For many businesses, hosting a virtual event is already a great way to get leads, promote what they do and give their audience real value. Without things like event hire and travel costs getting in the way.

Now, even more professionals in every industry are starting to wonder if hosting virtual events is a good idea.

The reason, of course, is the recent spread of the COVID-19 virus. The global pandemic has lead to the cancellation of physical events all over the world as lockdowns and social distancing measures prevent people from meeting in person.

Events as large as Google Next 2020, Facebook’s F8 developer conference, the huge SXSW festival in Austin Texas and Glastonbury music festival in the UK have all been cancelled.

Many physical events are now switching to the virtual space so that they still have something to offer their audience. Businesses in every sector are scrambling to find virtual ways to deliver services which used to be delivered in person.

From online courses to webinars to livestreams, if you are planning a virtual event, this article has got you covered.

Changing from a physical event to a virtual event

If you are switching from a physical event to a virtual event because of the pandemic crisis, the health of your community and your team is likely to be your main concern.

Yet you may also have cancelled something which a large number of people were looking forward to. An event that was going to be social, fun or highly educational.

Virtual events allow you to capture at least something of the spirit and energy which would have gone into your original event. Plus, they can be very cost-effective.

However, changing from a physical event to a virtual one does require you to bear some things in mind:

  • Different spaces, different formats: it is important to remember that this is not a physical event. Some things which work in person – such as a PowerPoint presentation – are going to fall very flat indeed online.
  • The value of proactivity: another thing to remember is that it is worth being proactive when cancelling physical events. For example, SXSW (South by Southwest, the creative, film and music industry festival) kept telling their ticket holders that the event was going to run until the moment they were forced to cancel. A better choice would have been to see the way the wind was blowing and proactively cancel to start planning alternatives.

What are the advantages of a virtual event?

There are many reasons why you might choose to cancel a live event in favour of a virtual one – or prefer to have a virtual event in the first place.
These might include:

  • Wider audience: unlike a physical event, there is theoretically no limit to the size of the audience you can have for a virtual one. Using social channels like LinkedIn and Facebook makes your event accessible to millions.
  • Reduced costs: travel costs, venue hire and numerous other financial charges can be reduced or completely eliminated in most cases.
  • Accessibility: online events tend to have a smaller cost than real-world events. This can make them more accessible to people on lower incomes, making your reach even greater.
  • Ongoing value: once a live event is over, it’s over. Attendees might have snapped a photo or taken a video. But they will rarely get equal value from it as they got from the event itself. Even a recorded version of a live virtual event gives good value again and again. Plus, you can make the recorded version searchable to add to your SEO power.
  • Creativity: the virtual space allows you to do all sorts of things which you might not have been able to do in person. Bring in remote guest speakers from around the world. Use a variety of different formats in the same presentation. The world is your oyster.
  • Improve engagement: rather than needing to direct your audience to keep interacting with you online after the event is over, you know they are already online while your event is happening. Keeping a conversation going is much easier than convincing them to start a fresh one in their own time. Use chat and other social tools to keep prospects engaged.

Is a virtual event right for you?

Whatever your reason for hosting one, a virtual event can be a great way to increase your reach and engagement. It can supplement, support and boost your real-world events and activities too.

You do need to make sure that the kind of event you have in mind is suitable for the online space. Ask yourself a couple of questions, such as:

  • Is your topic suitable? Will it need some additional planning? A livestream of some kind of performance will work brilliantly. A PowerPoint presentation won’t. A workshop where materials will be needed might. If you make it clear precisely what your audience will need before they start.
  • Will it include discussion? The online space is perfect for discussion-based events and promoting thought leadership in a given field.
  • Is there any interest? Just because you want to host an event and it is going to be far more cost-effective to do so online, does not mean you can skip your audience research.

How to host a virtual event

It is possible to generate a great deal of energy and interest from virtual events.

Big brands and names can garner both of the above relatively easily. But no matter what scale of audience you or your company have, a virtual event has the capacity to do the same – as well as to continue to do so over a long period of time.

To do this, production on an ad hoc basis is not going to work. Whatever kind of virtual event you are running, you need to plan everything that will go into the final execution:

1) Set your goals and make a plan

Generating leads will almost always be your main goal with a virtual event. This means convincing viewers to buy in emotionally from a distance.

