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How to Host a Virtual Event

How to Host a Virtual Event

Learn best practice surrounding virtual events, as well as information on how texting can elevate attendee experience.

While virtual events are nothing new, they’ve certainly had their spotlight moment here in 2020. Faced with the threat of cancelation, events big and small have transitioned online, resulting in bursts of creativity across industries.  

At SimpleTexting, we’ve been amazed by some of the creative ways our customers have used texting to engage and connect with virtual event attendees. 

So much so we were inspired to create this ultimate guide to hosting a virtual event for anyone interested in replicating the most successful models. 

From workshopping your topic to delivering post-event feedback requests, we’ve got everything you need to know for each step along the way. 

What Is a Virtual Event?

As we mentioned before, virtual events are nothing new. Webinars, online workout classes, and video conferencing have existed for nearly two decades! These are all examples of a virtual event—otherwise known as an occasion where all the elements of the experience, lesson, or demonstration are received online vs. in person. 

Other than the qualification that a virtual event takes place over the internet, there’s no real definition or limit to what that could mean. These days, entire school years are technically considered virtual events, with concerts and conferences alike following suit. 

Types of Virtual Events

Virtual events typically fall under a few different categories. Why does their classification matter? 

Well, knowing more about your event type can help you estimate attendance, budget, time commitment, etc. 

There are three main categories of virtual events an organization may find themselves hosting. 

Virtual Conference 

The largest of the three types, a virtual conference typically has a few hundred to a thousand or more attendees. 65% of marketers need more than six weeks to promote a sizable virtual conference if they want to drive the desired amount of registrations. Additionally, the average cost per attendee for a large virtual conference is around $1,000 to $1,500. You’re almost guaranteed to need help from virtual event software to help put on an event of this magnitude.  Features of this type of software include: 

  • Public and private chat rooms for attendees to mingle and ask questions
  • Virtual tours of the event “space”
  • Facilities for a speaker and an interactive audience
  • Virtual lobbies
  • The ability to host polls
  • Sponsor areas designated for ads
  • Reporting on user engagement metrics
  • The ability to text with attendees before, during, and after the event
  • And more!

Photo Credit: Kelvin Man

Virtual Meetings

On a much smaller scale, virtual meetings are 60-90 minute round table events or webinars that typically cover one subject among 5-50 attendees. In the case of webinars, most people need between 3-6 weeks to promote the event successfully. 

Virtual meetings will always be real-time events that are fully or partially interactive. As a result, less involved virtual meeting software is often helpful to have on hand to host the sessions. Some of the most popular include:

  • Zoom
  • Skype
  • GoToMeeting/GoToWebinar
  • Freeconferencecall
  • ClickMeeting
  • Google Meet

Photo Credit: NBC Los Angeles

Virtual Performance

The final type of virtual meeting is a bit of a potpourri. Similar to virtual meetings, virtual performances are generally live events streamed over a platform like Zoom or social media with an audience as small as two or as large as two million! A virtual performance’s key feature is the demonstration aspect that involves less collaboration than a meeting or conference. Examples of virtual performances include:

  • Lessons or lectures
  • HR training or demonstrations
  • Behind the scenes tours
  • Interviews 
  • Concerts
  • Workout classes

Photo Credit: Time Magazine

While anyone may be able to host a virtual event, there are a few things that need to happen to host a good virtual event. 

Virtual Event Best Practices

No matter your virtual event’s size and scale, there are a few best practices that apply across the board. 

  • Encourage social networking. For example, live-tweeting and posting during the event! Audience engagement is the most considerable challenge when it comes to virtual events. Social media is an easy way to encourage and monitor it. 
  • Be sure you have a way to ask and answer questions. Two-way communications is another essential ingredient to audience engagement. One of the best ways to connect with people quickly during your event is through SMS! Send mass messages to all attendees with announcements and updates and receive notifications or questions directly from attendees, all from the same platform!
  • Mute participants in webinars. It’s all too common to catch a random cough or shuffling about of participants during a webinar. It’s best to mute all participants upon entry by default.
  • Consider time zones when scheduling. With virtual events, you can connect with folks around the world. Consider scheduling in time-sensitive windows that accommodate as many time zones as possible. 
  • Test your internet and have a backup plan. As the saying goes, what can go wrong…will. And the most critical element to your virtual event is a stable internet connection. So be sure to test it out a few times before your event and have a backup plan, like a portable hotspot, ready just in case. 
  • Send plenty of reminders. It’s best practice to send at least three reminders before an event. A week before, 24 hours prior, and the day of the event. 

