Virtual events: Best practices and tips for a successful online event
Virtual events are here to stay, but they are not all equal, from zoom fatigue to lack of engagement, and an overall bad attendee experience, you want to avoid making the typical mistakes and actually provide a great event experience whether you do it online or not.
To give all the tips of the trade, we sat down with Aleksandra Panyukhina, an expert in virtual events, to give you all the best advice, tips to keep in mind, and virtual events best practices.
So without further ado, let’s jump in.
About Aleksandra Panyukhina
In the event marketing b2b tech for more than 8 years and having worked with large corporations such as SEMrush and Veeam Software, Aleksandra Panyukhina is now an expert in virtual events. When covid hits, she first starts navigating into the virtual event space. She worked with startups and helped them navigate in the new reality. As she admits herself, she wasn’t very fond of virtual events from the get go: “I was at first skeptical about these events, but I ended up being a huge advocate for virtual.”
She became a huge part of the event strategies of these companies, helping them think about the goals and the value they want to bring to their audience first and foremost, before getting into the event type and content.
What makes a good virtual event?
The major difference between a good virtual event and a bad one is the content. The one thing to keep in mind is to have content that actually brings value to your specific audience. That means bringing original, new, and interesting content to the table. But as we all know, it’s not easy to find topics that haven’t already been discussed to death.
“Unique content, it’s hard. We really can't claim to be providing unique content every time, but we can deliver new angles to the same problems. We can discuss new challenges and new ways of thinking about the same concepts. ”
“Find speakers that can translate these concepts through their expertise.”
The second most important thing to keep in mind are your virtual event speakers. We’ve all been to webinars, virtual conferences or live events where the topic seems super interesting, but when the conference starts, the speaker is very low energy, doesn’t know their topic as well as expected, can’t really explain the concepts clearly, or has a very bad delivery. It can really make or break the session. So be sure to choose a good energetic speaker who knows how to communicate his expertise.
Interactive virtual experiences
Last but not least, you can also improve the online experience with different types of virtual event ideas and activities like a virtual space for networking, forums, and some gamification. For example you can add music, a yoga class, an improv show, happy hours, and more. But all that is basically just some nice to have, it should never be the main focus.
The foundation really is the content and how it is delivered by the speaker;
“You can create fun and entertaining events, but unless people have some eye-opening experience, like an Ah-Ah moment, people won't remember it. The audience cares about what they took away from it, who they connected with, and what they learned.”
Experts in their fields need those Ah-Ah moments to really remember the event and find them valuable to them. Chances are that if you have expertise in a field, there’s not a whole lot more you can learn about this specific topic, but by providing a new angle, new ideas, either with discussions or quality content, they can find a new way of thinking about a specific topic and find it very valuable.
A good way to provide those learning experiences is delivering new and interesting content, and the way you deliver it is through engaging your audience. There are multiple ways to help you engage your audience, from breakout rooms for networking, the structure of the event, the speakers, how people participate (round tables, discussion groups, workshops). You can get their perspective creatively whether it’s during a live event, hybrid event or virtual event; creating breakout sessions, polling before, during and after, have them choose topics of discussion, have fun initiatives for collaboration, and more.
Of course, the audience itself also has to make sure they immerse themselves in the event and really participate;
“Stop looking at your emails or LinkedIn, and immerse yourself in the content and drift into it. It’s important for your brain to change its perspective and get a moment that’s different from your ordinary day-to-day, to change your angles. It helps you unlock ideas. Your brain gets a break and gives out new ideas you already had, that were simply hidden away.”
What to keep in mind when organizing your virtual event?
Shorter but better sessions
To have the best virtual event possible, the first thing to keep in mind is of course: content. Not only what you will talk about, but how. When you’re in the event planning stage, think about the number of sessions, and how long they take.
People are already in virtual meetings all day long, so you don’t want to make them attend a million sessions every day. Break the sessions down into a few themed blocks and minimize the choices your audience has to make. For example, have 2 blocks for 2 different personas with a few 30 minutes sessions in the day for each block.
