The Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Virtual Event
Can a virtual event help you? Check out this guide on the best virtual event ideas to find out. By the end, you won’t just know whether virtual events are right for your company - you will also have everything you need to make your own virtual event a smashing success.
Virtual Events are Everywhere
Especially now. Like their physical counterparts, virtual events are simply anything that is a planned occasion with a specific purpose. Unlike their physical counterparts, virtual events can quickly enable massive conferences with thousands of attendees from all over the world... or cozy, casual gatherings with a niche audience in the same time zone.
But virtual events tend to get a bad rap.
Because, yes, virtual events don’t have the appeal of in-person, face-to-face interactions. But we tend to forget the hidden costs to organizing and attending physical events. For example:
- Inflexibility with time and location
- Different travel costs for everyone
- Labor-intensive venue preparation logistics
- Challenging to scale
With virtual events, anyone can join from anywhere.
Some virtual events even record content and offer it on demand for people who might not have been able to attend the live event. As a bonus, virtual events are also far easier to scale.And finally, one more surprising benefit of virtual events: data. Who is tuning in? What are they interested in? How familiar are they with your company? Capturing data from virtual events is a good way to uncover valuable insights about your audience. There are also plenty of tools available to help you do this (more on this later).
Types of Virtual Events
So which virtual event is right for you? This guide primarily focuses on events for an external audience (compared to say, virtual team-building activities). If you’re interested in the latter, subscribe to our blog and stay tuned!
INDUSTRY CONFERENCES / SUMMITS / EXPOS
A great way to grow your company brand while adding value to your network. This type of virtual event typically features large gatherings for the purpose of sharing new ideas, promoting company products, and connecting with the top professionals and experts in a particular field or industry. It’s also probably the first thing that comes to mind for people when they think about virtual events.
WORKSHOPS / WEBINARS
Virtual events don’t have to be multi-day affairs. Workshops and webinars are educational in nature and a happy medium between doing nothing (potentially missing out on opportunities for engagement) and laboring for the next 60 days on your first virtual conference (likely to be overwhelming). Has your company recently added new features? Do you want to grow brand exposure? Are you looking for a way to deliver value to your existing network... without planning a full-on virtual summit? Try a workshop or webinar.
ONBOARDING / BENEFITS FAIR
Got new hires? Chaos and confusion are not what you want them to remember about their first week on the job.
If you’re wondering how you can easily and efficiently get everyone on the same page (while helping your new talent learn about all the perks they can enjoy), consider planning an onboarding or benefits fair.
It’s an opportunity for new employees to meet other new hires as well as connect with their coworkers. (No cool benefits to brag about? Fringe is disrupting employee benefits - read more here.)
FIRESIDE CHATS / Q&A / AMA
Because your company brand is more than a catchy slogan or pretty logo. We like fireside chats, Q&As, and AMAs as powerful ways to engage with the community around your company. This is an especially great option for companies with leaders known for insightful thinking and an innovative approach. At the same time, audience-curated questions will help you gain insight into what’s relevant and top of mind for your customers.
A DAY IN THE LIFE / BEHIND-THE-SCENE TOURS
Everyone loves a sneak peek behind the scenes. If you’re looking for a fun way to showcase company culture, invite people to experience what it’s really like at your company. Whether it’s a glimpse into a neat campus, bustling warehouse, or independent brewery, a virtual tour is a lighthearted and entertaining approach to bringing your company and community closer together. Bonus: it might just snag your next great hire!
KEY INTERNAL EVENTS
Think project kick-offs, milestone celebrations, training sessions, and more. Putting effort into making these internal experiences enjoyable can make a significant difference — often because a lot of companies don’t put in any effort so the bar is pretty low: just don’t make it suck and you’ll be doing far better than 90% of the competition.
A word of warning before you rush into planning your own virtual event:
⛔️ DO NOT approach virtual events as mere recreations of physical events (they are not)
✅ DO be intentional and thoughtful about what makes sense for an online experience
Physical events are immersive by nature and attending one is a dedication of time and energy, usually for the duration of the event. With virtual events, the ease of dropping in is a double-edged sword. The virtual event experience is often competing with other distractions, from open tabs to Slack notifications to a housemate watching the next Netflix episode.
