How to Host a Successful Virtual Conference (Part One)
With the outbreak of coronavirus, now being referred to as Covid 19, more and more companies are asking their workforces to work from home. Similarly, more and more companies are embracing virtual conferences so people around the world can participate in events from anywhere in the world. If you are not familiar with remote working, managing a remote team, working remotely, or creating a virtual conference for an event, there are a number of tools and approaches that will help things run smoothly. A virtual conference checklist is vital for streamlining processes, ensuring clear communication is present, and providing value to your participants. There are several benefits of virtual conference vs in-person conference. One of them is that more people can be present from anywhere, while taking extra precautions to mitigate the risk of spreading sickness. If you normally attend in-person conferences or meetings at your office, you’re well aware that they offer enormous value for attendees, and can be resource-heavy. Perhaps you’ve experienced the difficulty of scheduling a time when everyone is available at a certain location for a specific period of time. Perhaps you’ve missed out on an event that you thought would be transformative because you weren’t able to physically attend. The benefits of virtual conference vs in-person conference become far more clear when you consider how difficult it can be to arrange schedules and traveling time. If you’re looking to generate the same value while mitigating the risk of spreading sickness, take a look at the benefits of virtual conference vs in-person conference. Transform the way you participate or create virtual conferences, and stay connected with more people using the right tools and practices.
What is virtual conference?
So if you’re wondering, what is a virtual conference? It’s precisely what it sounds like: a conference or meeting that you attend virtually by video, which means participants can log into the conference from anywhere. In 1993, Alan Saperstein and Randy Selman introduce the first Virtual event by videotaping trade show exhibitors booths and attaching the video to HTML floor maps. Since then, these events have increased in popularity among marketers as they are cost-effective. Think about the cost of an event, even a small event, could cost you $20,000. Plus it requires a lot more manpower to get everything from the venue to the event itself prepared and running smoothly. Hosting a virtual conference seems like a natural move for organizations that are seeking a cost-effective way to reach a larger audience, and avoid exposing attendees to potential sickness. You still get to interact with influential leaders, listen and learn from the talks, and receive the same value and resources, but from anywhere. Unsurprisingly, various industries have begun to realize the benefits of virtual conference vs in-person conference as it offers attendees the same value, but without leaving your desk. Simply log into an “event” online, meet and interact with people through messaging platforms, and navigate different “rooms” (aka web pages) to watch various speakers present their knowledge through video. It offers all the same value you would receive at a conference, but at your convenience or the convenience of your attendees. There’s tons of value in hosting a virtual conference. However, the key is knowing how to host a virtual conference and having a virtual conference checklist to make sure you’re getting the most out of this medium. When done well, you will improve brand awareness, generate more leads, and position yourself as an industry leader.
How to build interest in a virtual conference
The key to a great virtual conference is creating interest and engaging your audience. Understanding how to build interest in a virtual conference will make all the difference. First things first, arbitrarily stringing together a bunch of Webinars is not an effective way to organize or host a successful virtual conference. Nor is having a bunch of talking heads! To attract attendees, and entice them to become repeat attendees, there are a few basic steps and key things to check off your virtual conference checklist. From here, your virtual conference has the power to become a valuable asset for your business growth.
One of the best ways to ensure you know how to build interest in a virtual conference is to consider your goals. When you’re considering hosting a virtual event, what are you trying to achieve? Here are a few suggestions:
Grow awareness for your business. There are most likely competitors and other companies targeting the same target audience as you. Consider partnering with those other companies, or clearly defining your x-factor.
Generate leads and acquire new customers
Create a revenue stream from sponsorships.
Cultivate relationships with influencers, and current customers.
Spread your message
Establish yourself as an authority and thought leader in your industry
There are tons of other goals that will help you narrow down how to build interest in a virtual conference. From there, ask yourself how do you envision your event? What topics are you interested in sharing? Who’s your target audience? How are you going to reach them? How many attendees are you expecting and how are you calculating and tracking that?
These are all important aspects to consider before you begin to reach out to event speakers. The better you know your audience, the easier it is to understand the kinds of topics and speakers that they are interested in. If you have a clear range of how many people you expect to register, that will help sell your event to potential speakers, as it will provide them with the expected reach. Facebook ads are often one of the most common ways to promote a virtual conference and reach your specific audience. In order for your event to be successful, you need attendees, but more importantly, you need attendees that are interested in your event, so make sure you take the time to really narrow in on them.
