Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many annual conferences have had to make the transition to a virtual conference for the first time. Here are our top 10 tips for hosting a successful virtual conference.
1. Determine format. Just as you would for an in-person conference, plan to vary the formats of the sessions in your virtual conference to keep the audience engaged. Think about having a mix of keynotes, moderated panels, interviews, webinars, and even virtual tutorials. Additionally, consider whether conference attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions of the speaker at the end of a session, and, if so, how they will pose questions: will it be through chat in a Zoom call or by tweeting them with a specific hashtag?
2. Live or recorded? Decide whether to pre-record or live stream sessions. Keep in mind that you can do a mix of pre-recorded and live sessions for your conference. While pre-recorded sessions take away some of the risks for human error or technological malfunctions, they do not allow the audience to engage in real-time with the speaker. This blog post provides a more in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of pre-recording virtual events.
3. Be interactive. As with any virtual event, it is harder to hold the audience’s attention through a screen than it is in person. That means that it’s especially important to add engaging and interactive elements to your conference and its sessions so that attendees don’t get bored or distracted. Check out our blog post on ways to make your virtual event more engaging. Make sure your speakers and panelists are experienced with virtual events and help prepare them for success.
4. Practice. Review best practices for virtual events in advance with all speakers and moderators. Make sure they are ready for their sessions with good lighting, appropriate backgrounds, and consistent Internet connections.
5. Hire a host. Hire an experienced virtual event host or emcee. They can help alleviate the stress of speakers or panelists who may be new to virtual events with their expertise. A great emcee can reduce the stress of the experience for both you and the featured speakers, in addition to improving the conference experience for attendees. Contact us to book a skilled virtual event host or emcee.
6. Allow networking. Make sure to provide a way for attendees to interact with each other and network as they would at an in-person conference. Consider adding specific events during your conference that lend themselves to networking, such as a happy hour or lunch break. You can also consider adding breakout sessions and one-on-ones in webinars and other sessions to encourage attendees to meet each other.
7. Support sponsors. Have a system in place for conference sponsors and exhibitors to tell attendees about their companies and services, whether that’s by having virtual booths set up or allowing for attendees to make Zoom call appointments with sponsors and exhibitors in advance.
8. Offer options. If your conference is ticketed, consider having tiers with different exclusives for higher-paying attendees. For example, perhaps a VIP attendee will receive exclusive conference merch and have access to recordings after the event or have the opportunity to attend a Q&A session only open to VIPs.
9. Get social. Create a hashtag to facilitate social media engagement about your conference. Make sure to include the hashtag in promotional materials leading up to the conference to build anticipation. Have someone ready to live-tweet some of the more high-profile sessions and have another person monitoring the hashtag, responding to and engaging with attendees on social.
10. Recap and review. After the conference is over, analyze its successes and areas for improvement. This blog post will walk you through how to measure the impact of your conference. You’ll also want to be sure to continue the connection with attendees after the event is over, as is touched on in this article, which outlines steps to take after a virtual event wraps up. Although COVID-19 may have improved enough to allow for your next annual conference to be in-person, you can expect hybrid events to be here to stay even in a pandemic-free world, so learn all you can about what attendees liked and didn’t like about your virtual conference so you can make the experience even better next time.
If you’re looking to book a speaker, panelist, or moderator for your virtual conference, contact one of our agents today. To learn more about how to make your virtual conference successful, check out our virtual event guide and numerous resources on virtual events.