Bottom-line: Without interesting opportunities to engage, people tune out or leave.
Essentials to Getting Virtual Events Right
It’s all about the experience
Empathy is a part of good design. So put yourself in your attendees’ shoes - what are they interested in? What are they worried about? Will they be interested in talking at a virtual booth? Taking people’s excitement and concerns into consideration will help you put on a successful virtual event. We list a few basics here to help you get started.
GIVING A WARM WELCOME
When an attendee signs up for your virtual event, are you thinking about what happens next? If not, you could be missing an opportunity to increase the anticipation and excitement. At SwagUp, we know how important first impressions are and we put that into practice with a fanatic attention to detail when it comes to our swag packs.
The same is true for your virtual event. Sending a confirmation email with the virtual event details is a given. But with a little work upfront, you can make your virtual event much more successful. For example:
- In the confirmation email, ask your attendees to reply back with what they are most excited to learn/experience at the event
- Create a place for attendees to connect with each other beforehand (e.g. in a Slack channel or LinkedIn group) and get the conversation going!
- Surprise them with a swag pack (a good way to share a schedule of the event offerings, insert cards from sponsors, and a link to a resources page with details like speaker bios)
The takeaway: don’t wait until the day of the event to engage your attendees. An attendee’s experience begins the moment they sign up and a warm welcome sets the tone for an awesome virtual event.
PREPPING YOUR HOST AND SPEAKERS
Chances are you’ve been in at least one awkward Zoom meeting where someone had bad lighting, an unfortunate camera angle, or mic issues.
Let’s avoid that. Before your virtual event, run a tech check with all parties involved in the programming. Assign a host to keep everyone on track and field any audience questions. Plan for a few contingencies, then stay flexible.
You won’t be able to account for every single thing that could possibly happen at the event, but by outlining some baseline rules and suggestions for your host and speakers, the show will run smoother.
EMPOWERING COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
So here’s the thing: people want to engage. We are social creatures and to the extent that a virtual event is opt-in, your attendees are already interested in how they can interact with others and fully enjoy the event.
Your job is creating space for engagement in a way that resonates with the attendee. Some ways you can do this are to offer live voting, photo filters and stickers promoting the event, highlight reels from user submissions, exclusive swag, an open question box, and giveaways/contests. If you understand your audience well, you can pull ahead by getting more specific with how you use these tools.
For example, does your crowd geek out over Excel magic or love discussing productivity hacks? Ask attendees to share their best tips. Are they active on Twitter or Instagram and want easy-to-share content during the event? Capture quotes and key insights and package them in a visually gorgeous post they can quickly share. Got a bunch of competitive folks on your hands? Make sure there’s something they can win at — whether it’s people bingo, coding problems, or a pushup challenge.
The practical elements of your virtual event
People tend to think of live streaming when it comes to virtual events. However, there are advantages to having prerecorded content. Access on-demand, for example. A third approach involves a hybrid of the two, where you process your live virtual event into recorded content that can be shared.
Regardless, you’ll want to define this upfront. This will bring some clarity to your virtual event campaign and help you understand what is a priority (and what isn’t).
Practical elements involved with hosting a virtual event:
- Your event page and a way for attendees to sign up
- Marketing and promotion (Tip: create a hashtag for your event)
- Programming schedule, speaker information, and relevant details
- Engagement platforms and communication tools (e.g. Slack, Zoom, SpotMe)
- Audience feedback and suggestions
- Post-event bonuses, including presentation slides and notes
Fun Stuff to Add
Create an energizing experience
Back-to-back Zoom meetings can drain even the most sociable extrovert. The trick is to end on a positive note and have the attendee leave with inspiration, knowledge, and connections they didn’t have before the event. Build in some flexibility with fun events, and let the attendee control their experience where possible.
A LITTLE SHOW BIZ
One of the simplest ways to add fun into the equation is through entertainment. Bring in a comedian or magician, host a company awards ceremony, or facilitate a virtual “coffee room” where participants can discuss relevant industry news and chat amongst themselves, all while savoring their drink of choice.
WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER
Games are a universal language. Set up a contest or giveaway for your virtual event, challenge your audience to solve a problem, or organize a round of Jeopardy. Popular social video games are another good option, as these games tend to already have thriving, passionate communities and offer a simple way for attendees to connect over a shared interest.
THE POWER TRIFECTA: HEALTH, WELLNESS, AND FOOD
We’ve talked before about how swag can bring human connection back to virtual events. In short, it comes back to understanding that people are human. And that means paying attention to things like health and wellbeing.
Virtual events don’t have to (and shouldn’t be) pure business all the time. Because people aren’t pure business all the time. For some of us, it’s more of a blend. For others, once the workday ends, it’s time to move on to other things. With some thoughtful planning, your virtual event can cater to both types as well as everyone in between.
For instance, set some room in the schedule for a group workout or meditation session. For attendees interested in reducing stress by getting creative, you can organize a channel where participants play with paint or enjoy adult coloring books in friendly company. You can even plan a live baking lesson or spirit and food tastings (think wine, coffee, cheese, chocolate, etc.) for everyone interested.
Tools to Make it Happen
Aside from Zoom and Slack, what other tools can you use to organize your virtual event? There are many good options out there, so we’ve put together a list to get you started here:
- Hopin — an online event platform capable of organizing events of any type or size, whether it's a 50-person recruiting event, a 500-person all-hands meeting, or a 50,000-person annual conference. You can use hopin to sell event tickets, engage your attendees, and analyze data from your event
- SpotMe — a Top G2 rated virtual events platform that promises higher attendee rates and less drop offs. Used by companies like SAP, L’Oreal and TD bank. You can use SpotMe to go beyond the webinar and virtual event.
- nunify — an all-in-one webinar & virtual event management platform. If you’re looking for a turn-key DIY solution accessible 24/7 to broadcast, network and engage, check them out. Like hopin, nunify is a good solution for a variety of virtual events, including webinars, live conferences, product launches, virtual meetings, & online training.
- Run The World — an online event platform designed for organizers, attendees, speakers, and sponsors worldwide. Run The World offers built-in online event templates to make it easy to automatically generate engaging experiences for speakers and attendees.
- Commsor — a community management platform that allows you to grow and measure your community all in one place. Commsor makes it easy to integrate with the tools you already use all while unlocking tons of insights & data to take your community to the next level.
- Bevy — a virtual event community platform helping brands build, grow, and scale their communities. Ideal for enterprises, Bevy promises an enterprise-grade experience with integrated dashboards and a white-labeled community hub.
- Glisser — a hybrid platform for events and meetings of any size with an integrated audience response system. Glisser works with major streaming providers, enables instantaneous slide sharing to personal devices, and uses audience interaction to provide powerful event analytics.
- Slido — a polling platform to give a voice to your audience, wherever they are. Slido offers a full set of features and integrates with the tools you already use, like Slack and Google Slides. This tool is useful for Q&As/AMAs, audience engagement, and valuable insights through analytics.
- Swift - a real-time SMS and web polling platform by ExciteM. Swift is a simple solution for collecting audience questions, comments, and votes. The polls are activated through a user-friendly dashboard and can be presented on any screen.
- Wistia — video marketing and production platform that makes it easy to find, engage, and grow your audience. Wistia offers Soapbox for recording, editing, and sharing videos in minutes. Then upload videos on Wistia where you can get analytics on your viewers. Ideal for virtual events involving recorded content (or turning live virtual events into content for later!)
- Brella — an event networking platform that uses intent-based matchmaking powered by artificial intelligence. Attendees choose their interests and event goals, then Brella’s AI suggests the best people to meet. Brella enables you to measure attendee engagement, track meeting rates and learn your attendees' goals.
And last but not least: SwagUp! When you need an all-in-one swag management solution for every kind of virtual event, give us a call 😉 We can help you launch wicked redeem pages, give attendees points and exclusive access to online swag shops, and surprise people the day of the event with powerful company branded swag packs (completely automated on your part, if you want it to be). Contact a Swag Expert to get started.
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