Virtual events have been around for a while. Virtual events can sound futuristic - create your own avatar and walk around an exhibit hall or attend a session. Or virtual events can sound lackluster - sit at your computer for 6 hours straight watching livestreams or reading powerpoint decks. The range of what virtual events can be is huge. There are tons of ways you can host a virtual event. Should it supplement your in-person event to hype people up before they arrive? Should it replace your in-person event entirely since it allows for wider reach with a smaller budget? Do you find yourself scrambling to figure out how to transform your physical event into a virtual one due to circumstances outside your control? There's a lot of information out there so let's dive in: what's really needed to host a successful virtual event?
1. First things first, you need a game plan.
Every event should have a strategy, regardless of where it's held. Ask your event team the following questions to start brainstorming:
- What kind of experience do you want your attendees to have?
- Will the event be live, on-demand, or a combination of the two?
- Will access be gated or free?
- Is registration required?
- How will you promote the event?
- Will you have sponsors or advertisers at the event?
- Will people still be able to access the event once it's over?
- What data is important to track for this event? How will you track it?
- How should people consume content at the event?
- Will the event span multiple time zones?
2. Create opportunities for human interaction.
A major reason people attend events and conferences is for that opportunity to meet new people and network with those who otherwise wouldn't ever cross your path. Events are also just plain fun. So, how do you facilitate human interaction when people are attending your event from their couch or desk with a computer screen and miles upon miles between them?
- Face-to-face: fortunately, we've had video conferencing technology in place for years and many of us encountered it on a daily basis even when we working from the office. Leverage these platforms to find ways to communicate one-to-one and one-to-many. These platforms already have ways to set up registration, recording, text chat, reactions, and screen share so there's a way for everyone to engage.
- Live chat: when you walk up to a booth at an in-person event, you talk to the person standing behind the table and have a conversation. Many websites have a live chat functionality built in where you can type questions and get responses from a representative. Same concept, different channel.
- Forums: Reddit is one of the most popular websites on the internet and all it is is a bunch of forums and threads. You can create spaces for attendees to chat with each other on specific topics or allow them to create their own spaces to chat.
- Social Media: social media is ingrained in our daily lives regardless of whether we're at home or out in the world. People are comfortable with it and there's a good chance you had a social media component to your in-person event already. Think about how to adapt your social strategy for virtual and attendees will help promote the event for you.
3. Be prepared for technical difficulties.
In-person events have hiccups; virtual events have hiccups. Internet connections, loading times, video lag times, and bandwidth limitations can all affect the quality of your virtual event and negatively impact the attendee's experience. Conduct virtual rehearsals prior to the event with all speakers and co-hosts to make sure even the least tech-savvy teammate can use the system in place. Additionally, partner with a tech company to work out the kinks beforehand and be on standby the day of the event to quickly jump in and do any damage control.
4. And I can't stress this one enough, be inclusive.
Just like in-person events strive to be as inclusive and accessible as possible, virtual events need to follow that same paradigm. Larger fonts, color contrast, captioned audio and visual, and page narrations are all important aspects to consider when determining how to make a virtual event accessible to all.