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How to Host a Virtual Event: 9 Steps

Organizing your first virtual event can involve a learning curve. If you need a helping hand, check out our guide on how to host a virtual event, including tips on how to define your event vision, set your budget, and create your content schedule.

When it’s your first time, hosting a virtual event seems like a daunting task. But if you’ve organized live events before, you already know plenty about how to host a successful virtual event—because many of the elements of live events have corresponding elements in virtual ones. Instead of a live venue, you’ll choose a platform for your virtual event. And you’ll still have sponsors to find, a marketing campaign to create, and an audience to curate event content for. The process of planning a virtual event is similar too. It starts with defining your vision and purpose for the event.

1. Define Your Event Vision

Your event vision is a snapshot of what you want the event to be. What the experience is like for the audience, the benefits of the event for stakeholders, and even the metrics you track are all part of that vision.

To start developing your vision for this event, consider the following:

  • What is the purpose of the event?
  • What kind of attendee event experiences do you want to create?
  • Who’s your event audience? What demographic info defines them? Consider aspects such as job title and description, location, industry, and company size.
  • How will you monetize the event? For instance:
    • Sponsors (sponsored content, speakers, swag, or prizes)
    • Advertising e.g. in event emails, on registration screens, on the event website
    • Ad placements on the virtual event platform
  • Will your event have sponsors? How many?
  • What kinds of content do you envision? For instance:
    • Keynote address
    • Other sessions, such as workshops, panel discussions, or roundtables
  • What value is derived from the event?
    • For the host organization
    • For attendees
    • For sponsors
    • For exhibitors
  • Will your event content go out live or be pre-recorded?
  • Will live content be recorded and made available after the event is over?
  • Where and how will you promote the event?
  • What data will you collect and at what stages of the audience journey?
  • What metrics will you track to assess ROI and evaluate the success of the event?

2. Set Clear Event Goals

Setting event goals and objectives helps you stay focused and on-task throughout the planning process. When you set clear goals, you stay on track, and that means your event stays on track too.

One useful way to approach goal-setting is via the SMART framework. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Setting goals using this framework ensures they’re actionable and creates objectives that help you achieve your goals.

3. Build Your Timeline

With your event vision defined, the next step is to create a virtual event planning timeline. This is a checklist that includes every phase, stage, and step involved in planning the event. The amount of time you need to cover will depend on how much time you have and on the size and extent of the event. It may cover anywhere from a couple of months for a small event to a year or more for a large, multi-day virtual event.

If it’s your first time hosting a virtual event, try to build some buffer time into each major phase of your timeline. This will give you leeway as you learn how to host a virtual event.

As part of building your event timeline, you’ll also need to choose dates and times for the event to run. Make sure to look at what’s going on in the events world around the date you’re considering. Check out what other events are happening around the same time, and try to avoid setting up a situation where you have to compete with another event for attendees, speakers, or sponsors.

4. Lay Out Your Budget

As a general rule, virtual events are overall less expensive than their live counterparts. You do need a venue, or rather, a virtual events platform. However, there are no catering vendors to hire, and no labor is needed to physically set up the venue. Unless you want to hire celebrity entertainment or other high-value content, there are few budget-straining expenses to contend with. Even so, it’s still important to create and stick to your event budget.

Some budget categories to consider might include:

  • Virtual events platform – Website or platform where attendees access event content
  • Marketing – Any marketing or advertising that isn’t covered by an in-house marketing team
  • Speakers/entertainment
    • Including fees/honoraria for speakers and other guests
    • Gifts/swag for guests
  • Recording and broadcasting equipment If you plan to make and record your own content, there are certain items you’ll need. This can be expensive, but it may be a good investment if this is intended to be the first of many future virtual events.
    • HD camera and accessories
    • Additional audio equipment for capturing, recording, and broadcasting sound
    • Additional lighting
    • Encoder for livestreaming
  • Additional staff – For instance, if you decide to record content, additional personnel might be needed to operate equipment
  • Swag Some virtual events send digital gifts to attendees; others send swag gift boxes. Either way, it’s another expense to include in your budget.

