December 30, 2020

How to Create the Best Virtual Event

A Complete Guide to Planning Your Next Virtual Event - and Picking the Right Virtual Event Platform

You want to create the best virtual event for your organization, but where do you start? A great virtual event is not as simple as recreating a live event experience in a virtual world. Creating the best virtual event involves rethinking and expanding the possibilities of how people connect and in the context of your event.

In the early days of the covid pandemic, events pivoted from in-person to virtual events. In the midst of the scramble, organizers and participants benefited from a groundswell of grace. The pivot to online events happened in weeks, if not days. Some participants were downloading Zoom for the first time. Everyone was adapting to funky camera angles and distracting background noise. Forgetting to unmute became an awkward ritual for many.

Thankfully, virtual events are entering a new era. Audiences are increasingly aware there is a range to the quality and effectiveness of virtual events these days. So how do you ensure your next virtual event is a remarkable, engaging experience that participants (and organizational leadership) will be raving about? 

This article examines the critical components that go into creating the best virtual event, including:

What is keeping you up at night about your virtual event? 

Catastrophe dream

If you're the organizer of an event, you've got a lot of worry on your plate. For in-person events, there are concerns about travel logistics and food numbers, and even the weather. You control what you can and you plan for what you can't. For virtual events, however, there are entirely new platters of worries to deal with:

  • How are you going to navigate these new waters? You're shifting from in-person events to totally virtual ones. There are skills involved that may not be in your wheelhouse. And you feel like you're navigating these new waters alone. You wish you had someone in your boat to help you pilot! 

  • How are you going to gauge the effectiveness of the event? Is all this effort going to be for naught? At an in-person event, sponsors can see the crowd and read the room. You can tell when that powerful senior leader ends up staying through the whole event. How are you going to measure the impact when the attendees are blips on a screen? 

  • How are you going to troubleshoot all the technical issues and possible glitches? You've overseen events with complicated A/V before, but this is a different ballgame. What happens if your keynote speaker has technical issues with their video? What happens if there's a sound delay? What happens if participants can't login or if screens freeze? What happens if there is a security breach?! You've experienced the gamut of virtual meeting snafus yourself. You can't risk technical errors for this virtual event, but so much of this is beyond your personal know-how and comfort zone. 

  • How are you going to deliver an impactful experience for your audience if everyone is virtual? The attendees for this event are critical for your organization. This is a VIP audience! What you deliver cannot be just another virtual meeting.  It needs to be something on another level. But how do you do that virtually? 

  • How are you going to keep your audience engaged? It's one thing to keep your audience riveted from the stage or around the table. It's another to do it through a computer screen. How will you hold your audience's attention? How will you keep them from logging in and walking away to tackle other tasks? Or zoning out at their desk? How will you prevent an event-wide case of  Zoom fatigue?

  • How are your attendees going to connect with each other? There’s no open bar at your virtual event. There's no opening reception or large rounds where attendees end up sitting next to new contacts. How are you going to facilitate interactions among attendees at an online event?    

  • How are you going to attract excellent speakers? For an in-person event, you can troubleshoot the speaker experience yourself. Sure there's the speaker fee, but you always bring white glove touches to bear for your speakers. It helps make sure they are talking in their own circles about your event too. But now you're managing a keynote remotely? How are you going to make sure the speakers' experiences are seamless?  

  • How are you going to satisfy all of your different audiences? The attendees, the speakers, the sponsors, and even the leadership within your own organization all have different objectives with this event. How are you going to ensure they all feel like it was worth their time?

This is all quite the burden. A virtual event is NOT an in-person event observed through a digital screen. Let’s take the anxiety down a level or two by breaking down the elements and talking solutions (so your sleep is more restful!).

What is an alternative to Zoom for a virtual event?

To create the best virtual event, you're going to need to look for Zoom alternatives. Zoom can be a useful tool for small meetings or family gatherings across locations. It's a terrible solution for crowded virtual events, however. Think of this as producing a publication filled with impactful, immersive content. You need a platform that allows and enables that highest quality of production.

Forget Zoom fatigue. To create the best virtual event, you want a platform that energizes and enlivens the audience. Costs can range from the hundreds to the hundred thousands, pending the quality, features, support and size of the event. And you’ll get what you pay for.

