Guide to Planning for a Virtual Event.

Learning to adapt to this 'new normal' means mourning all the physical events you have to let go of, and welcoming a world of virtual experience for your audience.

Guide to Planning for a Virtual Event.

One of the industries most affected by this pandemic is the event industry. Whether you have to move your event online or start planning your virtual event from scratch, this guide is for you.

We’ve explored different practices from others as well as our own, and combined the elements we find were working well into this guide for you to get started with your virtual event.

Find a mini cheatsheet here:

  1. Set a goal
  2. Form an event team
  3. Define event details
  4. Start with digital marketing
  5. Work on event operations
  6. Assess risks & do dry-runs
  7. Post-event actions

1). Set a goal

If you’ve already got an idea of why you want to host the event, you can skip this step. But this is added as a top priority because I’ve been to many events that were hosted just for the sake of having an event, and it’s a wasted effort to host something that didn’t fulfill its goal, or have a goal at all.

Your goal should be concrete and it should answer these questions:

  1. Why does your event matter?
  2. How would attendees leave the event feeling?
  3. What would they gain?

For this first step, it could be a general goal. For example, it could be something like:

You want to organize an open dialogue where different stakeholders can come together to discuss a rising social issue and how they can contribute. Your goal for this virtual event is to create an open discussion where every stakeholder has a voice and they let it out. The general audience would leave the forum feeling well-rounded of different perspectives and understand their role in the society.

Once you have a clear idea of why your target audience should attend your event instead of doing something else, then you can start planning out the measurable aspects of your goal. The next question you’d want to ask is “how will you know the event is successful?”

Break down your general goal into pieces - From the example above, you could measure the success of the event when:

  • All stakeholders, with regards to diversity, political parties, age, and sectors, are involved. Everyone is being represented.
  • You achieve 70% of your participation goal.
  • You receive many interactions from the audience and they are not reluctant to share their views on the topics being discussed.

These are only some examples and you can certainly break it down further. For some more technical events, you may want to do an in-depth research before proceeding. There may be many insights out there that could affect the content of your event, and getting those insights together help prepare you for unforeseen errors in the future.

For example:

  • Finding out about previous events with similar goal and concept, and learning from what worked and what didn't.
  • Understanding the context of current social issues and which stakeholders should be involved.
  • Getting all your statistics in order - what percentage of people would be able to access the event, geographically and taking account of the people who have access to a stable internet?

Once these facts and insights are discovered and compiled together, and you’ve got a clear idea of why you’re doing this event and what people are getting out of it, then it’s time for action!

2). Form an event team

This can come before setting a goal or after. But it’s non-negotiable to dedicate a team to managing an event.

Some companies would rather make events a part of everyone’s JD instead of forming a separate team for it; This makes sense if you’re hosting a once in 6 months event that gathers 20 people. But if your events are larger and part of your PR strategy, you cannot discount the fact that an event team is needed.

Depending on the type of event you are organizing, the basic roles for a virtual event are:

  • Digital Marketer: studies the audience, creates online content, posts information about the event, and leads people to sign up.
  • Audience Coordinator: takes care of the audience experience from signing up to after-event, gives people instructions on how to use the virtual event tool, updates audience with news, and answers all questions or concerns audience may have.
  • Agenda Coordinator: manages content of the event and runs the back-office operations for making the event happen, sets an agenda and works with stakeholders involved.
  • Virtual Event Host: speaker and host of the event.
  • Event Manager: manages the team, ensures everything follows timeline, and tracks progress and goals.

These are the basic roles needed for a virtual event; It can vary based on the type of events. For example, if your event is related to a musical, you may also create another role related to the expertise required for the event, like a band coordinator.

3). Event details

Once the team understands the goal and their roles in hosting this event, it’s time to create action steps and expand the event details. That includes:

Date & Time. When deciding on an event date and time, it's important that you ask these questions:

  • Are there any overlapping events? Believe it or not, many events share the same target audience. Make sure your event doesn't fall on the same day as many other events; Otherwise, your audience would have to choose which events they want to go to, and you may lose half of the potential audience.
  • Do we target international audience? What is the time difference? Then your event time should be strategic - Find a time that works for the majority.
  • What is an ideal duration for us to prepare for this event? Event date can also be dependent on our capacity to organize. We may have a lot on our plates that it'd take longer to prepare.

Target Audience. Choose your audience size - How many people would you like to have at your event? This is also about mapping out who they are and where they hang out so you place your effort at the right place and time.

Virtual Conference Tool. Which tool will you use to host your virtual event? Compile a list with their pros and cons, and test it out before deciding to go with it.

