Virtual Events Best Practices

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Virtual Events Best Practices

Five best practices for virtual events are encouraging audience participation, taking audiences behind the scenes, having a mobile app, using hashtags, and offering virtual gift bags. Two case studies of virtual events that have been creatively planned are the Washington Performing Arts Gala and Infosecurity Magazine's annual virtual conference.

Audience Participation

  • A best practice for large virtual events that is agreed upon by numerous industry experts is audience participation.
  • Freeman states that "audiences are more likely to engage with brands and organizations when it’s a two-way conversation," so it is critical to have a component where they can provide input, ask questions, or give an opinion.
  • Online quizzes, polls, and Q&A sessions are all suggested as ways to get audiences involved.
  • Zoom recommends enabling a Q&A session with panelists, creating three or four polling questions, and asking for audience feedback and reactions during and after the event.
  • According to Hootsuite, "Virtually every online platform has interactive features," so asking people to take quizzes or encouraging them to live tweet should be a simple way to engage the audience and keep them invested in the event.

Take Audiences Behind the Scenes

  • Taking viewers behind the scenes of an event is a creative practice for virtual events because it shows them how much effort went into setting the event up, plus gives them a connection that they wouldn't otherwise get.
  • According to Animoto, behind the scene tours give brands an "opportunity to share [their] values and showcase what makes [them] different."
  • These tours offer the chance for viewers to learn about the people who participated in the event and hear their stories. Since storytelling is a great way to engage audiences, this is the perfect way to get those stories told.
  • People like behind the scenes experiences because they find them authentic and feel like they are insiders who have knowledge that others don't have.
  • Additionally, DreamTek states that "human curiosity drives us to wonder how things are made and what is happening in the background of anything we view, we are nosy by nature. We also connect with people, not necessarily just a brand, so if you can show the people behind your brand, you are more likely to attract your viewers."

Have a Mobile App

  • The Bizzabo Blog insists that "mobile event and conference apps have now become a pillar of the event experience" and most other industry experts agree.
  • Cvent says that the online event guide and mobile event app are the most important pieces of technology for virtual events.
  • An app serves as the hub of information for attendees and orients attendees in terms of the agenda, sessions, and other participants.
  • Event apps don't just help attendees, though, because apps are how "planners gather data on session popularity and attendee engagement."
  • The best apps have a networking component that allows attendees to chat with each other, facilitates connection between events, and encourages people to share their experiences.

Hashtags

  • With virtual events in particular, hashtags are recommended as a way to foster attendees' engagement.
  • SocialTables states that "every event, both large and small, should have a unique event hashtag."
  • One fun and creative way to use hashtags for a virtual event is to have people post pictures of where they are viewing from. Since people are going to be tuning in from various locations, using a hashtag to capture their diversity can be interesting.
  • Hashtags also help promote the event and ensure that everyone knows how to find relevant conversations online.
  • As with a mobile app, hashtags also provide important information to planners about what people are talking about and what they want from the event.

Offer Virtual Event Bags

  • People like getting free stuff at events and online events are no exception, and providing virtual event bags can be a creative way to stand out.
  • Digital alternatives to swag include templates, GIFs, reports, discount codes, and more.
  • The best part about virtual gift bags is that they are environmentally friendly and attendees can pick and choose which items they will use.
  • Links to these gifts can be sent to each attendee individually or through a mobile app to everyone at the same time.
  • Invite sponsors to contribute to the virtual event bags by offering digital coupons, downloadables, screen savers, games, and more.

Case Studies

Washington Performing Arts Gala

  • The Washington Performing Arts Gala had been scheduled for March 2020, but due to the outbreak of COVID-19, had to be moved to a virtual event.
  • RJ Whyte Event Production, which was responsible for the gala, pivoted at the last minute to bring "the gala to their guests in the comfort of their home."
  • There were several challenges that needed to be met to convert the event from in-person to virtual, including "redesigning for a much smaller space;" re-writing the script to accommodate virtual performances from a choir and band, a solo opera singer, and a pianist; installing video, audio, and lighting equipment and preparing a broadcast studio in time for the event to occur on the original date; and "setting up and testing all of the webcasting capabilities."
  • The abrupt switch from in-person to virtual occurred in a span of just 14 hours, and included planning, installing, rehearsing, webcasting, and dismantling the entire event.
  • More than 300 virtual guests attended the three-camera shoot, which broadcast all live performances, an online auction, and a "Skype-based virtual awards presentation."
  • Even better, over $200,000 was raised to benefit the performing arts.

Infosecurity Magazine's Virtual Conference

  • Infosecurity Magazine holds a virtual conference for 6,000 registrants every year and is at the forefront of virtual events.
  • Previous iterations of the virtual conference focused on replicating a physical event, which "led to extra time and effort on the part of sponsors, who had to man virtual stands," so Infosecurity Magazine wanted to "improve the virtual conference to make it easier for sponsors and attendees to interact online, including live chat and networking opportunities."
  • Other goals for the event were to offer a premium experience for attendees and maximize sponsorship opportunities.
  • Setup for the event was simplified so that presenters and sponsors could easily access the platform without the need to create avatars or a virtual booth.
  • Content could be pre-recorded and uploaded prior to the live event, which saved time and made the event easier to run on the day of the event.
  • Infosecurity Magazine wanted to be able to accredit its conference attendees, so it used graded polls and questions throughout the event to encourage participants to stay for the entire event. They could also download their accreditation certificate at the end of the event.
  • The results of the virtual event were positive with 95% of attendees watching the entire event, and 50% attending for networking opportunities.

Research Strategy

The best practices selected here were those recommended by at least three industry experts or publications. Unfortunately, very few best practices were considered "funny," although quite a few were considered creative. We chose those that provided the most creativity of the best practices that were found.

The two case studies of virtual events that were identified are not necessarily funny, but show how each company creatively addressed the needs of their virtual experiences. One had to completely redesign a physical event to be a virtual one and the other used creative means to improve an annual virtual experience.
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