Top 5 Tips for Hosting Successful Virtual Events During COVID-19

Woman with headphones, notepad, and laptop attending virtual event

COVID-19 has forced us to make many changes to the way we interact with family, friends, colleagues, and strangers. The business world has borne the brunt of many of these adjustments as the pandemic keeps offices closed, prevents travel, and puts in-person meetings on hold.

As a result, event planning is starting to look very different. Online meetings and webinars are replacing large convention centers and hotel ballrooms, making it a challenge to attract and retain the attention of audience members tuning in from their living rooms.

But the transition to virtual events has its positives, too. Event teams can focus their resources on recruiting top-notch speakers instead of shipping swag between locations. Creating on-demand videos opens up opportunities for bigger audiences, lead generation, and content repurposing. And innovative, interactive features embedded in new streaming platforms are allowing presenters to engage with attendees in creative ways.

To make the most of this evolving environment for virtual events, hosts can use these top five tips for designing successful presentations that leave a lasting impression.

Plan the event to take advantage of the modern medium

Every event requires meticulous planning and organization to help them go off without a hitch.  This is especially true if you’re new to the virtual event space. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what resources you need to develop, promote, present, and finance your event. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the ultimate business goals for this event? Do they differ from an in-person event? How will I measure the success of my virtual programming? How will I tie this event into my larger marketing plan or educational program?
  • Are my event team members experienced with using online platforms? What additional technical or organizational skill sets do I need to translate in-person functions into digital events? What additional software, hardware, or physical space will I need to produce a professional quality recording?
  • Am I planning to offer continuing education or professional development credits for this presentation? Does my virtual event qualify for these credits from the relevant professional association?

Establishing clear goals and defined roles for your event team members will allow you to continue to produce high-quality resources for your targeted audience members.

Choose the right technology platform to enable your vision

The boom in virtual communication has brought an avalanche of new technologies into the market. At this point, almost everyone has at least a passing familiarity with Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Slack, or GoToMeeting.

But not all of these platforms are created equal. Some tools offer speaker-friendly features such as green rooms and easy-to-use slide sharing functions, while others are designed more for collaborative teamwork or basic videoconferencing.

Consider creating an internal score card to compare popular products. Make a list of your “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” to rank potential platforms.

Does your event need to include engagement functions like quizzes, games, or Q&A management? What about closed captioning and support for multiple languages? Are you looking for advanced audience analytics and custom reporting?

Don’t forget that many platforms offer the basics for free but charge an additional fee for access to their advanced features, so budget accordingly.

Give your attendees a break

Veterans of the live event scene have all experienced the frustration of watching attendees steal away to check their email or sit in on a conference call. Not even the wry looks of fellow audience members can stop the disruption of a constant flow of people moving in and out of the meeting room.

Imagine how much more difficult it is for professionals in their home offices to stay completely focused on a packed day of back-to-back virtual sessions when nothing is stopping them from cleaning out their inboxes or running off to help the kids with classes.

The solution is to turn content into short, concise, easily consumable bites of information that contain clear learning objectives and captivating visuals.

Complex concepts should be “chunked” into separate presentations that don’t exceed 25 minutes in length, giving your audience the opportunity to absorb and retain more materials with less chance of distraction.

Schedule these presentations in short bursts throughout the day with adequate breaks in between. Consider making content available on-demand afterward so attendees can still access the information even when life gets in the way.

You may find that you need to narrow the scope of your event to accommodate the new digital divide, so be sure that your team agrees on the most important concepts to communicate to the audience.

Coach and prepare your speakers to present engaging content

There’s more to being a successful speaker at a virtual event than having an artfully arranged bookshelf in the background. Presenters need to feel comfortable working with digital platforms and engaging an audience they typically can’t see or hear. They must also be using the right hardware, software, and lighting for high-quality sound, good video, and a solid internet connection.

Consider holding a dress rehearsal several days before the recording or live event. Include the event moderator and everyone who is presenting. If you have multiple presenters who have not worked together before, these walk-throughs are a great opportunity to make introductions and coordinate talking points.

During the dress rehearsal, explain the role of the moderator and any sponsors and the nuances of your chosen presentation platform. Make sure your participants understand exactly how to sign in, get their audio and video working, and manage their portion of the presentation.

If you are planning a Q&A session, think about creating a few seed questions to use if the audience isn’t as lively as you might like. Set a deadline for when slide decks have to be finished and be sure you have a contact person available to answer any last-minute questions from your speakers.  

Evaluate your successes and make adjustments for next time 

Whether in person or online, few events are completely perfect in every way. Equipment failures, speakers missing in action, or problems with registration can create headaches during and after the presentation.

Some of these issues can’t be helped, but others can be prevented next time with additional planning or a change to the workflow. If you took the time to establish clear criteria for success before the event, you will be in a better place to evaluate the impact of your efforts afterwards.

Your audience can help you do this. Create a structured evaluation form that includes questions about your key performance metrics. Use a simple one-to-five scale for gauging the quality of the speakers, the online experience, and the suitability of the content. Add a spot for free-text responses so you can use glowing reviews to support future promotion.

After you have collected feedback, meet with your internal team to discuss the results. Then, consider sharing the information with your speakers to help them improve.

With these tips for hosting successful virtual events, you can seamlessly transition into the era of online event production and take full advantage of everything this new environment has to offer.