Virtual events are popular today, but they can still be tricky for event organizers to plan. It surprises event planners and managers to know that treating virtual goings-on like in-person events is a good rule of thumb throughout the whole process—all it takes is a little best-practice tweaking for the virtual environment.
Here’s everything you need to know to plan a stellar virtual event from start to finish.
Perhaps the most extensive part of the process is event planning. Like an architect develops sketches and blueprints before contracting out the construction of their creation, an event planner needs to have the outline ready to go—and well ahead of time. Here are some virtual event best practices to follow before your event starts.
1. Understand the basics and set goals
Before you lift a finger, it’s important to have the basics down. In this case, that means setting, specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals—otherwise known as SMART goals.
- What exactly do you want to achieve with this virtual event?
- How are you going to measure successes? Or, what KPIs will you track?
- Are you able to achieve what you’re after with reasonable means?
2. Research your target audience
Knowing who the virtual event is for will be a major key to its success. Each type of audience has different wants, needs, and expectations, so understanding them is vital to plan an experience that resonates. To figure out the target audience for your virtual event, complete the following:
- Look at the data from past virtual events. All the data you’ve collected from past virtual events doesn’t need to stay archived. Mull it over to develop a better understanding of your target audience.
- Create an attendee persona. What does your typical attendee look like? Use historic data to help you build a strong persona.
- Ask. There are seldom better ways to get a more straightforward answer than simply asking. Send out a survey that will help you collect data about what ideal attendees are looking forward to about the virtual event.
3. Decide the type of event you’re planning to host
A lot is possible these days, and while some functions may work better as a hybrid event or in-person event, they can all work effectively no matter the format if planned properly.
What type of event are you planning? Is it internal or external? Once you consider a few questions, you’ll be able to decide what type of virtual event will work best. Here are some popular options:
4. Create a realistic timeline
Yes, the timeline of the event itself needs to be realistic, with adequate times between sessions and sufficient breaks. But the planning timeline leading up to the event itself needs to be realistic, too.
Start planning as early as possible and leave yourself a reasonable amount of time to complete the rest of the list items in this section.
5. Choose the right virtual event platform
Partnering with the right platform is essential when hosting a virtual event. When you have access to a robust suite of features, it makes planning, facilitating, and following up that much easier.
A virtual event platform brings together everything you need to facilitate an exciting and successful event experience—all under one roof. We’re talking:
- Registration and ticketing
- On-site solutions
- An event app
- And more
It’s end-to-end management that promotes continuous engagement and drives better results.
6. Design an event website
An event website acts as the information and ticketing hub for attendees. It’s where they’ll go to learn more, register, or purchase tickets. At a basic level, this means it should include:
- The date, time, and location of the event
- A registration or ticketing form
- The event agenda
But if you want to get more granular, consider including pictures or videos of past events (or screenshots if they’ve been virtual), data about past events that communities its success, and testimonials from sponsors, exhibitors, or attendees to get people excited.
7. Spread the word on social media
A cornerstone of effective promotion in 2023, social media and event marketing cannot be without each other. And the good part is that you don’t need a ton of content to start sending tweets, posting on Instagram, or teasing the event on LinkedIn.
Start with a teaser that informs, such as the date, then slowly send out more specific information as the agenda comes together to build anticipation.
8. Start email marketing early
One of the most cost-effective ways to market your virtual event, email marketing is best done as early as possible. Even if you’ve yet to put together a solid event agenda or even book speakers, so long as you have a rough idea of how the event will unfold, you can start sending emails.
9. Book guests, speakers, and entertainers
Even in a virtual environment, keynote speakers and entertainers are a must-have. A speaker is a requisite for creating stronger and recyclable event content, and entertainers help break up the ‘business’ of a virtual event.
Here are a few tips for hiring speakers and entertainment:
- Keynote speakers should give talks that are relevant to the event and its themes.
- Entertainment should adapt nicely to the virtual environment and be interactive.
10. Create sponsorship packages
Sponsorship packages are sent to potential sponsors for your virtual event and should include any important information about your organization—and the event itself—with the intention of piquing their interest in your cause.
When putting one together, be sure to include:
- Information about your organization, such as your mission statement
- Event details, including the agenda or run of show
- Benefits of becoming a sponsor, such as engagement opportunities
- Sponsorship tiers (if you’re offering a leveled sponsor system)
- Contact details for your organization
11. Create event content
Event content is more than a value add for virtual events. Since these things take place 100% online, event content is necessary for success. Beyond booking speakers, entertainment, and other guests for the event itself, you should strategize about other types of content, making sure they’re fun, engaging, and interactive.
A great way to approach this is by creating content with gamification in mind. More on that in number 17 on this list!
During the event: Virtual event production
The virtual event content has been built, people know it’s happening, and you’ve already sold many tickets. Now it’s time to produce, maintain, and optimize. Follow these virtual event best practices during your event.
12. Test event technology beforehand
Given that virtual events are quite literally built on technology, ensuring everything is operational and without kinks is principal before your guests log on. This includes testing your internet connection, microphones, video cameras, and any other devices that are integral to delivering a smooth experience.
