We’re hearing about virtual events a lot these days, but they’ve actually been around for a while. Virtual events were even taking place in the last century, like the presentation from Visual Data Corporation (now called Onstream Media Corporation) at a virtual event in 1993. In that virtual trade show presentation, Alan Saperstein and Randy Selman, the co-founders of Visual Data, demonstrated the streaming of HotelView, which featured a library of videos from hotels across the globe.
A lot of things have changed since the early days of streaming media, but much remains the same when it comes to holding a successful event, whether it’s a virtual event, an in-person event, or a hybrid event that combines elements of both. Virtual events and in-person events alike must give participants a reason to attend, hold their attention while they’re there, and leave them wanting to act, connect, contribute, or engage in some other meaningful way.
Virtual events are virtually everywhere you turn today. You’ve likely attended several online events at this point, and maybe some have stood out as more memorable than others. Those might be the ones from which you can draw a few lessons.
Whether they were for fundraising, corporate networking or comedy shows just for fun, there are tips to be found everywhere. Let’s go over some of the tips we’ve come across and found particularly helpful. But first, we’ll share a few definitions and examples.
What is meant by a virtual event?
Any organized gathering of people that takes place online as opposed to in person can count as a virtual event. That might include an educational or training webinar, a large social networking engagement, or an online awards ceremony.
While we all still understand and appreciate the value of having face-to-face interactions and side-bar conversations at in-person events, an online event can still approximate some of these things, and even allow for some new opportunities. Just think of how a virtual event enables conversations between attendees from across the country – or even around the world – to take place.
Whatever your virtual event may be, you’ll need to choose a platform for broadcasting your live event and hosting all your virtual attendees. You may also want to consider options for recording it and allowing for on-demand viewing later. You should discuss all the meeting features you wish to have with your planning committee, or if you’re a committee of one, then you should take the time to ensure the platform has all the digital tools you need for a successful virtual event.
Here’s a list with descriptions of a few of the most common and highly-rated platforms for hosting an event online. Once you’ve selected a platform, you should do a test run to make sure your session runs smoothly. Brainstorm and ask those important questions involving digital tools and capabilities early on in the planning process so you can reduce the number of surprises and challenges later.
A Few Types of Virtual Events
There are several different kinds of virtual events that a business or other organization may want to host. One could opt to turn some of these into hybrid events by incorporating in-person sessions as well.
Virtual Trainings & Webinars
Learning is a life-long endeavor, and a virtual event may involve elements of education or training. If you want to bring employees up to speed on new software or train end users on a new app feature, a webinar might be the online event you’re looking for. Live events like these allow attendees to ask questions and instructors to receive immediate feedback.
In addition to the live instruction, you can also incorporate a pre-recorded training video in case anything is glitchy during a live session. There are several benefits to holding webinars or virtual training sessions.
First off, you don’t have to worry about renting or reserving space or arranging for travel for any attendees. This can greatly reduce costs. Another obvious benefit is that people can join from anywhere in the world. You can even save on talent costs like booking a famous comic who can perform virtually and won’t have to fly across the globe for your event.
As always, you want to choose the right platform for hosting your virtual training, and make sure it has tools that allow for everything you plan to do.
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Virtual Awards Ceremony or Fundraiser
While a virtual event or gala may not have the pomp and circumstance (or passed appetizers!) of an in-person event, there are still ways to celebrate. Given the limitations of the last year, a lot of people got creative and were able to put on a successful virtual event that fulfilled the purposes of honoring, celebrating, or fundraising. However, don’t assume that just because an audience is virtual, you don’t have to do a little something to dazzle them.
If you want to class up your virtual event, there are things to consider in the planning stage. Is it in your budget to send award recipients, speakers, or presenters a gift bag beforehand? Can you send attendees something they can enjoy as they engage in your event? Perhaps you need to hire a professional host or emcee to keep the audience animated.
Event planning for a live event, even when it’s virtual, includes a lot of coordination. You will likely still want sponsors, speakers from your industry, and seamless transitions. The best way to accomplish all that is to share your plan with everyone involved, and do a test run with the key players including the virtual live host or emcee for the event.
Virtual Team Building
If you are going to create an online opportunity for your fellow team members to connect, you might want to brainstorm some new ideas before you settle on the first event that pops into your head. If you’ve already done more than one un-structured “happy hour,” perhaps it’s time to dial up that engagement and learn a little about your co-workers. Ask your friends in HR what incentivizes people to interact, or reach out to the marketing department to see what makes a person click on an invite link and get excited about engagement.
