Since March 2020, there are so many events that have been cancelled. If you are in the business of events or if you like hosting events once in a while, then you must be wondering how you can transition into learning how to host virtual events.
Physical or face-to-face events have been replaced by virtual events. So the question begs; how do you host virtual events?
To look at this, you will understand what a virtual event is, tips and strategies for hosting a virtual event. You will also learn the pros and cons of virtual events as well as benefits of a virtual event.
WHAT IS A VIRTUAL EVENT?
A virtual event is any organized event that takes place on the internet or rather online instead of a physical place. It is the kind of meeting that uses the power of internet connectivity to connect people. The virtual events can be small, medium-sized or large summits with hundreds or thousands of participants or delegates.
While the idea of virtual events sound new, it is worth noting that these online events have been taking place since 1993. That is the first time the world experienced a livestream.
It was a webcam footage of a coffee maker in mid drip. The streaming pot of coffee brewed up millions of views on the internet.
Today, we have such things as TikTok which has made people go viral with various creations. Technology and social media have opened doors to new ways of doing things as well connecting.
Reduced movement and remote working due to global crisis has given rise to use of virtual platforms to host events among other things.
A number of large events and conferences have gone digital. Think about the Coachella’s YouTube livestream in 2018 which brought Beyonce’s Homecoming to more than 41 million people across the globe.
That is the power of virtual events where thousands or millions are bale to access an event. This is better than the few hundreds who attend a physical event.
Whether you have an event already in mind or you are looking for ideas, this article is your solution on how to host virtual events.
BENEFITS OF VIRTUAL EVENTS
Higher or Wider Reach: You will be able to reach and attract more people to your virtual event than you would with a physical event.
Low Barrier to Attend: With reduced travel and time constraints, the barrier to attend a virtual event is relatively low. All you need is internet connectivity and a gadget to access the event with. This can be a smart phone, a tablet and a laptop or desktop.
Reduced Costs: While the expenses for hosting a physical event can go high into such things as hotel, food and drink, travel, printed marketing collateral and hiring of equipments or location, hosting a virtual event helps you reduce the cost by eliminating some of those overheads.
Reduction of Carbon Footprint: Less travel means reduced carbon print. This is a great way for the event industry and businesses to contribute towards reduction of carbon emissions.
Now let us turn to the tips that will help you host a great virtual event.
TIPS FOR HOSTING SUCCESSFUL VIRTUAL EVENTS
Events come with logistical challenges. The following tips will help you avoid or reduce uncertainty when hosting a virtual event.
Create an Event Plan of Action
It does not matter whether your virtual event is big or small. You will need to have a clear plan of action. It is important you have a goal and the event concept which will help you as you develop your plan.
Before hosting a virtual event, answer the following questions:
- What kind of experience do you hope to deliver?
- Will the event be live, on-demand, or both?
- Where do I want the content to be seen?
- Will access be gated or free?
- When is the best time for the event?
- Will you require event registration?
- How will you promote the event?
- Do you plan to work with an advertiser or other partner?
- Will people still have access to the event once it’s over?
- What KPIs and data do you plan to track?
Pick the Best and Right Time
It is very important that you pick the best and the right time for your virtual event. A little background research will help on this.
You should avoid dates and time that compete or clash with other events that would affect your delegates or participants.
Another important aspect of timing is the consideration of different time zones. If you plan to have a global event, this becomes very important
This is something I experienced as I hosted a global oil and gas virtual event which had speakers from across the world and on different time zones. Managing this can be a nightmare, so prior planning is very important.
You should ensure that your content is available in ways that are accessible in different time zones. This would ensure your audience from across countries do not miss it.
Marketing and Promoting Your Event
The idea that if you build or create a virtual event people will automatically come is a fallacy. However, you should create an event and then promote it like crazy to your targeted audience.
Define the major marketing points for your virtual event and highlight them to attract participants. This might include speakers, networking sessions and information sharing among others.