If possible, do a dry or tabletop run of your event beforehand. This can help you iron out any wrinkles, amend breakages, anticipate problems, and mitigate risks as best as possible.
13. Develop a run of show (or run sheet)
A run sheet is an organized document that outlines a cue-by-cue sequence of events as they’re planned to happen during an event. Having one is important to ensure that everything (and everyone) is on task and on time.
If you’re crunched for time, don’t worry about creating a run of show from scratch. There are plenty of templates out there that are already formatted and organized—all you need to do is fill it in. Try this one for your next virtual event.
14. Plan breaks in between sessions
You wouldn’t expect in-person eventgoers to stay on their toes for 10+ hours as they traverse a large event venue and attend a handful of sessions. The same goes for virtual event attendees, which is why it’s essential to build breaks into the event agenda.
A good place to start is blocking off time for lunch and maybe a couple of coffee breaks. During these allotted break times, there should be no in-progress sessions or speakers that attendees would miss out on if they decide to step away from their desks to grab a bite.
15. Facilitate networking opportunities
One of the main draws of most events is the ample networking opportunities, so facilitating them in a virtual environment is key. This is best done in a few different ways, including:
- Outlining dedicated time for networking in the event agenda. This might include virtual roundtable sessions or breakout rooms especially for connecting.
- Encouraging networking engagement. We’ll talk about gamification in the next list item, but having a networking leaderboard is a great way to gamify professional connections and encourage people to participate.
- Providing tools that make virtual networking easier. An event app with dedicated networking and community features is a great example of a valuable tool that’s both easy to use and accessible.
16. Gamify event content
Gamified content is inherently more engaging. For gamification to be successful, it needs to have a few fundamental mechanics, including:
- Friendly competition. This makes event content more exciting and contributes to a more interesting event experience overall.
- A leaderboard. This adds a visual element to gamification that incentivizes participation while encouraging others to join in to see if they can climb the ranks.
- Rewards and prizes. Being able to earn something for participating in or engaging with a piece of event content further incentivizes attendees to take part—just make sure prizes are worth their time!
17. Encourage attendee engagement
Virtual events are at their best (and most valuable) when attendee engagement is high. Encourage participants to chip in, whether that means taking advantage of live chats, breakout rooms, live polling, or discussions. Try:
- Hosting a Q&A session
- Using gamification strategies
- Holding a giveaway
- Recording event content to make it on-demand later
The higher the engagement, the better the data you’ll have to analyze post-event.
18. Leverage a mobile event app
When you take advantage of a mobile event app, it quickly becomes a go-to source for information, engagement, networking, follow-up, and pretty much anything else you’d want to do before, during, and after a virtual event.
And while its real value shines in how attendees and other event participants interact with it, it can be just as useful for event staff to keep everyone on task. The Webex Events mobile event app offers features like:
- Event agenda
- Live streaming
- Venue maps
- And other resources
19. Showcase your sponsors
Sponsors expect to achieve ample ROI when they choose to support your event, so showcasing them with thanks is important. This can be done in a few different ways, including but not limited to:
- Introducing them on your event website
- Talking about them on social media
- Having branded virtual meeting and breakout rooms during the event
- On-screen sponsor placements
20. Collect feedback in real time
Collecting attendee feedback in real time can help give you a sense of how things are going as it unfolds, allowing you to improve attendee satisfaction quickly.
To do this, you can take advantage of live polling features to quickly and accurately collect feedback from attendees about their event experience. Plus, you can stow the gathered information away for later use in your post-event routines and strategies.
After the event: follow-up best practices
As things wind down, there is still plenty to do. Closely following a virtual event, consider these best post-event follow-up practices to make the most of the experience.
21. Generate reports
Reporting tools are key when it comes to evaluating event ROI and determining the success of specific sessions and activities. When reports can be automatically generated, it’s even better. For an effective report that will align the entire event team, measure KPIs that include:
- Attendee satisfaction
To learn more about tracking event goals, check out Event marketing KPIs: measure event success with these top 11 KPIs.
22. Follow up with attendees
Having a post-event follow strategy allows you to extract even more valuable information from your attendees, as well as nurture leads that were generated during the event.
23. Repurpose content for continued engagement
Repurposing event content isn’t lazy—it’s strategic and a great best practice. You’ve gone through the trouble of creating and organizing engaging content, so abandoning it after only one use would be a waste. Here are a few things that are easy and worth repurposing:
- Speakers. Record sessions and edit clips of important talking points to distribute on social media.
- Seminars. Record and archive these to offer as on-demand webinars later.
While some exclusive event content is expected and can be a great selling point to persuade ticket sales and registrations, content repurposing can help you increase post-event engagement and generate new leads.
24. Feed lessons back into your event strategy
Throughout all stages of virtual event planning and execution, an event organizer and manager can learn a lot. Once you’ve measured KPIs and visualized data in reports, you can funnel all of that knowledge back into your event strategy so that you’re better positioned for even greater success come your next virtual event.
Even if this time wasn’t perfect, you’ll be that much closer next time.
Ready to streamline the virtual event experience for attendees and event staff? Request a demo of Webex Events’ virtual event platform today.