host a virtual event

How to host a virtual event for your business

Whether you’re hosting a virtual event because your physical one can’t go ahead or because you want to grow your digital presence, creating an online experience will grow your brand awareness and customer relationships. Here we’ll consider what a virtual event is, the types of virtual events, the plans you have to put in place and the benefits it has for your brand and audience.

What is a virtual event?

A virtual event can be defined as an organised experience that takes place online rather than in a physical location. A virtual event is entirely digital, not an element of a physical event that’s streamed or recorded. Events can include discussions, Q&As, webinars, podcast recordings, performances, conferences and shows.

Technically, all you need for a virtual event is an internet connection, a hosting platform and a topic for discussion. As long as your viewers can access the internet and follow the event link, you’ll be able to host your event however you like. Depending on the level of promotion you do beforehand, your virtual event can be viewed by just a handful of people or distributed to thousands of viewers.

What types of virtual events are there?

Virtual events can take place in any format depending on the goal you want to achieve and the experience you want to create. Product demonstrations, tutorials and classes are great for audience interaction. If you’re launching a new product and getting a lot of questions about it, showing how it works will help your audience with their buying decision. Classes encourage your audience to join in with you, whether this is running through a new software you’ve produced or teaching a cooking class. By following your tips and instructions, your audience receives added value to your offering.

Conferences and trade shows are usually larger events held throughout a day or week. They include different sessions on certain topics with expert speakers and visual aids. Viewers can register for these events and receive a similar experience to a physical conference. This type of virtual event is a good replacement for shows that have been cancelled.

For in-depth topics that require explanation and examples, webinars and workshops are a great option. Involving keynote speakers like professionals from your business or industry experts will build awareness and excitement around your event. With expert knowledge and skillset to share with viewers, you can develop a strong reputation as opinion leaders.

For journalists and industry professionals, interviews and performances are a common virtual event. Where you would usually host a Q&A or interview on stage between a reporter and expert, you can do it virtually in front of an audience of similar scale. Musicians, actors and artists opt for online gigs and performances to give their fans what feels like an exclusive piece of content.

Creative institutions like galleries, museums, theatres and conservation centres often host tours and behind the scenes of their locations. This type of virtual event is ideal for enthusiasts of your brand and children who want to see something they admire like art, sculptures or animals. Restaurants and manufacturers can do the same to show fans how they make their products.

Things to think about when hosting a virtual event

Hosting a virtual event brings with it a number of considerations. There are issues surrounding engagement, profit, technology and promotion that must be planned and executed effectively. 

How do you keep people engaged?

It’s easy to keep your attendees’ attention at a physical event as they’re immersed in the experience with little distraction. People get together to watch a speaker, network with others and receive a catered lunch. When your audience is sitting in their own homes, it’s difficult to hold this level of attention for a long period of time. They have families, phones, television and chores that mean they’re less likely to remain engaged in your session. This is where shorter, bite-size virtual events are more appropriate than all-day conferences. 45 minutes is a reasonable amount of time for educational sessions that require detailed explanations and examples. Using visual aids and examples will avoid being bored by a never-ending presentation. 

How do you make money from virtual events?

Ticket sales are your main source of revenue at a physical event, with food, merchandise and products following closely. With a virtual event, you can’t offer these valuable additions so many won’t want to pay for online events in the same way. Without anything to show from their event, like a fun pen, t-shirt, free food or useful resources, you can’t expect to charge for your virtual events. It’s more important to think about the value you want to provide and the experience you want to create. If you deliver something that’s educational, entertaining, emotive and interactive, your audience will give you their custom and support in return.

How can people access the event?

You need to decide where you’re going to host your virtual event. There are lots of software platforms that allow you to do this depending on the format of your event. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube live streams are great for performances, interviews and Q&As. For webinars, workshops and conferences, you may want to choose one that enables you to present to your audience. For classes and tutorials with a personal experience, you can use video conferencing software like Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams. Consider if you want your event to be accessible after it’s finished. If attendees had to register, you could email the link over to them for them to watch again. Otherwise, you could post it on your website and social media to reach a wider audience.

When is the right time to host a virtual event?

It’s important not to rush into hosting a virtual event. If your physical event has been cancelled, take time to make sure you can deliver a comparable experience online. Understand that it won’t be the same and things will have to change that need a lot of consideration. Viewers’ availability will change if the event date changes so you may not get your original number of attendees. Time zones will play a part as now people from all over the world can sign up and access it. Choose a time that’s suitable for everyone, and if this isn’t possible, make your content available online afterwards for those that can’t attend the live thing.

What contingency should I have in place?

Think about how your event could go wrong and how you can fix it virtually. You should make you sure you have the relevant technology and software in place that can improve the experience. Technology will always be temperamental no matter how much you plan and organise. You should consider disruptions that may occur so you know exactly how to solve them quickly without impacting the audience experience. Your connection could drop, noises in the background could occur, speakers may echo and your screen could freeze. Having a trial run of your event will allow you to test and iron out any issues before the real thing. Make sure you can share your presentation visuals or files smoothly. Ensure you have file backups or printed visuals if there’s some sort of data loss or connection.

Benefits of hosting a virtual event

There are so many benefits of hosting a virtual event for your audience. It’s a cost-effective solution that requires a much lower budget than a physical event. You don’t have to spend money on a venue, catering, equipment, legalities and staff members to keep the event running smoothly. They also save a lot of time. You don’t have to meticulously search for venues and resources or spend time training, hiring and sorting out staff logistics.

If your event has to be registered for, you can gather data of individuals that are interested in your brand and offering. This is a great opportunity for lead generation as you can follow up with communications that lead them onto the next stage of your customer journey. By providing a new and fun experience to your customers, you can increase audience engagement online. You can reach a wider audience of those who may stumble upon your event from social media. This is great for building relationships through added value and developing brand awareness. 

Virtual events are a great way to give your audience valuable experience with your brand. You have an opportunity to educate, entertain, inform, guide and support your customers by sharing your expertise and skill set.  While there are a lot of considerations to make, you can save time and money while gaining so much in customer engagement and brand awareness.

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