How to Host a Successful Virtual Event: Tips and Best Practices for an External Audience

Virtual events give you a chance to connect with your audience in ways that are impossible to accomplish in person. With just an internet connection and, sometimes, a phone, your attendees can watch presentations, connect with one another, learn from industry experts, and find suppliers (depending on the type of virtual event).

They are a great way to build your brand and grow your business, and they also provide an opportunity to test-drive new products or revenue streams before committing to something big.

External audience attendees crave 3 things and a well-planned and executed online event can deliver them:

  • Connection – to speakers, to exhibitors, to sponsors, and to other attendees (aka networking)
  • Content – relevant to their needs – content that educates and more importantly entertains.
  • Community – the ability to continue conversations, build relationships, collaborate and co-create with like-minded individuals.

What exactly is a virtual event?

Virtual events are one of the most used business tools today.

From webinars, online tradeshows, and conference-style webcasts, virtual events keep businesses connected with their customers and clients around the world and they have quickly become an essential part of the workforce.

Virtual events are one of the most important ways in which present more than ever before from the comfort of their office, at home, or on their smartphones.

What are the benefits of a virtual event?

You do not need to consider

  • Ever-changing government restrictions and mandates,
  • Social distancing,
  • COVID-19 testing,
  • COVID-19 tracing,
  • Compliance with mask requirements
  • Sanitizing,
  • Travel hassles and cost,
  • Purchasing carbon offsets
  • Staggered meal times to keep attendees socially distanced
  • Seated, plated meals
  • The possibility of being sued for exposure to COVID-19

You can experience

  • Lower overall costs
  • Shorter sessions for keynotes
  • Deeper content in a virtual webinar
  • Lower GHG emissions and environmental impact
  • Replacing your F&B budget with better AV
  • Increased attendance
  • Improved profit – with the right business model
  • Bundling your events into a package
  • Creating a community with ongoing interaction, networking and education
  • Charging for on-demand access but offering free access for attending “live”
  • Inclusiveness – people who could not or would not travel for whatever reason can be part of your virtual event
  • Better lead generation for exhibitors – no more people walking by your booth, grabbing a handful of promotional materials and products and you having no idea who they are
  • Starting the marketing and sales process as soon as someone registers
  • Perhaps fewer no-shows to pre-planned meetings
  • Upping the production value and edutainment value with previously recorded and edited presentations or performances
  • Having an audio-only virtual event, presented in a podcast manner

What do you need to host an event online?

You require – at an absolute minimum – an internet connection, an event platform (there are many ranging from free to hundreds of thousands of dollars), a strategy, a plan, an audience, and presenter(s).

As with most things in life and business, there is a basic entry point where you can do something yourself and then there are many degrees of success when you bring in specialists and use higher-performing tools.

At the basic level – you can use Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams or the free versions of event platforms. Your options will be limited in terms of functionality and scope but you can still host an event.

If you are used to the ins and outs of in-person event planning, you’ll be happy to hear that in-person and virtual events are about 80% similar in nature.

You’ll still need to have a comprehensive business case, execution plan and marketing plan to get approvals to host the event.

And then you’ll deliver the event according to the tech and nuances of a virtual event.

That’s where the virtual event specialists, like Marquee Events, can be an invaluable member of your team.

What is Simulive?

Simulive is a portmanteau – a combination of two words to make a new word – in this case, it’s Simulated + Live = Simulive.

A simulive event is ideal for speakers as they can create their presentation, edit it out their mistakes, retake any parts and improve post-delivery.

With a simulive setup they can face customers and guests immediately in the event session.

When I think of Simulive, I think of Saved My Life – well not literally – but with my first 3-day virtual summit, the Women’s Reinvention Summit, I hosted live for 3 days straight @ 8 hours a day.

I’ve spent months finding speakers, letting them know the ground rules, working on the tech and then ensuring they were there, on schedule, ready to present as agreed.

Well, on day 2, our server went down and I couldn’t raise my tech guy who had been working around the clock for days. I thought I was going to have a heart attack!

Even though I was still able to interact with the presenters and we recorded their sessions, we couldn’t livestream the first 2 or 3 sessions while my team was trying everything we could to reach him, short of sending the authorities to his home to be sure he was okay.

For my next 3-day Virtual Summit ALL of the sessions were pre-recorded and edited so they could be shown during the event. The presenters were then required to be present for a Q&A session.