5. Choose a Virtual Events Platform

With these first steps completed, your next task is to choose a virtual events platform to host your virtual event. You have plenty of choices here, from free videoconferencing options like Zoom or even Facebook Live for smaller events to web-based event platforms and fully 3D digital event spaces that attendees can move around in and explore like a live venue.

When you choose a virtual event platform, you’ll need to already have some idea of the kind of content you want to offer your attendees. This is important because not all venues are the same in terms of the kinds of content they support. You’ll need to choose a venue that can support the content you want to offer and the number of attendees you hope to host.

Some common features of virtual event platforms include:

  • Online event registration and ticketing
  • Event website
  • Sponsor, speaker, and exhibitor management tools
  • Tools for audience engagement and networking
  • Audio support, video support, and livestream support – Make sure to choose a platform with integrated support, as this provides a more seamless user experience than third-party options.
  • Tech support – Most large platforms should have an in-house tech support team ready to help attendees during the event. If not, you may need to think about putting your own team together.
how to host a virtual event

 6. Plan the Event Agenda and Content

One way in which successful virtual events diverge from live events is content design. This is because people absorb and retain content differently when they’re viewing it online. Generally, an online audience is harder to engage and has a shorter attention span. Your virtual event audience may be distracted by what’s happening at home or at the office, or even multi-tasking.

It’s vital to consider this when designing an event agenda for a virtual audience. Content sessions of around 30 to 45 minutes are best. If sessions run longer than that, schedule a break halfway through.

It’s also important to boost engagement whenever you can. When virtual attendees can access features that let them participate more actively in event content, they stay more engaged for longer. Add engagement-boosting features such as interactive polls, games, Q&A sessions, breakout sessions, and virtual networking opportunities to help attendees stay focused on the event.

7. Find Sponsors

When putting together your sponsorship package, it’s important to focus on the unique benefits of online sponsorship. Many potential sponsors may be unaware that this form of sponsorship has just as much to offer as live sponsorship, along with some unique benefits. For instance:

  • Sponsored messaging: Online events have plenty of room for branded sponsorship messages. Along with webpage banner ads and registration pages, there are lots of unique opportunities within the virtual events platform, plus sponsored ad spots on video content.
  • Data: Virtual events generate lots of attendee data, all of it easy to track, gather, and analyze both individually and in aggregate.
  • Affordability: Virtual events are more affordable for attendees, meaning people who can’t afford a live event may be able to attend a virtual one. This expanded attendee pool may allow sponsors (and virtual exhibitors, if applicable) to reach a new audience.

8. Plan Your Promotion

While you continue developing other aspects of the virtual event, it’s also time to start working on event promotion. Make good use of the event’s social media accounts, and keep followers updated as you secure new speakers and sponsors. Some avenues for promotion include:

  • The event website
  • Email campaign targeted to current email subscribers
  • Event hashtag that gets used on all the event’s social media accounts – Provide regular event updates, and ask your followers what kinds of content they’d like to see.
  • Cross-promotion via sponsors, speakers, and exhibitors

9. Plan a Rehearsal

Plan to hold at least one full rehearsal before the event goes live. This will help you pinpoint any issues that might arise on the day and hopefully prevent them before they cause problems.

This is particularly important if your event will include any live content, and even more so if you have multiple live speakers. They’ll need to be able to test their own equipment to make sure it’s set up correctly and is compatible with the virtual events platform.

Some other things to consider:

  • How will you coordinate your content schedule? If you have multiple speakers lined up, you need a way of keeping them organized so they all start and finish on time.
  • Building breaks into your schedule helps keep attendees engaged, and it can also be an effective way to prevent timing issues. If someone runs under or over their allotted time, adjusting the timing on scheduled content breaks may mitigate the impact.
  • What will you do if a speaker has technical problems in the middle of a live broadcast? You risk losing viewers if people are stuck watching a blank screen. Consider having some pre-recorded content as a backup, in case a speaker has tech issues or is delayed for other reasons.

Good Preparation Means a Great Virtual Event

Every event organizer knows that massive amounts of planning and preparation go into organizing an event—and it’s just as important for virtual events as it is for live ones. When learning how to host a virtual event, planning and preparation provide the essential foundation that you can build on to create a successful event.

Take your virtual event to the next level and Go Beyond

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