Make it logical to continue and stay engaged all through the event with different sessions that fit the topic and the persona and can really play well with each other and complete the information.
30 minutes sessions or less is usually plenty enough to give all the useful information.
“Many organizers have 45min discussions, 50min keynotes etc. Even with the most interesting content, after 30 min people lose attention and drift off. Keep it under 30min, you can pack tons of insight into 20-25min as long as you are well prepared and distill information.”
You may wonder how to have shorter sessions, Aleksandra got some very good tips:
“We tend to do a lot of unnecessary stuff; discussions about why the discussion is important, thanking everyone for attending, trying to convince people that the event is great or is going to be great... If people show up, they want to hear the speaker, they know it’s important, you don’t need to reaffirm it. You can easily cut out the fluff, and get right into the learning part.”
Quality audio and video production
With virtual events, people are becoming less and less forgiving when it comes to video and audio quality. Whether you use live streams in real-time or pre-recorded on-demand content, your video conferencing quality has to be top notch.
Make sure you are well equipped and prepared with good audio and video quality equipment, a good background, good internet connection. With good quality video, you can repurpose this content and reuse it either on your website, social media, or make them available post-event.
Live vs pre-recorded content
Using pre-recorded content instead of live can help you have more control over the quality of the presentation, but just make sure you disclose that this is indeed pre-recorded and not live. A good practice would be to have the speaker answer Q&A questions live while the recording of the presentation is played.
You can also use it as additional perks uploaded on your virtual event platform or event apps, to be watched later.
If you make your content available after the event, it can be a perk people like. You understand that people are busy, so you have other content for them prepared.
“The messaging is important here, don’t be sorry that they couldn’t make it to the live event, just have good options for them. Be flexible. Having some sessions exclusively live, but some content that can be sent as well.“
However, live events are always better, there’s something unpredictable, an experience that’s shared between everyone that makes it better. It’s unique.
Why switch from a physical event to a virtual event?
Distributed customers or audience
One reason why you would choose virtual over physical events is if you have a very distributed customer base and want to have a big event (product launch, announcements, etc.). It’s a lot easier to have a global event online than it is to fly to a location. Your reach will be a lot better with a virtual event.
“You can also have satellite in-person hubs or smaller physical events leading to the virtual event. “
Another good reason to go virtual is if you have a limited budget. You don’t have millions of dollars or simply don’t want to throw out hundreds of thousands of dollars on a massive in-person event.
“It’s not the poor option, it’s the smart option.”
Think about the value you want to give your audience, we want that global feel, but want them to know we’re real: small in-person event instead of virtual, but if you want to show you’re big, and get lots of traffic, you can run a very cool virtual event and get your goals.
Another very important reason to consider virtual events is the sustainability aspect.
“Sustainability can also be a very good reason. Virtual events are more sustainable (very low carbon footprint). If it’s part of your decision making you should be vocal about it, and take it into consideration.”
What are people doing wrong at the moment with their virtual events? What needs to be changed?
Here are a few things event planners are doing wrong when doing their event planning and event management:
- Sessions are too long
- Too many sessions in a day
- Lack of storytelling or clear theme
- Not taking your audience in consideration
- Not engaging your audience
- Generic content instead of high level
- Relying more on event technology than on quality content
“Not everyone is empowered to take the risk and be more niche, more controversial, and showcase different perspectives, or more technical content, rather than super general content.”
If you’re not afraid to take risks and put a lot of effort into developing the topic, your content will resonate more with your audience. Sometimes the topics are decided by marketers and event planners and not actually the experts on the matter. The audience is more advanced than they are, so it results in generic content that isn’t super relevant for anyone.
What makes a good speaker for a virtual event?
There are a few key points that make or break a speaker.
Confident in their topics
First and foremost, they have to be confident in what they share. Not only should they be experts on their topics, but they should have the confidence to talk about it on stage and know enough to answer questions and discuss it after their session or in the Q&A.
