7 Thoughtful Steps for Hosting a Virtual Event or Conference

There are instances when you may want to host a virtual event or conference over an in-person event. It may be a part of your planned strategy, or because your offline function was affected and is at risk of being canceled, or needs to switch to a digital format. For example, with COVID-19, many events or gatherings of 10 or more people have been canceled. Therefore, rather than withdrawing your annual conference, association meeting, or training, it may make sense to take your event online.To determine whether you should switch from an offline event to an online one, and the steps you need to take to make that happen, read on.

First: should you host a virtual event?

With more and more events canceled or people working remotely, you may be wondering whether you should host a virtual event. The first step is to determine whether it makes sense for your business to host a virtual event – logistically, and with consideration to your audience.Some events or conferences are all about the in-person experience, and recreating that can be challenging, but not impossible. Besides, event attendees may be purchasing a ticket specifically because of the activities or perks that they can expect at the venue. Prepared foods, free open bars, and live music concerts are all things that may not be possible to recreate online. Or, you can get creative with live food demos, cocktail recipes, and custom Spotify playlists for mimicking the experience. Alternatively, having world-renowned public speakers or exceptional talks and presentations are easier to recreate online.To determine whether it makes sense to take your event digital, start by creating a simple checklist of all of the activities, people, and sessions you have planned. This checklist will help give you a good overview of what will be possible to recreate online.

What logistics do you need to consider?

The first logistics that you need to consider are those directly tied to your event. These logistics include food and beverage or entertainment.Here are a few venue logistics you need to consider if you’ve booked a venue:

  • Confirm whether you’re able to get out of vendorcommitments. Some places may not allow you to cancel, or only reschedule your booking, so you’ll want to know this first.
  • Think about youraudience. For example, without a venue, you’re no longer limited to a certain number of attendees for activities or breakout sessions. By not being restricted to a place, you can expand your audience to other colleagues, friends, and referrals. Sure, you might lose a few people (who were only attending for the food or drinks), but you’ll likely gain more attendees who were previously restricted by the location or travel costs.
  • Without designated rooms for speakers and activities, you’ll need to consider how to recreate your schedule online. For example, you can create a Yapp Multi-Track page with dedicated Zoom Breakout Rooms meeting links that allow you to host individual breakout sessions online at the same time.

Similarly, you need to consider the legal logistics involved with taking your event online, such as with canceling vendor contracts or meeting compliance standards.

  • If you’re unable to cancel your venue or bound by specific terms of your agreement, then you’ll want to involve your legal team. They’ll be your best resource for understanding the terms and what you can or can’t reasonably do when negotiating your cancellation.
  • Similarly, you’ll want to think of any permits or licenses that you may have acquired for hosting your event. Do you still need them? Can you recuperate the costs of obtaining them? Can they be extended for future on-site events?
  • Next, taking your event online may involve security and compliance requirements that you’ll need to verify. For example, you may need to ensure that any new software used for hosting your online event meets standards such as HIPAA, ISO, or GDPR, depending on your event’s industry and regulatory requirements.

Finally, while many companies are already using video conferencing software for meetings or remote work, that doesn’t mean that these tools make sense for your online event. You need to consider the type of experience that you want to create, budget, features, security, and whether it makes sense for your business in the longer term. Therefore, here are a few software logistics you’ll want to consider:

  • The software you choose should be able to support multiple platforms. For example, some event apps are built only for iOS or only Android or lack web viewing. Since many people consume media on various devices, your best bet is to pick software that considers your audience’s media consumption and device needs.
  • Comparably, the software you use should allow you to engage attendees while providing excellent user experiences. For example, is the interface clean? Is it easy to view content on the app even with spotty WiFi? Can attendees easily chat and connect?
  • If you need to restrict your event, app, or content to a particular audience, then look for software with privacy settings. For example, if it’s an internal company event, you may want to restrict your app to a specific list of people, such as active employees only.

How do you take your event or conference online?

Once you’ve evaluated the pros and cons of taking your event online, you’ll want to formulate a plan for making the shift. Having clear next steps will allow you to achieve your desired results. To help you make the shift, here are seven steps for hosting an online event or conference:

Make a checklist of everything and everyone involved

The key to hosting a successful event or meeting is organization. To ensure you don’t miss anyone or anything, we recommend building a checklist of all your event to-dos. This foolproof event planning checklist provides some helpful tips for which tasks to accomplish months, to weeks, to the day before your event. Tasks like searching for sponsors, finalizing your speakers’ list and presentation times, sending reminders, and promoting your function are just some examples of what you’ll want to complete in advance.To help you organize your to-dos, try a simple checklist app like Todoist or a more advanced project management tool like ClickUp. The key is making sure everyone is aware of what needs to be accomplished and organizing those tasks to tackle them together.

Figure out your event strategy as a team

There are lots of different directions that you can take when building an event strategy. From incorporating content like blog posts to email marketing, and social media, your event strategy should be multi-channel and involve everyone on your team. Figuring out which channels to focus your energy on and what content to create are critical aspects of your event strategy that you’ll want to plan with your team. Remember to focus your efforts and not stretch yourselves too thin, especially if you’re on a tight deadline. To help you stay focused, consider the 80:20 rule, where you focus 20% of your effort on the key strategies that will likely yield 80% of your results.The right questions to ask yourself when figuring out your event strategy are:

  • Which channels produce the most qualified leads and customers?
  • What email reminders do you plan to send before, during, and after the event?
  • How will you use social media to promote your event or create engagement?
  • What other assets do you need to create to support your event?
  • Where will you host your content, files, presentations, and images?

