At the start of the pandemic, none of us had any idea that it would force us to cancel or postpone all our face-to-face events. But given the risks associated with being in large gatherings, that’s what we were dealing with. Thousands of businesses and organizations worldwide moved their events online.
Shifting from physical venues to video conferencing apps takes some effort, but it can help you regain momentum. Poorly-planned and executed events are a waste of time. But when they’re well-planned and run, virtual events allow people from around the world to connect and exchange ideas in real-time.
A successful virtual event begins with careful planning and preparation. Much as you’d book a venue, invite speakers, and plan the catering for a conference, there are several things you need to arrange for your virtual event. Here's how to run a virtual event that rocks.
Assign roles to your team
Assuming you’re not a one-person operation, you need to assign roles and responsibilities to everyone in your team. Here are some of the roles you might need for your virtual event:
- Event secretariat: Welcomes attendees as they log in and collects information, such as contact details, from delegates.
- Chat moderator: Explains the ground rules, encourages participants to ask questions, and warns or removes anyone who breaks the rules.
- Technical admin: Ensures the software, internet connection, and any other tech requirements are functioning correctly.
- Event host: Ensures that the event starts on time and stays on schedule, delivers the presentation, and introduces any speakers.
Assigning people to roles according to their strengths is the best way to make your event go smoothly. If you’re running a long or multi-day event, use employee scheduling software to organize coverage in shifts.
Find the right platform
Instead of booking a venue, you will need to choose the right conferencing platform. Here are some that I have used and recommend:
- Google Meets and Hangouts: Ideal for 1:1 meetings and smaller groups, this tool allows you to record your events.
- Whereby: A quick, no-installation tool that allows you to conduct events in your browser. Suitable for open events that don’t require pre-registration or login credentials.
- Webex: Offers all the essential video conferencing features you’ll need, such as recording, screen sharing, and polling. Can accommodate up to 200 participants.
- Zoom: Allows you to host a webinar, share content, and create breakout rooms for smaller group discussions.
Test your platform in advance to make sure everything is working properly. You should ensure all your attendees have the link at least an hour before the advertised start time. If applicable, configure your software so that only registered participants or those with the password can join.
Set up the optimal conditions for hosting
When you host a physical event, you want every detail to be perfect. You should treat your virtual event in the same way. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Internet connection: You’ll need a connection that allows you to host the event without freezing, lagging, or disconnecting. Have a backup connectivity method in case your ISP unexpectedly goes down.
- Location: If you’re going to appear on camera, place your computer on a sturdy, level surface. The camera should be at eye-level. Ensure the space you use has good lighting and a reliable internet connection.
- Background: A plain background will let you present without distracting the audience. If you don’t have a light-colored wall available, choose a neutral or professional-looking space (such as a tidy home office) or use a virtual background. Avoid sitting in front of a window.
- Zero background noise: Find a quiet space without background noise from family or roommates, loud traffic outside, or your neighbor undertaking some ill-timed DIY.
Practice and practice again!
If you’re going to be speaking or presenting during your virtual event, you can never have too much practice. Here are the essential aspects of your presentation to pay attention to as you rehearse:
- Content: Your content needs to be concise and to the point. Going over schedule is disrespectful to your attendees’ time.
- Delivery: Speak clearly and slowly, looking straight into the camera and smiling.
- Software: test your platform's features, such as screen sharing, sharing of hosting rights, event recording, polls, the chatbox, and breakout rooms.
- Pre-recorded content: Will you be showing pre-recorded content? If so, test it in advance and see how it affects the flow of the presentation. You should also make sure the video quality is consistent.
The best way to test everything is to run a practice event with a small audience of trusted friends or colleagues. They can give you valuable feedback that you can use to make your event the best it can be.
Prepare on the day of the event
It’s normal to feel nervous before your first virtual event. But it’s essential to keep your focus so you can deliver the best event possible.
Follow these tips to help you feel calm and prepared on the day:
- Look professional: Wear professional clothing and ensure you look smart and put together.
- Email your attendees: Send a reminder to all registered attendees an hour before the advertised start time, and another a few minutes before the event starts. Automating these emails will give you one less thing to worry about.
- Record your event: This allows you to share content with attendees who’d like to rewatch it, and those who registered but did not attend. You can also watch it back later to assess how you could improve for next time.
- Brief your team: Before attendees start logging in, hold a quick team briefing. Run through the event flow, ensure everyone is aware of their roles, and allow them to ask any last-minute questions.
Once you’ve done all this, you can start letting your attendees log in and get going!
Keep your audience engaged
This is it—the culmination of all your hard work and preparation. You’ve rehearsed your talk, you’ve briefed your team, and maybe you’ve even painted your living room wall white. It’s now time to put on a great show!
If you want people to stay to the end of your virtual event, you need to keep them engaged. Here are my top tips for keeping things interesting:
- Keep dead air to a minimum: Play some music while waiting for the event to start or as you transition from one speaker to another.
- Show your face: One easy way to get people to like you is to be visible on camera. For best results, position yourself so you can be seen from the waist up. And don’t forget to smile!
- Give away prizes: Contests based on the material presented are a fun way of engaging your audience. Consider ending the event with a pop-quiz with prizes. You could also offer a door prize and draw a name at random from those who stay to the end.
- Organize breakout sessions: Breakout sessions allow attendees to engage with each other and discuss topics of interest in smaller groups. For best results, allow attendees to choose which breakout session they want to attend in advance of the event.
- Be spontaneous: Whether it’s a surprise guest, an icebreaker, or a giveaway, a little spontaneity will hold your audience’s attention.
All your hard work will go down the drain if you fail to keep your audience engaged, so take this responsibility seriously.
Connect with your participants after the event
Your event went perfectly, and now it’s time to relax now, right?
Not quite. You need to follow through on your success by keeping in touch with your participants. Here are the steps to take:
- Create another venue for further discussions: Your audience might have questions they didn’t get to ask during the session. They may also appreciate a space to connect with others who share their interest in the subject matter. Creating a Facebook group or Slack channel for attendees and speakers will allow them to keep the conversation going.
- Send a follow-up email: Include screenshots of the event, a link to the replay, a schedule of any future events, and a link to a survey where the attendees can leave their feedback and share their experience.
- Collect and use data: Use the survey to determine what went well, what didn’t work, what your audience learned from the event, and how you could improve next time.
However you choose to stay connected after the event, you must observe data privacy laws when using attendee information.
Expanding your network with virtual events
The ongoing pandemic may continue to put in-person events on hold. Fortunately, technology is here to help! A virtual event is an excellent opportunity to expand your network, reach new prospective customers, and connect with decision-makers to grow your business.
Good luck with your first virtual event!
Owen Jones is the Senior Content Marketer at Zoomshift, an online schedule maker app. He is an experienced SaaS marketer, specializing in content marketing, CRO, and FB advertising.