Budget Solution:

If you have less than $2,000 then you’re stuck with Zoom, GoToWebinar, or Microsoft Teams. The good news is you can cram up to a thousand people into the event. The bad news is your event will feel like another video conference and attendees will leave by the droves. You’ll be on your own when it comes to support.

Professional Solution:

Virtual event platforms like BigMarker, Bizzabo, INXPO, ON24, or Cvent typically have an entry price of about $10,000. These platforms provide more flexibility when it comes to how the event is staged and decent support. If you’re charging people to attend your event, you need a professional solution that doesn’t feel like another Zoom meeting.

Premium Solution:

You need to think bigger than video conferencing and chat messages to impress your VIP audience. You need a Zoom alternative like Touchcast's virtual event platform, Showtime. You need to bring the "wow factor." Touchcast's Showtime transports your audience to a virtual event venue that feels like a world-class destination. You want your audience fully engaged and absolutely riveted to your event. Touchcast's Showtime features Netflix-quality interfaces that draw your audience in. You want a platform that is interactive and allows event participants to do just that: participate. You want a platform that takes full advantage of the possibilities of the virtual space. Touchcast's Showtime uses AI-enabled technology to create an augmented experience. The only limit for your event is your imagination. 

Where do you begin in organizing the best virtual event?

To begin organizing the best virtual event, you need to start with defining your goals and objectives for the event. Why is your organization running this event?  How does this event tie back to your overarching mission and vision as a company? Has your organization held this event before as an in-person event? If so, what core elements need to be adapted and reworked for the virtual experience and carried forward? Alternatively, what elements should you discard?   

Next, you need to consider the team that will execute this virtual event. Do you have the technical expertise in house to cover all elements of a world-class virtual event? Do you have a depth of experience, not just with events, but with virtual events, to ensure a smooth and seamless experience for all involved? You need to feel confident your event is going to come off without a hitch. If you’re running a premium event, make sure your platform solution equips you with expertise and the support team to pull it off.  

Consider how each event using Touchcast's Showtime is supported by Touchcast professionals. These teams are dedicated to planning, managing, and producing virtual events with each client. An Event Management team and an Event Production team are assigned to every event. 

These teams can help guide you in thinking creatively in the virtual space about ways to make your event more impactful. They develop and manage the technical aspects of the event. This includes facilitating each speaker session and producing the live event. Touchcast provides live customer support, ensuring your attendees' experience is smooth and flawless.

These teams assist with the event at every stage. You can be confident you are navigating the virtual event waters from shore to shore with a seasoned crew.

How do you measure success for a virtual event?

To create the best virtual event, you need to know what you're measuring. And how to measure it.

Some measures of success are simple and direct. How many attendees registered? Those numbers are easy to track for both in-person and virtual events. Other markers rely on sentiment captured by surveys after the event. Did attendees gain useful content from the event? Did they feel like the event was worth their time? Were sponsors satisfied with the return on their investment? Did the speakers feel like it was a good fit for their content? Would any of these parties be interested in the same event next year?

But to really understand the effective ROI for your event, you need deeper, real-time analytics. You need accurate information to turn data into decisions. And some of those decisions can't wait until the post-event debrief meeting!

Analytics is one aspect of virtual events where you’ll never want to go back to in-person events. Virtual events provide rich, real-time data at your fingertips. Because your participants access your event through a digital platform, you now have immediate insight into their behavior. You have the ability to reshape the responsiveness of your event in a way that was never possible with in-person events! 

Make sure your virtual event software offers a real-time window into how attendees are engaging with your event. Make sure that window includes data from before, during, and after the event takes place. You should field information across the entire event lifecycle.

An example is Touchcast's Showtime providing analytics around attendees’ behavior. What webinar tracks did they log in for? How long did they stay? Showtime measures data around sessions as well. Did attendees remain for the whole session? Was there a critical moment when they started exiting?

This insight allows you to be responsive right away. Is the data showing one topic or question recurring across all your sessions? Now you can add immediate resources to address that topic since it's clearly front of mind for your attendees. Attendees get the valuable content they need and you and your event stay on the cutting edge of the conversation. 