It is important that you ensure that your event value proposition is clear when developing your marketing message and collateral.
You will greatly benefit from sharing your event details across various channels. This could be through email or on your social media platforms. The key point is to ensure that you are strategic in your virtual event marketing
According to Adobe, registrations tend to spike two-to-three weeks before an event. So it’s a good idea to increase your marketing and promotional efforts around this time.
You should also leverage your speakers who can act as your virtual event influencers. It would be smart to ensure they have all the necessary details to promote your event to their network or social media connections.
Your virtual event link is therefore a very important tool, both as a link to the registration form or to an event landing page. It is one way of how to host virtual events that generate more attendees.
Don’t forget to share an event hashtag. This will help people promote the event and drive conversations online.
Plan and Watch Out for Technical Issues
If physical events have hitches, virtual events have glitches.
As you host your virtual events, it is important that you ensure your internet is working. Testing off connectivity and also speakers is of paramount important before you start an event.
One smart move you can put in place is having backup of your presentations and any visual materials.
Running a rehearsal can help you identify technology problems which would help you to solve the arising issues.
Since not all of your participants are tech savvy, expect to have trouble or questions from people who might not be able to access your online event as smoothly as they should.
Having a team member on the background to offer or provide support will be a great idea. Your participants will appreciate your help.
Wifi is also famously temperamental, so it’s helpful to have another team member on standby to jump in when your signal falters. When this happened to my colleague, I had to reclaim myself as host and take over temporarily
Technical problems are the bane of every virtual event, and they are only more likely to occur at the current time, with unprecedented demands on the broadband network.
Ensure Your Event is Inclusive.
Like any other event, virtual events should also be inclusive and accessible to as many attendees as possible.
You can do this by making sure that your event language is clear and all materials used are easy on the eye or ear of the participant. Use of captions and visuals is encouraged where possible.
And this probably goes without saying by now, but if your event includes a panel of experts, try to avoid choosing exclusively from one gender. Unless you want your event to trend for the wrong reasons, make sure your virtual event showcases a diverse range of voices.
Create Opportunities for Engagement
When planning on how to host virtual events, you should ensure that you create or provide opportunities for engagement with the audience. You will be surprised when you see the results of your engagement.
You can do a number of things to increase engagement. For example, you can ask your audience to submit questions in a comment section or through a chat tool. A platform like zoom ro even YouTube has chat room which can be used for this purpose.
An important tip is to have a moderator assigned to this specific task of getting and fielding the questions.
Virtually every online platform has interactive features. Ask people to participate in polls or quizzes. Encourage live tweeting. Take requests and suggestions. Or simply shoutout names as people tune in. And at the end of the event, ask for feedback.
STRATEGIES TO HOST VIRTUAL EVENTS
Create Event Relevancy
Given the current situation that you find yourself and the world in, it is important that you take this into account when hosting a virtual event. These are strange times.
You will need to be creative in terms of what topics you bring to your event. This will ensure you do not just add to the existing pile of me-too virtual events or webinars.
Given the global crisis, it does mean, of course, that every virtual event has to be about the pandemic and its effects on society; just that it has to take it into account. For example, running an online music festival doesn’t address people’s concerns about Covid-19, but it does address their need for entertainment and distraction while under lockdown.
Consider Length of Your Virtual Event
How long should your event last? Of course, that will depend on the context and the audience, but in general, an hour is a good ballpark to aim for. Any longer and people might start to lose interest.
When we hosted our virtual event in July, we ensure that each session was about 45 minutes to an hour. However, panel discussions were between 45 minutes to 90 minutes.
You should always remember that someone looking at a computer or phone screen is not the same as seeing someone in flesh. The attention span can reduce drastically and therefore, take that into consideration when hosting your virtual event.
Also think carefully about when your event starts.
For example, anything too close to lunch could summon the wrath of a small child, so give enough time either side of lunchtime to allow people to be settled into their work.
