As COVID-19 forces events from in-person to virtual, the first and most essential thing is a mindset shift: Going digital was not your plan, but it’s your chance to make the most of a bad situation.
While you take a step back and re-orient yourself to running a virtual event, you have some freedom to re-envision what your event will look like. Your virtual conference can still be meaningful and engaging for your audience.
Speaking of your audience, they’re craving connection and support right about now. Your event can be one of the things that meets that need.
Let’s refocus together.
Put on a Great Virtual Conference with These 6 Strategies
1. Know what you want your event to look like before choosing your hosting platform.
You’ve probably received a lot of emails and calls from digital event vendors hoping to secure your business in the impending boom of virtual events. Before you decide on a platform, it’s crucial that you have a clear idea of what you want your event to look like.
For example, will you run live or recorded sessions? How will you provide follow-up materials to participants? Will you charge or make it free?
Once you’ve taken time to think the event through, you’re in a better position to decide on a vendor.
I’d recommend looking for a tool like Zoom or GoToMeeting where attendees can see all the speakers on video. Including a face-to-face aspect can radically improve engagement during your sessions.
2. Run automated campaigns to promote your event.
Using a marketing automation tool, run automated campaigns to promote registration for your virtual event. In terms of how to promote registration, you can proceed as if it’s a live event, but use strategy around content.
Your audience may be doubtful of the value of a virtual event, so use these campaigns to demonstrate the unique value of your virtual event.
3. Optimize educational sessions for engagement.
Since a live event takes a lot of advance notice and planning, you might find it easier to have speakers record sessions and make them available to attendees on their own time. Either way you go, remember these tips to increase engagement. We asked some Higher Logic staff to share ideas:
Heather McNair, Chief Community Officer
- “Think creatively. It can be difficult to keep people engaged when they’re participating at their desks. It could be even harder when they’re working from home. Insert polls, quizzes, audience participation and fun wherever you can. Use panel discussions, interviews and cameras so people aren’t just looking at presentations and hearing one person’s voice.”
Kaila Timmons, Community Manager, Strategic Services
- “Turn on the cameras. Humanize the event by making sure speaker cameras are on and that they’re not backlit. Don’t worry about being perfect, though – showing off that cool artwork in the living room can help attendees feel a personal connection to the speaker. We’re all working from home anyway!
- Try to eliminate background noise. If possible, each speaker should try to make sure they’re in a quiet environment – again, we’re all working from home, so as quiet as you can make it within reason. Have one of your staff hop on each Zoom meeting to test the audio and make sure it’s recording.”
Shannon Emery, Community Manager
- “Create unique opportunities as you would in person. Create limited entry meetup events online so people can connect virtually. Keep the groups small so people can interact without a lot of noise. Record those meetups and share with your community or create writeups of tips and tricks learned from them.”
But the most important tip our team had was to create an event community to engage your attendees alongside your virtual event.
4. Bring your virtual event to life with community.
An online event community sets you up perfectly to engage your audience before, during, and after your virtual event. Here are our team’s tips for using your community to increase engagement:
- “Make sure the presenters get involved in the online discussions before and after their sessions. This extra contact with experts is a huge value-add for the attendees. (Consider making it part of their speaker agreement.)
- Invite speakers to do AMAs. Arrange for presenters to run ask-me-anything (AMA) discussions in the community. Ask a couple of other subject matter experts to help your presenter field questions and keep conversation flowing. Also, have a couple of attendees at the ready with seed questions to get conversation started. If you have a live webinar, use the questions from your chat log that you didn’t get to so you can seed conversation in your community afterward.”
- “Share all follow-up resources in the community. This way, you can continue to engage attendees even after your event ends. They can discuss ideas with each other, ask for notes on sessions they couldn’t attend, and find all presentation materials in one place. Ask the speakers to share additional resources in the resource library that complement their presentation.”
- “Keep your event community running post-event. During these times, you want people to be able to connect as social distancing and quarantines make it harder to connect in person. Seeding it with questions and doing AMAs will help keep contact going.”
5. Bring in revenue by involving sponsors creatively.
With a virtual event, it is harder to involve sponsors, because it’s harder to provide them with natural exposure like you would in the exhibitor hall or by slapping a brand on conference materials. But all that said, you can creatively involve sponsors to still bring in some revenue. Here’s a few ideas:
- Sell ad space in your event community
- Invite sponsors to provide educational information in your community
- Consider pairing your event with virtual tradeshow software
- Allow your sponsors to present educational sessions during your event and incentivize participation by picking random attendees to win a gift card
6. Work fun swag into your plans.
If you have the budget, you might be able to differentiate yourself and bring a little joy to attendees during a tough time by still including conference swag.
The logistics will look different for everyone’s event, but you could either hire a company who does direct mail gifts (like Sendoso or Alyce) to send your company swag to attendees, or you could have sponsors send you the swag and you ship it out to attendees.
If sending around swag sounds too complicated, another idea is to try running mini-contests throughout your live event, where you award prizes to random attendees. Let them know this will be happening in one of your automated promotions to increase registration.
Engaging and Valuable Virtual Events Are Possible
Even though we’re going through a difficult time, we can continue to provide value to our attendees.
Events Marketing Manager
Gina is the former Events Marketing Manager at Higher Logic. She’s the mastermind behind Super Forum, Higher Logic’s annual conference, where she executes on event strategy and tactical plans and project manages from beginning to end, including all logistics, onsite execution, and post-event analysis. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking delicious Italian food, spending time with her family and friends, and playing with her cats.
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