This is easier said than done. Some things to bear in mind when planning your content include:

  • Duration: being online gives people ready access to a literal world of content outside of yours. Consider keeping the duration of your event down to prevent people from clicking away to look for something which just crossed their mind.
  • Complexity: you might pride yourself on your ability to present dazzlingly well to a room full of people. On a screen, you may find it harder to be as charismatic as you are in person. Consider keeping your content a little more straightforward.
  • Engagement levels: how will you keep your audience engaged? Like a poorly plotted film, any lulls in your event will take them out of an engaged mindset long enough to consider turning away.
  • Actionable: you created this content for a reason. If it was just for a bit of fun, so be it. But if you wanted to gain new prospects or leads, you need to be ready to interact with your audience and make it clear what steps they should take next.

2) Understand your audience

Relevance needs to one of your key priorities when you are preparing a virtual event. As always when ensuring your content is relevant, this means knowing who your audience is and what they want:

  • What content of yours will give your audience the most value?
  • What might persuade them to take the next step and buy from you?
  • What particular areas of your knowledge are they most interested in?
  • How familiar are they with the platform you will use?
  • Do they use social media or any of the other channels you plan to use to continue to engage with them?

An easy way to answer these questions is to ask your audience directly. Use a survey or question posts on social media to see what kind of interest there is in the topics your event could cover.

Because if your event doesn’t align with your target audience’s interests and their ability to interact with it, you will struggle to attract viewers.

3) Create your message and story

Any virtual event you host needs to align with your target audience’s preferences. It also needs to fit in with your brand voice, positioning and target clients.

This will help you market your event too. This needs to be done just as if it was a physical activity. Consider going beyond your usual social media strategies (if your target audience uses social media) to foster interaction:

  • Post “warm-up” videos showcasing the speakers, the venue and topics
  • Teach people how to find your event online before it happens
  • Don’t forget to use the other marketing channels you have access to. Emails, newsletters – start getting the word out about your virtual event

4) Choose a format which appeals to your customers

You might love the idea of a virtual tour of your existing event. Or a teaching session where you are front and centre. But does your audience?

Don’t neglect format when you’re doing your audience research.

You should also bear in mind what your competitors are up to. If the market space for “how-to” videos on your chosen topic is already flooded, you really need to know you have a reliable audience to count on – or that you are doing something really special to make yourself stand out from the crowd.

5) Make it professional

There is a tendency – especially if this is a former physical event which you now want to make virtual – to quickly put everything together, get it working and hope people will forgive the rough edges.

If you have a very loyal, established audience… they might. But they’re much less likely to be convinced that you are the kind of company they want to buy from.

You need to aim for the highest quality of production you can manage:

  • Use good quality filming and video equipment
  • Use proper lighting
  • Use only high-quality animation and graphics
  • Make your camera team invisible (unless it’s a deliberate stylistic choice on your part)
  • Consider your venue – is your office or store good enough? Or will you need extra space? Or a more professional-looking setting?

6) Select the right technology and format

The technology and format you use to distribute your virtual event will partly be based on your audience:

Are they an older demographic which might not know how to access certain kinds of content? Are they an international audience with a different preferred video streaming platform? Be prepared to provide clear instructions as to how to access your event in the run-up to it if so.

There are several different video streaming services which offer roughly the same functionality:

  • YouTube Live
  • Facebook Livestream
  • Twitch
  • Periscope
  • Mixer
  • Livestream
  • YouNow

You might also prefer to embed your livestream on your own website. If you are hosting an event where attendees can or may want to participate, you might need communication software like Skype or the highly recommended Zoom.

Be sure to test out your chosen tool before the event if you do not know how to work it. If you haven’t mastered it, you might need technical support.

7) Train your presenter (even if it’s you)

Your host is one of the key components of your event. They need to have a great deal of experience hosting events – specifically events to a remote audience, which requires different skills – and/ or be very comfortable in front of a camera

Good skills to have in a presenter are:

  • The ability to speak clearly
  • The habit of looking into the camera, not at a script
  • The capability to engage with people on chat screens and get feedback simultaneously if necessary – at the same time as not abandoning the audience to their own devices, risking wider disengagement
  • Quick-thinking ability to answer questions
  • Ability to naturally fill time if there are any delays

A good option is to have two hosts who can play off each other as well as interact with the audience.

