How do you make a virtual business event a success?
You have a big event coming up and it’s your job as the event planner to make it a success. Your director has given you objectives we are all too familiar with in the event planning industry: target and convert as many attendees as possible into engaged customers while staying on budget, on brand and on time – but also be fresh, different and memorable. With so many conflicting priorities it’s no wonder why plenty of the 31,000 exhibitions held annually face challenges to meet ALL of these objectives, and sometimes even fail.
But we’re not writing this to scare you or bring back bad memories. In fact, we’re writing this to tell you that there is a solution that can help you exceed your event objectives successfully (and make your director happy): virtual events.
Recent forecasts indicate that the virtual event industry will grow from $14bn in 2018 to $18bn in 2023, with many event planners and companies such as IBM shifting from physical events to virtual events after experiencing the benefits themselves. The evolution of technology has provided virtual events the power to cut your costs dramatically, boost your reach globally and position your business innovatively.
Whether you’re planning your very first virtual event or you’re a virtual event whizz looking to sharpen your planning process, the real question is: what is the secret sauce behind planning a successful virtual event?
Based on our experience of running 100+ virtual events, we at vFairs developed a list of 5 simple steps to guide your next virtual career fair, virtual university open day or online tradeshow to success.
Here are the five steps you need to nail:
Step 1: Set a clear objective for your virtual event from the start
Sometimes people choose to do virtual events simply because “it’s different” or it’s cost-effective without clarity on how to maximize the benefit. Don’t make this mistake. Virtual Events will give you the metrics you desire if you know how to plan for them.
Decide on and write down your quantified objective and use it to inform every decision you make. For a virtual career fair, your quantified objective would be the number of quality candidates to retain. For a virtual expo, it would be the number of sales converted. For a virtual university open day, it would be the number of leads. Make sure you communicate this number clearly to other team members to support their decision-making as well.
Step 2: Get your virtual event partners on board early
The importance of involving stakeholders early in the virtual event planning process cannot be understated. If they’ve never participated in a virtual event before, they will most likely be unfamiliar with what is required of them.
In a job fair, for example, you need to make sure each of the multiple employers are notified, briefed and trained about what they need to do and material they need to prepare well in advance. Don’t forget to send out a notification to your departments that you’re hosting a virtual career fair. Similarly, be sure to include your vendors on alerts when you’re hosting an online expo.
Step 3: Research then set the date of your virtual event
You might be familiar with the dependence of property market value on “location, location, location!”. Similarly, virtual event success depends on “timing, timing, timing!”
Here is a helpful list of dates to avoid: holiday weekends, around Christmas time or Election Day (we, at vFairs, had a case like this and turnout was abysmal). Do some Google research beforehand and ask a colleague to verify the date. Also, don’t overlap your virtual event when there is a similar physical event taking place nearby or schedule it at a time when your partners and exhibitors aren’t available.
Lastly, don’t go for LONG events. We’ve found the momentum and impact delivered with a smaller event (1-3 days) is much greater than a longer one (1-2 weeks). The latter will stretch and exhaust both you and your exhibitors with little incremental value. Whereas the former will create great traction in a short span of time.
Step 4: Maximize your current marketing channels to promote your virtual event
Now that your date and objectives are set and your stakeholders are onboard, you need to think about how you will get attendees to sign up. Strategize your current marketing channels such as social media, email marketing lists and your website.
Set up your landing pages that properly convey your value proposition. Go for a catchy headline, use relevant visuals and most importantly, think about how you could get them to spread the word and share their page.
Also, use email marketing to your advantage. You really need to nail the subject line (A/B test if possible!) and ensure your email copy does the following well:
(a) provides incentives for attendees to register immediately with compelling offers such as early bird discounts on items
(b) instills urgency with phrases like “register now before the seats are gone”.
(c) promises a quick and simple sign-up process
Every event planner knows that events are dynamic and fast-moving; you can’t work at a slow pace. The key to ensuring that virtual event planning runs smoothly and effectively is to think about it as a physical event with technology being nothing more than a single component
Step 5: Keep tabs on your virtual event logistics
There are many logistical items that need your close attention during virtual event setup. Starting with design, you’ll need to choose the right virtual booth templates. Then, you’ll need to make sure your virtual event exhibitors submit their material on time (e.g. in job fairs, ensure their brand as an employer is well presented via visuals). Lastly, make sure your operational staff is familiar with the objective of the event, key timelines, have relevant contacts and are empowered with certain decision making ability to support timely event setup.
Another piece of advice that you might want to consider is structuring the event to drive attendees to do the things you want them to do. For example, use a clear call to action on every screen (e.g. if you need them to go to a webinar, state “sign up for x webinar”). After the virtual event, you can send them an email reminder. However, do NOT send too many signals at once but rather focus on one action at a time. The key is to use your objective as a guide so you don’t overwhelm your virtual event attendees with too many variables.
All in all, thorough virtual event preparation is key to success. Be sure to measure the main objective you were looking to achieve. Also, try looking for a technology partner that works with you to facilitate these 5 key steps.
Bottom line: Technology is a great enabler, but it’s not enough to score big with your virtual event.
Looking for a quick summary? Get a checklist here.