By asking yourself these questions, you’ll be ready to host an online event, such as sending event change updates and push notifications via your mobile app.

Reach out to your speakers and vendors

By far, one of the most critical aspects of event planning is making sure that your speakers, sponsors, and vendors are well-informed.If you are still in the process of selecting speakers, consider sending them an outreach email that includes the details of your online event. This speaker outreach email highlights essential information for the speaker and includes a link for scheduling an online meeting.

If you already have your speakers selected, make sure to schedule a follow-up email for thanking them for presenting. Here’s a speaker gratitude example email that you can send.Also, you’ll want to email speakers, sponsors, and vendors about any event changes, including switching to an online format and any date changes. Vendors may need to work with you to rethink how they drive attendees to their website since there won’t be an on-site booth or table for them to visit in-person. Similarly, the sponsorship packages may have included specific on-site offerings that now need to be revised for online. For example, a sponsor may have had visibility on your printed banners, so you may want to reach out to them about doing mobile banner ads instead.

Get others engaged with reconfiguring your event

Even if you have a dedicated meeting planner organizing your event, you need to get others involved, especially when reconfiguring the virtual event setup. For example, you’ll need to set up a way for attendees to access the event online on the day-of, as well as the ability to register if they haven’t already.Setting up an online-only event page, for example, is different than an event page that has a location. For starters, attendees access the event through online meeting software instead of showing up at a physical location. Second, the way the page displays in Eventbrite and search engine results will be different. For example, if I search “events this weekend near me,” Google may show events from websites like Eventbrite that are at a venue near you based on your location.

Visualizing the way you want to set up your online event, such as activities and games for engaging attendees, can also be challenging when reconfiguring your event. For example, if you planned to run an on-site scavenger hunt, now you’re challenged with rethinking the scavenger hunt online. One option is a tool like Goosechase that lets you host both online and offline scavenger hunts by setting up photo, text, or location-based missions. Another option is to work 1:1 with someone who can help you set up your online event, such as through concierge services, where someone sets everything up for you.

Decide on the best software for hosting your event

Without the right software, hosting a virtual event will be difficult, or provide for a mediocre attendee experience. Therefore, you’ll want to ensure you have put the right tools in place, and tested them, before going live with your event. The essential features that you’ll need for hosting a virtual event are:

  • Social feed – for allowing attendees to connect and chat
  • Push notifications – for sending important reminders like event changes
  • Email – for reaching out 1:1 like to speakers when moving the session to online
  • Schedule – for organizing sessions and activities, including links to your online event
  • People – for sharing speakers, sponsors, vendors, attendees, and volunteers profiles
  • Documents – for hosting important docs like presentations, 1-pagers, and brochures
  • Videos – for sharing promotional videos, event highlights, recaps, and fun stuff
  • Twitter – for connecting through a unique event hashtag like #LockDownConf

Here’s a mobile event apps comparison chart for helping you to select the best software for promoting and hosting your online event:

When considering or implementing software to use for your event, you’ll also want to involve your engineering team for validating that it meets technical requirements. A few common IT standards that professional teams look for include: FISMA and ISO/IEC 27701. Also, they may need to conduct an infrastructure or security audit that requires completion of a questionnaire by the vendor to ensure it meets specific standards.

Update your marketing and sales content

Shifting to an online event strategy also requires updating any marketing and sales content that you previously published or had planned. The most critical content to prepare and update includes:

  • reminder emails and save-the-date
  • 1:1 sales and outreach emails
  • customer success emails
  • push notifications
  • website homepage
  • event registration page
  • registration thank you page
  • schedule and anywhere dates appear
  • event URL and anywhere locations appear
  • banner ads, social ads, and paid ads
  • social media profile and feed images

You can also consider setting up social stories for sharing video tutorials, interviews, product sneak-peaks, and more. Also, transcripts of sessions, templates, checklists, cheat sheets, and guides, are other great examples of remarkable offers that you can easily make a part of your online event, and incorporate into your app.

Think beyond recreating a traditional offline event

Virtual events don’t have to be limited to recreating the offline experience online. Instead, think beyond redoing what you had planned and consider things you can online, like activities and games that were previously impossible or limited.Get creative with different ways of engaging your attendees, such as with a digital Q&A session or through a virtual competition equipped with points, badges, and rewards.Affected by the Coronavirus? Check out these COVID-19 YouTube trends, including using your app for providing work-from-home essentials, stress reduction, and in-home fitness resources while people are remote.In summary, hosting a virtual event could be an excellent move for your business, especially if your in-person event was postponed or canceled. Since you’ve put in a lot of work into organizing your function, switching to an online format may be in your best interest. Therefore, remember to consider your strategy and get everyone on your team involved. Lean on vendors for work they can do for you and partner with other companies to get more exposure.Mainly, be smart about how you organize your virtual event and get creative! There are plenty of ways to create an engaging digital event using tools that you have or by incorporating new ones.incorporating new ones.