There are a ton of ideas out there for virtual team-building events. If you’re going for a fun social vibe you could opt for some trivia time and divide attendees up into teams. Click here for an example (or 14 examples, actually) of virtual trivia games and other online gaming options. You can also create your own.
Even though it looks like the world is going to re-open and return to some semblance of normalcy, your next conference may still need to be a virtual event. Maybe at this point, it’s preferable to an in-person event if your event planning has been moving right along and you’re ready for your sessions, sponsors, and speakers. In that case, it sounds like you’re set for success and don’t need our help. But we’ll go ahead and share a few thoughts anyhow.
As we mentioned above, the great thing about virtual events is that you can have a live audience that’s made up of attendees from all over the world. Of course, you’ll have to think about timing if you want to include folks from different time zones. You should be sure to have planning sessions with stakeholders in order to foresee any potential hiccups, whether that be with virtual breakout rooms, chat features, or other digital tools.
Maybe this format can create a new marketing opportunity. For example, you could include a product or prototype in goodie bags sent out before the event, and have attendees offer their feedback at the next breakout session, whether that is done verbally or in a chat.
Virtual Sneak Peek or Showcase
A virtual format for your next product launch could be the best thing for an audience that can attend from anywhere online. Whether it’s an app or a new youth facility you want to promote, you can share all there is to know about your new project or product. People love to get in on a sneak peek, so a virtual event that you can promote as an exclusive engagement for members or sponsors is one way to garner interest.
If an attendee has ideas about how to improve a prototype, you can have those conversations live online, or create a separate break-out space to collect additional data. People love to offer their suggestions, so it’s important to set aside some time for that as you think about how to create a space for engagement. There are so many digital platforms that make sessions more interactive and fun, so be sure to seek out those ideas on social media or just amongst your co-workers as you plan these virtual events.
Tips for Making your Virtual Event a Success
Those are a few examples of the types of virtual events you might be considering. What enables a live, virtual event to be successful is another matter. Below are a few ideas to consider as you plan and market your online event.
Successful virtual events often have a dynamic combination of live and pre-recorded content, as well as multiple ways for attendees to engage. All of this requires a lot of pre-planning and coordination. You will also need to think about things like:
- Creating an event website
- How attendees will register
- Setting up a Q & A or live chat features
- Creating polling options
- How others can access video content or data after the live event
- Giving audience surveys for post-event feedback
If you are hosting the event, you want to make sure all the attendees understand their roles and responsibilities. It is important for conference speakers, event presenters, and all other hired entertainers to know what is expected of them both during the event, but also as far as social media engagement or marketing.
The industry experts you invite to events can make excellent event ambassadors and brand ambassadors as well. If they are well-known, then you might want to make sure their face makes it somewhere on your promotional materials.
Engagement for your Online Audience
There are plenty of ways to get an attendee excited about participating in your upcoming event. You could make a video about what to expect and share that on your Instagram, or create demand for pre-sale tickets by having a contest that doubles as a marketing maneuver.
During the live event itself, you might offer fun ways for the audience to engage in social media, suggesting that the presenters provide tweetable digital content as they speak, or take breaks where you encourage the audience to create stories. You could even add a video from the session to your Instagram as a highlight for future viewers to see.
You may wish to set up an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session at a conference, so it reduces the amount of one-way communication and gets attendees more involved. The event host can moderate these discussions, so you can have the presenter unencumbered by the tech side of things as they are trying to impart their knowledge.
Avoiding Event Tech Troubles
Speaking of technical issues, it is definitely worth double-checking on your digital platform capabilities prior to your event (and even before determining which one you’ll select). Most of us have become pretty accustomed to Zoom, or GoToMeeting, or one of the many other options for virtual conferences and events. However, if you are the host, you should understand all the things that can possibly go wrong before they do.
“Have you tried turning it off and on again?” That’s a running joke among the IT crowd, and it’s not a bad suggestion if you don’t know what else to do when you encounter difficulties on your own device, but if you’re in the middle of an event, it’s not generally a good idea to turn it all off. Make sure you’re fluent in the tools and tricks of the technology you’re using, and bring everyone up to speed that needs to be in the know.
We wish you luck in all your upcoming ventures and are here to help if you need to make your next event exceed expectations. Here are some more ideas for running a successful online event:
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Adam Christing is a professional comedy magician, virtual MC, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular virtual comedian, magician, and virtual speakers for hire.