How do you get started with virtual events?

You knew this day would come. Waiting for you in your inbox this morning was an email from your CEO. She had read about virtual events in a business publication and wants to know more about the company’s virtual event strategy. She would like to explore how it would increase the visibility and participation of customer events.

If this hasn’t happened yet, it is sure to come…and when it happens, be prepared. Virtual events have exploded as a result of the current economic realities combined with significant technological improvements. Not sure how to prepare or where to begin? Here are 5 quick tips to get you started on your first virtual event.

1. Develop Your Strategy First
Successful virtual event planning begins with clear objectives and a strategy. The internal discussion should start with your methodology…

  • What marketing or communication problem are you trying to solve, and is a virtual event the right vehicle with which to solve it?
  • Is your goal to generate demand or leads for your organization’s products and services? Or are you trying to generate revenue, i.e., sell sponsorships and booths to industry vendors or channel partners? Or are you seeking an economical alternative for sales training and communication?
  • What is your budget and expected ROI?

The answers to all of these questions will shape the size, scope and strategy of your virtual event.

2. Target your Audience
It is critical to focus on the audience you are trying to reach. During the development process, identify and segment your target audience including, but not limited to, demographics and psycho¬graphics. What are your audience’s pain points, needs and values? Also, consider whether the audience is equipped for a virtual experience. If your target audience isn’t prepared, what educational information and tools can be provided via email or video, prior to the virtual experience?

3. Have the Proper Staffing
A virtual event requires just as much thought, planning and effort as a physical event. Event managers and marketers still need to develop relevant content, book keynote and session speakers, sell sponsorships and floor space, and manage booth staff. The audience still needs to be targeted, acquired and managed; interactions need to be considered and designed, feedback gathered and analyzed. So the question to ask yourself before you start is…Do you have the right staff for marketing, content development, sales and event management? Assign staff specifically to the virtual event much like you would a physical one to ensure that the event runs smoothly and the audience and exhibitors are pleased with the experience.

4. Executive Support
In order to be successful, C-level executives within your organization must understand the value and effectiveness of virtual events. Remember that senior management will likely have to sign off on budgets and technology requests. Are they convinced of the need for virtual events as part of your marketing and communication mix or do they remain skeptical?

Comprehensive data analysis and careful tracking of event ROI is often paramount to secure senior executive buy-in. As you begin the RFP process with virtual event platform providers, ask prospective partners for the potential cost savings and incremental revenue that their platforms can help your organization realize. Compare them to your existing event marketing budget results. Tangible results are what counts here, especially during this time of increased belt tightening.

5. Start Small
Instead of launching a fully-baked hybrid event alongside your large annual conference, consider a smaller program for your first try. Like any new program, there are sure to be learnings from your first virtual event that you will want to apply to your more high-profile, large-scale events. After one successful virtual event, your confidence will increase significantly and you will be better prepared the next time around.

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