The shift to virtual events had some obvious benefits for event professionals, like being able to reach a wider audience that can tune in from anywhere — not to mention that those audiences can stay in their pajamas if they so choose. However, the surge of virtual events we’ve seen over the last year has meant a heavier reliance on technology. While virtual events can be smooth sailing when done right, there’s always that small chance that something outside of your control goes awry. These seven tips will help you plan and execute successful virtual events and address challenges should they arise.
1. Identify Your Audience
When preparing for a virtual conference or event, having a strong grasp on your audience and their capabilities will help to paint a picture of the kind of experience you will be offering. Is it an internal virtual conference? Is it an information-driven event open to the public? What is the target demographic of your audience? Having a solid grip on who you are expecting will help guide the choices you make in organizing successful virtual events.
A great way to get the ball rolling is writing out how many people you are expecting, how many speakers you are looking to host, the technical savvy of your audience members, and the impact you are hoping to leave on your audience. By identifying these key characteristics, you can choose the right virtual meeting platform for your goals.
By knowing your attendees and how they use technology, you can avoid overcomplicating your program. Are they a younger or older crowd? Are they technology-savvy or basic in their knowledge? Even though you logistically can create a program with a variety of features, doesn’t always mean you should. If your attendees are more basic in their understanding of virtual platforms, cut out room for error by settling on a more straight-forward and simple program, allowing the speakers and messages to shine.
On the other hand, if your event is for a more tech-savvy crowd, they may be more used to navigating different platforms and would prefer to be impressed by more complex features. Assessing your audience is the first place to start in avoiding virtual events mistakes, by identifying what your desired audience is looking for and can handle.
2. Assess Your Content
Turning your attention to the actual content of your virtual events, this is where you’ll be generating the most value for attendees. You’ll want to strike a balance between how much content is engaging and actionable, but not too overwhelming. After all, successful virtual events shouldn’t have attendees tapping out midway through.
If your event includes sponsorship, choosing the right sponsors is also crucial. Consider what the sponsor hopes to get out of the event in value, and then see if their goals align with the virtual meeting platform you have chosen. If the sponsor pitches too many complicated inclusions (like frequent pop-ups, website redirects, etc.), you may want to reconsider how they can get involved in other ways that are less distracting for your attendees.
Virtual events where the attendees know where to be at the right time within your meeting platform run much more smoothly, and avoiding distractions will help to streamline the whole process.
3. Select Experienced Speakers
Many professional speakers have made the transition to setting themselves up for virtual events throughout the year. Even so, when you’re deciding which speakers are right for your audience, ensuring that they’re comfortable with the technology is key. You can avoid awkward mistakes by making sure that your speakers are experienced in the virtual space and that they know how to resolve any glitches that may occur.
Some speakers have set up their own studios in their work-from-home set-ups, have virtual presentation certifications, and even have professional equipment to make sure their segment goes off without a hitch. Top virtual speakers can be a safe bet for making sure your virtual events run smoothly.
4. Choose the Right Virtual Events Platform
Making sure your agenda lines up with the digital experience your audience will have is going to help you avoid issues throughout the event. For example, although in-person events can often stretch to day-long affairs, understanding that people’s attention spans are much shorter on-screen may lead to modifying the length or including more breaks.
Once you’ve figured out your objectives for the event, choosing the right platform is as simple as matching up your needs with the capabilities of each platform. When you find the best fit for you, taking a demo or setting up a call with someone from the platform can be incredibly insightful and can inform how you plan for successful virtual events as well as troubleshoot potential problems. You may also want to consider if pre-recording or live makes more sense for your needs.
5. Rehearse Your Virtual Events
Practice makes perfect, right? Rehearsing prior to the event is the number one thing you can do to avoid mistakes and increase your chances of flawless, successful virtual events. In run-throughs, it’s important to include not only just the team putting on the event, but also your speakers, technology team, sponsors, and other organizers. This will help you to see where potential mistakes may arise and figure out how to adjust to avoid them happening in real-time. Rehearsals can catch mistakes in things like timing, technology issues, spotting where places may be too content-heavy, identifying distractions that might arise, and others.
6. Prioritize Support
Planning for effective support is necessary to ensure the event runs smoothly. Communicate with your virtual meeting platform to see if they have technology support on-site that can help with any issues. Alternatively, it could be a good idea to designate someone on your team to be the support point-person and to make sure they have all the training and information required to help troubleshoot if attendees have issues. During rehearsals, this point-person can identify potential issues and make an action plan ahead of time. Making sure that you have at least one person on your team familiar with the technology can make a world of difference. If you have the capacity, and if your event is more large-scale, having a whole tech team would be even better.
If technical issues are occurring during the event, having someone part of the program to communicate with the attendees and to keep the engagement up can mean the difference between a full on nightmare and a chance to build trust with your audience through how you handle the situation. Hiring a virtual host or emcee can be the answer you’re looking for, as they can entertain the guests while the technology team works on making the necessary adjustments.
7. Communicate with Attendees
Ultimately, the most important aspect to running successful virtual events is having clear and open communication with your attendees prior to, during, and after your event. Leading up to the event, familiarize your audience with the meeting platform you chose, offering a demo if possible, or just a few tips. Include guidelines that will help improve the user’s experience like recommending a strong wifi connection and a working microphone and camera (if needed).
Sending a schedule ahead of time and mapping everything out can also be a great way to fill people in on what they should expect during the event. Consider creating a FAQ to send out so that attendees know what to do if they face issues during the event. Prior to the event, making the attendees aware of who to contact if they are having issues can help ease confusion. Let the attendees know how they can most easily reach tech support during the event. For example, recommend personal troubleshooting first, and then reaching out via chat to the tech team, rather than sending emails or trying to call the hosts or sponsors.
Sometimes, though, even if you do all the right things, you may still encounter difficulties during your event. In these cases, doing a follow-up after the event and addressing any of the issues that may have occurred can go a long way with potentially frustrated attendees. You may even offer to send a recording of the event to participants who were unable to experience it fully so that they are still able to get all of the value out of the information of the event as others.
Each of these tips is ultimately about planning ahead. As with almost everything in life, planning ahead gives you a better chance that reality pans out the way you want it to go. Start planning ahead and get familiar with your virtual event timeline, assess your audience and their capabilities, consider the different elements of the event itself, rehearse as much as it takes to feel prepared for potential mishaps, prioritize support, and communicate clearly and often with the attendees to make sure they are kept in the loop.
Even in a post-pandemic world, events will continue to include a virtual aspect to them. You may never be able to predict all possible problems, but if you follow these tips, you’re going to significantly increase your chances of a resoundingly successful virtual event.