By Bradley Hatchett – Founder of Network My Club
2020 saw the mass adoption of video conferencing technology. With that, the surge in virtual events. Ourselves included.
Now, almost 100 online events into our journey, we’re sharing that knowledge and experience with companies choosing to deliver their own events virtually.
The opportunity with virtual events is huge. But it’s not as simple as taking your in person event and slapping it on Zoom.
As a virtual event organiser, there are many factors to consider. I’ve narrowed it down to 6. Let’s get into them…
Content & Format
This will dictate most of the points I talk through.
Ultimately, the content of your event is crucial to get people to attend and to keep them there. Online events are easy to attend. But, the flip side of that is they are just as easy to leave. Or not turn up.
You have to keep attendees engaged.
Capture their attention. At an online event, this typically starts from your speaker or speakers. They play a big part in it, so their topic and the method of delivery is vitally important.
My personal preference for online events has been to host Q&As. By encouraging discussion from attendees in the chat box or asking them to submit questions in the Q&A area, engagement and involvement has increased.
It is incredibly easy for attendees to zone out when they are watching a single speaker or a reel or slides in a presentation.
Speakers (or good speakers I should say) are becoming more familiar with what works virtually, but I’d advise liaising with and briefing your speaker more so than you would for an in person event.
My general rule is to keep presentations to no more than 20 minutes and Q&As to 30. Again, this will be topic and speaker dependent.
When considering content and format, there are key questions you should be asking yourself;
- What is the purpose of the event?
- Who is the audience?
- What do I want our attendees to learn and take away?
- How do I want to make them feel?
- What’s the balance of content and networking/discussion between attendees?
The content and networking balance question is one of the first I ask anyone considering working with us for their online event. It plays an important role in considering most of the following factors.
There are typically two main considerations when it comes to timing:
- Event length
- Time of day
Late morning has proven popular for networking events and a lot of webinars I’ve attended. Later in the day people can run into distractions, things can crop up and no-show rate can increase. Or the kids need picking up from school!
For more social events, late afternoon and evening can work and do allow for more creative engagement (e.g. alcohol!). But you have to be respectful of eating (no pun intended) into people’s personal time.
Another consideration is time zone. Is your audience going to be logging in from overseas? That’s a very real possibility with online events breaking down geographic boundaries. If so, knowing your audience, factor in the best time of the day for most people to log in at a suitable time.
However, when it comes to time of day, as I say to our team; if you create an event worth attending, people will make the time and plan accordingly.
With event length, this is dependent on the balance of content and networking.
- For more content focussed events, up to an hour will be plenty. Anything over you should really ask how engaging both the topic and speakers will be!
- For events with more focus on networking and discussion between attendees, 90-120 mins can work.
- For day long or multiple day events, consider splitting up the event into sessions. Giving people time away from the screen so their focus when logged in is optimised.
The length also depends on the capabilities of the platform too.
A lot of this is based on my research into platforms for our own events and experience in delivering online events.
Again, the balance of content in your format will shape which platform will work best for you and where you should invest.
That’s not just investing your budget, but also your time learning, testing and practicing on the platform.
For more content led events (webinars, presentations), platforms like Zoom, GoToMeeting, HopIn are really good options. They’re lower cost and you simply need a platform for people to log in and to effectively deliver the content from.
Tools I’ve come across that offer networking features include Remo, Zoom, HopIn, Hey Summit, Run The World, On24.
From our experience?
We use Remo. It’s our preferred platform for virtual events and I’m a big advocate. I’ve not seen anything that rivals it in terms of the replicating the feel of a live event. It gives attendees control and the freedom and ability to move around the event.
As someone said to me after one of our events, they “felt in control of their networking again”.
With the presentation and floor plan mode, this allows for both elements of a balanced event to be delivered.
Zoom has a part to play in online networking events. We’ve delivered many events on Zoom. But moved to Remo as we felt we were trying to bend Zoom to work as a networking tool. It made for an effective conversational event in small groups, but trying to replicate the feel of a large scale in person networking event just wasn’t working.
