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8 Tips For A Successful Virtual Event

We just wrapped up our first virtual national sales meeting and despite working in overdrive for weeks leading up to the event, our team is feeling inspired and re-energized — funny how an event can have that effect on you.

2020 Reimagined was initially supposed to be an in-person conference in Washington, D.C., but our plans changed in March when we realized what we were up against with COVID-19. After committing to transitioning our event to a virtual offering, months of researching, learning, planning, and team collaboration followed; after all, this was our first real experience with a digital event of this scale. 

During the planning process, we continually tried to predict obstacles we might run into and concerns our attendees might have — the decisions we made and extra steps we took were in response to these predictions. It’s important to put yourself in your attendees’ shoes (or maybe in this instance computer chairs!) to determine what would make their event experience smooth and enjoyable, and then make decisions based on those observations.

After experiencing our four-day national sales meeting and listening to attendee feedback, we walked away having learned many things about a successful virtual event. Here are eight tips to help you plan a successful virtual event of your own:

Virtual Event Success Tips

  1. Create a brand for your event and incorporate it into all of your marketing and event collateral. Give your audience a snapshot of what your event is about by designing a cohesive brand — decide on colors, font, verbiage, a logo, etc. This brand will be your audience’s first impression of what’s to come and could play into their decision on whether or not to attend. Be sure your marketing accurately reflects the event that you plan on delivering, and incorporate it into everything from your very first social posts to your post-event thank you card.
  2. The technology you use matters. You can prepare and plan the best virtual event out there, but if you don’t have reliable technology, the event will flop. There are so many digital platforms to choose from, and it’s worth the time to do your research until you find one that is reliable and has the capabilities you’re looking for. My best advice when determining how you’ll deliver your event:
    1. Consider your audience and their level of experience with technology when selecting your software. If your audience isn’t tech savvy, stray away from event software that has all the bells and whistles … don’t complicate things. There are so many options out there, but be sure to choose one that your attendees can easily navigate.
    2. Do a live demo of each of the software you’re considering. Make sure that what you’re promised can be delivered — schedule a demo with someone who can walk you through the platform and show you how the features work.
    3. Read reviews! Learn from those who have already used the technology.
    4. Make sure you understand what kind of support you’ll receive if you experience technical difficulties.
  3. Take your time developing the event agenda. Don’t rush this part of the planning process! Start early! Virtual event agendas need extra time and thought, as it’s a difficult task to keep your attendees interested and engaged when they aren’t experiencing the event in person. Keep sessions short (30-45 minutes max.) and incorporate many breaks throughout the day. Consider including a pre-recorded portion of the presentation so presenters can interact with attendees and answer Q&A in real-time. Create a nice mixture of quick sessions, breaks, and engaging content, and your attendees will keep coming back for day 2, day 3, day 4, and more.
  4. Include interactive elements in your presentations. Providing an engaging event is a difficult task when delivered virtually, but it isn’t impossible. If you take the time to incorporate live Q&A, polling, videos, and other visuals, your attendees will be more engaged and will leave the session satisfied. We incorporated a live polling app into our event where attendees used their phones to text in their poll responses. This interactive app allowed our audience to participate in the presentation and helped capture and keep their attention.
  5. Your guest speakers are key to creating an impactful event. Your selection of guest speakers is always important, but even more so when your event is presented virtually. Your presenters need to deliver relevant content, but more importantly, they need to deliver it with high energy to keep attendees engaged. We recommend thoroughly researching your guest speakers before hiring them — this means watching video clips of presentations that they’ve given previously, reading reviews, checking out their social media, talking to other people who have hired them, and setting up a meeting with them in advance so they can give you a preview of their presentation.
  6. Schedule dry runs for each of your event sessions. Taking the time to do rehearsals is so important! Run through the event software with everyone involved and spend time going through each presentation — this will ensure all key players know how to work the technology the day of the event, the timing of the session will be spot on, and presenters know who is supposed to be talking at each point in the presentation. Be sure to schedule these dry runs within 1-3 weeks of your event — anything more and you might forget what you talked about during the rehearsal. Dry runs were crucial to our event’s success!
  7. Create special moments for your audience. Before the event, we shipped welcome kits to our attendees to create some excitement and set the tone for the event. The products included in these packages were carefully selected and branded with our event logo. We sent an additional package before our virtual awards ceremony with all the items they needed to have a comfortable viewing experience. Aside from branded swag shipped straight to our attendees’ doorsteps, we also incorporated some fun activities into our event agenda, including morning yoga, a cocktail workshop, and a private concert. Make your attendees feel like they are a part of something special.
  8. Have a backup plan! Who do you need to contact and how do you contact them if you have technical difficulties? How will you communicate to your attendees that you’re having issues and need them to stand by? Who will be monitoring emails and phone calls while you’re trying to sort out the issue? What is the plan if the issue can’t be resolved quickly? Don’t let these things be an afterthought! The best-case scenario will be that you waste hours creating solid backup plans for technical difficulties, illness, and other situations, and you don’t end up needing to use them. Wasted time in this situation is welcomed!

Many factors play into a successful virtual event, but these are the eight in particular that played a major role in the success of our national sales meeting. 

Hosting an engaging and impactful event on a virtual platform is possible — do your research and learn from those who are willing to share their experiences. Virtual events are here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future), so it’s time to dive all in if you haven’t already done so!