Able to distill information
Some people tend to talk a lot, having never-ending sentences, over-explaining, therefore making their sessions quite long and not as dynamic. In particular in virtual events, since they don’t have the audience reaction, they keep explaining and going in circles.
Being able to distill and put the value in as few words as possible is crucial. It’s a flag of confidence. Being able to say what you mean in a few words, be specific, on point, not generic, and give actionable examples, are all very important.
“A fun way to think about it is to encourage them to think in Twitter format; can people take that quote and post it on Twitter? Would it work? Be understood? And add value?”
At ease in a virtual environment
You want a speaker who is at ease in a virtual environment, who has good equipment, and knows how to use technology. It’s important that they know their way around audio-video and virtual events, but also care about the experience that attendees are having. A professional speaker, or someone who’s used to speaking at virtual events, will usually have good quality equipment and know how to present themselves.
“Having good audio-video equipment for a speaker is just as important as dressing up or having your hair done. In an in-person event, you won’t show up in your sweatpants, so why show up with bad video quality, or bad lighting in a virtual event?.”
Able to engage the audience
Engaging the audience is very important, of course it lies on event organizers and hosts as well, but it makes a much better experience if your speaker also knows engagement techniques and is able to engage your audience. You want, among other things, someone who has high energy, is charismatic, and has a dynamic delivery.
“Otherwise, if you have speakers who are a little less engaging, you can balance it out with very dynamic hosts and moderators that can bring the energy up between speakers, with great segways and intro.”
How to get the best return on your investment with virtual events?
It all depends on your goals, if your target is closing new deals very fast, events might not be your best bet. However if you want to bring new awareness to your brand, virtual events are perfect.
“If you need to close a deal, think of an event that would help close this deal, work with your sales team to understand the main obstacles to tackle, and tackle them with your event. You can do more niche topics with less audience that will truly help conversions.”
If you’re thinking ahead, and that your goal is more to put your brand on the radar, it’s good to run bigger events and virtual events. This way you can have a first touchpoint, some engagement, have first conversations, to connect and continue discussions.
Another goal could be fueling your content marketing. Content that will feed your blog, and that you can repurpose. Virtual events can be a good source of content that you would’ve had to create anyway, so it’s a good way to take advantage of your events and have a better ROI.
You gotta make sure that everyone is in line with the ROI for this event and the reason you’re hosting this event.
“The format of the event is informed by what you want to achieve, when you think about the goals and all agree on the goal, you may end up with the decision that a virtual event is not what you need.”
What KPIs are most important to track for your virtual events?
There are 3 categories of KPIs to track for your virtual events: Revenue related metrics, non-revenue metrics, and audience signals.
Revenue related metrics :
If your goal is to gain more revenue, here are some KPIs you should be looking at.
- Number of MQL that were attendees.
- Target accounts you reached and engaged.
- How much of the existing pipeline was engaged in the event.
- How many customers have engaged with your event.
Events can also help your customers and potential customers to see you as a trusted source and therefore help your conversions.
These metrics can be a whole lot of different things, they can help see if you’ve hit different goals that aren’t directly linked to revenue, or are higher in the funnel.
- Content created and how it will be repurposed (social, blog, etc).
- Brand awareness, visibility.
- Traffic spikes on the website.
Those metrics are very useful for event marketers to understand what works or not.
- Number of registrations.
- Attendance rate.
- Email invitations (open rate, CTR).
- Reminders, social media posts and follow-ups performance.
- New Linkedin requests, followers and contacts.
- Feedback survey responses.
“These metrics can help you learn how your content resonates with people. If people filled your surveys and opened emails and clicked on them, it shows they were engaged.”
Virtual event trends we should take into consideration?
Companies should not abandon the idea of virtual events just because they can go in-person now.
“The companies that won’t give up on the virtual, will be one or few steps ahead than event organizers that switched back to in-person.”
First it was the pandemic, but there’s always something else that can come up; from budgets shrinking, people who now work from home, global demand, etc. Virtual will still take place no matter what.
“I think it will be interesting to see how the virtual is “done” and that it’s back to in-person now, we’ll see how this goes. “
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