Sign-Up Process. How can your audience register for the event? What process will they have to go through? The sign-up process is really important as the audience's tolerance for complexity is limited, so make sure your process is smooth and as frictionless as possible.

One way to do that is to ask different type of people to try to sign-up and watch how they interact with the process to reflect on its performance.

Agenda. What could be the possible items in the agenda? What activities that can you make an event memorable? Your event agenda is a magic potion to your event; your audience comes because of the content. When you design an event agenda, make sure the content aligns with the goals you set. It should be strategic and thoughtful of the audience.

For example, an event that encourages people to read more could have a session where everyone picks up a suggested book based on their personality test, reads for 15 minutes, and share their thoughts on the first chapter. This gives people a feel of what it's like to get zoned in & lost in the content of a book.

Action Steps. What are some actions you should follow? Who is responsible? Once you've got all the details planned out, it's time to delegate the tasks to people. Make sure everything is listed down & timeline-defined with a sense of clarity as  to who is responsible for getting it done. Write the task, set a due date, assign someone.

Team Collaboration Tool. What tool shall you use to document everything and track progress? Choose one or two tools - one project management tool to track progress and one real-time chat tool for quick messaging - and don't mess it up.

Once you’ve got that in place, start building a working timeline that everyone can see. In events planning, there is a concept called Backward Planning, in which you plan activities backward from the event day to what your team has to do today. One example can be found below:

Backward Planning in Calendar.

4). Start with Digital Marketing

Once details are defined, you should put up an online event as soon as possible. The earlier you are, the more power you have over other events that might happen on the same day - your audience would take note of it & book their schedule before they commit to anything else - so speed is key for online event marketing.

To get started with putting an event up on LinkedIn or Facebook, you only need a few items ready:

  • Event Name, Date, Time
  • Event Details
  • Event Cover Picture
  • Sign-Up Link

You’re good to go! Your event will likely attract visitors before you even start to promote it.

5). Event Operations

Now you and your team will start working on making the event happen. That means acting on our job roles and following the timeline set. To stay in track with progress, your team should provide updates once per week. Otherwise, a great project management tool could give you visual progress all the same. Some actions include:

  • Make an online marketing plan and start working on it.
  • Contact speakers or other stakeholders as required, give them a clear timeline to confirm their participation.
  • Contact PR and Media to spread the word.
  • Constantly check new registrations and keep them informed of updates.
  • If needed, create a welcome drip email campaign whenever new participant signs up.
  • Figure out the technologies for the virtual event - conferencing tool, recording devices, camera, etc.

6). Risk-assessment & Dry-runs

This step includes listing down all risks or problems that might arise along the way or on the event day. It is about anticipating and preventing it before it happens. Risks for a virtual event could be technical issues, speakers cancelling a few hours in advance, or the internet gets cut off.

To reduce the chance of these happening, you could:

  • Prepare multiple internet sources.
  • Make a special deal with the internet provider to ensure great speed.
  • Set expectations with speakers about the importance of their presence in the event.
  • Do many dry-runs on the virtual conference tools with different people to make sure they work well.

Practice always makes perfect! Everything must be rehearsed a few times as if it’s an actual event, so the event team has a feel of what it’s like and what issues might pop up.

7). Post-Event Actions

Public Folder: Sometimes, during the event, some participants would ask for handouts or soft copy of the presentation or material being presented. You could prepare for that by adding slides, handouts, and all things related to the virtual event in one public folder so people can access it.

Event Survey: You could create some surveys for people to fill out after the event to get their feedback and input for your next one. This is also a good measurement for your event success.

Feedback Session. The key to organizing great events is to reflect on the failed ones and notice what went wrong. They say expertise comes from experience, but if you make the same mistakes every  time, there won't be much expertise there. So gather your team after the event and take sometime to reflect on it.

One feedback framework you can use is Start Stop Continue, where you define what your team should start doing in the next event, what must be stopped, and what was good and should be continued.

Follow-up Actions. If your event has a call-to-action, make it clear and communicate to your participants during and after the event ends.

Conclusion.

Events form communities, and it's one of the best forms of PR strategy you can have. They gather people whose interests align and give them a platform to show up for what they believe in. The pandemic may have shut out the event industry in some ways, but we are made to adapt, and a virtual event community will thrive as a result.  Start your virtual event today with these simple steps:

  1. Set a goal
  2. Form an event team
  3. Define event details
  4. Start with digital marketing
  5. Work on event operations
  6. Assess risks & do dry-runs
  7. Post-event actions