Dec 04, 2020
Virtual events require planning, creativity and a basic understanding of available technologies and software. When done well they can deliver the same energy as real-life events and help you reach a larger audience too. Remember, professional doesn’t mean stiff. You want an event that’s engaging and hitch-free.
The following steps cover everything from planning to creative tips that will help you put on a professional virtual event.
Now that our work and social lives have gone remote, we’re bombarded with virtual workshops, talks and concerts. Defining your event and understanding who it’s for will help it stand out from the rest and draw in the right audience. Try to define your event in a single mission statement that puts your audience at the heart of it. Something like ‘this event will leave young people feeling inspired through music and art.’ Or maybe ‘This workshop will help over 70s get more from computers’ or even ‘this yoga course will leave people feeling more flexible and energised through movement’. A statement like this doesn’t need to cover everything, but it will give you a compass for your ideas, so you know which ones to explore and which ones to ignore.
Using your one-line definition or mission statement, get brainstorming. Make a list of ideal hosts, performers and speakers. If you can’t get into a virtual mindset, imagine what you’d do for a real-life event and then consider how this can work online. Is it for a daytime audience – like a lunchtime learner or an afternoon talk – or is it a more energetic evening or weekend event?
Ideas are great but you need to know when to stop and get practical. If you don’t have the budget for lots of headline acts, focus on one or two to draw the crowd in. Think about how long your event will be, bearing in mind that a day at a laptop isn’t quite the same as a day at a festival. Are you running a series of events over several weeks, or a one-off? Create a sample itinerary for your event and work out how long each guest’s slot will be. Start looking into availability, budgets, timing and attendee limits.
If you’re running a big event, you’ll definitely need someone – or a team of people – with technical expertise across live streaming and AV equipment. Get them onboard early as they’ll advise on what’s possible, practical and within budget. This will also help you rule out some of those great ideas that might end up breaking the bank!
Does your event rely on a guest speaker or headline act? If so, start with their availability first to narrow it down. If the event's a long-way off, you can usually get away with booking the big-ticket acts first and then filling the other spaces as you go.
There are a variety of services you can use to host your online event. We recommend Zoom. It has a range of available plans, an easy interface, lots of features and you can integrate it with other streaming services such as Facebook Live and YouTube. For large and non-interactive audiences you’ll want to integrate Zoom with a streaming service or use the webinar feature on Zoom. For more information on Zoom’s features for hosting safe and smooth events click here. Other suitable platforms include GoTo Meeting, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, and Microsoft Teams.
Are you selling one ticket (and one link) for the whole day or multiple sessions within the event? For example, if you’re running a digital book festival, you’ll have multiple speakers and people will sign up to the event they want to attend.
How you sell your tickets and register users is really important. For bigger events, you’ll want to use a third-party site such as Eventbrite. This not only helps your event reach a wider audience, EventBrite will take care of the automated emails, zoom or streaming links and reminders. Of course, you’ll need to figure out a social media strategy too – are you running early bird deals and what’s your posting schedule?
This is important to keep your event visually appealing, but also to help with promoting it through social media. You want a clear brand and message so that people know exactly what your event’s about. Once the cameras are rolling, so to speak, bespoke virtual backdrops, waiting room graphics, slides and videos will keep people engaged and make your event look super slick and polished.
Even with planning and a tech rehearsal, problems happen. Test your internet and the hardware on your computer before the event. Let your tech consultant test everything – and bring up every foreseeable hitch so you can work out a Plan B in the event of a participant’s connection going or a mic breaking. For bigger events especially, have a tech run through just before the event to check connections, sound and visuals.
Send out a virtual background to your performers – or for audience members of smaller, interactive events. A virtual background, or a selection of branded virtual backgrounds will protect participants' privacy and helps make the event look uniform. Remember, not everyone will want to be on camera so make sure it’s clear that it’s optional and that they can keep their cameras off.
You want a big bold graphic in your waiting room – especially for streamed events. Something that generates excitement and anticipation. If people are joining to hear a big name speak, then you’ll want their face across the graphic, but if you’ve got lots of things lined up, create something that lets your audience know what’s coming up. For webinars, a pre-recorded video intro is a great way to raise the energy and introduce your acts and the event smoothly, which saves your presenter a job.
A Q&A in the chat function – or even on social media keeps your audience engaged and creates a buzz around it. Host a Q&A session on Twitter or Instagram via Ask Me Anything is a great way for non-attendees to get involved. Pick a # for your event and get some external participation going. This will be great for branding and promotion while giving non-attendees serious FOMO.
Unless you’re running a really small meeting, we’d always recommend having one person in charge of hosting the event. That means they take care of waiting rooms, lining up videos, and muting and unmuting people. If you have a speaking role, you don’t want to be stressed with any of the technical behind-the-scenes stuff. For webinars and chat rooms, you’ll want a moderator who keeps an eye on what’s being said and can filter through questions. Don’t give yourself too many responsibilities – it easily leads to on-camera flustering, which is never a good look.
Don’t waste all that hard work and effort without recording the big day. A video or audio recording gives non-attendees a second chance, and it allows you to create promotional material easily for your next event. You can even make it available to rent or buy for a small fee. You can record via Zoom or use a third-party app. Get the written permission of your speakers and guests, and don’t record your audience. Before making it publicly available listen and look out for any sensitive information and edit accordingly.
No matter how good your event, there’s always room for improvement, so ask your audience and participants what they loved and what they’d like to see more of next time. You can do this in an email or create a survey using tools such as Typeform, Google Forms and SurveyMonkey.