Virtual events are a great way to connect with industry leaders and individuals in your sector – and beyond.
They’re cost-effective to run and can open your business up to more opportunities than ever before. During the last couple of years, virtual events have skyrocketed, with COVID-19 scuppering many companies’ regular event plans. But emerging from the pandemic, we’re still seeing virtual events soar and their success can be boundless.
Here at Virtual Headquarters, we’re all about the digital and remote world, which is why we’ve created this robust guide on how to run a digital or virtual event in 2022.
What is a virtual event?
We’re not talking about the Metaverse here (although expect to see more virtual events held here in the future…). A virtual event is one that is held online, usually allowing anyone from across the globe to access it.
A virtual event could take the form of a webinar, a social media live stream, a YouTube video, or even utilising a specialist virtual platform. Your virtual event could be pre-recorded or run as we speak, allowing for audience participation, if you choose.
You don’t need any fancy equipment or recording space to hold a virtual event either. Event space can often be expensive and complicated to manage – as well as limiting numbers on how many people can attend. You also don’t need a permanent office either. With green screens and virtual backgrounds, it’s almost impossible to tell where someone really is in the world. A virtual event is accessible, inclusive, and cost-effective.
But why should you run a virtual event? This is important to consider, as you need a clear goal, which will help shape and structure the content of your virtual event. Virtual events provide you with the opportunity to connect with your audience, both current customers and potential. You can showcase your brand’s expertise and skills, whilst providing people with educational content and useful information.
From brand awareness to lead generation, virtual events can successfully help you meet your goals. Remember, have a reason for hosting a virtual event and always provide your audience with something helpful. They need a reason to sign up (especially if you’re monetising the event) and a reason to keep coming back for more.
Benefits of hosting virtual events
There are plenty of reasons to host a virtual event. Whether you’re looking to connect with more customers or engage in thought leadership conversations, the outcomes of running a virtual event can be limitless. But what exactly are the benefits of virtual events and how can they promote your business successfully?
We’ve briefly touched on this, but it’s an important point. Running a cost effective event can be tricky. From renting event space to catering – even freebies, such as stress balls and pens – there are numerous factors to take into account.
With a virtual event, you may have to invest in some software or hardware, but if you wanted to run a live stream today, you could instantly do this via your computer or even your smartphone.
If you’re still keen to run in-person events, consider a hybrid approach to save on costs. Invite a select guestlist, giving them exclusive access to the event. You can then still stream or record the hybrid event to promote online after.
In-person events allow you to network to the fullest – but not everyone is a fan of socialising and they’re not always as accessible as they should be. Virtual events provide everyone with an opportunity to network, in whatever way they feel comfortable with. However, it’s not always as easy as walking up to someone at an in-person event. This could mean being able to ask questions in instant messages or consenting to having their email address shared with other participants to connect with.
Do some research before running your virtual event. How do your target audience like to interact? What’s the best platform to run the event on? Choosing an irrelevant platform can alienate your audience, causing your event to flop before you’ve even begun.
This brings us nicely on to data. In order to sign people up to your online event, you may need to capture their personal data, such as email addresses. With the right consent and permissions, this data is extremely valuable to you, especially for continuing communication with individuals after the event has occurred.
Make sure you gain the right consent from your attendees in order to market to them at a later date. Even if you don’t gain this permission, you can still email about the event, as well as following up after it, whether that’s with a copy of the presentation slides, or just with additional information. Keep communicating and keep them interested for the next virtual event you may be hosting.
Data is a lot more important for a virtual event than an in-person one. Networking is far easier when you’re face-to-face, so this means you need to have a robust strategy for communicating effectively with your virtual attendees. Keep them updated about the event, countdown to the date, give them tidbits of information to keep them interested, and continue to provide them with useful things even after the event has ended.
Why in-person events and virtual events differ
There’s a lot of crossover between in-person and virtual events, but there are major differences and benefits to both.
