How to plan a virtual event
Virtual events have become extremely popular over the last 12 months and if you're reading this, you don't need us to tell you that they're here to stay.
There are several reasons why they've grown in popularity, but one of the most appreciated by marketing teams and HR departments is the simplicity in which you can effectively create the perfect environment and experience.
That said, it's slightly different to planning a physical event, and there are a few things that you'll want to keep in mind right from the get-go.
Here, we look at some of the major steps you need to take to ensure you deliver a blockbuster event.
Think bigger and better
It's almost become a cliche at this point, but the only limitations to virtual reality are rooted in your imagination.
Just because you are hosting an event, doesn't mean it needs to be planned like a traditional conference or training session. You will want to tow the line between what people expect from an event, and what you can deliver, and that line should begin with the content.
Start with the purpose of the event and think about what content is relevant to your audience and your brand. Then you need to think about the best way to bring that to life.
Think about whether you need to instil trust among prospects, really capture the imagination of a market, or nurture connections between a small team. Study how your audience can become a part of the event; what do you want them to see and hear?
After that, you can start to build a format.
What event format works best for your goals?
This can be as simple as a webinar Q&A or round table, or you may wish to leave your audience with a lasting impression, creating a bespoke experience where attendees can participate in live sessions, network, interact with content - all in one immersive space.
There may be endless possibilities, but you should take some time to figure out which one aligns with your objectives.
If you're planning to create a digital twin of a live physical event, the choices are straightforward. You can create a replica of the physical event that takes place in a virtual world, allowing you to expand the reach of the event significantly. Otherwise think about the lasting impression you want to make.
Do you want to wow a potential customer? Then you may want to showcase your product in unique, innovative ways. Do you want to make connections with your team? Focus on a setting that makes people feel welcome and a format that gives everyone a chance to speak.
Don't forget about your branding
When we were designing and creating the PixelMax virtual events solution, we spoke to multiple event organisers, HR departments and marketeers. Now they continue to help us develop the product as part of our steering committee.
One of the big things they told us was they had an issue with the branding options available when hosting a virtual event.
You can understand why it's frustrating, right? You allocate some of your budget to creating a great event, yet your audience leaves thinking that the event platform or your livestream provider did all the work because that was the logo they were looking at for the whole time.
Equally, what does it say about your company when your employees are relying on tech from other companies, just to communicate with each other at a team meeting.
That's why PixelMax was made to be whitelabel. You can put your brand in the spotlight, and it doesn't need to share the stage.
With those possibilities in mind, plan how you want your brand to be remembered during your event, and make sure people see the right imagery and branding at the right moments.
How long should virtual events be?
The short answer is shorter than a physical event.
The reasons you need to host an event all day in a physical location are practical in nature.
You need to allow time for people to arrive, register and move around the location. In addition, think about the commute? If you're travelling longer than 30 minutes, you want to stay somewhere at least a few hours before you travel back, which means organisers probably inflate the event length. Also it may be simply because you paid to hire out the space on a daily basis.
None of that applies to a virtual event.
So, how long should a virtual event be? Just enough time to consume your content, with about 30 minutes added on to the network where appropriate.
Feedback isn't an afterthought
VR events can be spectacular captivating audiences with moments of sheer wonder.
But from a commercial point of view, a lot of the magic happens with the data collection.
Unlike at a physical event, where you've traditionally relied on feedback forms for anecdotal evidence, you can build these elements right into the events via an analytics package.
That means you can directly boost sales, improve training, make employers happier or make product tweaks based directly on the feedback you unearth via a virtual event.
So, with that in mind, think about what answers you need ahead of the event, and think about the evidence and data you'll need to validate it.
Pick a time and date
Not as simple as it may seem.
That's because you're not limited by things such as venue opening times, or even time zones.
People are used to ruling their attendance out on really elementary things such as will they be awake or in the right country and although that's not the case with a virtual event, you don't want your best audience to be having to log-on in the middle of their night, so schedule it accordingly.
However, a great advantage of virtual events with PixelMax is the ease in which you can replicate events. So there's nothing to stop you hosting purchase managers in Japan in the morning, and purchase managers in the US in the evening – all with the same event setting and with the same itinerary.
Don't forget your surroundings
This is an odd one because it's virtual, right? All the equipment is just software.
Yes and no.
A lot of the experience is on screen in-browser, but the quality of that can be affected by your setup. This is particularly true for sound.
You could in theory get by with your laptop mic, but if you're putting on a great event, you also want to sound great and a simple mic setup could help. Equally if you're looking to team build online over a series of workshops, nobody wants to be distracted by your background noise.
Equally, you're not vain if you're thinking about aesthetics either. If you're going to be on screen/stage in front of an audience, it's worth taking a few minutes to check your camera setup.
Attendees need to be able to clearly see you. This brings the human element to a virtual event allowing attendees to read your facial expressions. Equally it is important to check your surroundings - a simple plain wall is the best backdrop to ensure the focus of the audience is entirely on you.
What about your event staff?
If you hire out a venue, you normally get support staff – people to man the entrances and keep it all tidy. If you don't, it's not too hard to hire specialist firms who have lots of experience doing it.
However, with a virtual event you don't necessarily get that.
With PixelMax it's a bespoke partnership. We take the time to make sure both you and your team are not only comfortable with the software, and are totally capable of handling any issues that come up during the event. – although of course we're always on hand to help. Nobody needs to panic!
That said, during your planning phase you should definitely factor in some time to make sure everyone is up to speed.
A note on hybrid events, hybrid working and Augmented Reality
A lot of the above tips can equally be applied if you're having a solely virtual event, twinning a physical event or incorporating small augmented reality (AR) elements.
The trick is to think virtual first. Don't think about how the virtual world can adopt a solution you have for physical events, focus solely on the best solution and let virtual bring that to life.
Take promotion for example. You'd promote a physical event with social media and advertising campaigns. Sure, still do that. But do you want to focus on static pics of the headliners? Or do you let your audience see the setting and stroll round before booking their attendance? Or watch a past attendee offer their feedback.
If you think virtual first, there's a good chance your planning will help you deliver a truly memorable occasion.