Imagine being able to share with a sponsor or exhibitor hard data around how many attendees visited their sponsor page and how long they stayed. Or that attendees from specific geographic locations showed more interest than others. You're now able to give your sponsors insight and value like never before that can help inform their own digital marketing.

In addition, polling and surveys are now more robust as well. Instead of just the post-event survey, you can poll attendees in real-time throughout your event. You can make sure the message and purpose of your event are effectively conveyed throughout. That's great news for you. And great news for your C-suite who wants to know your event is worth the effort and enhances your organization's reputation.

With a virtual event, you can know what to measure AND be able to measure it accurately. This allows you to adjust, pivot, and troubleshoot in real-time. All of which improves the experience of your attendees, speakers, and sponsors. 

How do you manage the technical side of a virtual event?

For a virtual event, technology is the most critical component of its basic existence. There is no virtual conference without technology. No wonder so many event managers lose sleep over worries about the technical side of their event!  

Let's take a look at how to manage the technical side of things and produce the best virtual event possible. Event managers need to make sure the following areas are covered:

  • General Logistics 
  • Security
  • Contingency
  • Audience experience
  • What this means for you and your team

General Logistics 

There are ways to cobble together a virtual event with assorted tools, some leftover from your past in-person events. But to make your event the best possible, you want the overall experience to be seamless. Ideally, the technical aspects of your event are so elegant and easy they recede into the background. The entire focus is on your content and speakers. The platform becomes a portal.  

This is why it’s critical to look beyond a list of software features when you’re considering the right platform. If you’re planning a huge or premium virtual event, make sure the virtual event platform guides you before, during, and after the event.

The Event Management and Event Production teams should work with you from the beginning to create and execute an incredible experience for your attendees. Touchcast's Showtime teams have deep experience in producing virtual events. With Showtime you have access to professional guidance in expanding what is possible in the virtual space. They help you plan the general logistics and structure of your event.

For example, in-person event attendees navigate the event using a printed guide or a mobile app. Within Touchcast's Showtime platform, attendees navigate with a dynamic agenda that changes as the live event progresses. The design is interactive and provides users with robust information. They also have the ability to integrate the event with their personal calendars. They can view events as live streams or as on-demand videos or even as AI-generated, searchable summaries.  Miss asking a question during the real-time session? The platform can capture questions after the fact. All content can be closed captioned or translated instantly for global access. And everything adjusts to their local timezone, no matter where in the world they are watching.

You can run concurrent sessions through the platform. Or create breakout sessions for participants. You can communicate directly with individual users or notify the entire conference with the click of a button. The experience is easy, navigable, accessible, and engaging. 

Sounds amazing, but challenging to create? The Event Management and Event Production teams work with you to design and enact these components. They also help you design the virtual event venue setting. You select the stage and the team helps showcase your vision and your branding throughout. Showtime's amazing graphics and Netflix-quality production ensure your virtual event space is visually stunning. Your audience has never seen video conferencing like this.

A great setting is one thing, but it has to have functionality too. High definition is a must-have for your attendees. Make sure your virtual event system offers live-streaming at 1080 HD. Make sure that streaming comes complete with constant quality monitoring and optimization. No freezing, no audio delays, no grainy footage. Your event attendees will see movie-quality visuals anywhere in the world.

And your attendees will definitely see your event, if you pick a solution that offers live technical support during all hours of your event. Support will troubleshoot any issues that any of your attendees might experience.

Using a virtual event platform may seem daunting at first. But with supported guidance, you'll be a pro instantly. You want a platform partner that offers elegant design and an immersive experience. You want your audience wowed by your event (and maybe even in awe of your technical skills)!

Security

Security and contingency are critical to creating the best virtual event. This is the case for any audience, but especially enterprise-level organizations and attendees. Business relationships are built on trust and ensuring your audience can trust your event is a must.

With regard to security, it is essential to ensure data and content are protected. It is also essential to ensure the ways by which attendees access your event do not breach the security of their own digital devices and networks. You also want to make sure your event is only accessible to those who should be accessing it.  

