In recent months, there has been a colossal rise in the number of virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, these online events arose as a replacement for physical events but it quickly became clear that the advantages of hosting a virtual event extend beyond 2020.
Similarly to physical events, virtual events require meticulous planning and preparation to ensure the event proceeds without a glitch. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list we consider to be our top 10 tips & tricks for organizing a virtual event from start to finish.
1. Have an Audience-First Mindset
Before delving into the logistics of a virtual event, it is important to assess the wants and needs of your audience and how you can deliver these in an online environment. Make your virtual event relevant by asking questions such as;
- What is an attendee looking to gain from attending your event?
- What challenges/problems are they facing?
- What is the ideal balance of networking and content for your audience?
- Are your audience active participants vs. passive listeners
It is also necessary to consider the context of your event in the wider community and industry/market as a whole. Have trends changed and the priorities of attendees altered since the COVID-19 pandemic? With both of these considerations in mind, ask yourself, what is the potential to deliver your expected content online? What virtual perks can you offer your attendees? Perhaps you need to expand your target market as a virtual event has a global reach!
For example, the purpose of a RE•WORK event is to bring together industry leaders, academics and startups to explore the latest advancements in AI tools and techniques and their cutting-edge application across various industries. Using feedback from our previous events, we determined that the value of our events for a typical attendee is a mix of being able to hear insights from leaders in the AI sector on their latest research and projects as well as meeting like-minded individuals who share their interests with the opportunity for future collaboration. From this, we were able to then develop our new virtual event strategy.
2. Timing, Size & Structure
The basic blocks for any meeting. As your attendees are not restricted to being in the same location in the same time zone, you may wish to re-think the ideal date, time and duration of your event. With your audience first mindset, ask yourself, where do you anticipate that your attendees will tune in from? Depending on your event’s raison d’etre, do you anticipate that attendees would draw the most from holding an event in their evening, or would it be ok to run alongside their working day? Of course, this also depends on whether you want to run the virtual event live or on-demand. Try and settle on a timezone that fits the majority of your attendees.
What is the structure of your virtual event? There are many different structures and sizes of virtual events, some of which we’ve listed below;
- Hybrid - A mix of in-person and virtual features
Your choice will depend on your balance of attendee interactivity vs. presentations or alternate type of content. For example, typically, webinars involve a single or small group of speakers sharing information with a smaller audience whose interaction is limited whereas conferences see larger audiences with additional networking opportunities.
3. Format & Content
Once you’ve settled on your desired size, structure and ideal time for your audience, now the creativity can begin! In terms of a virtual event, depending on the timeline and structure, there are a variety of different ways to deliver content and raise topics. Here are a few things to consider;
- Agenda: Your aim is to keep your audience motivated to continue engaging with your virtual event. Diversity the format of your agenda, include multiple tracks, allow attendees to personalize their schedule, include single presentations and panel discussions, conduct interviews and/or fireside chats, add breakout sessions and share product demonstrations. For example, at our Deep Learning 2.0 Summit in January we will be hosting six different tracks, sorted by topics including Computer Vision, NLP, Generative Models, Ethics & Social Responsibility, Deep Learning and Reinforcement Learning.
- Breaks: Although there is the absence of formal physical breaks, it is almost guaranteed that your attendees will still want time to grab their coffee and pastries! Keep your event engaging by scheduling content breaks when necessary.
- Will your content be live, on-demand, or a mix of both?
Keep in mind that your format will be limited on the type of virtual event you choose to host (point 2). For example, breakout sessions may not be possible during a webinar, but are possible during a meeting.
4. Virtual Event Platform
This is perhaps the first question that comes to mind when you are considering running a virtual event - where are you going to host it? Luckily, there are lots of options available, from using a dedicated virtual platform provider to utilizing your own social media. Having so much choice can, at times, be quite overwhelming. For RE•WORK events, ensuring the high quality of user experience is at the centre of our decision, therefore we've looked to find a user-friendly and accessible platform that is available on desktop & mobile. It may also be useful to consider the following;
- Does the platform have the features you need? Don’t forget, usually, the more features = the higher the cost. Features include; live & pre-recorded presentations, recordings, surveys, polls, messaging, ticketing, and virtual expo areas.
- How does the platform integrate with the existing software you use?
- The experience of your speakers; is it easy for a speaker to share their presentation and test their video/audio quality prior to broadcast?
