Virtual Event Planning 101

Plan effective virtual events in the new normal.

Chapter 1

Virtual Event Planning 101

As the world continues to navigate working online and at home, virtual events are now the norm. Whether you’re navigating daily meetings or large-scale conferences, knowing how to produce effective and engaging virtual events is essential. 

In this guide, we’ll take you through some of our event planning experts’ best practices tips for business events large and small, internal and external.

Rather than worrying about a venue, the location of the event, or the number of chairs needed, much of the setup revolves around software with virtual events. A lot of tools go into hosting a virtual event. Everything from your video conferencing tools to your slide decks to your email invites need to be up to date and in sync. 

Fortunately, there are several platforms available to help you run the smoothest possible program depending on the size, scale, and nature of your event.

      • Twilio’s Programmable Video provides the opportunity to build agile video applications for your unique needs using software development kits (SDKs) that you can scale reliably.
      • Zoom is a favorite of many for events large and small, from 1:1 meetings to company-wide gatherings.
      • ON24 is a popular choice for webinar-style events because it provides fun engagement opportunities between hosts and participants.
      • Google Meet boasts an easy-to-use user interface and is another great option for hosting events, including regular meetings and small gatherings.

If you already have a video conferencing tool, check the current license and contract to make sure you can handle the new virtual capacity. If 25% to 50% of your attendees (or employees) used to attend events in person pre-COVID-19, you’re going to see a new influx of virtual attendants—double-check that your license can manage it. 

Don’t wait to find out the hard way that your software can’t support the needs of your event.

Collaborative software for picture perfect presentations

Next, take advantage of collaborative tools to make it easy for your team to work together. Without in-person meetings and face-to-face conversations, you’ll need to go the extra mile to make sure everyone’s on the same page:

      • Use Google Docs to draft the outline and run of the show.
      • Use Google Slides to create a slide deck that all presenters can edit and view in real time.
      • Craft one-of-a-kind images with Canva (you can even set up brand-approved templates for employees to use in Canva!).
      • Communicate collectively with all responsible parties in a group Slack (or equivalent) chat.
      • Choose a video conferencing tool that’s easy to use and makes it simple to switch between content and presenters.

Up Next

Planning your virtual event and eliminating risk

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Planning your virtual event and eliminating risk

Every virtual event host’s #1 fear is that a technical hiccup will derail everything. You can’t predict every malfunction or technical failure, but you can do your part to mitigate risk.

Create a process

Processes ensure that what’s right gets replicated and what’s wrong gets avoided. Have a run of shows ready with minute-by-minute plans for the virtual event, so you don’t have any surprises. Follow your outline for pre-, during, and post-event to make sure you don’t miss any critical steps.

Maintain a single source of control

Passing off slide control to each presenter adds technical risks and dependencies—now, you’re relying on every presenter’s internet connection, laptop battery, and digital savvy. 

Instead, have one reliable person and computer own the display and rotation of your slides. Yes, that means hearing “next slide, please,” but it’s much better than potential errors.

Prepare backup plans

Always have backup and backup backup plans ready. Here are a few backup plan suggestions:

      • Determine what you’ll do if the slide host’s computer crashes. 
      • Make plans for when a presenter has technical difficulties and can’t present their slides.
      • Have a backup computer ready to take over in case something happens. 

You can’t predict everything that can (and eventually will) go wrong, but be prepared for the worst.

Practice, practice, practice

Host a dry run a day before the virtual event to make sure the presenters, slides, tools, and technical details are ready to go. At least 15 minutes before the event starts, do an A/V test dry run to ensure all the presenters’ computers, audio, and microphones are working.

Build a speaker guide

A speaker guide is a quick reference for speakers to know general tips, tricks, and expectations:

      • When to mute and unmute your microphone
      • Where to sit for the best lighting and acoustics
      • If a headset or earbuds are preferred
      • How to hardline your internet connection
      • Tips for transitioning to another presenter or the host

Build this evolving guide and give it to all your presenters so they can be ready for anything. It’ll also help you avoid answering the same questions week after week and month after month, as well as ensuring a professional meeting for your attendees.

Up Next

Promoting virtual events

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Promoting virtual events

One of the most influential factors around event promotion is the location. The location gives you a more specific audience, telling you how to segment your email contact list and where to target your advertising. But with a virtual event, where do you start? 

Know your audience

The flexibility of virtual events makes us want to send an event invite to everyone. But, before you blast your invite to everyone on your contact list, consider your target audience. 

You may not be bound to a physical location, but sending your virtual event invite to all your contacts can cast too wide of a net. Instead, think about the timezone. Are there specific areas/countries that you’d like to target? From there, consider the topic of your event. Is it relevant to a specific segment of your customers? Evaluate the ideal audience for this event and segment your contact list to the group of contacts that fits your criteria.

Build a landing page

Once you have a list of people that you want to send the invite to, you need somewhere to send them. When setting up the landing page, provide information about the hosts, the agenda or key talking points, and specific information that will draw people in. You’ll also want to think about how people will sign up for the event. Most companies include a form on their landing page for the attendees to enter their email and receive an event invite.

At Twilio SendGrid, we’ve found that less is more when it comes to signup forms. Keep the form fields short and to the point to encourage signups. We’ve discovered that the longer the form the less willing people are to sign up for the event. 

