if you have the ability to schedule posts beforehand, how engaged your audience typically is on social, and how engaged you want to be throughout the event. If you are a small team, you could consider dedicating one person to manage the social media throughout the event or selecting someone or multiple people from outside your organization to do a social media takeover.
- How will you get a dialogue going? Asking questions, using an event hashtag, and encouraging attendees to participate in the conversation and share their experiences on social will increase the reach of your event and help attendees feel more connected to one another.
- What social media handles and hashtags will you be using throughout the event? Having a document with all of the handles for the event team, keynote and session speakers, and sponsors will make your life easier when it is time to schedule posts in advance or post live during the event. You should also include these hashtags on your event materials such as emails and the event website.
A successful virtual event makes it easy for speakers, sponsors, and attendees to talk about what they are experiencing. Another aspect to consider for a truly impactful virtual event is swag for registrants. This is not necessarily a must-have, but it can bring in an additional aspect to make your virtual event more of a total experience. This could be something as simple as mailing out branded notepads and pens or sending mini cocktail kits for use during a happy hour.
Virtual events are here to stay for the foreseeable future, so it’s a good idea to experiment with different techniques while making sure you cover the essentials we’ve outlined in this post. It’s also helpful to consider how you can use these essentials to put your own unique twist on the experience, just like you would at an in-person event. Keep in mind that while a virtual event will never be able to fully replace an in-person event, you have the opportunity to reach a far greater audience and leave a lasting impression.
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