Differentiate Your Event
If you are like, you have attended a few virtual events. One disturbing fact is to see how people are copying each other.
As you plan your event, seek to be different and unique. Do not copy what everyone else is doing. Study your audience and be creative in how you structure or produce your event.
For example, Coldplay’s Chris Martin live-streamed singing from his living room, and now everyone’s doing living room events.
Advise and Update Your Speakers
If you are planning to have speakers at your event for presentations or panel discussions, ensure you properly brief them about the event and keep them updated.
It is important for the speakers to stick to the speaking or presentation points, and without dragging their sessions too long.
You could also ensure you prep them in advance for the Q&A sessions. Remember that online audiences are harsher than in-person audiences. Keyboards create an opportunity for someone to be a little bit more forthright than when doing face-to-face sessions.
Also, just because people are good at speaking at physical events, don’t assume those skills are instantly translatable. Too often there is a mistaken belief that people will learn how to do live events as fast as they do physical events.
Anyone new to speaking at virtual events needs to rehearse and practice. If that includes you, you’ll need to master the tech, make sure you are fluent on the platform, and the computer it will run from.
Find a stable and quiet area to present, and consider the unexpected like other people living in your household, especially children and animals who take no prisoners. Lastly, be aware of the power of your gestures: rolling eyes, eyebrows and other mannerisms that may detract from your delivery.
It is important to learn to look directly the lens of the camera, even when on a video call. Otherwise you will look strange on your audience’s screens
Pick Virtual Platform Carefully
When it comes to virtual event tools, platforms or software, you have various options from which to choose from. It is important that you take your time to pick the platform carefully.
This can make or break your virtual event experience. It might also have an impact on your event expenses.
Before you decide on an off the shelf tech platform for your virtual event, pay close attention to your users and the devices that they are most likely to be using.
Not all tech solutions play that well on mobiles, and some are more suitable for informal gatherings amongst friends rather than corporate events.
Privacy and data security are important: the recent issues with Zoom and its invisible sharing of data with Facebook and others is a prime example. Make sure your chosen platforms meet your security, GDPR and data requirements.
Aside from formal videoconferencing tools, social media platforms can also offer a great platform for hosting virtual events.
Consider Specialist Service Providers
There are several free event services that will help you host your virtual events. However, it might make more sense to you to consider a premium platform that will make the event look and feel more professional.
For example, Hopin is marketing itself as an online events platform that allows attendees to learn, interact, and connect with each other. Hopin promotes serendipity meetings with an automated one-on-one matching system in the event for networking.
Have Event Communication
At the moment, there is a great deal of virtual event multiplicity which are taking place. Given this, it is very possible for someone to forget about your event.
Ensure that you engage with you participants and to remind them of your upcoming virtual event.
Having an event communication plan is one of the strategies that will ensure you have a successful virtual event. This could include pre-event, during and post-event communication strategies.
VIRTUAL EVENT TOOLS TO USE
There are a variety of ways to host a virtual event. Here’s a round-up of the different formats along with some of the best virtual events platforms you can use.
Start an online discussion by live tweeting an event, asking a question, or hosting an Ask Me Anything. Use a hashtag to help people find and follow the conversation.
Other online discussion tools include:
- Discord: Free voice and text chat mostly used by gamers.
- Reddit: A discussion forum popular for AMAs.
- Slack: An instant-messaging platform good for organizing chats.
Stories are a great platform to share videos and visuals of tutorials, interviews, and more. Add filters, special effects, and stickers to take questions, conduct polls, host an influencer takeover, and more. On Instagram, you can add them to a highlight for future viewers.
The ephemeral approach to live events works with:
- Instagram Stories
- Facebook Stories
The rise of webinars in the last couple of months has been phenomenal. Sometimes you will find yourself invited to several webinar sessions in a day. This indicates that companies have adopted this as a way to run virtual events. You can do the same.
