- TIPS: online event planning
- DOs and DON’Ts: for hosting an engaging event online
- CHECKLIST: A checklist for virtual event planning
- TECH: Software to help with planning and hosting your virtual even
With virtual events increasingly prevalent, and companies still switching from in-person to online, how do you go about it? We've broken down the main items, and given examples, to help you navigate the process.
With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, businesses large and small have had to reassess, alter, and outright cancel events long in the making. If you had an in-person event scheduled this year, chances are you’ve had to rethink a lot of things—and you’re far from alone.
One option is to take formerly in-person events into the digital realm, holding virtual events instead. Whether you’re planning a virtual event from scratch or turning a physical event into a virtual one, there’s a lot to think about and plan for. And if you’re not an event planner by nature with the know-how to seamlessly transition in-person events to online events, don’t worry - we’ve broken down the main items to consider.
Before we dive into the how, let’s talk about the why. If you’re weighing a virtual event, you might be asking yourself whether the effort and cost is really worth it. After all, it’s hard to emulate the experience of an in-person event—and for some events, that experience is the point.
That said, in-person live events are likely to be plagued with uncertainty (at best) for the foreseeable future. In our view, that makes virtual events worth the consideration at least. Here are a few more reasons why virtual event planning is worth the effort:
A solid online-only event takes sound event strategy and made-for-the-internet event technology. Next we’ll share examples of folks who took events online, and pulled off a wonderful virtual experience, complete with audience engagement and solid reviews.
Originally scheduled as an in-person event, the Women’s Weekend Film Challenge shifted their planned networking event to the virtual space. According to attendee Arestia Rosenberg, the virtual event went off without a hitch.
“The organizers kept things moving, had enough breakout rooms and times in them to connect with the other participants, and gave prompts to help encourage conversation,” Arestia said. “They also suggested we swap contact information at the top of every breakout room, ensuring we actually shared information with the other participants in case we ran out of time.”
A planned virtual event from the beginning, Zero Code Conference 2020 leveraged the unique doors the virtual space opened up—to allow for things an in-person conference never could.
According to Lazar Stojkovic, that made the conference even more valuable:
I loved how easy it was to switch between the conference tracks and, in one case, even watch two interesting talks from different tracks in parallel. Definitely something that wouldn't be possible at an in-person event! The networking component was extremely convenient as well. There was a gallery of attendees with information on what everybody hoped to accomplish at the event and additional links one could check out before they got in touch.
One of the biggest benefits to going virtual is the ability to include a much larger and wider audience—without the need for travel, nearly anyone can join in. That’s what happened when the Mizzou Alumni Leadership Conference switched became a virtual event this year.
“The attendee list actually increased exponentially,” Brady Kirkpatrick told us. “With the added flexibility of joining from anywhere around the world, we actually saw an increase in attendees for each of the events.”
With all those extra attendees, the conference still managed to put on an engaging, interactive, and valuable event.
The organization did an incredible job of finding ways to continue engaging attendees by asking polls, including valuable guest speakers, having Q&As, and adding exciting videos to get people excited as each event transitioned.
If you’re new to virtual event planning, there are some key differences from planning an in-person event to keep in mind. Here are a few tips specific to virtual event planning to help you make the process and the event run smoothly.
Note: If you’re short on time in other areas of your business, VAs can help take all kinds of other tasks off your plate—including administrative duties, bookkeeping, email management, and more.
Let’s talk a little more about working with a virtual assistant (VA) on planning your event. VAs can help with most aspects of planning an event—regardless of whether the event itself is virtual or in-person. Here are just a few of the virtual event planning tasks a VA can take off your plate:
Note: VAs can help with other aspects of marketing, too. Learn more in our Marketing Guide.
To get more specific, here are a few examples of the types of events VAs can handle, along with common tasks they complete for each.
In-person trade shows:
Executive retreats and team-building events:
DO: Make use of the unique features a virtual event allows for
“I purposely added trivia and fun facts to my presentation to allow the virtual audience to be involved in the presentation. Virtual polling helped with allowing for all attendees to express their opinions and measure them against the other attendees.
I used the chat box as a way for attendees to virtually connect and discuss the topic that I was presenting on. This allowed closer connections despite being miles away due to local and distant attendees participating in the discussion.” – Marcoiya Fair, Give Your LinkedIn Profile a Refresh
DO: Communicate with attendees and set them up for success
“Send pre-event instructions to ensure a seamless experience for attendees. Keeping the event to an hour to an hour and a half is ideal, provided you have entertaining content.” – Amelia Ables, RISE Foundation's A Virtual Evening of Change
DON’T: Skimp on planning
“Convey to your clients and stakeholders that there needs to be much more pre-planning involved and deadlines and decisions will have to be made earlier than they are used to due to the extra steps that are involved in setting up these changes in any system or software.” – Chris Chan, 3C Strategies
DON’T: Try to be everything to everyone
“The only negative aspect of this conference was the fact that there was almost too much content to consume, whether live or on-demand. Sometimes as event organizers we struggle trying to be all things to all attendees - but it's okay to trim the fat and focus on a few key content areas.” – Deanna Nwosu, Untethered Summit
Planning your first virtual event can seem daunting. Even if you’ve planned in-person events before, virtual event planning is a horse of an entirely different color—there are additional steps and considerations you need to make. Breaking it down into planning phases can help you stay organized and motivated.
Below, we share our simplified, 4-part checklist to help you plan your next virtual event.
The first step is to take the most important part of any event into consideration: your audience. Write out who you’re holding this event for, why they should attend, and any other important details about your audience.
