Virtual events are all the rage…
Because now they are absolutely necessary!
Since 2008, we’ve been educating and empowering our clients and students by way of virtual events.
As the COVID-19 health crisis threatens the globe, many businesses, large and small, have switched to virtual technology as a way to communicate, share content, and keep workers employed.
More people have become comfortable with virtual events, whether attending them or producing them, which is a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating time! We’ve been doing virtual events for over a decade, and we are thrilled to see the innovative ways large organizations are using them to reach smaller businesses in particular.
Virtual events are great for:
- Generating leads
- Engaging with customers
- Building brand awareness
- Educating and training your customers
- Supporting existing customers
- Reaching fans, influencers and promoters
- Educating and training your team
- Launching a new product or service
- Team sites and “all-hands” meetings
- Onboarding new team members and interns
Virtual events are powerful ways to reach a broader audience, especially when you consider the high conversion rate. One study found a 56% attendee-to-conversion rate.
Virtual events will never completely replace live events because humans are social creatures. For example, events like trade shows are better live than online. However, we see a future filled with more people embracing virtual technology to reach broader audiences with greater frequency.
Advantages of Virtual Events
The most significant benefit of virtual events such as webinars, according to one of our peers in the virtual event industry, is that they help you grow your business. On24 surveyed thousands of webinar hosts, and 76% said they were able to reach more leads through virtual channels, 69% grew their marketing efforts this way, and 49% were able to reach targeted prospects.
These are some of the advantages we have found in our 13+ years of producing virtual (and live) events:
- Virtual events allow you to reach a broader — even a global — audience.
- You can actually do both — pair a live event with a virtual event — and create a hybrid event.
- They can be more cost-effective, especially if your speakers charge less because they don’t need to travel.
- Data! Your virtual attendees generate a ton of data that you can use to inform your overall strategy and better serve your audience.
- Virtual events are safer and more cost-effective for your attendees.
- You can offer flexibility to your attendees; if they miss a session, they can catch a recording of it later.
- Virtual events are less expensive to produce — no expenses for wifi, catering, and printing, for example.
Virtual Events — Things to Keep in Mind
- Your audience may not be able to interact as freely with your event sponsors (and swag bags are tough to make virtual, but they’re possible — ask us how!).
- Your speakers can’t hear laughter, applause, and questions virtually in the way they do with live audiences (unless you have the right tools to create interactive experiences — ask us about this).
- It’s more challenging for your attendees, speakers, and vendors to interact and network with each other, so you’ll need technology and training to support that (but this is doable – again, we can help!).
- A live event typically comes with venue staff, which manages your audiovisual, wifi, and event logistics. With a virtual event, that’s all on you (or, if you don’t mind one more shameless self-promotion, we’ve got you covered).
- Virtual audiences can be difficult to keep engaged. They don’t exude the same energy as a live event, so this is why you want to work with an expert to design your event to create an unforgettable experience for your attendees.
Designing a Virtual Event
Begin setting up an event with the end in mind: What goals will this event accomplish? Are you generating leads for new business, educating existing customers, or a combination of both? Or something else? Identify what you want your guests to do before, during, and after the event, so you can set up processes and tools to engage with them in a meaningful way.
Designing a virtual event is similar to setting up a live event.
Questions to consider:
- Where do you want your speakers to be when they present to your virtual audience?
- Will they have someone in the room with them to facilitate questions?
- Do you want to entertain questions?
- Do you want to develop a brand that is specific to your event, or will you use your organization’s branding?
- How long will your event last? Will it all fall within one day, or will it span multiple days? Do you know the best days for virtual events? (On24’s survey suggests that mid-week and mid-day are most preferred days and times.)
- How will you empower your attendees to network with the speakers and each other?
- What visibility opportunities can you offer to potential partners or sponsors?
- What types of sessions do you want to include in your event schedule?
Building Your Event Team
In addition to your speakers and attendees, these are roles that you’ll need to fill, either by outsourcing the duties to a virtual event management partner or by training your own team:
- Marketing director: This role designs the marketing strategy, creates or oversees the content that promotes the event, distributes marketing materials, troubleshoots and tracks all activities.
- Program director: This role is the ultimate decision-maker, although they may delegate certain decisions to others on the team.
- Event coordinator: This role handles the schedule/agenda, the topics for your event, and exhibitor outreach.
- Event promotions: This role is responsible for attendee recruitment and engagement.
- Session producers: These roles support your speakers by facilitating interactions between speakers and attendees and making sure speakers have everything they need during their sessions.
