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The ultimate guide to hosting unforgettable virtual events

guides & essays

The ultimate guide to hosting unforgettable virtual events

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Virtual events are the way forward when it comes to connecting with a global audience so how can you make yours stand out?

Nothing beats the connections you make at real-life experiences. Well, you could be wrong. True, there is a certain buzz you get from the opening day of events, but can this “buzz” be transferred into the online world with virtual events?

When it comes to hosting virtual events, marketers need all the tricks of the trade up their sleeves. From connecting with your audience in an engaging and entertaining way to ensuring your tech runs smoothly, it’s no mean feat! But don’t worry – we’ve assembled the ultimate guide for making sure your event stands out from the crowd and leaves a lasting impression on everyone who attends.

With these tools in hand, you’ll be set up to host spectacular (and unforgettable!) virtual events. They have moved from becoming nice-to-haves to becoming need-to-haves for businesses around the world.

The evolution of virtual events

In the space of 2 years, the event industry has changed massively.

  • First, the whole world went online to accommodate lockdowns and quickly pivot during uncertain times
  • Then, competition became so fierce online events have gone from simple “webinar” style events to summits and conferences
  • As the world opened up again, hybrid events have started to combine real life experiences with the power of amplification worldwide in the online space

I have worked in events for the past 8 years, organising something that spans from 30 to 35 events yearly. We started off quite inexperienced as a company, in a small yoga studio converted into a venue for the day. During our last event, before the pandemic hit, we took over a stage with over 300 people capacity.

Whether you’re looking to test the waters with your first virtual event or increase virtual event activity and engagement, you want to ensure that your brand image meets attendee expectations, company objectives and global standards.

In the past, free long-day events were a rare occurrence, something you’d find here and there, especially as an upsell for a specific product, offer or service.

In 2021, webinars saw a huge increase with a 200% growth thats to the rise of Zoom and online gathering.

These days, hybrid conferences and virtual events are everywhere. This means preparation is key.

Start with clear intentions

The critical thing to remember is how you can make your event different? What makes your event better than all of the others out there?

There is always room for more events if only you unlock what makes yours unique. Like real-life events, quality will always trump quantity, so it’s essential to think about the real value that your event offers to your attendees.

Don’t simply throw anything and everything that you have at your even in hopes of making it top-notch; take time to think outside the box and find what makes your audience tick. (Keep an eye on the competition to see how they’re hosting events, what they’re talking about).

And stay aligned to your business ideals and morals: credibility is earned, and people are willing to pay for content when they believe in you.

Invest in the right tools

For our events, we invested in a variety of tools and tried pretty much everything under the sun. For ticket sales, are currently loving Humanitix, a humane ticketing platform with lower booking fees that all go to charity.

Choose a solution that is easy to navigate for both your attendees and your speakers. Make sure you try and test, and identify whether you are making things too complicated for your audience (been guilty of that!).

Listen to the feedback and adapt. Let your audience know you are listening, and are willing to make the necessary changes to make the event experience as enjoyable as possible.

This is probably what your attendees and speakers will remember the most, aside from takeaways and lessons, so do your research – and if you are curious, we have a great list of tools for you to access here.

Providing a great experience for speakers encourages them to share your amazing event with their very own audience.

Engagement is also something that comes from your speakers and panelists, who often need reminders (just like for real-life events).

Make their lives as easy as possible; provide speakers with all the assets they need to promote the event and bring their engagement to the bag. If possible, you may also think about paying your speakers for extra enticement.

Rethink the user journey

Understand the time needed to create excitement for your event and leave yourself the time to generate enough sales – about three months should do it. If that seems a lot longer than you’d anticipated, you’re not alone but can say a lot from having more time to plan and engage.

What you talk about in the lead-up also has a significant impact on ticket sales. You’re not just selling a ticket, but an experience.

What problems will you solve for your audience? What can you teach them that no one else can?

With the event almost coming up, it’s time to think about getting your attendees as engaged as possible. In the lead up: ask the honest questions to your audience and find out what they want to get out of the event.

What do they want to learn? How do they want to feel?

These will act as pillars for discussion throughout the event.

Once it’s time to kick off, make sure you have the time to welcome attendees and round up each day. This sounds obvious, but so many people forget how important it is to take the time to set expectations at the beginning with a welcome session, and end the day (or days) with a closing session.

Do not worry if people do not take you up on that at first, I find that the more you educate your audience, the more they’ll be receptive to it.

You can even create a “brochure” or a free document your audience can use as a workbook to interact and learn more about each speaker – which can turn into a great way to upset your conference.

Always add a ‘welcome’ and a ‘farewell’ session to your day (or multi-day) long events to outline the journey.

Make time for breaks

The worst mistake you can make is to fill the day with loads of live sessions. Whether you have a mix of live and recorded, or simply have fewer things going on, making time for breaks matter.

It’s that ‘decompressing space’ we all need to truly digest what we have learned.

This means making sure you do not cram too many live sessions together and allow even gaps of buffer time when nothing is truly happening.

Allowing attendees to ‘choose their own journey’ truly enriches the way the event is set and boosts the value by making it all feel a lot more premium.

Camera on or camera off?

When there is a panel, you can get a better flow and engagement through webinar-style as we can more easily track the questions.

However, you also have to be a confident host/moderator ask the right questions. People ask questions more easily with their camera off and ask questions that they wouldn’t feel as comfortable in real-life situations.

For small sessions and interactive workshops, think about having cameras to create a personal connection and gauge their reactions.

Encourage hybrid networking

This is such an important part of your virtual event. The connections and networking (albeit more controlled and less physical) can be replicated in an online setting. You have to be quite smart about it, though. This means you have to learn not just how to be an excellent host, but also a wonderful facilitator.

You can encourage connections and reflection as pure networking, or as something we call integration sessions, where people take the time to reflect on what they learned so far. 

Use this time to highlight a few key lessons from some sessions from the day, or maybe ask relevant questions that can help attendees look back at their notes.

Depending on your scale of the event, you can even look into creating Zoom sessions with breakout out rooms and let your attendees network.

When to put a price on your virtual events

A major misconception that she’s confronted with daily when planning virtual events is that they don’t make money. Or that if you were to sell tickets, they need to be at a low price point. There may be different mindset towards the price of a real-life versus an online event ticket, but online events can most definitely be profitable.

There are a lot of options for you to look into, depending on the scope of our event, aside from just charging a “normal fee” for tickets

  • You can charge attendees a nominal donation with (pay-what-you-can options)
  • You can partner with charity to amplify your events and get all proceed to go to one of their causes
  • You can offer free access on the day of the event, and paid replay tickets options
  • Sponsors can also cover costs and help you make some profit, and keep the event free for attendees

Truth is, payment can help with commitment.

Paying attendees are 75% more likely to tune in to join sessions, be active participants and so much more. They are more receptive, the dropout rate decrees by 50% or more, and are also 30% likely to take up any offers you may present them on a later date.

The benefits of going hybrid

It’s already becoming apparent that there is a lot to be said for hosting an online event, and a huge bonus is not having to build stands and write name tags, or be onsite until 1 AM.

Jokes aside, there are real benefits to the online space, and we can go as far as possible to create that event buzz with technology.

  • Target a global audience: this is HUGE for brands to target a broader demographic, excellent for any business.
  • Fewer costs: having hybrid events and hosting smaller IRL gathering can reduce costs considerably.
  • The ability to make more money: a broader demographic means you can sell more tickets for no extra work or expenses.
  • Repurposing materials: recording talks is one way to share the content across any number of platforms and continue to event buzz.
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