Tips, resources, and tools to elevate your next virtual event and meeting
Virtual meetings and events have become the new normal. There are many reasons to get excited about them. One of our favorite reasons to look forward to virtual events? Planning virtual gatherings is an opportunity to reimagine how we come together overall: to get creative and innovate on what an exceptional event experience could look like.
More importantly, it’s a rare chance to strip the event experience down to its fundamentals and understand the most important elements of what our communities are really looking for when they choose to gather.
If you’re an organizer who is considering planning a virtual event but you don’t know where to begin, we’re here to help. We’ve compiled the information, tips, and tools that you need to feel prepared to host a truly unique, fully virtual event experience whose value extends beyond the screen.
Questions you need to ask yourself before you host a virtual event or meeting
Whether you’re an experienced event planner, or an organizer trying out something new: the rules of in-person event experience no longer apply when you’re planning to host a virtual event. That’s why it’s fun! This is an opportunity for you to get creative and think outside the box.
The goal here is not to replicate different aspects of the in-person event, but to understand what both you and your attendees need from the virtual experience, and what you can do to meet those needs.
Organizing a virtual event can be daunting, even if you’re a seasoned events professional. You can make the process less overwhelming if you begin with a clear idea of what you want your virtual event to accomplish, what it might look like, and how you might use this opportunity to boost your own business and support your community’s needs.
“The goal here is not to replicate different aspects of the in-person event, but to understand what both you and your attendees need from the virtual experience, and what you can do to meet those needs.”
So, before you dive into the technology required, start with a list of questions that help you visualize the event. We’ve created a list of questions that you can add to based on your unique set of requirements:
Questions for visualizing the event and it’s ROI:
- What do I want this event to achieve?
- How might this event support my community?
- What do I want the participant experience to look like?
- What is the format that I can use to maximize this experience?
- What is the compelling story or message behind this event?
- Are there other virtual events that can serve as inspiration for me?
Questions about the participant experience:
- What are my community’s needs?
- What offerings (content and otherwise) will incentivize my community to attend this event?
- What are the most basic attendee needs that I need to meet?
- Do I want to cap the number of attendees?
- Is this event open to the public, private, or a mix of both?
Questions about event logistics:
- What are tools that I already have in my toolbox?
- What tools do I require to meet my and my attendees’ most basic needs?
- What is the best virtual event platform or video-conferencing software that I need to make this event happen?
- What expertise do I need to plan a successful virtual event, and who can bring that expertise to the table?
- What is the data that I need to prove the ROI of my event?
Answering these questions will allow you to clearly anticipate your next steps. As you begin planning, make sure you keep track of the fundamental elements that you need to master in to create an unforgettable experience.
Master the Fundamentals of a Virtual Event Experience
Whether in-person or online, here are the fundamental building blocks on which you will build your event experience:
1. Strong marketing plan
The success of your virtual event relies on the strength of your marketing and communications plan. After identifying your target audience, create a marketing strategy that can reach them wherever they live, whether it’s on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. This is a chance for you to get creative, and use all the tools you have available to you to get your people just as excited as you are to attend your event.
2. Excellent content
A great content plan reflects the needs of your audience. Do a poll, conduct surveys to figure out what information your community needs to succeed right now. Identify the people who can deliver that information in a way that inspires your attendees and moves them to action.
3. Creative engagement strategy
While great content will attract your audience, a strong engagement strategy is what will keep them tuned in. Find ways to engage your audience, not only with your content but with each other. Otherwise, you’re just competing for your audience’s limited attention span with every other streaming service out there. Your engagement strategy should transform your virtual experience into an exciting opportunity for your people to get together, and learn from one another.
4. Data collection
Data is the number one way for you to prove the success and the importance of the experience you’re creating. As you begin planning your event, identify your KPI and the data you can share to prove the event’s ROI to your sponsors, exhibitors, and participants.
Prepare your staff, collaborators and attendees for the virtual experience
There are a lot of benefits to hosting a virtual event. They’re cheaper and more accessible. They can help you expand your audiences, and boost your content creation strategy. They’re definitely the more ecologically responsible choice.