In-person events, regardless of content, tend to be all about the opportunity to network and meet people and potential clients you might not normally meet. This can be alluring for many businesses, especially after a couple of years of zero interaction.
But with virtual events, you really have to rely on the content you’re putting out there. Your webinar or online networking event needs to have a hook, whether that’s the subject of the discussion or the guests you’re interviewing.
In 2022, it’s not just enough to run a virtual event, but you have to be better than everyone else in your industry too. This means research, research, research. See what’s already been done, what’s already been successful (and unsuccessful), and who people are talking about.
What process should you follow to run a virtual event?
There’s no set process to running a virtual event, but there are some helpful pointers and tips you should consider before running your event.
Before you commence with your virtual event, you need to know who you’re targeting in order to know what content to include. For example, if you’re looking for more clients in the hospitality industry, it would be irrelevant to create content around manufacturing or sales. Keep your content specific and give your audience something new. Use platforms like Eventbrite to see what’s already running in your industry and avoid the topics that come up time and time again.
Free platforms, such as LinkedIn, allow you to invite participants and share your event, targeting relevant audiences. You can even go live and run your event – scary for some, but others thrive under pressure.
You should also think about the types of people you want to invite from that industry. Are they in senior positions? Are they key decision makers? The content you include needs to be adapted to these individuals, rather than trying to please everyone.
Choosing guests or speakers
When running a virtual event, you don’t always have to use individuals from your own company (although this is beneficial from a cost perspective). Having relevant guests or speakers can really elevate your virtual event, especially if they have something interesting to say.
After completing your audience research, you’ll have a good idea of where they might go to consume content and the types of influencers they resonate with. Make sure you vet these individuals to see if they align with your company’s values – and how much credibility they have. It might be better to choose someone who’s had some experience of public speaking or hosting online events before. Some speakers may require a fee for contributing to your virtual event, others may be happy with the exposure.
Choose a format
Think about your topic. How would this work best as a virtual event? What format does it need to take in order to be as engaging as possible for your audience? There are numerous formats to choose from.
Conference – A full on conference will include an agenda, with sessions and group breakout time. You might have multiple speakers and plenty of audience participation. A conference format gives you the opportunity to present your own topic, and generate conversations and discussions around this.
Speakers can then weigh in with their own thoughts and ideas too. It not only gives you the chance to promote your business, but others as well. Your virtual conference may need to run over one or two days, which will help attract a larger audience.
Panel discussion – Having multiple experts sit around and dissect a topic is a great way to engage with your audience and encourage people to sign up to your virtual event. Similar to a podcast, panellists will discuss a chosen topic – and most of the time, the content isn’t planned, which creates exciting opinions and soundbites.
Panel discussions are becoming a more and more popular format for online events; it’s all about getting the right guests and potentially challenging topics.
Question & answer session – Got a burning topic in mind, but think it would work best by interviewing an expert or getting your audience to ask the questions they really want to? This is a great way to generate content ideas, as well as provide your audience with relevant and helpful information.
You’re basically interviewing relevant individuals, but with live questions from your audience. You could even ask for questions beforehand, when people sign up to your event.
Webinar – A webinar gives you the opportunity to plan your content beforehand, finessing your subject matter and providing real insight for your audience. It’s not as interactive as other formats, but you can include a Q&A section at the end of your webinar to generate further conversation.
Live tweeting or streaming – Maybe you’re attending an in-person event or meeting an exciting client. A simple way to create a virtual event would be to live tweet or stream it. This is very reactive and isn’t great for data capture, but will allow you to make your mark in your industry. It can help increase followers, which ultimately can be used to market to, or promote other virtual events.
Choose the right platform
Your audience and competitor research will help influence this decision. Where does your audience go for virtual events? Eventbrite to book? Zoom to watch? Instagram to lurk?
Remember what you want to achieve through your virtual event as well. If you’re looking to increase your email database then an Instagram Live session probably wouldn’t be the right platform. You’re more likely to meet your goal by promoting it on a registration website and pushing out over GoToWebinar.