A typical webinar is an online presentation held in real-time. But they can be shared and viewed afterwards as well. Most of the time, a presenter will share their screen to go through slides or demos, while narrating.
Participants can ask questions by voice or through a chat feed if the platform and presenter allows.
It’s like a one-off workshop or class that happens in real-time.
Some webinar platform options include:
- Demio: Allows for pre-recorded or live webinars—or a mix of both. Includes private chat, interactive polls, call-to-action buttons, and other features.
- Livestorm: On-demand webinars from Livestorm include integrations with Google Analytics, Slack, and various engagement tools.
- Zoom: Can have one host, group chat—and even offers breakout rooms. Plans cover from 100 to 10,000 view-only attendees.
- YouTube Livestream: A free and easy option for streaming live webinars.
Just about every social media platform has a live video feature. Livestreams are known for driving engagement. According to Facebook, live video averages six times more engagement than regular video.
Social livestream platforms include:
- Instagram Live
- Facebook Live
- LinkedIn Live
- Twitter Live
- YouTube Livestream
Most livestreams show comments and attendees in real time. And some, like Instagram, make it possible for you to go live with a friend—a good option for a Q&A or co-presentation.
Facebook also rolled out a live shopping feature in May 2020.
Conferences and networking
For more formal virtual events, there are platforms that offer suites of tools that include livestreaming, chatrooms, and more.
- 6connex: Exhibitors can create virtual booths, compete for leaderboard positions, livestream, and chat with this virtual trade show platform.
- Brella: Speakers, multitrack agendas, sponsors, individual streams, and more are taken care of with this hub for virtual conferences.
- HeySummit: Build a landing page, onboard speakers, register attendees, and more. Note that this solution helps package virtual events, but you’ll need to integrate with tools for livestreaming.
- Hop In: This all-in-one live events platform covers everything from networking events, meetings, trade shows, webinars, live broadcasts, and more.
- Run the World: Everything from cocktail parties to fireside chats are an option with this remote conference platform. Built-in templates are available for different use-cases to minimize event-planning hassles.
- Vfairs: A virtual expo platform with everything from booths to webinar and conversations starter tools.
Virtual Event Ideas – Examples of Virtual Events That You Can Host
If you are reading this, you have an idea of a virtual even that you might want to host. However, if you are still thinking about what kind of a virtual event to organize and host, consider the following ideas;
How-to Guides or Tutorials
Do you have a product or service that needs some explaining? A how-to guide or tutorial is a good way to provide tips, tricks, and instructions.
This type of event can be used to launch a new product, answer frequently-asked questions, or reveal different use cases.
Virtual Training and Courses
You can also consider hosting a training or a course. This is good for a little bit more complicated or technical topics. This is a format that can provide a deeper dive into a specific topic or theme.
An example of this would be; How to Create an Audience Through Content Marketing
Give your followers a peek behind-the-scenes. Places like museums, galleries, theatres, airports, and even national parks, can offer viewers glimpses at what it is like to visit. Or what it’s like to work somewhere.
You can provide a tour of your lab, factory, office, workshop, tradeshow or test kitchen. Show your customers how the you get things done.
Interviews and Performances
Tap your in-house experts to share their knowledge in a live question-and-answer session. Host a laidback Ask Me Anything (AMA) on social media. Or invite speakers or artists to give a talk or performance.
Everything from TED-style talks to stand-up comedy shows or intimate interviews is fair game. Interactive trivia games and contests can also keep things engaging.
Conferences and Summits
Even large-scale events can have a virtual component. From Coachella to live oil and gas summits have been streamed online so that people who cannot attend in person can still get in on the action.
But there are also many conferences that take place entirely online, with networking and meetings integrated, too.
It is my sincere hope that this information on how to host virtual events will help you in your planning and preparations.
With a clear goal, these tips and strategies will assist your virtual event to achieve the results you have anticipated.
A virtual event which in essence is fully online can be a powerful way to not only earn money, but also to build your personal or business brand.