Your virtual event software needs to be built with security at its core.  Ask the vendor questions about: 

  • How many years of experience do they have in protecting the safety of its clients? Do they consider it enterprise-grade?
  • Who are their customers? Are they the world's leading companies (in sensitive sectors like finance and pharmaceuticals)? 
  • Does the platform meet GDPR and Soc-2 compliance? 
  • What sort of uptime is offered in the SLA
  • Does the platform use data encryption in transit?
  • Do they offer authentication with SAML and OAuth-based SSO
  • Do they offer SCIM provisioning

Contingency

In addition to security, your virtual event needs contingency planning. Any "what happens if...?" questions should be answered before you register the first participant. You better hope your software was built with this reliability in mind. The platform needs fallbacks and "worst case scenario" provisions in place. It must provide support for Data Loss Prevention. Best if it also comes with customizable organizational administrative controls to give you peace of mind. Make sure your provider reviews contingency plans with you to make sure the show always goes on.

By thinking ahead and building in security, you can trust your virtual event platform. And your attendees can trust your virtual event.

Audience experience

It's one thing to manage the technology on your side, but it's another to troubleshoot what is going on with your audience members. We've all been there, struggling with the colleague on the Teams call who can't mute. Or a client whose audio is cutting in and out.

The others on the call try to offer advice, while the person with the poor connection struggles with their IT. It's frustrating. And it frazzles everyone involved. This is NOT the experience you want for your event audience.

Ask the virtual event software provider if the sound and video streaming are optimized so there is no lag, regardless of the attendee's location. Platforms must be browser-based. There should never be a need to walk attendees through an installation just for your event. And it’s critical in this age to ensure everything is mobile-friendly so users can access your event from their favorite device.

For your global attendees, ask if the virtual event technology can translate content instantly. Look to see if one can select the language needed and if everything updates automatically. All of the content, from the agenda to speaker bios to additional resources, should be accessible and understandable.

The best platforms provide live technical support throughout your event to assist attendees struggling with any technical aspect Now everyone can attend the event, unfrazzled.

What this means for you and your team

For you and your team, the focus of your virtual event should be on your participants. As with an in-person live event, you want to make sure your attendees have the best possible experience. The technology of your virtual event should make that possible, not problematic. 

With the right software, the quality of service will be covered. And that service will be paired with excellent support staff to ensure any glitches are addressed. With the new capabilities possible with virtual events, you can build a bigger experience for your audience than ever before. Now you can exhale and focus on the relationships and the content at the heart of your event.

How to effectively engage participants

For many organizers, effectively engaging the audience is a challenge because it feels intangible. You have limited visibility into the reactions of the humans behind the computer screens. A successful virtual event can engage participants in meaningful, interactive ways. But you have to be strategic.

Engaging participants starts early, long before the event date. You can begin the relationship with your event attendees through a cadence of communication weeks before the event. Poll your audience before the event. Ask what they are most interested in learning. Highlight upcoming sessions and ways the audience can use the platform to interact. Send out downloadable collateral before the event. Begin to build excitement for the event by teasing innovative features participants can use to experience the event.

During the event, engagement relies on keeping the content and the pace interesting. Create short "breaks" in the content to engage the audience with questions or emoji reaction quizzes or social media exercises. Plan a hook halfway through the session or the event to give people a reason to stick around. Switch presentation styles mid-session to create visual interest. Add entertainment like music or trivia between sessions or at moments when a break is needed.

Following the event, make the content available to participants. Extend engagement past your final session by creating accessible resources and searchable video recordings.

Engagement requires the audience to connect with each other as well, in addition to the content and program. This is where a great virtual event platform like Touchcast's Showtime comes in. Connection and networking are really all about communication. And Showtime has you covered with a wide array of communication options and formats. 

It’s critical that you help attendees connect. You should be able to create breakout sessions and networking events within your virtual event platform. Typically you can set up dedicated meeting suites to bring attendees together virtually. These meeting suites can be private, public, and everything in-between. Attendees should be able to schedule 1:1 meetings with other attendees.  

Nearly all video conference systems provide direct messaging. No matter the size of your event, attendees can connect directly with each other. The best systems allow attendees to see who is offline and online, send messages to each other, and ask questions of speakers. If they miss a message while offline, they should receive an email summary of the missed connection. Check if your platform offers public group chat rooms that can be for the whole conference or dedicated to specific tracks.