Personally, Simulive, with complete transparency that the sessions are pre-recorded but the speaker interaction is indeed “live” takes the pressure off for the host, the speaker and the team.

It also enables you to add some – now expected but still unexpected – elements to a presentation such as a meme, animated gif, voice track or other pattern interrupt designed to keep people on their toes while entertaining them in the simplest of ways.

What is a Hybrid Event?

A hybrid event includes an onsite audience and a virtual audience and it’s not as simple to pull off as you may think.

You can have a small, intimate event for an in-person audience and have a combination of live and Simulive speakers/facilitators deliver their experience and you can use a virtual events platform to facilitate the online attendees.

The downside of a hybrid event is that you have to cater to two distinctive audiences, with two very different needs for their experience.

If you do it well, FANTASTIC!

But if you favour one audience over the other, the other audience will become disengaged and you will lose them which could cause irreparable harm to your brand.

If you are planning a hybrid event – plan them as two separate events – with two separate teams (at least) catering to the distinctive needs of each audience.

You’ll probably find that it’s much easier to host an in-person event separately from a virtual event.

You’ll probably also find that hosting a well-executed virtual event will draw a larger audience.

And then you can focus your in-person events on ultra-high value customers/clients and prospects who are willing to pay for exclusivity that a small, intimate group brings.

Marquee Events Pro-tips

  • Ensure that your attendees know how your chosen event platform works. Do they need to download the app? What do they need? Will the camera and mic be on when they join the meeting or do they need to turn it on manually? How do they do that?
  • Tell attendees in advance and at the start of each day and/or session what the rules of the event are? What is expected of them? What can they expect in return?
  • Cover housekeeping items during registration and at the start of each day and/or session.
  • Help your attendees present their best self – visually (e.g. lighting and camera angle), and through their audio (what to do to avoid feedback, how to avoid an echo, how to avoid sounding like they are in a tin can), to mute themselves when they aren’t speaking etc.
  • When selecting a topic, choose one that is relevant to your brand AND also applies to a large audience.
  • If having people attend during the event is important * it is *, don’t allow them to watch the recordings unless they buy them before or during the event – and here’s the psychological part – the recordings will be sent to them after they’ve gone through post-production which will take 30 – 45 days. The reason for the delay is to discourage them from missing the session. You want them there to learn, interact, and take action so they can achieve what you’ve promised.
  • In your marketing materials, let the audience know specifically what actionable items they will leave with
  • Use social media to market your event before, during and after your event and ask your attendees to share their takeaways using the hashtag on Twitter and in your event group on Facebook and/or LinkedIn.
  • Give people incentives to engage with your event. Points for registering, points for sharing their takeaways on social media, points for sharing with friends, points for creating a testimonial (more points if it’s a video testimonial), points for doing any prework …. Points for everything that promotes your event in a positive way. Then be creative with all the ways they can redeem their points – raffles, “fishbowl draws”, a grand prize for the most points earned and so on.
  • Add more value – additional content or resources – to a paid on-demand version of the event.
  • Add more value – additional networking and interaction with presenters – to the live version of the event.
  • Send a swag bag to attendees ahead of the event with additional “things” that they will need during the event. Who wouldn’t be thrilled to get VR glasses to be used during the event for a presentation? Or at the lower end of the scale, or promotional products related to the theme of the event? Schedule it to arrive by courier the week of the event.
  • Send surprises – like a gift basket with coffee/tea and cups with your logo for a morning event, or wine and logo-etched wine glasses for an evening event (of course you are going to ask them if they prefer tea or coffee, red or white wine (and if it’s neither, send something else!) and tell your attendees to expect a special delivery. If your courier guarantees a delivery timeframe, choose an appropriate time, and let your attendees know.
  • Require that your attendees go to the “Registration Desk” 1 – 2 days before the event. The Registration Desk will be the virtual equivalent of your in-person registration desk. You’ll ensure they got their swag bag, you’ll remind them of the schedule, you’ll let them know about the social events you’ve got queued, you’ll remind them to participate live … and hint, hint… there will be surprises for those who do, you’ll answer any of their questions, you’ll tell them “hint hint” to listen to the end-of-day or end-of-session challenge, and you’ll go through a tech test with them (no more “I haven’t downloaded the software” or “What are the tech requirements” or “I can’t hear” or “I can’t chat” or “how do I ask a question” kind of questions when you go live.

Contact us to discuss your needs for your next event.

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