Will your virtual event feature attendee interaction? If so, it’s widely accepted that trying to mimic networking in a real life setting is the best way to encourage people to participate online. We’ve compiled a list of a few different methodologies offered by virtual event platforms;
- 1:1 conversations - private or public
- Group conversations - guided or impromptu discussions
- Problem solving/collaboration sessions
- Virtual Business Cards
- Post-Event Meetings - integration with meeting softwares, e.g. calendly
At RE•WORK, we provide a mixture of opportunities to chat 1-1 or in a group setting and arm attendees with the knowledge they need to navigate the virtual event platform and exercise their own autonomy when it comes to meeting people. However, we haven’t forgotten to provide networking opportunities that cater for stereotypically extroverted and introverted people! With this in mind, all of our attendees will join an external slack channel, have the ability to start their own discussion groups, participate in virtual ‘lunch & learn’ sessions and various ‘problem solving’ brainstorms to allow everyone to best build valuable relationships.
6. Attendee Engagement
It is easier for an attendee to close a tab or window than it is to walk out of a room, therefore keeping your audience interested is key to the success of your virtual event. Attendee engagement can be encouraged through various gamification methods such as prize giveaways and treasure hunts but also through more simple exchanges such as live polls or debates.
During RE•WORK events, attendees can feel like they are really involved in the conversation by participating in a Q&A after every presentation where the speaker, or panel of experts, share their thoughts on your questions which can also be asked anonymously.
For most, virtual events are a new phenomenon. It is therefore imperative to build solid communications with all stakeholders for your event in a pre-event, on the day and post-event capacity.
- Highlight the strengths of your new virtual event. Communicating the key features of what an attendee can expect is particularly important if you are transitioning from a physical to a virtual event.
- Prepare a FAQ’s or a 'how to use’ document for your virtual event platform. This is a great best practice but one not to be taken lightly! Be sure to detail what each individual will be able to do, whether that be your attendees, sponsors, speakers or exhibitors. For example, provide clear instructions to your speakers about how to conduct their presentation, how to use the software and best practices for the microphone, video and background.
On the Day:
- At RE•WORK events, we share a ‘survival guide’ to help you navigate the virtual event and make the most of your experience. We are also on hand on the day if you have any questions!
8. Promoting a Virtual Event
Launching, promoting and overseeing a virtual event differs slightly from a physical event. Think about changing up your marketing campaigns to increase your online presence prior to the event, build your social media channels and utilize the key dates to their fullest potential from your new virtual event timeline. Whilst there are difficulties going digital if you were not before, it doesn't necessarily mean a shutting of doors! Below is just a few ways in which you can utilise speakers, attendees and more to get the event across.
- Diversifying & creating multi-purpose content - One simple video interview can be broken down into 20+ pieces of content! Talk to one of your headline speakers for ten minutes to find out more about their work and presentation. Once you have done this, you can chop it up and turn it into - podcast, quote images, a short Q&A blog, short audio clips for social media, full-length youtube video and more
- Utilise Media Partners & Press - utilise partnerships with publications and tech platforms, whereby they promote your event in exchange for discounts for their readership, website backlinks, free summit passes for coverage and more. Press attendance is also key, as their post-event coverage can be used as reviews of your offering and, of course, backlinks for SEO and website authority - this in-turn, aids future events organic ranking and visibility
9. Opportunity to Build Digital Content
As most virtual event platforms record each presentation, you may have a collection of high quality videos and therefore, have the opportunity to share these with attendees who were perhaps unable to attend the event on the day. If you are keen to catch up on the latest advancements and key trends in AI & Deep Learning, check out the RE•WORK Video Hub, where you can view playlists on Deep Learning, Applied AI, AI in Healthcare, AI in Finance, AI for Good and Best of - AI Pioneers. As we are all spending more time online, hosting a virtual event also creates the opportunity to collaborate with experts on blogs and/or white papers to support your chosen topic. Take a look at our RE•WORK blog here.
Lastly, as a consequence of being temporarily unable to host physical summits, we have had the chance to connect with leading Women in AI all around the world and have recorded some interviews which you can access on our Podcast.
10. Make a Plan B
Last but certainly not least, don’t forget to prepare for technical challenges and on-the-day glitches. If your network connection goes down, be sure your team is briefed to swap hosting abilities at a moment’s notice if you are mid-presentation!
Interested to hear more on digital event lifecycles? Contact me on [email protected]