Yet, the industry has resisted virtual events for a long time. The big reason is: when your experience is based entirely on technology being on your side, there’s a lot that you can’t control.
But that’s no reason to feel intimidated. In a virtual setting, the Scout motto rules: Always, always, be prepared.
Do this by giving your staff, collaborators, and participants the information and training they need to feel comfortable in the virtual space. Samantha Whitehorn of Associations Now provides a number of tips that are useful:
Reach out to the team behind the virtual event platform you’re using, and organize a training session with your staff. If that’s not possible, reach out to your contacts in the industry to find someone who is well-versed in executing virtual events, and organize a training session with them.
This includes your speakers, your exhibitors and your sponsors. Before the event, provide them guidelines on the event. For example, send your speakers tips on creating entertaining presentations, on what to wear, or even apps they can use to cancel background noise.
Host a webinar, or send a demo video to your attendees at least a week before the event, so that they feel comfortable and prepared to use the platform on the day off.
Tips to host a great virtual meeting
There’s no bigger mark of success than if you can create an experience where your attendees leave your event feeling the joy of having had a great conversation, of making new connections, and or learning something valuable.
For that, you and your session leaders need to know how to host a great virtual meeting. Here are tips to host satisfying, smoothly-run, and productive virtual meetings:
1. Establish a personal connection:
To enhance the feeling of connection, ask the people in your meeting to use their video. Don’t just launch into your content. Set aside some time in the meeting to make small talk, for you or your participants to introduce themselves. Those five minutes could go a long way in helping you and your participants feel comfortable. If you’re the host, make sure you keep your tone of voice warm and look into the camera to maintain eye contact. And always, if you can, refer to your participants by their name when you interact with them.
2. Make the meeting as interactive as possible:
Start the meeting by engaging your participants. Ask them to share something about themselves, like their location, or if they have pets. Ask your attendees questions, and invite them to actively participate in the conversation by sharing their opinions. Make sure you don’t forget the introverts! Your goal is to make everyone feel welcome and heard. You can amplify engagement by making use of the poll or chat functionality of whatever video-conferencing software you’re using.
3. Become comfortable with delayed feedback:
In a virtual environment, you might experience delays in the form of lags in audio or video. If your attendees don’t have their video on or have muted themselves while you speak, you might not be able to perceive their reactions. That’s okay. This is an opportunity for you to push yourself outside of your comfort zones. Anticipate feelings of discomfort, and always remain confident in what you have to offer.
4. Have an agenda:
Unless you’re delivering a talk to a passive audience, your job as the host of the virtual meeting is to act as the facilitator and moderator. Having an agenda and setting some ground rules will help you keep the conversation on track and achieve the objectives you set for this meeting. Make sure to take notes, and before the meeting ends, establish the next steps or summarize the key takeaways from the conversation.
Mindset-Reset: Break the mould, experiment, have fun!
If you’re being forced to create a virtual event, if you hate everything about this, if you’re overwhelmed and stressed out, this one’s for you:
Hosting a virtual event is a unique opportunity for you to learn, experiment, and try out new things! As you begin planning your event, don’t make decisions just because they feel familiar, or because it’s what you would do in an in-person setting. This is a chance for you to dream, to imagine what a truly exceptional virtual experience could look like. The best part is: we’re all learning, and your virtual event could very well set the standards for an experience that is evolving even as we write this.
Also remember: you also don’t have to do this alone. You can use this opportunity to reach out to your peers in the industry. We’re all figuring it out, and we can do so together.
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Other Resources, Tips, and Tools for Virtual Events and Meetings
- 2021 Event Industry Report: Learning is the Primary Motivation for Virtual Event Attendees
- How to Engage Virtual Audiences
- 7 Ideas for Hybrid and Virtual Event Sponsorships
- How to Create Human-Centered Experiences at Virtual and Hybrid Events
- Case Study: Give Your Virtual Event Participants More than Just Hallway Conversations