Writing all this out makes it easier to determine the type of event and format you’ll go with, which is where the event planning process really begins. Depending on your attendees and their goals and preferences, there are several types of events you can host virtually, including:
Now that you’ve planned out the format of your event, it’s time to dig into the substance.
What topics will your event cover? How will you address them? Consider the format of each session. When will you have speakers presenting? When will attendees be able to ask questions? What will networking or casual socializing look like?
This is the fun part of event planning—because you get to dig into the subject matter that inspired your event in the first place.
Going into more detail during the planning phase makes it easier to set appropriate expectations for attendees and participants alike. Once you have a content plan in place, be sure to communicate the plan to all participants and hosts.
You’re ready to get serious about logistics. How will you bring the idea of your virtual event to life? Phase 2 is when you figure out all the things you’ll need and work to secure them. That includes technology (like web conferencing software) and people (like panelists or speakers), among other things.
Now’s the time to ensure all your logistics are buttoned up and set yourself up for a smooth virtual event. Here are a few of the questions you need to keep in mind:
By the time everything is planned on the back-end, you’re ready to start inviting attendees and collecting RSVPs. If you’re planning for more than a handful of attendees, we highly recommend using a tool built for event management to send out invitations and collect RSVPs.
(More on event management software options later.)
Here are a few other things to keep in mind during this phase:
Once RSVPs are in, you’re ready to host your virtual event!
For events that are open to the public (i.e. not invitation-only), you’ll need to create a plan for getting the word out. Promoting your event ensures potential attendees know about the event, and doing so strategically can help you reach the right attendees.
Virtual event promotion should happen throughout the planning and execution stages. That is:
There are so many ways to promote online today. If you’ve never promoted an event (or a virtual one) before, it can seem overwhelming to even know where to begin. Here are a few tried-and-true event promotion tactics we recommend.
For businesses that already have an email list, this should be your first step in promoting your virtual event. Your email subscribers are on your list because they’ve shown some level of interest in your business—that makes them an ideal, warm audience to pitch your event to.
Send out an initial email announcing the event, along with a few follow-ups as the event date draws nearer.
It’s also a good idea to include a signup capture on the event page itself. That way, you have a separate list of registered attendees where you can send updates, opportunities for referrals, and other important details.
If you’re working with a virtual event planning assistant, they can help with writing and sending or scheduling these emails. They can also keep track of things like referrals.
You have a lot of options when it comes to promoting a virtual event on social media—both prior to the event and during it. Eventbrite created an in-depth guide to promoting an event on social media with great advice including:
If your event includes prominent speakers, they can help you reach a wider (but still targeted) audience on social media, too.
Your VA can help with social media promotion, too, creating and scheduling social media posts, setting up a Facebook event, conducting research and outreach to influencers, and more.
Bringing in another business to help sponsor your event immediately opens up a whole host of new promotion opportunities. A relevant sponsor lets you access their entire audience of qualified potential attendees—plus, sponsors usually help with promotion, too. A sponsorship partner can:
For those working with one, a VA can help with both research to find potential sponsors and setting up outreach. Once you’ve secured a sponsor, your VA can help with ongoing communication and coordination.
The checklist above works well if you’re planning a virtual event from scratch. However, we know that many events originally planned as in-person now face the prospect of moving online. If you’ve already planned an in-person and now need to turn it into a virtual one, the checklist below is for you.
The biggest difference between an in-person event and a virtual one comes down to the technology and equipment required to host and attend. For your in-person event, you likely looked into sound systems and lighting. Now that your event is going digital, you need to build a new stack that includes solutions for:
There are a lot of options out there for all these buckets. The key is to consider two things: your audience and your format.
The format of your event (will it be live or pre-recorded, for example? Do attendees need to be able to engage with hosts and participants?) should be the driving force behind the virtual event platform you choose. Depending on your needs, the best event platform may or may not be the most popular.
Once you’ve worked out the back-end logistics, it’s time to communicate your updated plans to anyone else involved in hosting or appearing during the event. That includes your team, as well as any speakers, panelists, or other participants.
It’s important to not only share your updated plans, but also solicit feedback and secure buy-in from all those involved. A successful event relies on everyone being comfortable with the format and logistics of the day.
Now that everyone’s on the same page internally, you’re ready to let attendees know about the move to virtual. Successful virtual events make it easy for attendees to join.
Send out revised invitations with all the pertinent information attendees will need. Include web conferencing details and access codes, an updated schedule, etc. Don’t forget to ask for any additional information you need from them, too.
At this time, you should ask attendees to confirm their RSVP. With such a big change, some attendees may choose not to attend. On the flipside, invitees who previously couldn’t attend may now be able to—so we recommend sending out the updated invitation to everyone you originally invited, not just those who RSVP’d yes.
There are tons of software and tools dedicated to making the process of planning and holding a virtual event easier and smoother. Whether you go with one of these, or use a virtual meeting tool like Zoom, you’ll have a great livestreaming virtual event!
Eventbrite for event ticketing, RSVP management, and attendee payments
Whova for event planning project management and event registration for attendees
Bizzabo for end-to-end event planning and analytics
BigMarker for hosting live events, live webinars and virtual conferences
ON24 for hosting digital experiences
WorkCast for creating and hosting webinars and webcasts on one platform
vFairs for hosting a virtual event that follows the in-person format
Cvent Virtual Attendee Hub for end-to-end event management and hosting
Slido for attendee polling and Q/A sessions
There’s no doubt that virtual events are here to stay—during the remainder of the current global pandemic and long after. Holding events virtually helps businesses save on costs and opens the event up to tons of additional attendees, ensuring businesses will continue to draw on virtual events in the future.
By following the advice above, you can successfully plan and host virtual events of your own.