In the last several months, we’ve all become very acquainted with online events. Everything from Sunday brunch to staff meetings, large scale conferences to trade shows have moved to a virtual platform.
But, to pull off a successful online or virtual event you will need to do more than string together a series of webinars or host a Zoom free for all.
Aside from respecting the safety protocols put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, online events provide event planners and attendees with several incredible benefits including reduced costs, ease of access, greater leads, and improved networking opportunities.
To maximize revenues and ensure value for your attendees, here’s our list of tips and tricks for a successful online event!
15 Tips and Tricks for Hosting a Successful Online Event
1. Know your target audience
The easiest way to find success in hosting an event in any format is to know who is likely to attend.
Think about it, you don’t want to market a conference about advancements in dental technology to a bunch of real estate professionals.
By taking time in advance to narrow down who the event is for, you will be able to create content to suit.
- Who is the event for?
- What challenges or obstacles do they face in their industry or daily life?
- Is this a professional industry event or one targeted to a lifestyle or entertainment market?
- What are the personal goals of your ideal attendee?
2. Define event goals
Hand in hand with identifying your target audience is defining your event goals. As an event organizer, what is it that you hope to achieve?
Knowing what you want your event “to do” will help you direct a path toward that end.
Begin by defining your event type. If you want to host a virtual networking event, for example, you will need to set up and market your event in a way that is different from a virtual trade show or exhibition. One requires robust chat and connect tools, while the other requires virtual exhibit booths, a show floor, AND robust chat tools. A virtual conference will likely require live streaming capabilities or at least some type of video production.
From there, think about what defines success for you. Do you want to generate ticket revenue, do you want to grow brand awareness? Are you hoping to raise funds and awareness for a specific cause or charity?
Knowing where you want to go will help you get there.
3. Create an event brand
To make sure that your event marketing efforts speak to your target audience, create an event brand.
This means creating a logo, a slogan, possibly a hashtag, and a clear brand message. The message and the branding should be reinforced through your marketing channels.
Build an event website that includes detailed information about the event, who you are, and why people should attend. This site will be where people can learn more about each session, review speakers and exhibitors, purchase tickets, and complete registration.
Beyond the website, promote your virtual event on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Social media posts are an effective way to grow your event brand and generate early audience engagement. Write and share relative blog posts, push video teasers, and create an environment where virtual attendees will come to trust and value what your brand is doing and saying.
You must be consistent with your branding. You want people to have a seamless experience and much of that comes with recognition. Use the same colors, fonts, and logos in all of your materials so people can easily tell that the post or message is coming from you.
4. Choose an appealing topic
Sure, you can choose to host a virtual or hybrid event on the aesthetics of drying paint, but don’t expect a flourish of ticket purchases.
Depending on the nature of the event and the industry you are targeting, you may have to get creative in your approach to the event theme or topic. Certainly, by nature, some event topics will be a little drier than others. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t spin it into something more interesting.
Many times, people attend large scale events and conferences to learn something. Think about your target audience and consider what information and material could be valuable to them.
Don’t be too general or vague. Build your content around specific pieces that relate to the overall theme. If your topic is the aesthetics of drying paint, have sessions around paint application, brush types, drying speeds, etc.
While you don’t want to be too general, you also don’t want to be too specific. When choosing a theme, specificity can limit your options. If you are hosting a single virtual meeting or webinar, specificity is great, but if you are planning a multi-day digital affair, you will need more room.
If your target audience includes novices and experts, be sure there is enough content to keep both ends of the audience spectrum actively engaged and interested.
5. Put together a team
Physical events often have event staff and volunteer teams in place to help things run as smoothly as possible. You will want something similar for your digital event.
For starters, you will need a tech support team on hand. These individuals can help presenters navigate event technology and mitigate any trouble faced by event attendees. Be sure to include contact information for tech support in your registration package and any pre-event communication.
Put a person (or two) in charge of making sure each presenter is ready and able to go at the scheduled time. A virtual event needs to be on time. At a physical event, some interactions can take place if there is a slight delay. With a virtual event, people are more apt to just log off and never return. Keep things going as planned!
You will want to have people moderating chat rooms, as well. This will keep abusive behavior to a minimum but also enable the virtual audience to ask questions of the keynote speaker or presenter.
Finally, depending on the nature and scope of the event, you may want to implement a virtual emcee to facilitate engagement and interactions in real-time. A video production crew, including a videographer, may also be a wise choice.
