June 9, 2020

How to Host a Virtual Event

By Sruthi Kumar

This post is brought to you by Sendoso Senior Marketing Manager, Sruthi Kumar.

Doesn’t it seem like a lifetime ago when we were told all our in-person events for 2020 were canceled? In their place, virtual events became the new way of life when it comes to marketing and communication. 

What is a Virtual Event?

A virtual event is an interactive gathering that happens online. Unlike in-person events, virtual ones aren’t restricted to a single location. A remote attendee can join and participate from anywhere in the world, given he or she has access to the web.

Our team was quick to pivot to after in-person events were canceled, and the first thing on my list was to tackle our first-ever virtual event. We had 10+ partners, top marketers, sales, and CX leaders in the industry as speakers, and some lofty goals for registrants and attendees.

Best Practices for Running a Virtual Event

Our team was proud so I wanted to share the 10 best practices we learned along the way. I also called on some friends in the industry so you know that you can’t go wrong with this list!

Right off the bat, the most important item to remember is you need to plan hard core for these events, maybe even more than in-person events. So buckle up and get ready to work hard!

Set the Goals

This seems simple, but start with answering the question, why are you putting on a virtual event? You would be surprised how quickly this step can get skipped over. Come together with your GTM teams and understand who needs to be reached, customers or prospects? Or both? Are you trying to unfreeze pipeline? Or is the main goal net new names for the top of the funnel?

The options are endless, but from here you will be able to understand what success looks like for your program. 

Understand and Create Your Story

Unfortunately with virtual events, you can’t depend on old faithful like fireworks or yachts to have your experience stand out from the others. On the other hand though, you can get your virtual event to be beneficial to your target audience by providing them with the right content.

Remember the first step? You decided who your audience was. The next step is to understand what your audience wants to learn. Don’t just guess what your audience wants, go straight to them (call them, visit their LinkedIns, talk to their account owners) and understand what they are trying to learn and what their pain points are.

Ask yourself, is your content that you are sharing during the virtual event valuable?

  • Content should be accurate and ethical so that your audience knows they can trust you 
  • Content should answer your audience’s actual questions (not the questions  you think they’re asking and not just the questions that end with you as the solution)
  • Helps your audience make informed decisions (not just purchasing decisions, but important decisions that they face today or every day)
  • Will your customers and prospects walk away with tangible ways and creative ideas to address their top priorities?

Tap Your Partner Network

As you address what content your event will highlight, look at the bigger picture and see if there is a co-marketing partner who can bring a different expertise to the content presentation. This will help bring more validity to your message with different brands before the messaging.
“Lean into those partnerships you have. Think about gaps that you may have (in content, promotion, speakers, etc.) and turn to your partners for help. Need a speaker that you know your partner can make an intro to? Just ask. And in return find a way to repay them by including their logo on comms or even ask them to moderate a session. Virtual is new for a lot of us and one way we can ensure success is by leaning on those around us, including partners.” – Danny Hutto, Event Marketing Manager at Gong.io
Reaching out to partners also can double your promotion efforts by sharing on their own social media, email to their own database, and having their GTM teams also drive attendance. Which leads me to the next step…

How to Drive Attendance to Virtual Events

Up-Level Your Promotion Plan

The truth of the matter is, many brands are vying for your top target’s attention with virtual events and experiences. Make sure you are getting your event on their radar, because you know it will be a great experience for them…you made sure of it with tailoring the content to them!

Take this one step further by encouraging your whole company to post from their personal accounts. Do you have a theme for your event? Have your whole team share a picture and post on LinkedIn to do with that theme.

  • Post on Social Media Accounts: Take this one step further by encouraging your whole company to post from their personal accounts. Do you have a theme for your event? Have your whole team share a picture and post on LinkedIn to do with that theme.

“At Outreach, we did multiple coordinated LinkedIn Takeovers to promote Unleash where our employees were encouraged (completely optional btw) to post on a similar topic, all at the same time.  We’ve been able to reach hundreds of thousands of people using this strategy and create a lot of buzz leading up to the event.  Note: No copy/paste. It’s important to give people a framework but leave lots of room for each person to have their own creative license, that’s what makes it work. You want to humanize your brand and make it fun.” – Scott Barker, Evangelist at Outreach, Head of Partnerships at Sales Hacker