How to Host a Virtual Event

Are you still feeling a little overwhelmed by the prospect of hosting a virtual event? We know the feeling. 

Sometimes it can feel helpful to have it all written out step-by-step. So that’s exactly what we’ll do next!

Determine Your Audience and Venue

Once you have a better idea of what kind of virtual event you’re hosting (conference, meeting, performance), you can spell out what your audience will look like. Are you sending individual invitations, or is your event open to the public?

This information will help you decide the “venue” for your virtual event. For example, if your brand is hosting a demonstration or product launch, you’ll want as many customers viewing as possible. Ergo, you may choose to live stream your announcement on social media to capture as many passing eyes as you can! On the contrary, if you want to host a more exclusive event complete with registration, you may opt for a password protected Zoom meeting. 

Pick a Relevant Topic

The next thing you’ll want to do before your event is to narrow down the topic(s) you wish to cover. This point comes after your audience determination because who you want to target impacts what you’ll cover. You want to be sure your topic is both valuable and of interest to your target audience. You can do this by asking questions like:

  • What subject areas in your industry relate the closest to their needs?
  • Are there any services or features you offer that would be useful to them?
  • What are some of your most frequently asked questions?
  • What kinds of offers do they respond best to (e.g., coupons, contests)?

Be sure to keep your topic(s) as focused as possible to give audience members a realistic expectation of what your event will offer.  

Find Your Speakers and Brief Them

Next up is the real meat of your event, the presenters. It may be someone from your organization or a third party, but it’s essential to find a credible industry expert to speak at your virtual event. 

You’ll want to be sure to brief your speakers on the topic thoroughly and give them a clear goal. This is often phrased as “at the end of this presentation, our audience should be able to _____.” 

You’ll also want to make them aware of any time limitations and the general order of events. Prepare some questions for them beforehand in the event of a slow Q&A and finally, share a little about your audience with them so they can tailor their material accordingly. 

Set Up Visual Aids

90% of people believe that a strong narrative in a presentation is critical for engagement. A crucial tool for storytelling is your visual aids. Presentations with visual aids are known to be 43% more persuasive than the same presentations without visuals. There are some awesome free tools that can help you set up dynamic visuals including:

  • Google Slides
  • Prezi
  • Canva
  • Unsplash 
  • Creative Market
  • Slideshare
  • Piktochart
  • Giphy

Send Your Invites and Host Your Event

As we mentioned earlier it’s best practice to send an invitation and at least three reminders before your actual event. Be sure to save attendee’s contact information and store it somewhere referencing their attendance at your event so you have a conversation point down the line for future engagement. It’s also a good idea to have a day-of event checklist so you can ensure you, your speakers, and your software are all set up and working properly.  

Send Follow Up Materials

After every event you always want to include an opportunity for attendees to share their feedback with you. This is a valuable exercise for both them and you. When writing a post-event feedback survey, be sure to:

  • Include a mix of multiple choice and open ended questions to get a mix of general and specific notes
  • Send your survey as soon as possible after an event to gather feedback while it’s still fresh
  • Utilize a simple Likert Scale rating system (from 1-5) to easily work out the average score for each item and get an overall gist for each question
  • Use this opportunity to gauge interest in future events as well
  • Try to keep your survey limited to around 5-10 questions

Photo Credit: Eventbrite

COVID has created a lot of innovative examples of events you never thought could go virtual. With a strong focus on audience experience paired with the right tools, you’re sure to knock your next virtual event out of the park!

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