In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses that previously relied on events are seeking new ways of promoting their products and services. Many of those businesses are turning to virtual events in an attempt to recoup lost revenue and survive in the new reality.
If you’re a novice virtual event planner, read on to learn how to do it.
Is a Virtual Event Right for You?
You might be skeptical about virtual events. Many people are at first. But they really do work if you approach them in the right way. You should host a virtual event if:
- You want to expand your reach to a broader audience. Virtual events allow you to connect with anyone in the world.
- You want to help people connect and engage. The best virtual events allow guests to interact with one another, building connections and engagement even in the era of social distancing.
- You want to future-proof your business. People are likely to be wary about traveling and attending events in person for some time. In addition, the increased digitization of life and work is likely to continue beyond the pandemic.
Are you ready to learn how to organize a great virtual event? Let’s get started.
A Step-By-Step Guide to Hosting Virtual Events
Just like planning an onsite event, you need to understand your aims, plan meticulously, and have a solid marketing strategy.
Define Your Goals and Audience
There is no point in hosting any kind of event without a clear goal in mind. So before you do anything else, define your goals. They may include the following:
- Raise awareness of your brand.
- Demonstrate thought leadership in your niche.
- Connect with customers and get feedback.
- Showcase your products and services.
Next, define the audience you want to attract. Do you want to reach the C-suite of Fortune 500 companies or small business owners in your region? Is your product highly specialized, or applicable to a broader demographic?
These decisions will help you shape your online event, so make sure you understand your goals and audience before you go any further.
Choose Your Format and Topic
Virtual events can take a number of different formats, depending on the audience and the goal. Here are some common formats you might consider:
- Sneak peeks. If you’re introducing a product for the first time, you can offer an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look.
- Webinars or online courses. This format is suitable for more technical, complex topics. Webinars, a portmanteau of “web” and “seminar”, are online educational sessions. They often have an activity, audience participation element, or Q&A session.
- Interviews or talks. If you want to establish thought leadership in your niche, giving a talk or hosting a panel discussion with other experts is a great way to do it.
- A typical online conference consists of a series of talks as well as smaller group sessions on various topics under one central theme.
Choosing the right format will ensure that your audience stays engaged and involved for the duration of your virtual event.
Once you’ve chosen your format, make sure you’re clear on the topic(s) you will cover. Ask yourself the following questions as you plan your subject matter:
- Is this forward-looking?
- Will it provide useful and actionable takeaways?
- Do I have something new to add to this topic?
Choose an Appropriate Date and the Right Platform
Choosing the right date and time for your event can make or break it. For most virtual events, midweek in the middle of the day is best. Avoid the beginning or end of a working day, and avoid Fridays and Mondays if possible. Weekends and holidays are an absolute no-no.
Choosing the right platform is also crucial to providing a great audience experience. Consider the following factors:
- Audience capacity. If you’re expecting a large turnout, you’ll need to invest in software that can accommodate more people.
- Some features, such as chat and screen sharing, are standard across conferencing platforms. Others are only available with specific tools. Breakout rooms are one such example.
- Ease of use. Choose an easy, intuitive platform if you want to give your attendees a great experience.
- Mobile capability. Some participants will join your event using their tablets or smartphones. You need to ensure they have the same experience that computer users get.
- Recording capability. If you record your event, you can share it with registrants who did not attend on the day. You could even repackage it as an online course at a later date.
Choosing the right date, time, and the platform is the first step in creating a killer virtual event.
Promote Your Event
How you’ve scheduled your event, you need to get the word out. Here are a few of the ways you can promote your virtual event:
Promote your event across all your channels. Facebook’s Events feature allows you to create a custom page for your event that contains all its details and offers an easy way to contact many attendees at once.
Here’s an example of a virtual event page:
If you’re aiming to target professionals, you should also promote your event on LinkedIn. If you want to go a step further, consider these options:
- Invest in paid social ads.
- Use Facebook and Instagram Lives to drive interest in your event.
- Create an official event hashtag and invite people to use it before, during, and after the event.
The Lead Magnet
If you’re struggling to get attendees to register, you can sweeten the deal by offering a lead magnet. This is something of value that you can offer in exchange for a user registering for your event. Examples could include an ebook, a white paper, a free trial period for a piece of software, or entry into a prize draw.
Here’s an example of a simple lead magnet:
The lead magnet must be relevant and useful to your target audience and aligned with your overall goals for your virtual event.