6. Land a great speaker
One way to succeed with your online event is to land a coveted speaker. Do some research and find a popular voice that relates to your topic. This person should have enough authority and expertise to make them a draw for the audience.
Be sure to explore social media pages to see if their following aligns with your target audience. This overlap is likely to lead to greater interest in your event and increased ticket sales.
7. Choose date and time wisely
Online events give people plenty of freedom when it comes to attendance. They can attend from any location in the world that has an internet connection. But, this doesn’t mean that you don’t have to put careful thought into the date and time of your event.
For a target audience that includes working professionals, scheduling your event to run early in the week and during normal working hours is unlikely to work. Planning the event for a weekend is helpful, but people want and deserve their downtime as well. In this instance, scheduling your event for a Thursday or Friday can be appealing. It can be used as a professional development tool and provides attendees with what feels like an extended weekend.
Additionally, try to avoid scheduling your virtual event around major holidays. People tend to be preoccupied with their personal plans at these times and attendance is likely to suffer.
8. Choose a virtual event platform
A virtual event can benefit from the use of a virtual event platform. If you’re hosting a small virtual meet up, using a platform like Zoom or Google Hangouts may be all you need. But for larger, more detailed events, you need an online event platform that supports your unique needs.
Look for software that allows you to:
- Sell tickets and support online registration
- Enable live text and video chat
- Live stream video
- Designate breakout sessions and networking opportunities
- Market via social media and email campaigns through integrations
- Set up a virtual lobby and/or “cocktail lounge”
- Create customizable virtual exhibit booths
The right virtual event platform will create an interactive virtual experience that fosters participant engagement.
9. Create specific networking opportunities
One of the biggest concerns people have before registering for a virtual event is that they won’t have access to the same networking opportunities they would have at a physical event.
Fortunately, networking can be worked into your event agenda. Facilitate networking by:
- Using live chat
- Creating networking events within the event
- Leveraging social media engagement
- Using live video streams
- Using event gamification
- Creating virtual spaces for people to gather
10. Test all tech
Before you launch your event, you need to check to make sure that all your technology works properly.
Check video cameras and lighting and test wifi functionality for all speakers and presenters. Make sure that your event platform works as it should. Get a team together and collect opinions on audio and video quality and speaker backdrops.
Testing these elements well in advance means that you can get it right before attendees start tuning in.
11. Send event email invitations
Email campaigns are one of the most effective marketing tools available today.
If you have a list of past attendees, be sure to invite them to your upcoming event. These individuals are likely to be more familiar with your brand and are more likely to register.
Send email reminders to anyone that has already registered. Include details on how to get the most out of the event platform, tips for networking in the virtual space, and contact information for tech support.
12. Prepare all presenters
Once you have lined up your speakers and presenters, make sure they have everything they need to succeed.
Check-in on their access to the appropriate technologies but also help them understand how their contributions fit into the event as a whole. By understanding the greater context, the presenter will be able to tailor their message to be more appropriate to the event and the target audience.
Presenters should be made aware of their exact start time and their expected run time. For a successful event, things must run as close to on time as possible. If there are delays, make sure presenters know so they aren’t sitting and waiting to start.
13. Provide More Content
When the event is over, send attendees more content to keep the conversations going and attendee satisfaction rates high.
Some presenters may be willing to share their slideshows or provide downloadable content to support the points made.
Repurpose event videos or create a blog post that addresses some of what emerged from discussions at your event.
The more you can provide attendees, the more value that will see, and the more likely they are to attend and recommend in the future.
14. Send out a post-event survey
The only way to improve your events is to get honest feedback on them. Send a post-event survey to all attendees, presenters, and sponsors.
The responses will tell you where your event succeeded, where it came up short, and help you decide where to go in the future. You can even use this survey to crowdsource ideas for future events.
15. Tabulate the results
A virtual event provides event organizers with a treasure trove of data.
How many people registered for your event? How many actually attended? How many people stayed for the entire thing? Were there sessions that were less popular than others? Where did attendees go when on the showroom floor?
This information, combined with the survey results, will help you better understand your event and plan even better ones in the future!
Hosting a successful online or virtual event requires careful planning and consideration. You need to work to ensure that you are providing content that the audience wants and that the presentation of that content is interesting and appealing enough to keep the audience engaged. Remember, there are lots of other ways people can spend their time when tuning in from home, the competition for attention is real.
Employ the 15 tips and tricks listed above and you are sure to see results across all of your performance indicators!