If you’re a marketing or communications executive and haven’t yet been asked to plan a virtual event, chances are you will be soon.  Or perhaps you’ve already dipped your toes into the virtual event water and organized your first event, and it didn’t go exactly as you’d hoped.

In either case, we’d like to share some of the wisdom we’ve accumulated over the last decade of producing remote virtual events, so that you’re able to get the most out of your next event, and so that you can enjoy the process along the way.  Below is our list of top five recommendations to smooth your entry into virtual event production. Although it may seem daunting at first, it is a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

Make it Feel Familiar.

Events that create an environment comparable in “look & feel” to live events for attendees and sponsors get high marks from attendees.  Remember, this experience is new to your guests.  Most likely, they’ve walked the floor, browsed booths, attended sessions and networked.  The more of these features you can integrate into your virtual event, the more comfortable guests will be, the longer they’ll stay, and the more they will engage.  Some points to consider:

  • Focus on branding and online design so that it visually emulates prior live events.
  • If your live event has booths, create a Virtual Expo Hall. When done right, they’re a huge hit.
  • Program breakouts are an event mainstay, and they can be reimagined for virtual events.
  • Provide live interaction with open or moderated Q&A times or panel discussions.

Focus on Programming.

Our online attention spans are shorter, so the bar is higher for online event programming.    Don’t assume a traditional live event program can become a full day of virtual programming. Virtual shows require a brisk agenda of short, varied programming.  Some key points:

  • Mix up your segments. Solo presentations, panels, and fireside chats make for a varied mix.
  • Twenty minutes, plus or minus five minutes, is frequently the sweet spot for presentations.
  • Engagement is crucial, and quizzes, polls, and games are valuable at retaining viewers.
  • Reward engagement. Everyone loves a live event raffle. They love virtual event raffles too.

Communicate Early and Often.

Just like a live event, a virtual event needs buzz.  It also needs frequent and clear communication on how to participate.  While attendees are familiar with the flow of live events, the details of participating in virtual events are less familiar.

  • Promote your event aggressively.
  • Generate excitement about speakers, sessions, and the “wow” of the experience.
  • Stagger a series of “announcements” about the event in the run-up to show day to generate buzz.
  • Set a realistic expectation of the time commitment and the value offering.
  • Assume your attendees are “newbies.” Use screencaps and simple language to explain all aspects of participation.

Simplify the User Experience.

The easier it is to register, to add the event to a calendar, and to log on, the greater registration and attendance will be.  This sounds simple, but all too often, it isn’t. Not all online platforms work alike, or together, so it’s essential to craft a seamless user experience.

If you’re hosting a virtual trade show or expo, design an experience that is as close to an organic experience as possible.  Many platforms offer amazing 3-D environments, and they look very enticing during the sales process.  But unless they are configured appropriately, a portion of the audience will be too intimidated to participate.

Breakout sessions are key components of many events.  These too, can be difficult for many users to understand and navigate.  Our guideline is to create your experience with the least experienced user in mind.  More experienced guests won’t be offended, and you’ll lower the barrier to entry for everyone.

  • Simplify registration and login.
  • Create a virtual expo for professionals, not video game enthusiasts.
  • Make it easy to move between sessions, breakouts, and virtual environments.

Work with Professionals Who Can Guide Your Journey.

Virtual events are complex productions involving multiple partners, including platforms, video production companies, and creative teams.  You’ll want to work with a partner who can help you integrate all these services into the event.  As you set out on this new and complex experience, the value of white-glove service can’t be overstated.  Here’s what you’ll want your partner to be an expert at:

  • Establishing realistic milestones for you, your platform, your partners, and your presenters.
  • Educating your team on the time commitment required for your show and helping you to “know what you don’t know”.
  • Understanding how to translate your ideas into reality and aligning them with best practices.
  • Integrating video, platform, client services, and user analytics.
  • Showing you what others have done to inspire fresh ideas.

Virtual event production is a fantastic opportunity to connect with your audiences, to remain engaged, and to collect analytics.  Because of the value and the extended reach they offer, virtual events will remain part of the mix, even when live events return. By educating yourself and building the right team, you can avoid many common pitfalls and reap the benefits that a great virtual event has to offer.