If you’ve gotten used to attending conferences and other events remotely, it can be easy to lose track of just how far the world of virtual events has come since early 2020.
It wasn’t that long ago that virtual events consisted of little more than a streaming video within a webpage. And in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, when many planned events had to be shifted to a virtual format with little advance notice, there was a certain degree of sympathy and understanding for event organizers struggling to adapt to the new reality they faced.
Since then, as both event organizers and attendees have gotten more experience, expectations for virtual events have risen significantly. And that trend is only going to continue.
Today’s attendees have a wide variety of virtual events they can choose from, and competition between event organizers has gotten tougher. And with your audience attending from the comfort of their own homes—with a web browser already open, no less—you as an event organizer essentially need to compete with each attendee’s email, work programs, and the rest of the internet for their attention.
So, what can you do to make sure your next virtual event is successful for both you and your audience? Simply put, you must adapt to the challenges and possibilities that are now part of the reality of planning and executing a virtual event.
Here are six straightforward steps you can take to make that happen.
1. Go simulive
Given that today’s audiences have higher expectations for video production quality than in even the recent past, it’s an especially good idea to deliver your event’s sessions in a simulive (simulated live) format.
This means recording each session’s content before the event and then streaming it live at a designated time. The simulive approach lets you avoid surprises so that you can make sure each session is well polished ahead of time. It also lets you work with your speakers in advance if you want, so that you never need to worry that they might be underprepared.
Still, it’s important to try to make each session feel like it’s actually happening in real time. One simple but effective way to do this is by adding interactive components to each pre-recorded presentation. That brings us to our second tip…
2. Make it interactive
Because your virtual audience is not there in person, it’s worth your while to deliberately make your event as immersive as possible. To make that happen, you can add your choice of interactive components to your event’s sessions. Some ways to supplement these sessions with interactivity include adding:
- real-time Q&A
- live chat
- interactive video content
- live audience polls
- emoji reactions
- and various types of gamification
That interactivity isn’t just about offering your audience a positive experience—it’s also about keeping their attention.
This is truly critical, given how easily any attendee can flip from an underwhelming presentation to their email, work, or just about any other activity on their computer. The only thing stopping them from doing that is how well your sessions keep them engaged.
3. Harness a fully branded design
There’s no question that running a virtual event provides you with great opportunities to promote your brand. But giving your event a fully immersive, polished design reflecting your brand is also a key part of offering your attendees a high-quality, memorable event experience.
Just think of the difference between hosting an in-person event in a plain, dull conference room and hosting it in a colorful, professionally prepared space designed to create the look and feel that you want to convey to your audience. The impression that you convey through your virtual event’s design is no less important than it would be at an in-person event.
And keep in mind: Unlike in-person events, virtual ones can let you reuse the same templates for multiple events. So when you take the time to optimize the design of your next event, you could also be investing in the design of as many future events as you want.
4. Leverage data to increase content relevancy
To make sure your event is as relevant and compelling as possible for each attendee, it’s helpful to make sure they’re each aware of the sessions that are most likely to interest them.
You can set your event website to select which sessions are displayed (and in what order they’re displayed) on the basis of data that you collect. Depending on your event and your target audience, you may even want to recommend sessions that are a bit outside of an attendee’s main interests but closely enough related that the attendee will likely appreciate the opportunity to broaden their horizons.
So, how can you gather the data you need to create this kind of personalized attendee experience?
Although you can (and should) gather data on a participant’s behavior over the course of the event, in many cases the most useful information comes from answers provided explicitly by each attendee.
The key for you as an event organizer is to ask the right questions during the registration process and either encourage or require individuals to answer them in order to sign up for the event. For example, by asking a registrant to state their industry, professional team, home country, and maybe other key details, you can set your event’s website to prominently display the sessions most related to each registrant’s answers.
5. Give attendees control over their own experiences
As important as it is for you as an event organizer to personalize the attendee experience, there’s no substitute for letting each attendee personalize their own experience based on their own preferences. Letting them choose from a variety of top-notch content is a critical first step, but it’s also a good idea to go beyond their agendas to make their entire experiences as customizable as possible.
For instance, you can help make your event’s sessions particularly engaging by letting each attendee choose whether to watch the event speaker, the speaker’s prepared slides, or both simultaneously with a split screen. By letting attendees toggle between screens this way, you can enable them to pick the most comfortable and effective way for them to consume your event’s content at any given time.
6. Don’t forget about what happens afterwards
One of the biggest advantages of running a virtual event rather than an in-person one is that even after it’s over, you can continue to engage your audience, build a community based around your event’s website, and strengthen your relationships with attendees. Some virtual events even take the post-event opportunity to continue attracting new viewers and expanding their audience.
The key to making all of that happen lies in how you use your website and your registrants’ email addresses after the conclusion of your virtual event. For example, you could offer a training course after your virtual event so that attendees can get accredited for what they learned during the event. You can also post new content on the event website and then email registrants to let them know that it’s available.
Keep in mind: If you’re giving up on a virtual event just because it’s over, then you’re missing out on some great (and relatively easy) opportunities to keep expanding your audience and turning it into a community. On the other hand, if you continue to update and actively use your event’s website on an ongoing basis, then you can keep making the most of your event long after its official end date has passed.
And that ability to effectively keep your event running as long as you want is a powerful advantage that an in-person event could never match.
Catch our latest webinar on how to produce virtual and hybrid events that truly wow audiences.