Best Virtual Event Advice from Industry Experts
Search the terms “Virtual Events” or “Virtual Event Planning” in your web browser and you might hit on some sage advice. Or, alternatively, you may end up with content from someone who’s never been involved with planning a virtual event. It’s a toss up.
So, how do you trust what’s out there and more importantly, how can you cut through the clutter to find the best information on planning online events?
To help you, we turned to some of the industry’s leading experts on virtual events and asked them, “What’s your best advice for someone who’s planning a virtual event?”
Read on for savvy advice from those who have not just “talked the talk” but have truly “walked the walk”.
Julius Solaris, Event Industry Keynote Speaker & Author
“A virtual event is not a live event. The rules are different and the attention spans suffer. The most common mistake we witness is trying to translate a conference into a virtual event. Long sessions, dozens of breakouts. Online we strive for simplicity and the task at hand is to to filter through the noise, not to create more.
Being succinct, keeping the technology minimalistic is crucial to deliver better online experiences. Having 100 speakers over six days for five hour a day is just giving you a false illusion that more is better. On the other hand, focusing on a story arc with a beginning and end will help attendees with a better experience.
It is about the message and the connection. How will you connect attendees with each other? This is why we attend to begin with and virtual events these days do not do much to deliver on networking. Choose a technology infrastructure that supports connection, through means of mobile apps or networking modules.”
Julius Solaris is the founder and editor in chief of EventMB. Started in 2007, EventMB is the number one online platform for event professionals. He has been named one of the most influential individuals in the meetings industry by many magazines and media for the past 10 years.
Michelle Bruno, Event Industry Journalist and Writer
“It may sound obvious, but documenting a virtual event strategy well before selecting a platform, developing content or inviting speakers is crucial to the success of the event. The strategy should cover event objectives, success metrics, the role of the event in the broader goals of the organization, post-event distribution of content and other components.
Also, virtual event planners should address the virtual events channel as something wholly unique from other channels (face-to-face events, mobile, social, for example) and double down on those attributes. At the end of the day, organizations with vibrant communities of professionals should be using multiple channels to deliver content, services, relationships, sales pipeline, advocacy and other benefits to their members and stop building their businesses around the channel itself.”
Michelle Bruno is an event-industry journalist and writer. She heads up Bruno Group Signature Services (BGSS), which develops content and content-marketing strategies for technology companies. BGSS is also the company behind Event Tech Brief (a newsletter and website on event technology).
Ben Hindman, Co-founder and CEO, Splash
"As you move quickly to adapt your event programs, there are two things you shouldn’t let suffer. The first is event branding. The brand experience means more today, since companies must work harder to earn loyalty and trust in a crowded virtual event space. To stand out, continue to design eye-catching, branded events and promotional materials.
The second is event data. You still need attendee information to inform timely, customized follow-ups. You still need to understand what’s working (and what’s not). You still need to prove impact. Your virtual solution should connect to the rest of your marketing tech stack so you can do all of this, while also ensuring your virtual events today align with past and future in-person events."
Ben Hindman is the CEO of Splash, an event marketing platform that helps companies scale their live, virtual, and hybrid event programs with features like branded event pages, customized registration forms, and powerful integrations. As an events planner-turned-tech entrepreneur, he prizes people skills above all else.
Liz Lathan, CEO + Co-founder, Haute Dokimazo
“I think when you begin planning a virtual experience for your audience, the first thing you need to do is decide whether this needs to be a virtual event at all. This is your time to get creative with your content. To experiment and explore fun new ways to share your content. The old playbook has gone out the window; no longer can you just throw a field event, launch a webinar, or sponsor a booth. And maybe, just maybe, you don't have to put your content on a screen at all. As companies look to deliver content virtually, there are many ways to go beyond a traditional webcast or PowerPoint like podcasts, direct mail, video content, and print.
In a sea of virtual noise, if you decide you do need a virtual event to share your content, then begin with these five questions:
- What is the purpose of hosting the event (Lead gen? Thought leadership? Building community? Education/training?) That answer will help you decide what kind of online event you need to create.
- How much money can I spend on the experience (and do I need to find sponsors or charge admission to make it happen).
- Do you need outside vendors to create the experience or can you do it in-house?
- How long will it take to deliver the objective effectively (can you get all the content all across in a couple of hours, or do you need to span a few days so there’s time for peer conversations?).
- What is the call-to-action or next steps that you want attendees to take when the event is over?
You aren’t hosting a virtual event for no purpose, so make sure participants know what they’re going to get and you know what you want from them in the end!”
Liz Lathan, CMP is a professional virtual event emcee, Haute Dokimazo facilitator, CEO or Haute Companies, and corporate event & experiential marketer who's obsessed with applying modern marketing principles to a segment of the marketing industry that has historically been an afterthought. Liz has led event marketing strategy and teams at Fortune 500 companies and consults with small and medium businesses on how to optimize their events within their broader marketing program.
Joe Schwinger, CEO, MeetingPlay
“When planning a virtual event, planners need to reframe how they think about recruitment and in particular, the timing of when to anticipate registrations. Without the need to travel, attendees are able to clear their schedules to attend events more easily. In fact, organizations are seeing their attendee counts increase 600% around 7 to 10 days before their virtual events, giving them a platform that’s different and more flexible than they’ve ever had before. Even after the event starts they are seeing 20% increases.
These results provide more proof that we have entered into a new class of events with a lot of potential to drive revenue growth. My advice for planners is to put a lot of focus on marketing during this timeframe and continue past the event’s start. ”
Joe Schwinger is Co-Founder and CEO of MeetingPlay, a technology company forging meaningful connections through virtual events and mobile event apps for Fortune 500 companies including Marriott, PepsiCo and Bristol-Myers Squibb. With a background in e-commerce, he has extensive experience providing customer facing solutions on a global scale. Joe was recently named to the 2018 list of 40 under 40 by Connect Corporate and the elite list of BizBash 500.
Stephanie Selesnick, CEM and President, International Trade Information, Inc.
“Virtual events are not the same as face-to-face, so don’t bother trying to fit a round peg into a square hole! There’s no rule a webinar has to be 60 minutes, or that a virtual conference has to last for two to three days. Experiment with formats, speakers and the like. Use smaller time slots, say 10-20 minutes for educational sessions.
When you deliver information and knowledge to those thirsting for it, people will tune in and sponsors will follow. Once completed, repurpose virtual events to share on other channels. Lastly, please pay attention to time zones. While 8am Eastern may be fine for a live event, that’s 5am Pacific, which is not.”
Stephanie Selesnick is President of International Trade Information, Inc., a boutique trade show management company that internationalizes US exhibitions by recruiting and retaining global participants, or taking shows abroad. They advise and train clients to successfully engage international clients, online and in person.
Wrapping It Up
To sum things up:
- Start with the question, “Do I need a virtual event?”
- Document your virtual event strategy before selecting a platform
- Be succinct, strive for simplicity and choose technology that supports connections
- There are no hard and fast rules so experiment away!
- Do not neglect the importance of event branding or event data
- To maximize registrations, market your event heavily 7-10 days beforehand and when your event starts
We’ve shared honest advice from leading event industry experts on going virtual. We hope it will help you cut through the mountain of information out there so that you can keep connecting people through awesome virtual event experiences.