What do you need to run a virtual event?
So once you’ve decided a topic, a goal, your format, your platform, and your speakers, you can start to pull together all the elements of a great virtual event. But what exactly do you need to run one effectively?
Event website (or third-party) – If you have the capabilities to, you could create a microsite for your event, allowing people to sign up, and then communicating via email with event updates and the link to view. If not a microsite, a landing page would be a great promotional tool too, as you can create ads around this and push out over Google Ads or Facebook Advertising.
If you don’t have the time or capabilities to do this, there are plenty of third party event booking sites out there (we’ve already mentioned EventBrite, which is free to use up until a certain point).
Registration – This is crucial to the success of your virtual event. Of course, you can have a limitless amount of people attending – but think about your event format. If it’s a Q&A format, 100 guests might be a tad too many, and not everyone will get a chance to ask what they want. An exclusive guest list may add that element of intrigue to your event, attracting the right kind of people.
Your own website or third-party site can track registrations and capture the right information, such as name, email address, and company information. Don’t ask for too much – you want your registration form to be quick and easy to fill in, so individuals don’t feel put off.
Content – We’ve mentioned content several times throughout this guide – and with good reason. Your virtual event should be enticing and engaging and the only way that will happen is with great content. Choose a controversial or exciting topic that you know will spark conversations. Not only do you want questions to arise during the event, you also want people to continue talking afterwards – both to each other and online.
Creating poor content will annoy your audience. You’ve done a fantastic job of enticing them into the event, but once they’re there, it’s boring and dry and suddenly numbers start dropping off. You need to add value to your audience, so they’ll be more likely to share your company’s content after the event, as well as potentially approach you for help with their own business. Like all content marketing, your online event should stay in your audience’s mind, so when they require your services / products in the future, they’ll think of you.
Promotion – From online advertising to organic promotion, getting people to sign up to your virtual event should be easy. Use your current email database to generate chat about your event and use targeted ads to attract new leads too.
An event landing page is a great data capture tool and, once you have your audience’s information, you can continue to target them before the event happens. This might look like reminder emails, or encouraging recipients to think of questions before the event. Create a sense of excitement and intrigue about what might happen. Give away enough to get them in, but keep back just the right amount of mystery.
How to prove the success of your virtual event
Congratulations! You’ve just hosted your first virtual event. But how do you know if it was successful or not?
A lot of webinar software can track your event for you, logging who and how many people signed up, clocking how many people asked questions, when people joined, when they dropped off etc. If your goal is to gain engagement, success might look like a high number of attendees. If your goal is to generate new leads, success might look like prospective clients emailing you after the event to congratulate you.
Whatever your goal was with your virtual event, make sure you have tracking in place before the event goes ahead. This could be Google Analytics or social mentions, allowing you to see how the event affected your online presence.
Our top tips for running a virtual event
So that’s our ultimate guide to running an online event in 2022. Let’s round everything up with our top tips for hosting a virtual event.
Have a marketing strategy in place
You can’t just expect people to turn up to your virtual event. Promotion is key to getting the right people watching, so make sure you have a proper marketing plan to help keep you on track.
Don’t try to sell
Yes, you’re using this as a marketing tool – but you absolutely cannot use it as an opportunity to sell. Your virtual event should be educational, interesting, controversial, insightful – anything but salesy.
See what people thought
Send a survey after your event has finished. This could be on the same day or the day after, giving people time to appreciate the content. A survey will enable you to see what you did well (and what you didn’t do well), helping you mark your successes and improve for next time.
Promote your speakers’ contact details
However many speakers you have for your virtual event, make sure you highlight their contact details, whether verbally or on their presentation. Although they’re there to educate or create conversation, they’re doing this for a reason – to get their brand and message out there.
Looking to go virtual in 2022? Find a flexible virtual office solution for you with Virtual HQ.