How to prepare speakers and presenters for a virtual event

The best virtual events have amazing content. And great speakers provide amazing content. You need your speakers to make your event a success. One of the most critical ways to do that is to help your speakers be successful in their own right.  

You want your speakers to be experts on their subject matter. That might not mean they are experts in virtual event technology. Double-check that your virtual event platform conducts onboarding sessions with each event speaker. Prior to your event, the support team should test-run each speakers' setups. They should provide video presentation coaching based on best practices. The platform should share the feed of the speakers' slides so the process is hassle-free. Premium events should provide virtual sets for speakers that remove backgrounds instantly. You want the ability to display speakers from varied camera angles to hold interest and improve audience engagement.  

As a result, your speakers can be focused entirely on their amazing content, not connecting their video feed. And your event can look professionally tailored and world-class.

Your event is creating and strengthening a relationship with your audience. You are also creating and strengthening the long-term relationship you have with your speakers. By extension, you are also building relationships with their networks. Speakers care deeply about their reputation as speakers.  As a result, speakers value well-produced events that make them shine. From a speaker’s perspective, the best virtual event is not only seamless and well-prepared, but also enhances and showcases their presentation skills!

With the right professional support, a speaker's presentation is elevated to a higher level. And when word gets out in the speaker community that your event enhanced your speakers' reputations, your event reputation will shine!  

Speaker in an amazing virtual setting

How to bring sponsorship relationships into the virtual event space

Premium sponsorship treatment within Showtime

The virtual event space looks very different for sponsors. There is no physical trade show hall with exhibitors standing in front of booths. There aren't touchpads or clipboards for capturing information for email marketing. But the best virtual events are far more powerful for sponsors than a pop-up banner and a branded flash drive.

You may need to bring your sponsors on the journey to the virtual event space by expanding their thinking about the possibilities. Virtual events can provide deeper data about the virtual audience and their behavior. Sponsors can better target their digital marketing off of this information.

Check the virtual event software to see if it offers tiered sponsorship opportunities. This should be based on brand visibility and access to the virtual audience. Each virtual event venue has myriad options for creating a branded experience.  Some can be visual, like logo displays. Others can be more immersive, like breakout sessions where sponsors can offer demos. Each individual sponsor needs a dedicated sponsor page.

 

Your virtual event platform should help you create a sponsorship revenue strategy. That strategy should help you attract and facilitate sponsor relationships. And those relationships in the virtual event space have real-world value.

What happens after a virtual event?

Connections/links between nodes

The post-event space is where the best virtual events excel. The event itself is really only the beginning of the relationships begun with the audience, speakers, and sponsors. It's what you do afterward that really counts.

Make sure the content generated at the actual event is not static. Your virtual event is no longer a fixed moment in time. Instead, it must be a dynamic publication that continues to evolve. 

Work with your solution provider to strategize how to engage your participants long after the closing session. You can poll your participants for their takeaways. You can facilitate follow-up conversations about event ideas for the next event. Perhaps best of all, the content generated during the event can live on as on-demand videos that are completely searchable. Participants can engage with the content far into the future. This extends and builds on the relationships the initial event sparked. 

What is the future of events and will we ever go back to in-person?

The global pandemic initially drove most organizations to create entirely virtual events. But what does the future hold?  

The best virtual events allow more freedom to play and innovate with how people connect. The best virtual event platforms give attendees expanded capacity to communicate. This capacity extends across languages and time zones. Organizers and sponsors get previously unattainable levels of data and analytics. Virtual audiences are transported to virtual event venues limited only by imagination. 

Some events may remain entirely virtual in the future. Others will likely move to a hybrid event model where the event experience incorporates elements of a physical event and a virtual one. This may end up being the best of both worlds.  Instead of virtual reality, it will be mixed reality. A hybrid event can accommodate in-person interactions. It also continues to expand and explore the unlimited capabilities of the virtual event space. The power of technological capabilities like AI will continue to grow exponentially. With it, virtual event platforms will be able to capture critical collective intelligence and collaboration for organizations. What is clear is the enhanced experience enabled by a platform like Showtime is here to stay.

Elevate your…

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