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Top Tips for Hosting a Successful Virtual Event

By AlexJune 2nd, 2020

If you’re an industry professional that has spent their career planning live events, switching to virtual may come as something of a challenge. The good news is that planning and running a successful virtual event uses many of the same skills you have honed already.

The event itself may be different but the methodology we use to plan it is almost identical. You will recognise many of the tips below already but we have tweaked each of them to relate directly to virtual events. We hope they help!

Know the intent

The world has changed immeasurably over the past year and the first thing you have to decide is if the intent or content of the event is still relevant. We have had to re-plan several in-person events recently and in some cases, the intended subject of the event was no longer relevant.

For example, a travel conference was to be held in May around the evolving appetites of modern travellers and how environmental concerns feed into that. As you can imagine, the intent of the event no longer fit the current climate so required a complete rethink!

If you’re rethinking an event that has been in the diary for a while, make sure it fits the world we live in right now.

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Know your audience

Some audiences will take well to virtual events while others will need convincing. Some will be happy joining a live stream and engaging in social while others will need a little help.

Consider all of your likely audiences and plan for them. Offer lots of education and reassurance around the hosting platform, offer assistance in setup, have people on social or live chat who can help attendees join the event and set up cameras and audio.

Then have people on the social channels or chat rooms helping to provoke conversation. Have them ask questions, reply positively to comments and generally encourage engagement. Audiences may need more help than usual to engage with a virtual event than a live one.

Get the audience involved

Building on the point about the audience, providing the means to get the audience involved can seriously improve the overall experience for everyone. The talent and the format of the event is only part of the equation.

Include lots of opportunities for people to interact with each other or with the talent or speakers. Include social media or use chat rooms or channels on the event app. Use a dedicated team to help drive conversation and help control it.

Book the talent on the proviso they engage on social with the audience when they aren’t speaking or performing. It’s safe, easy to do and can make a massive difference to how engaged the audience feels during the event.

Plan Q&A sessions, invite talent to mix in the social channels, provide a means for contacts to share information during network sessions and add as many layers of interactions as possible.

Time it right

Event planning is all about timing but in the case of virtual events, that’s even more important. Where timing for an in-person event is more about availability, travel and convenience, virtual events are about attention thresholds.

In-person events can run for many hours because there are often lots of things to see and do and an itinerary full of engaging entertainment. A virtual event doesn’t work in quite the same way.

Depending on your medium, the audience is watching on a computer, TV or phone. They don’t have anywhere near the same level of engagement. Organising a long event via live stream will not work in the same way because people will become bored.

An hour is usually regarded as the longest a single live stream should last before people lose interest.

Short and sweet

Along similar lines to timing is intensity. For example, live streaming training or interactive classes requires a lot more concentration and active engagement than a TED talk or performance. Breaking these up into shorter chunks of 30 minutes with a short recess can help attendees last the course.

Consider mixing events with a break to chat, network, relax or watch a stream. Combine different elements of an event to keep things fresh and engage the audience in different ways.

Make sure the talent is prepared for virtual

Not every performer can work with virtual audiences and not every guest speaker works well online. Consider the audience, the intent of the event and then book the talent carefully.

For example, some theatre actors have trouble shifting to TV or film because they depend on the energy of the audience. This would clearly not work for a virtual performance.

Select talent carefully and make sure they know how to work virtually. Make sure they have the experience and know-how to work without the energy of a room or audience feedback and have a studio or suitable space from which to perform.

Make sure the talent knows how to deliver online. How to use the technology you’re using, how to frame themselves properly, how to keep dialogue concise and leave longer than usual for questions and answers.

Plan for trouble

As an event manager, you’re used to always having a plan B and virtual events are no different. Know the limitations of your platform, know how many streams it can cope with at once, know how to switch from a primary feed to a secondary and have a team on hand to handle any technical issues that may arise.

All the disaster recovery planning you do in a normal event works here too. Have as many critical spares as practical, have expertise on hand who can handle technical issues, have recorded content or alternative streams ready in case your main feed goes down and do what you can to mitigate risk.

Planning a virtual event offers very similar challenges to planning an in-person one. Some challenges require a slightly different approach but the knowledge, technology and demand are there to make virtual events some of the biggest events of the year for all the right reasons!

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