Unsurprisingly, the crux of a successful event hinges on attracting the right speakers for your event that your target audience will be excited about. The great thing about hosting a virtual conference is that speakers can participate from anywhere, which eliminates any huge time or travel commitments. For really busy and highly sought after speakers, this increases the chances that they will say ‘yes’. Keep in mind that this is a powerful partnership, as you can provide them with an amazing platform to reach audiences, and they will provide credibility for your brand. It’s also beneficial to seek out experts within your company. When reaching out to speakers, explain the purpose of the event, the benefits of aligning with your virtual conference, anything that you require from them, such as potential topics. It’s also important to create a system where you can follow up with them, and once you’ve agreed, a system where you keep in contact with them. Since everything is typically organized online, it’s important to have systems in place to keep you and your speakers in the loop and on track. This also helps and reminds your presenters to promote the event.
Virtual conference checklist
So, we kind of touched on this with creating a system to keep in touch with speakers, but it’s essential that you decide how you’re going to manage the project. Consider beginning with an overview of all the steps and activities you need to complete in order to put the event on. This provides you with a good idea of the timeline, what needs to be done, and what needs to be accomplished.
Encourage attendees to interact
When weighing the benefits of virtual conference vs in-person conference, virtual conferences run the risk of lacking the same opportunity for networking and interaction as face-to-face events. On the contrary, if you put in the right effort, and take advantage of the unique opportunity online interacting offers, a lively online conversation is bound to happen. Ensuring the platform you utilize has a chat feature, as well as a Q&A portion of the talk, is an exceptional way to get the conversation flowing. While some attendees may find it nerve-wracking to speak up, most are comfortable using chat as a tool. Encourage conversation with well-thought relevant and provocative questions during sessions and remind attendees that participation is encouraged. Periodically responding to the chat will help keep the conversation going, and ensure it is relevant. Take it a step further by providing a place for attendees to discuss and interact between sessions. This can be achieved in several ways, including a private FB or Linked-In group that is only open to attendees. This can also be integrated into your website with a discussion board plugin. A great way to direct attendees to discussions and forums is with a newsletter that highlights active discussions on the forum and links directly to them.
Incorporate live videos with recordings
One of the fastest ways to put off attendees is to have a string of pre-recorded webinars. The live aspect of an in-person conference should still be present in your virtual conference. If you want to make sure your virtual conference checklist is complete, this is important. There are tons of platforms that can incorporate pre-recorded videos with live videos as part of your virtual conference. Luckily as the demand of virtual conferences has increased, this has become far easier, and it’s extremely beneficial. Even the smallest portion of live videos will help make your virtual conference feel personal and intimate. As a result, it increases the chances of attendee engagement. Consider streaming a live video at the beginning of all sessions to introduce speakers. Once you’ve introduced the speakers, interacted with attendees and encouraged the conversation, transition to the speaker’s actual presentation. This reminds attendees that the event is being hosted by real people, but more importantly, people who value and want to provide value with real teaching, discussion, and learning.
Innovation grown from unexpected challenges
In person conferences are a fantastic way to broaden relationships, have serendipitous conversations, and add a long term pipeline of revenue for your company. This is the way things have been for as long as we can all remember, but innovation is grown from unexpected changes. Consider a virtual conference as a launching pad for a conversation. You could “virtually” attend a session or keynote and schedule time after to chat with some customers about their thoughts on it. Tools like Zoom or BlueJeans for real time conversations and using CloudApp to create instantly shareable visuals and video for asynchronous ones will create the face to face connections you are used too.
Hosting a successful virtual conference
At the end of the day, understanding how to build interest in a virtual conference, making a virtual conference checklist, and weighing the benefits of virtual conference vs in-person conference, especially if you’re looking for ways to ensure attendees remain healthy, will give you the tools to host a successful virtual conference.
In today’s world, we have access to so many platforms and tools that’ll help streamline the process of creating a successful virtual conference including CloudApp, Asana, and Slack. Make the most of your virtual conference with a little planning and the right tools to make it work.