A how-to guide for a successful virtual event

Virtual events have witnessed exponential growth over the past couple of years, across nearly every sector imaginable.


To go virtual is to host a gathering entirely online, using one or more digital platforms for participants to access the event remotely. This option for hosting an event holds a number of benefits, from reducing access disparities for attendees to the ability to create elaborate multimedia experiences leveraging the latest technology.


Fully digital gatherings are characterized by several unique conditions and challenges. This guide can help you cover as many planning bases as possible, to create an engaging and successful event.


Tip #1: Decide on virtual vs. hybrid.


When COVID-19 case levels are relatively low, and with the added benefit of vaccines and widespread testing, it can be possible for attendees to get together in person safely.


Weighing the benefits of adding an in-person component, otherwise known as holding a hybrid event, may be helpful for your company. Indeed, one survey in 2021 suggested a clear majority of respondents would opt for the in-person half of a hybrid gathering if given the choice.


Remember, a virtual event involves next to no physical interaction between event participants and is also dependent on every participant having a consistent, strong internet connection. A hybrid event creates two separate, but simultaneous experiences, benefiting both online attendees and those who want an in-person experience.


It’s worth noting that hybrid events can also necessitate bigger budgets than in-person gatherings do, especially when it comes to the added technology layer. You will also need to be sure that health concerns will not prevent you from hosting a live component, as well as gauge the comfort level of your audience for participating in-person.


Tip #2: Decide how you will tell your story.


Subtle visual and branding details are even more important in a fully digital gathering. Consider creating an event logo or wordmark, or distributing “teaser” or introductory videos to attendees.


Depending on your budget and audience, the same video could be used as a YouTube or other digital ad to build greater awareness.


Similarly, the presentation style of the event itself will hold considerable weight. To convey complex ideas, a PowerPoint or Keynote will be helpful. But you’ll want to avoid having slides up on the screen for too long, a sure trigger for audience disengagement. As during an in-person event, the PowerPoint should be an aid, and not the main feature.


Consider utilizing a split-screen during sessions, one that features the speaker talking as well as using body movement. If it is impractical to angle the camera to the speaker’s whole body, moving across a virtual “stage,” they should at least include visible gestures and other non-verbal cues to support their points.


Tip #3: Include breakout sessions.


Breakout sessions are a must for longer virtual events, allowing participants to exchange ideas with one another and discuss the event’s contents among themselves.


It may also be worth keeping a virtual waiting room open for those needing a brief pause from a meeting to take notes or regroup, as well as including a dedicated breakout session without any particular structure, encouraging people to network or meet-and-greet as they wish. One such example is a “Bring Your Own Breakfast” session for a morning meeting, enabling attendees to bond over coffee and dishes they’ve made at home.


Tip #5: Hold dress – and IT – rehearsals.


Both the hosts and their partners need to test event platforms and other digital tools well before the day of the event. You might consider doing so from the perspective of an attendee, logging into the portal or interacting with websites, to see it from their view.


It is essential to test contingency plans and “what if” scenarios, gauging how quickly and effectively the event team would be able to respond to them during the gathering itself.


Tip #6: Perform an event post-mortem.


Make extensive use of post-event surveys, asking attendees what they liked, and what could have gone better from their perspective.


Event engagement is somewhat harder to track while things are running. But a novel way to know when virtual participants were on the edges of their seats and when they may have been distracted is to incorporate knowledge or content tests into your surveys.


These should be posed in a neutral way – that is, there are no “wrong” answers or penalties – and used internally to help judge the hits from the misses. Even if you include the less popular aspects of the event next time around, for example, how could they be changed to become “stickier” and more attention-grabbing?


For strategic help putting these tips and more into action, connect with the creative team at Behind the Scenes. We are just a phone call or email away.