In 2019, 42% of surveyed organizations chose to plan virtual events. In 2020, that number has doubled to a whopping 84%.
The Virtual Event Master Plan
What makes virtual event planning as equally successful as live events is a strategy for aligning business goals with the financial investment and expected outcomes. What makes it different is how you connect with your audience, which event type you choose, where you host it, and what virtual event technology you partner with to run it all from start to finish. To come up with your strategy, start by reassessing the original goals of the in-person event and then write down the answers to these questions:
- Why are you hosting this event?
- Who are you inviting and what are their expectations?
- How does this event tell the story of your brand and move the company forward?
- What actions or takeaways do you want your attendees to engage with?
- How are you defining success for this event?
Don’t be vague in your answers. You have to be able to measure your goals with the data you collect during the event. Match each event goal to the bigger picture business goal. Pinpoint the start and end dates. Have a budget target in mind. Then embrace the momentum!
Define your Purpose
Create each event for a specific purpose, with each element of the agenda clearly identified and the key starting point prioritized. Write all of it down and let it guide the development. Whether it’s:
- Raising brand awareness
- Gathering leads
- Engaging internal or external stakeholders
- Or fostering networking
Pick the kind of virtual event that gets your message to the targeted audience. Here are some ideas to consider:
Annual Kick-Off: Host the event on a custom-branded microsite and stream it from a multi-cam setup. Add custom interactive elements like polling, quizzes, and gamification to keep viewers engaged with elements of education and fun. Team building, networking, and gifts/awards can be the trick to keeping people engaged and feeling appreciated.
Investor or Shareholder Meetings: Produce video content in advance and securely stream it as if it were running live. Protect sensitive videos with domain whitelisting/blacklisting, passcodes, and trackable watermarks. Incorporate proposals, Q&A, roundtable discussions, and video archiving for future viewing.
Digital Summits & Conferences: Collaborative and participatory in nature, this format can include “themed” sessions, short presentations, breakout rooms, keynote speakers, panels, and Q&A sessions with full audience participation. Broadcast to the largest of audiences with no problem.
Expos, Fairs, & Trade Festivals: Incorporate education seminars, training classes, demos, and sales/marketing opportunities using video, product photos, coupons, and interactive quizzes, or leaderboards. Smaller in nature than the typical live experience, but the sky is really the limit here.
Think Audience First
Consider what the digital experience uniquely offers rather than taking what you’ve done in-person and replicating it online. Virtual events pack a punch for efficiently staying connected to prospects, customers, and partners, so think audience engagement first. Many are still suffering from Zoom fatigue while working from home and balancing phone calls, kids, pets, and parents. You are competing for their undivided attention. Therefore, design and delivery need to be so exciting they’ll want to binge-watch it on demand.
Then, build out the technology and production tools you will need, and finish with deciding which channels are best for you to deliver the message. If raising awareness for a cause or networking is a key component, then the virtual platform needs to support those objectives in something more than just a chat channel. Are you selling something or just trying to celebrate and have fun? Will it be a half-day event or a series of days? Cater to your audience needs and you will win more of their attention.
Build the Virtual Event Budget, Don’t Just Shift your Live Event Budget
In-person event budgets are typically 25% spent on technology and 75% on venues, decor, staffing, food & beverage, and travel. For virtual, it’s the opposite. Hosting a rockstar event online requires you to spend more on technology. While virtual events can be less expensive overall, they are not “cheap.” You absolutely get what you pay for.
Don’t go to the virtual grocery store hungry, or everything you read and see is going to be a cue to spend or cut the budget. CFO’s are looking for a tangible return on investment so take a macro view of your budget plan and goals. Here is a good formula to start with:
Expenses = Internal Team or Planning Agency + Tech Platform (microsite, registration, exhibit rooms) + Marketing Expenses + Production tools + Creative Design + Speaker Fees + Attendee Benefits (swag, free trial, etc.)
Take the framework for past live event budgets and create an outline for virtual. Determine which are one-time costs and which are continuous. This establishes a starting point you can refer back to as new expenses not forecasted need to be decided on. While a virtual event does away with many expenses associated with in-person (rentals, hospitality, staffing, etc.), there are critical areas of the tech platform, production, and speaker preparedness that rival your previous costs.
Deciding on a virtual events strategy, whether for one event or across multiple events, has its challenges. But no more than you could expect from live events. With the right virtual strategy that includes a custom platform and well-rounded production support, you can create meaningful relationships with customers, prospects and stakeholders.
How Can OVATION Help?
Introducing OVATION as your virtual or hybrid event team. Whether you want a custom built platform to host events or access to our menu of production support services, our 10 year virtual event expertise will guarantee your strategy sees its way to execution. Bring us your ideas and we will help you build the plan.