10 tips you need to host a successful virtual event
We've been adjusting to a more digital way of life for the past 10 months. Since COVID-19 has prevented large indoor gatherings from happening, businesses have turned to online platforms to host virtual events. Whether you're hosting a fundraiser, conference, leadership summit, fly-in or town hall, you can stay connected with your customers and peers digitally. To keep an audience who is growing more sophisticated engaged, give them more with these 10 tips for hosting a successful virtual event:
- Create a microsite. Successful events get marketed and promoted. Creating a microsite can help you during promotion and after the event because your audience can go there for all the information they need regarding the event. You can include the agenda, speaker bios, sponsor logos and chat boxes and widgets. You can also grant people access to the event through the site on the day of and beyond since microsites live on past the closing remarks. People can still consume the content if they missed the event or want to go back and look at it later.
- Right mix of live and pre-recorded. Don't choose to host an entire pre-recorded event because it's safe. Pre-recorded events can get stale and boring, so having a live component, like a moderator or host, can make the event feel familiar and more interactive. Establish roles and responsibilities early on so that everyone from the moderator to your speakers is on the same page. Then, set a clear plan with your presenter, so they know how questions will be answered, who will be vetting the questions, and ensuring someone will capture any questions from the audience so they can be answered later.
- Troubleshoot ahead of time. Technical difficulties are no stranger to virtual events. That's why you need to troubleshoot ahead of time. The first thing you want to check is that everyone has a strong Wi-Fi signal. Try to get an idea of how many people will be on your speakers' Wi-Fi and how close they'll be to their router. You also need to make sure people with multiple virtual platforms installed on their devices have those other programs closed. The video component from apps, like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, will all try to get the camera's attention simultaneously, causing delays. Additionally, make sure everyone has the alerts and sounds on their devices turned off. Lastly, make sure you can control the display of your presenters' slides, so they're clearly visible.
- Have the capability to talk off-screen. If an issue arises while someone is presenting or you're warming someone up, you should have a communication channel outside of your platform established. If your hosting platform has the capability, use virtual green rooms, so the speakers are staggered and waiting in a different “room” before they're ready to go live. You should also consider starting a group chat on WhatsApp so problems can be communicated quickly.
- Encourage interaction. Keeping your audience involved is critical when it comes to hosting a successful virtual event. The easiest way to do this is with a Q&A session. There are multiple ways you can get the questions, including chat boxes, a microsite, Google forms, or you can open it up to the audience at the end of the presentation. Your main goal is to make the audience feel like they're participating. Another way you can keep the audience engaged is to hold polls and surveys during the session or ask trivia questions. Make sure someone is monitoring the chat for any inappropriate commentary or attempts at promotion. You can also consider having entertainment — think magicians, musical talent, mixologists or comedians — if your budget and time frame permits.
- Give people a break. Hosting an all-day event with no breaks can be detrimental to your virtual success. Typically, 45-90-minute sessions hold everyone's attention and keep them engaged in the presentation. A session that's three hours straight wouldn't make sense, since people need to get up, stretch, grab a snack or replenish a drink. Give them time to make these adjustments without having to miss out on your content.
- Make sure you have full production support. Like an in-person event, you want to have full production support on the day of your event. On average, a six- to eight-person crew can manage your event's graphics, audio, transitions, directing people, virtual green rooms and tech support. Live tech support during the virtual event is beneficial if you run into problems, like audience members or presenters struggling to get into the event. You'll have someone dedicated to solving these problems without making a fuss of it in front of your audience.
- Prep your keynote speakers and do a practice run. If you want your event to run smoothly, you should schedule a rehearsal with everyone involved. When you can do a practice run with your speakers, you can ensure their audio and video signal is strong and direct them on how to stay engaged while they're presenting. Speakers should look at the camera the whole time they're on screen and remain connected with the audience. Additionally, they can explore the platform and interface before the day of their engagement. Some virtual event platforms can mail out virtual camera laptop kits to your event's key players. These would come equipped with a podcast mic, laptops with higher video resolution and a webcam that can be mailed back when the event is over. Somebody can also control these kits remotely, so you have a built-in production team as well.
- Ensure the event is accessible. Your event should follow 508 compliancy rules and be accessible for anyone to listen to or watch. One way to accomplish this is by having live captions during the event. Additionally, you could ensure there are translators for any international guests you may have and sign-language interpreters whose windows can be pinned during the presentations.
- Use analytics. One of the biggest differentiators between an in-person event and a virtual one is the type of analytics you can receive afterward. Depending on what you're looking for, you'll be able to access the device type your audience member used to watch the event, their geographic location, viewing times, regions (domestic or international) and so much more. You'll be able to really zero in on what worked and what didn't, which can help you with all of your future marketing endeavors.
Use the power of mute. "Can everybody mute?" is a phrase that has entered our vocabulary but has no place at a sizeable virtual event. Make sure you (or a designated tech person) can control everyone's mics, so your presenters don't have to worry about someone interrupting.
Even though we're stuck at home, professional development, networking, and education shouldn't be put on hiatus. There are plenty of safe, reliable, and effective ways to hold conferences and events in an online environment. Audiences are adapting to the digital format and want to stay engaged in their business communities. Follow these tips and tricks, and you'll be on your way to hosting a successful virtual event.
Patrick Rafferty is the owner of RaffertyWeiss Media with over 20 years of experience as a producer and director of TV spots, corporate image films and marketing videos.