- Audiovisual: This technical role ensures the tools that you and your speakers, exhibitors, and attendees need are working correctly, and they troubleshoot before, during, and after your event.
Finding The Perfect Speakers
You know who the subject matter experts (SMEs) are in your industry, but do you know if they are great speakers? Just because someone is an authority on your topic doesn’t mean they are good at sharing that information, whether it’s live or virtual. And some speakers who are comfortable on a stage in front of hundreds of people find it intimidating to be in a room alone, talking to a virtual audience — and vice versa.
Questions to consider:
- Who are the respected subject matter experts in my industry?
- Who are the subject matter experts that may be “flying under the radar” that can bring a fresh perspective to our audience?
- How will we diversify our programming, so we represent multiple points of view?
- Do they have experience speaking to an audience? Do they have experience presenting on webinars or podcasts?
- If they don’t have speaking experience, are they open to being coached (and do you have time to prep them before your virtual event)?
- Would this SME be better as a speaker, or should we put them on a panel or have someone interview them?
One thing we always encourage is that you compensate your speakers, whether it’s through a modest stipend or honorarium. You want to honor their expertise and respect their time, rather than ask them to give away for free what they’ve built a career or a business around.
How much you pay depends on the size of your event, the speaker’s level of expertise, and, of course, your budget.
Preparing Your Speakers
Speaking to a virtual audience is entirely different from speaking to an audience in person. We prepare our speakers by helping to design their content, rehearsing their sessions with them, and making sure they are comfortable with the technology and the virtual experience.
Questions to consider:
- Do you want your speakers to be on screen, or will they need to share presentations from their screens? Or will they need to toggle between being on camera and sharing their screens?
- Do you want guests to be able to comment while your speakers talk? Or will you have a moderator screen comments and questions?
- What style of presentation will your event have? TED-style stages, panelists, ask-me-anything sessions, or something else? Make sure your speakers are comfortable with the virtual venue.
Preparing Your Audience
The size of your event will determine the technology you use for your virtual event, which is something we help our clients to estimate and budget.
Questions to consider:
- Do you want to limit the number of virtual seats? What will happen if the demand for seats exceeds your limits?
- Do you want to allow multiple people to occupy one seat? What’s your limit? How will you manage seats? (We can help with that.)
- Will attendees have access to speakers’ materials, and where will they go to download them?
- If you’ve got exhibitors or sponsors for your event, how will you get materials from them to your attendees? How will you create opportunities for your exhibitors or sponsors to engage with your attendees?
- Will you have a “networking lounge,” which is a social channel for attendees, speakers, and exhibitors to talk and share business opportunities?
- Do attendees need to download special software or applications to attend the virtual event? How will you make this easy for them? How far in advance should you start promoting the downloads/installations?
- After your event, how will you stay in touch with your audience? This is a common question that people often forget! If this is an annual event, close your event by sending a save-the-date announcement for next year’s event!
Promoting Your Event
Whether you’re creating a closed event that’s offered to your own organization or a large event that’s open to anyone in your industry, you’ve got to get people excited about it.
Questions to consider:
- How far in advance should you start promoting your event?
- Will the event be free? Or will you charge a fee? What is your refund or cancellation policy?
- Do you want to offer early bird registration discounts?
- What channels will you use to promote your event — where does your target audience go for answers? Email? Text messages? Snail mail? Social media?
- Should you spend money to promote your event online and target specific audiences, such as through Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, or display ads?
- Do your speakers have a lot of followers? Are they influencers in their areas of expertise? If so, will you provide them with social media kits so that they can share and promote your event? (You’ll definitely want to compensate your speakers for sharing your event with their network – this should be part of your marketing budget.)
- Are there pages on your website that get a lot of traffic, where you could add a call to action to promote your event?
How Smart Simple Marketing Designs and Manages Virtual Events
If you’ve got the staff, technology, and tools to support virtual events, then this guide to producing successful virtual events will help you make sure you don’t let any details slip through the cracks. We know from experience, however, that many large organizations and enterprise companies don’t have dedicated event planning, promoting, and managing staff. Typically, the people who facilitate events in these organizations have other full-time responsibilities — marketing, advertising, sales, human resources, and operations management.
Our team is unique from other virtual event agencies. We can support your event from the initial concept, through execution and post-event follow-up. This includes event design, sourcing speakers, managing speakers, creating content, developing and executing your marketing strategy, and helping convert new leads to customers. We’ve been producing successful, turnkey virtual events, conferences, summits, etc., since 2008, and as such, we’ve developed a turnkey process that is efficient and gets results.
Interested in learning more? Contact us to request a copy of our case study, “Profitable Virtual Events.