By now, you’re surely aware of Coronavirus COVID-19, a pandemic that’s affecting nearly every country in the world. Health professionals recommend that we all practice social distancing until the threat passes. Some of the biggest events in the world have already been canceled. Many states have closed venue sites and banned large gatherings of people.
As an event organizer, we’re sure you recognize the kind of problem this creates for you. How do you host events if your guests can’t be in the same physical place? Obviously, you want to protect the health and safety of your fans, vendors, and clients, so you’ll have to make some changes to your events.
Virtual events are useful ways to continue to hold events without compromising anyone’s safety. If you’re planning an event you really don’t want to cancel, we recommend you consider turning it into a virtual event.
What Are Virtual Events?
A virtual event is an event that’s available online for remote attendees. No one has to actually be at your venue. In fact, you don’t necessarily need a venue at all, which makes this type of event attractive during periods of social distancing due to a viral outbreak. Everyone can attend the event from the safety of their homes.
If you’re planning an event you really don’t want to cancel, we recommend you consider turning it into a virtual event.If you’re planning an event you really don’t want to cancel, we recommend you consider turning it into a virtual event. Click To Tweet
Aside from virus safety, there are several other benefits to hosting virtual events:
- Lower operating, marketing, and staffing costs.
- Easier to manage (you don’t have to literally move people).
- Don’t have to spend a lot of time looking at venues.
- No need to worry about catering, human logistics, or health and safety.
- Guests learn to look forward to your online communications.
- Tools to host are relatively cheap.
- Easier to find quality speakers if they don’t have to travel.
Some virtual events are entirely online. The host sets up a video platform where their team and guest speakers present to an online audience. With clever production tricks, you can make these look quite professional, even if your team and speakers aren’t in the same room.
Other virtual events are hybrid events. The event takes place in a physical location with some people, but there’s also an online component. One (or more) of your team would be in charge of streaming the event to viewers at home.
Whatever your event looks like, it’s important to have an interactive component. Attendees should be able to interact with the host, speakers, and other guests in some way. Whatever tool you use to run your virtual event should have a basic chat feature at the very least.
Challenges of Virtual Events
Those benefits may sound great to you, but they come at a big cost: engagement. It’s extremely hard for guests to engage with an event when they aren’t in a physical location talking aloud to real people.
During a virtual event, guests are less likely to talk to other guests, ask questions, or engage with speakers/lecturers. And they’re more likely to do other things at the same time, like take a work call, read the news, or watch Netflix.
Does this mean virtual events are a waste of time? Not at all. You just need to be mindful that you have to work extra hard to keep your guests engaged and create a meaningful experience.
How to Host a Virtual Event
Now that you understand virtual events and why they’re useful in these difficult times, let’s go through the step-by-step process to hosting one.
Step 1: Outline Your Virtual Event Format
Your first step is to outline the format of your event. This isn’t much different than a traditional event at a physical venue. You need to know what will happen in what order. This will help you understand what resources you need for the rest of the event. Here’s a basic outline to give you an idea.
- Guests allowed into the “venue” (online conference room).
- Opening remarks by you or your client.
- First speaker
- Product demonstration
- Second speaker
- Lunch break
- Third speaker
- Networking hour
- Keynote speaker
You get the idea. Plan out each segment of your event so you understand the type of content you need to produce for your viewers.
Step 2: Choose a Virtual Event Platform
Next, you’ll need a tool to host your event. The platform you choose will depend on your event needs and budget.
Let’s say you’re hosting a dinner ceremony that will still commence at a venue, but you want to include a virtual component for people who choose not to attend. In this case, you can simply make it accessible to at-home viewers by setting up a camera in the corner that’s hooked up to a streaming platform like Periscope, Twitch.tv, Facebook Live, or YouTube Live.
When you choose a platform, make sure to try it out before the day of your event. Most services offer a free trial period for you to experiment.
Step 3: Choose a Host/MC
Like any event, you’ll need a host who will open the event, introduce speakers, and give attendees important information (like when the intermission starts or how to communicate with one another). This could be you, someone on your team, or a hired personality. Your host needs to…
- Be able to speak clearly
- Be comfortable in front of a group
- Understand the event format and agenda
- Understand how to interact with your virtual meeting software
- Be comfortable speaking into a camera
- Be prepared to handle technical difficulties
Step 4: Choose a Location
It’s best not to host your event from your living room, so you’ll need a “venue.” This can be any professional setting where you won’t be interrupted. If you have a budget, consider purchasing a background or renting a small space so your guests feel like they are actually attending something unique.
If you plan to bring any other people or guests to your performance space, make sure it’s large enough to accommodate anyone. For instance, your keynote speaker will need somewhere to get ready before stepping in front of the camera.
Step 5: Choose a Time and Date
You actually have a lot of leeway when it comes to choosing a time for your virtual event. Unlike a physical event, guests don’t have to travel anywhere. They just need to log in. So you can host the event any time you think your guests are most likely to show up – even weekday evenings.
Before you choose a time, however, we recommend surveying your audience if you have a list to contact. Ask them for the times they would most likely attend a virtual event.
Step 6: Keep the Audience Engaged
Unlike a physical event, virtual event guests can leave at any time. They can also be distracted by other things or people in their lives. So it’s important to take steps to keep them engaged.
For instance, you could encourage your speakers to ask questions to the group and monitor the chat feed to read their responses. Or you might ask the group to work together in the chat feed to solve problems or make suggestions.
Step 7: Make the Event Video Available Afterwards
Publish the video of your virtual event somewhere online so non-guests can see it — unless you charged your guests money to attend. Don’t give the content out for free if you made others pay for it, otherwise no one will pay to attend your next one.
There is a bit of a learning curve to throwing your first virtual event, but as a highly organized event planner, you should have no trouble fitting the pieces together. If you follow the steps we outlined above and practice your event before the big day, you’ll create a quality experience for your guests without sacrificing your safety. If we all work together to stop the spread of this terrible illness, the trouble will pass and we’ll all go back to attending in-person events.