How to Plan a Successful Virtual Event

The events industry has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the first lockdown in the UK in March 2020, many companies and organisations have had to adjust to delivering their events virtually. Statista recently reported that in November 2020, the video communications app Zoom was experiencing a peak of 1.7 million daily active users in the UK, which demonstrates the current scale of the move from face-to-face interactions to virtual.

virtual event

With the world shifting to more remote ways of working, virtual events and gatherings look as though they’re here to stay a little while longer. Following the success of our part in the planning of the virtual Women in Tech Employer Awards 2020, we’ve compiled our top tips for planning a successful and engaging event. 

Types of virtual events 

Delivering a successful event often depends on understanding the audience and their expectations of the type of event they plan to attend. For example, if the event is a tutorial, the audience may expect the event to be explanatory and to come away from it having learnt something new. Whereas if the event is a large scale conference or series of talks, the expectation may be that the event is informative and perhaps more interactive, to enable networking opportunities. 

Here is an overview of some of the events an organisation or company could choose to deliver virtually: 

Training and Tutorials

This type of event may work particularly well for companies who want to demonstrate how to get the most out of a product or service they specialise in. It could also be a good opportunity to engage current clients and users in or introduce potential clients to, your business. For example, at Women in Tech we could host a webinar discussing the importance of employer branding in attracting more diverse candidates to apply for job vacancies. 

Interviews and talks 

Interviews and talks may look like a live Q&A session streamed on your social media platform, or a pre-recorded interview or lecture-style talk on a subject relevant to the sector of tech your business specialises in. Audiences may expect to be able to engage in the conversation by submitting their questions or responding to answers via a commenting function. Interviews and talks could be a good option to focus on if the goal of the virtual event is to strengthen the engagement of existing users and clients because of the intimate nature of interviews. Live-streaming an interview is a great way to maintain the intimacy of an in-person event because it places everyone in the same place at the same time.  

Conferences 

One of the major benefits of physically attending conferences is the opportunity it gives people in the same industry (often around the globe) to come together, network and build valuable contacts. Conferences are often large scale events, for example, the Women of Silicon Roundabout or the CES annual trade show, so recreating this scope of interaction virtually is certainly a challenge. However, 2020 demonstrated that it’s possible to deliver an engaging virtual conference. In November 2020, the Women of Silicon Roundabout event went virtual. Women in Tech UK were sponsors at the event and attended with a virtual stand. The opportunity to connect professionally with new people prevalent on the floor of the physical event was replicated through an online chatroom. 

Awards 

Awards ceremonies are perhaps the most difficult to deliver virtually because it’s not easy to inject the same level of glitz and glamour into a virtual ceremony as it is with a physical black-tie evening. However, much like conferences, there were plenty of successful awards ceremonies in 2020 that proved it’s possible to celebrate virtually. Some of the successful awards events that went virtual in 2020 were: The Contracting Awards, The NORAs, and The Women in Tech Employer Awards 2020. All of which excellently demonstrated the main components that make for a successful virtual awards event, including pre-recorded or live acceptance speeches, an engaging and enthusiastic host, strong branding, as well as a comments function or social media hashtag for networking opportunities. 

Top planning tips 

Once you’ve decided on the type of event you’re focused on delivering and are clear on the audience’s expectations, it’s time to set to work planning the event. Here are our top tips for planning a successful virtual event: 

1. Know your audience 

It’s important to have clarity on your audience for the event so that you can align your goals and priorities with their expectations. For example, if you’re delivering a career fair, your audience may be graduates expecting an informative event with resources and handouts to take away for reference. 

2. Consider the timing of the event 

This one is super important to keep in mind when planning a virtual event because it could lower engagement and attendance if there’s a similar event taking place around the same time. Other factors that could influence the timing are whether it’s taking place during a half-term? If it’s near a national holiday or a religious festival? Our top tip for determining the timing of the event would be to undergo research into factors that could impact attendance beforehand. For example, if the audience is likely to be parents or carers, it may be more productive to deliver the event during term time when people are more likely to be at work or home rather than on holiday. 

3. Decide on the platform 

Do you have a large following on Facebook or Instagram? Would your audience be likely to engage with a YouTube Livestream? Is Zoom or Google Hangout more appropriate for hosting your event? Is the event interactive? Is it a webinar? These are all questions that may come into play when deciding on the right platform to host a virtual event. Our top tip for making that decision is to again, consider your audience. As well as considering what’s the most important goal for the event. For example, if the goal is to encourage interaction in real-time, then a platform that enables live-streaming such as Crowdcast, may be more suitable. 

4. Schedule, communicate and delegate 

Teamwork is your biggest asset when planning a virtual event. Firstly, it could be new territory for your company, so it’s a good opportunity for people to develop new skills. It’s also an opportunity to increase communication, connection, and staff morale when working remotely because planning a virtual event requires consistent and frequent communication. Our top tips are to make a schedule or timeline for the planning of the event and store in a shared location everyone has access to, have regular team meetings about the progress of the planning, and delegate out tasks according to people’s skills and strengths. 

5. Promote! 

Promoting a virtual event isn’t too different from promoting a physical event. It’s helpful to utilise all social media platforms, perhaps create new social media handles and hashtags for the event itself, ensure the branding is strong, consistent, and in line with that type of event, for example, awards branding usually denotes celebration and glamour. It’s also useful to build up a mailing list to send out important updates about the event, consider sending out a press release, as well as designing content relevant to the event. 

6. Think about diversity and inclusion 

Virtual events should be as inclusive as a physical event would be. Our top advice on how to achieve this is to consider areas that may cause accessibility issues. This could look like ensuring the event has large lettering, subtitles, a translation function, audio and visual descriptions, and use of clear language. Whether virtual or physical, events are great opportunities to give diverse voices a platform. If your event has a panel of speakers, it’s important to consider how diverse the panel is in terms of their viewpoints, backgrounds, gender, race, and age. 

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