  • Email Your Database: Your prospects and customers are getting loads of emails (this may even be an understatement), so make sure you are leading with the content. What is the true value they will get from attending your event over your competitors? Is it the engaging moments you are going to be providing during your event?
  • Enable Your GTM Teams to Promote: Do you have an SDR team that helps promote event attendance? If so, enable them to be successful at the task by providing them sequences or cadences to use in tools like Outreach or SalesLoft, so they can easily guarantee their top accounts receive an invitation. You can also provide email copy  to your Account Executives and Customer Success Managers. You can also coordinate sends on these teams behalf. Just have them each choose a number of accounts to target and you can send those top prospects eGift cards or a gift as an invitation to register. When you have the whole GTM team power behind promoting, you are unstoppable!

eGifts and Swag Stores

You can encourage folks to attend events by sending out lunch eGift cards if your event goes over lunchtime. Let your recipient know they can enjoy lunch on you while having a one of a kind experience at your virtual event. In the same vein, you can send coffee eGift cards before events to remind them to attend, with a note saying, hope the coffee helps you get excited and energized about the half-day virtual event ahead! These are great ways to increase attendance rates.

At in-person events, folks are used to going around and getting your company’s swag. You can recreate this experience by building a virtual swag store where you can encourage people to purchase brand items. You can build these sites super quickly in Shopify or Magento.

Keep It Engaging

During virtual events, your audience can be distracted by their kids, Slack messages, emails popping up… you name it. Because of these distractions, it’s very important to have multiple engagement touchpoints throughout the event itself.

  • Survey and polls: You can use these during virtual events for one instant feedback also, it can help lead the conversations. This can also provide great follow-up content by being able to use stats from your key audience.
  • Q&A: Make you have lots of time for people to ask questions, also have a chat feature where people can post questions and comments during a session. Make sure to monitor this info.
  • Live Tweeting: Keep your community engaged with the amazing content being shared during your event. Try to pull out interesting moments and quotes from your speakers and highlight them on your social media feed.
“Engagement is something that is most commonly thought about when it comes to the day of the event itself, but really it’s a major component that should start early in your planning. With physical limitations of events removed, you now have an audience saying yes to more events than ever and you need to engage them before the big day to keep their interest and convert from registrant to attendee. Get creative with your reminder messaging and countdown timers, or send pre-event swag kits and other incentives to attendees. I always start by looking at what our audience would typically expect from us in-person, and using that as the starting point to bring our event to life virtually. – Elaine Wargo, Sr. Manager of Brand Experience at ON24

Pump Yourself Up

Giving presentations during virtual events is different than presenting at in-person events. At live events, you can feed off the excitement of the crowd for the week ahead. In order to be prepared for the difference, make sure to practice the presentations, keynotes, sessions…really all of it! Plus, it’s hard when you aren’t in person to be super energetic, but on-screen during a virtual event this could not be more important. Make sure to have a Red Bull or two before any session you are giving!

Send Swag Bundles

Send out some cool swag to highlight the excitement and uniqueness of your virtual events. You can send out welcome kits to the event with one-pagers, swag, and even a mug with the person’s name on it. If you are having a “networking” part of your event, you can send out cocktail kits with personalized glasses to recreate a real Happy Hour. You can have a ton of fun with these to make people feel like they are at a show!

If you have items from your show you were planning for in-person, use those to send out to folks attending your virtual event.

Last but Not Least, Follow Up!

If you have ever run a webinar or virtual event at any scale, you know the most common question from the chat box is “Are you sending the recording after the session?”. So remember to give the people what they want! Follow up with the recording, thank you for attending, and point them to another piece of relevant content. Remember, your follow-up does not need to end with just those who registered and attended. The beauty of a virtual event is that you are left with loads of amazing evergreen content (Thank you to that first step, you know that this content will live long and perform well).

Some follow up ideas for you:

  • Turn all the individual sessions and keynotes into blogs
  • Include the top-performing individual sessions in an email nurture program
  • Build follow up sequences and cadences using quotes and clips from the sessions for the SDR team

The sky’s the limit here! Continue pushing out your content from your virtual event, and it may bring in new folks for your next virtual events.

“Follow up is often an afterthought when planning virtual events, but is just as important as the event itself. The key is to work closely with your SDR team to ensure they are prepared from the moment the lead hits their inbox. For every virtual event we participate in, we ensure that every email we send to a Targeted Account that attends is personalized and an eGift is sent to have our message stand out” – Katie Dunn, Demand Generation Marketing Manager at RollWorks

To sum it up, virtual events are hard but you can make them amazing by using some elements you would use for an in-person event (like sending them something in the mail) to get attendees excited both before the event and after.

There are easy ways to have your virtual event stand out from others by delivering valuable content, and providing an awesome experience for your audience, not just for yourself.

Check out The Show Must Go On below for an example of how we pulled off our virtual event!  

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