8) Make it globally accessible

Of course, you don’t need to worry about travel costs or the logistics of people reaching your virtual event. However, timing is still a critical factor.

If you only expect to have a local or regional audience, an early evening or weekend timeslot is almost always best. Just be sure to check the scheduling of other major events which may be happening at the same time on other channels or in the physical space.

For an international audience, you may need to do some careful planning to select the most accessible time slot for multiple time-zones. One solution is to choose the most popular time and then upload your finished content to YouTube (or your preferred video sharing platform) afterwards.

When presenting to an international audience, language support is also a major factor. Remote interpreting services are a cost-effective way of providing this kind of support for your live virtual events.

Alternatively and also, you can and should add subtitles or voice-overs to the recorded version of your event which you post online after the fact. This way it can be watched later by audiences in specific regions, adding massively to the reach of your content – especially if you don’t make the common mistake of relying on auto-generated translation. Poorly translation can lead your international audience to disengage en masse. At best.

You can and should also add a transcript of your event when you post it. This will give your SEO strength a big boost, particularly if you use the opportunity to include some carefully chosen keywords.

9) Test everything

Testing all of the various components of your virtual event ahead of time is vital if you want to create a high-quality experience for your attendees.

Go back and test every element. Make sure that the person playing the role of the audience is using the same methods for accessing your event as your real audience will. Be sure to check:

  • Your internet connection strength and speed
  • Ease of access
  • Primary and backup equipment workflows
  • Audio and video quality

Some of the best virtual event ideas

There are many standard and not-so-standard virtual event ideas which might be a great fit for your business. Don’t just go with the standard, tried and true but slightly tired webinar.

Consider spicing up your content with:

  • A mix of media: add variety to webinars with pre-recorded video segments (make sure they are high quality too) and other content.
  • Animated content: is another interesting media type to add to the mix.
  • Solution demonstrations: and “how-to” guides incorporating audience Q&A sessions.
  • Panels and forums: of experts and relevant professionals. Multiple presenters – as long as their input is well organised, orderly and above all interesting – can lend real energy to your virtual event.
  • Team workshops: these take some practice to get right with every team member in a different location but can add real value and interest.
  • One-on-one sessions: not all live events have to be large-scale. A single, focussed one-on-one session can make it easier to convert a lead as well as offering greater value to a single client. That is value which may just come with a higher price tag attached. For international one-on-one training and cross-language sessions where clear communication is an issue, telephone interpreting may be the answer.

Should I make it a live event or use pre-recorded content?

There are several advantages and disadvantages to these two broad types of content:

1) Live virtual events, livestreams and webinars

Live events let you retain a lot of the same power as physical events. They offer:

  • Great audience interaction possibilities
  • Higher engagement levels
  • The ability to adjust to your audience’s mood and requests on-the-fly if necessary
  • Exclusivity or a feeling of “missing out” for those who can’t attend

However, they can be highly demanding on your presenter and support team. They also call for a great deal of technical expertise.

That said, the engagement power they offer is unparalleled by any pre-recorded content.

2) Pre-recorded content

Pre-recorded events let you manage with less technical expertise as you won’t need to resolve technical issues in a stressful situation. You may even be able to get away with less skill in the presentation department.

But, in almost every other way, pre-recorded content is inferior:

  • Dramatically lower engagement levels: pre-recording prevents you from adapting your content to the mood of your audience or interact with them in any way – save for replying to any comments which hopefully get left.
  • Low excitement levels: a live virtual event can generate a sense of exclusivity and excitement. Pre-recorded content is just like watching a YouTube video.
  • Less investment: with other content only a click away, you have to be very, very confident in the quality of what you offer if you are making pre-recorded content.

But actually, both “types” of event work well in combination with each other.

Firstly, a small quantity of high-quality pre-recorded content added to your live event can pleasantly mix things up without resulting in disengagement.

Also, after hosting a live virtual event, you can use the finished footage as “pre-recorded content” for promotion and SEO purposes. That’s two birds. And one stone.

Are you planning to host a live virtual event in front of an international audience?

Asian Absolute provides telephone and remote interpreting services to companies on five different continents.

Talk to us about your upcoming virtual event today and get a free, no-obligation quote on the language expertise you need to boost your reach around the world.