My advice as an organiser of a Zoom event? They’re more effective and manageable with smaller numbers. Anything over 20 people and you have people over multiple screens and your break out room management skills need to be tip top!
Attendee Engagement & Experience (including those inevitable tech issues)
How can you enhance the experience of attendees before, during and after the event?
Compared to an in person event, you are somewhat restricted online. However, I’ve seen some examples recently:
- Lara Squires (Director of Consortium- More than Marketing) – for their Professional Services Marketing Conference held on Remo – sent breakfast boxes including pastries, coffee and treats for attendees to enjoy the morning of the event. The event ran from 9am-11am so proved a nice touch for guests to enjoy before or during.
- Bolney Wine Estate have been running Virtual Tastings at events or privately with clients. For events held over Zoom, they send products (wine and gin) to attendees to sample and taste over the call. Bolney have an expert there talking guests through it.
These are just two examples. You could also send a promotional item to attendees linked to your company or the event. How about a branded coffee mug for them to drink out of during the event? Or a branded pen and notepad for them to take notes with from your speakers?
On the subject of attendee experience, tech issues and glitches are inevitable when running an online event.
Try and eliminate issues before they arise by creating easy to follow guides, instructions of how attendees can prepare, FAQ pages, highlighting potential problems they may run into. If you have the resource to provide tech support at the event itself, great. if not, depending on the complexity of the event, it may be a wise investment.
You only have one chance to make a good first impression. If that impression is someone not being able to access the event or having troubles with their tech (whether it’s completely their fault), this will reflect on your event and your brand.
Format, check. Platform, check. Content, check. Attendees?
You can create the best online event out there, but if no one knows about it you’ll be extremely disappointed as no one will turn up.
We’re no marketing experts, so we asked Kat Bonness from Consortium – More than Marketing, her top tips when it comes to marketing your event effectively:
- Prep like a boss
The more you have thought about what the value of attending is to the event attendee, the easier it is to articulate your messaging in your promotional efforts. Consider who your audience is and what their language is, including industry specific terms that will resonate with them. The more you have thought it through at the beginning, the easier it is to write a compelling event summary with clear calls to action. From your event summary, you can prepare some copy to use in your marketing collateral that can be adapted to each channel.
- Adopt a multi-channel approach
People’s attention spans are getting increasingly shorter and we find that prompting your target audience on different channels leads to the biggest uptake in bookings. So rather than just sending out one email to your whole database, and hoping for the best, have you considered doing this:
- Send out a series of emails in the lead up to the event, outlining what it’s about and why people should attend. Make use of early booking deadlines or even time of the day to keep the emails relevant and timely.
- Share news of the event on your social media channels and use relevant hashtags
- Put event details in your email signature
- Get your team to invite their contacts in a personalised email
- Mention it when speaking to your contacts about something else
- List the event on event directories such as membership organisations
Commercialising (yes, selling tickets and sponsorship)
Most of what you decide on the above will dictate how you can commercialise your event. Whether that be through tickets, passes and sponsorships.
Finding the right price point for each of those is quite tricky. So we asked the guys at EventMind, with Rhian Berry sharing two tips for event organisers when it comes to commercialising and selling your online event;
“Make it premium – if selling tickets to a virtual event, it’s important the content is premium, specific and targeted. Content you can’t get anywhere else so they see value in attending for your event and paying for your ticket.
Dynamic marketing – consistent and dynamic relationship building with your target audience, ensure to engage with attendees from pre, during and post event. Use new forms of media like TikTok to bring them into the experience. How about sending gifts for the event, it makes them feel involved – this could be commercialised/sponsored.”
If you can generate revenue and increase attendees, that’s a recipe for success. Giving proper consideration to the above points will give you the greatest chance in achieving that.
Event Delivered – What’s Next?
Great – your event has gone to plan. Well done. You’re not done yet!
Send attendees a post event survey. Gather feedback and obtain testimonials. Continue conversation on social media. Reshare content from the event, e.g. recordings of your guest speaker.
This will help you shape the next one when you do it all over again…