Send email invites

Now that you have the landing page put together, you can send out your email invites and start promoting the event online. Keep the look and feel of the event consistent across landing pages, emails, and advertisements to help create a cohesive experience across platforms. Place the most important information like the event date and time above the fold. This way, if a recipient only glances at your email, they will have viewed the most important details.

In addition to your initial event invite, you’ll want to send a confirmation email to those that signup as well as a reminder email 24 hours before the event. In both of these emails, include a link for the recipient to easily add the event to their calendar. 

Push on social media

If you have some budget for your virtual event promotion, consider promoting the event across paid social channels. Some channels will be better suited than others depending on the type of event. For example, if you’re hosting a career development event, then LinkedIn may be your best bet. If you’re hosting a live hackathon, then Twitter might be a better channel to leverage. 

Wherever you promote, make sure you have a way to track who is signing up via each channel. We use UTM parameters to track our signups.

Keep on testing

To see what promotions work best for your company, you’ll need to test a variety of factors. A few elements that we continue to test are:

      • The channels that are most effective for our virtual event promotion
      • The order of information on the landing page. E.g. Topic description then speaker information or vice versa?
      • The timing of the email invites. E.g. Is it best to send the invite 4 weeks in advance or 2 weeks?

There isn’t one recipe for success, so testing and having fun with the promotion of your event is how you will find what works best for your brand.

Up Next

Measuring the success of your event

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Measuring the success of your event

There isn’t an exact formula for measuring the success of a virtual event. Every event looks different, which means that success will vary widely. Whether you’re planning an informational webinar or a large-scale virtual conference, the ways you determine success can be simplified.

Determine the goals of the event

In order to measure the success of an event, you’ll need to set goals and success measures at the beginning of the planning process. By setting goals, you can determine the efficacy of your event. 

You’ll need to first identify the audience you’re trying to reach and the scope of the event itself. This should be the overall objective of the event planning process.

Success will look different for every virtual event, and your goals should adjust accordingly. Success may look like: 

      • Attendance: Reaching a predetermined number of live viewers. Use your software to see how many people attended the virtual event. Did they join from the get-go, or were most late? Was there a certain point where attendees dropped off? Use this data to see what might have gone well or wrong.
      • Invites: Checking your chat, email, and SMS invites to measure the engagement. Did people open and click-through the personal invite or the mass calendar invite? Was the Slack reminder engaged with or ignored?
      • On-Demand: Reaching a determined number of views on a recording of the event. If you record and upload your virtual events (which you should), take a look at the data to see how many clicks and views it gets. Do more people attend the live event or watch it on-demand later?
      • Leads: Converting registrants or participants into leads. How many people who attended submit a contact sales form or purchase your product/service? This requires more analytics to track but can be really interesting to see how the virtual events are impacting the business’ bottom line.

If attendance analytics are a part of how you determine an event’s success, your measurement of that information should be ongoing.

If you plan to use attendance as a goal and measure of success, it’s important to note that conversion rates of registrants to actual event attendees vary widely. To boost attendance at your event, you’ll need to strategize from the early planning stages, including how and when you send invitations and event reminders.

Collect feedback from participants

Understanding how participants experience your event is important for improving future events. There are several ways to collect feedback, depending on the type of event and the platform you use.

Here are a few platforms you can use to collect feedback:

      • Zoom has chat functions that can be used to collect qualitative data from your participants in real time. 
      • Slido offers an interface that allows participants to ask questions and upvote others’ inquiries. 
      • Poll Everywhere allows presenters to get instant feedback and engage with attendees.
      • Google Forms is a simple form-building platform that you can use to create surveys.
      • Slack can send out polls to employees within its communication platform. This is a great option for internal events.

Ask your attendees what went well, what went wrong, what they loved, and what they’d change. Make this both quantitative and qualitative so you can identify useful insights while also gathering data to compare events.

Apply feedback to the next event

Focus on specific feedback to apply when planning your next event. This could look like: altering the timeline of your reminders to gauge how attendance is impacted, or changing the content of your initial invitation to see if the number of RSVPs increase. It could also mean testing new subject lines in your emails to see if CTRs and read-throughs change. Think of applying feedback like A/B testing: change one variable at a time to measure what makes the most impact on your goals.

Up Next

Ready, set, record!

Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Ready, set, record!

Much of event planning, especially in a new digital context, is about trial and error. Give yourself and your audience the flexibility that current circumstances demand—we are truly all in this together. As you plan your next virtual event, keep these takeaways in mind:

      • Make a plan, but don’t panic when things get derailed. Know your process and how your event should run while remaining flexible. Think Murphy’s law but for technology—if something can go wrong, it may go wrong.
      • Promote your event to the right people. Sending out huge email invitation blasts may seem like the right thing to do, but it may in fact hinder the success of your event. Know your audience and target them.
      • Determine what success looks like for each individual event. There isn’t a formula for success with virtual events. Whether you’re looking for MQLs and conversions or attendance and participation, identifying your goals ahead of time will help you to determine what went well and what didn’t.

No matter the scale or purpose of your virtual event, planning and producing them can be divided into manageable tasks once you know where to start. For data on how consumers prefer to receive digital communications, check out our 2019 Email Benchmark and Engagement Study.

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