Things to think about when planning a virtual or hybrid event
What is a virtual event?
There are so many definitions out there but in simple terms it means an online or digital event.
Should I host a virtual event?
Many events have cancelled or postponed their in-person events due to the impacts of COVID-19. To bridge this gap, some have turned their hand to delivering virtual events to keep their audiences engaged and their brand out in the public eye.
However, creating a digital version of your event may not be right for everyone. It can pose a potential reputational risk, if not delivered well. Some key questions to think about when weighing up whether to take the leap online are:
- What are your goals and why?
- What type of digital event would it be – think about scale and scope?
- Do you have enough time, resources and technical expertise to deliver?
- What content would you use and what programme elements would work well online? Your digital event whilst not offering the exact same experience, should look and feel like your physical event and provide value to your audience.
As with physical events, virtual events need careful planning and facilitation in order to make them happen and be a success.
What are the benefits?
There has been a lot of positive noise surrounding digital events, including their ability to engage with stay at home audiences, reach new audiences, heighten brand exposure, provide greater flexibility and be more cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
Furthermore, as these types of events are hosted on digital platforms it can be easier to measure results. Arguably, there is no better alternative to experiencing a live event in person, however as you can see there are benefits to digital events.
What should I consider when delivering a virtual event?
Shifting from a physical event to a digital event can be a daunting experience for some event organisers. To help you navigate this, possibly, unfamiliar territory, we have provided you with a few points to consider.
Plan your digital event like you would plan your physical event.
Devise a plan that provides a framework for delivering your online event, including objectives, event and programme content overview, your audience, your USP, type of streaming platform, a marketing plan, timeline, budget and evaluation. Central to the planning process is making sure you have the right team with the right expertise in place.
Think about what promotional, technical and design support you may require in addition to your core team, along with whether you need a host and a moderator to help you mediate your digital event. There are many technology platforms and production companies out there who can manage the technical elements for you, while you focus on the programming elements.
‘Size up’ your event.
Think about the scale of your event – will your event run over one or multiple days and how many session/s will be scheduled over that period?
Date, time, and place.
Most organisers choose to run events over their original dates to give their audiences a digital offering in the absence of their physical event. In terms of timing, think about who your primary audience is and when they would most likely view / virtually attend your online event. Location is also worth considering, is it possible to film or part film your virtual experience from your usual venue or location to help you re-create that event feeling?
Figure out your format.
Virtual events come in various formats from performances, podcasts, film screenings, virtual exhibitions to Q&A’s, panel discussions, interviews and many more. Will it be a live stream or pre-recorded? You can also have a blend of the two. Think about what format would work best for your content and audience and how interactive you want them to be.
To make your live stream more engaging encourage your viewers to submit questions or share comments and have a moderator on hand to help manage or moderate questions. Also, consider the event’s online life cycle - do you plan to leave it online afterwards for those who couldn’t attend the live stream?
Some types of equipment you may need: a high-quality camera and microphone, tripod, mixer, encoder, fast WiFi connection and lighting. Find out more on tips on how to virtually communicate.
Choose your platform.
There are lots of streaming platforms to choose from. Think about the type of content you want to deliver and where your audience is – you will want to draw in as big an audience, as possible. If you are just starting out, then you may want to consider using one of your existing channels if suitable. For example, if you have an active Facebook account and followers then this platform may be a good place to start.
Some of the most popular platforms used today are YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Twitch, Twitter Live, Zoom and Vimeo.
Free to attend or pay?
Decide on your pricing point. Is it free, pay to attend, pay what you want or are you collecting donations for charity? Whatever option you choose make sure it is clear and well-advertised in your event communications. If you opt for pay to attend, do some research on what competitors are charging for similar events, along with looking at your own pricing model and what value your event will offer.
Promote your event.
Create a marketing plan that raises awareness of your event and encourages people to attend and engage. Use all channels available to you to increase exposure, including social media, web and e-comms. Your messaging should tell the story of why you have created the digital event, what the event experience will be like, how you can experience it and why it shouldn’t be missed.
Draw out your events USP in your messaging. Build a buzz with guest announcements and releasing teasers of programme content. Ask your speakers / artists/ performers to amplify your messaging by further sharing and engaging with your posts through their own online channels.
We have put together a short guide on ‘How to best promote your event on social media’ aimed at helping you create engaging content and capitalise on the most popular social media platforms for event promotion.
Practice. Do a test run.
Test the technology in advance and make sure participants are briefed and familiar with using key features on the platform. Have a backup plan so if someone or something goes offline, attendees aren’t left in the lurch.
Measure its success.
Most platforms have in-built analytics you can use to provide insight and track your event’s performance. Here are some measurements that you may want to consider: digital attendees, peak live viewers, total viewers, audience reach, and demographics, along with engagements (likes, comments and shares). If you are charging for your event, then ticket income is also a KPI.
There has been a flurry of organisers who after venturing into the digital events landscape and are now looking towards creating hybrid events. A hybrid event combines a physical event with online components and have risen in popularity because of their capacity to reach an even wider audience and bring in even more revenue.
While digital events will never exactly replicate that in-person experience, there is no doubt that they will play a hugely important role in some form or another for years to come.