The Landing Page
Once a prospect has clicked on a link to your event, you should direct them to a landing page. Here’s an example of a simple landing page for an online event:
Your event landing page should contain the following:
- Event details including date, time, platform, and speakers.
- A short description of the event.
- A clickable button that leads to a registration page.
There are many ways to increase your conversions. You might wish to include customer testimonials, visual or video content, or a chatbot function to answer questions.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
The trick to delivering an amazing virtual event? Preparation!
Make sure you prepare your presentation in plenty of time and leave time for adequate practice. If you have invited speakers, try to do a test run with them beforehand to ensure they’re fully prepared.
There is no such thing as too much rehearsal. Make sure your slides are engaging, your tech is working properly, and that you can speak clearly and confidently in front of a camera.
Use an Email Reminder Sequence
Once people have signed up, you need to remind them to make sure they attend. The average registrant attendance rate for a webinar is just 46 percent, so it makes sense to do all you can to maximize that figure. Using an email reminder sequence is one of the best ways to do this.
Here’s a simple formula for a winning email sequence:
- At the point of registration: a “thank you for signing up” email.
- A reminder email a week before the event.
- A reminder email the day before the event.
- A final “one hour to go” reminder an hour before the event.
Personalized reminder emails see higher conversion rates, so set up your email marketing software to include your attendees’ names in the subject line. Remember to reiterate the details of the event in each email. Here’s a good example of a webinar reminder email:
On the Day
You might be nervous on the day of your virtual event. But as long as you’ve done your homework and prepared thoroughly, you don’t need to stress. Instead, focus on what you need to do during the event itself.
Presentation and Professionalism
Whatever happens, start your virtual event on time. Make sure you log in first and use a countdown timer to alert people to but it will alert them when you’re about to start.
Make sure you dress professionally on the day. Even though you’re presenting from the comfort of your home, you should wear what you’d wear for a physical event.
Present from a well-lit area of your home using a neutral or professional-looking backdrop. If you don’t have a suitable space, a virtual background is a fine alternative.
Here are some of my top tips for professional presentations:
- Look straight into the camera and smile.
- Sit up straight.
- Speak slowly and clearly.
- It’s fine to refer to your notes, but don’t just read off a sheet of paper.
- Pause between points to leave time for questions.
If you do all this, you’ll keep your audience engaged right through to the end.
Deliver What You Promised
Your virtual event is not a sales pitch. You need to deliver the content and information you promised your audience.
If you don’t deliver on your promises, you lose all credibility with your audience. Therefore, ensure that the advertised topic makes up the vast majority of the event.
I suggest you create an event script and stick to it. This way, you will ensure that you hit all your most important talking points and that your audience gets the valuable information and insights they came for.
End With a CTA
At the end of your event, you should include a call to action (CTA). This is where you tell your audience what you want them to do. The CTA must align with your goals for the event. You might ask them to sign up for your newsletter, register for a free trial, book a consultation, or even make a purchase. Whatever it is, make it clear and easily actionable.
If you want to encourage conversions, you can include a special limited-time offer. For example, you might offer a bonus product or a steep discount on their purchase if they buy within the next 48 hours. You might even push them through a funnel with upsells. You can use sales funnel software to create for this if you choose.
Congratulations, you’ve successfully delivered your first online event! But before you relax and breathe a sigh of relief, you’re not quite finished yet. You need to keep that momentum going by following up with your audience.
Send an email to all attendees that include the following:
- A thank-you for attending.
- A link to the recording of the event and/or your slides.
- A reiteration of your CTA and the bonus offer, if there is one.
The follow-up stage is when the magic happens. People need several reminders to take action in many cases, so if you don’t follow up, you’ll be missing out on valuable opportunities.
You should also follow up with those who registered but did not attend. Send them the event recording or slides so they can catch up in their own time. You can also include the CTA and bonus offer if it’s appropriate to do so.
Online events are not a new concept, but they have taken on a new meaning and relevance in the wake of COVID-19. Many businesses have pivoted to online-first or online-only offerings to survive. Therefore, if you previously relied on physical events, you’ll need to develop your skills as a virtual event planner.
Your virtual event will need to be meticulously planned and stand out from the crowd if you want to achieve your goals. Proper planning, preparation, promotion, and execution are the key to ensuring virtual event success.
It might be some time before we can go back to hosting physical events. In addition, virtual events offer unique opportunities such as the ability to reach anyone, regardless of geographical location. Therefore, if you haven’t already, you need to start mastering the art of hosting a virtual event. Practice makes perfect. Here’s hoping that your first virtual event is a blast!