Even with in-person events quickly coming back into play, most event organizers say they plan to host a virtual conference in 2022 and beyond. 

The past two years proved how virtual events can help organizers reach a far broader audience, engage attendees in exciting new ways, and deliver better event metrics and ROI.

As you think about planning a virtual conference, it’s important to consider how planning an engaging virtual experience requires a different approach and more strategic vision than simply hosting a few webinars. 

We previously explored the top benefits of planning a virtual event, so now let’s dive into some tips, tricks, and key considerations to consider when  hosting a virtual event.   

Stay on track with the ultimate checklist for event planners

Virtual conferences planning strategy

Young businesswoman smiling during a virtual conference on her laptop

Virtual conferences are vastly different from in-person conferences, so it’s important your event plan is tailored to the event attendees who are tuning in from home. Don’t try to conform your online conference to a strategy you previously used for in-person events. The experiences and content you crafted for your in-person events likely won’t resonate with a virtual audience.

Instead, think about the in-person components you can seamlessly translate to a virtual format, and don’t hesitate to eliminate others.

You won’t need to secure an event venue, find a caterer, or print badges onsite. However, you will need to choose the right event technology to support your unique event and facilitate virtual networking, sponsor promotion, and attendee engagement. 

Most importantly, you should structure your event content to both engage and intrigue your virtual attendees. Tuning in from home feels far different from watching a keynote surrounded by the excitement of a packed ballroom. Break up your content into smaller bites, and also consider how you’ll fill the void between sessions and transitions. 

Preparing to host a virtual conference? See how Ivy Tech Community College pivoted to virtual and cut its event budget in half.

Key considerations when hosting a virtual conference

Before the virtual conference

First things first: start with a plan—don’t wing it! Establish clearly defined goals and KPIs and define  how you’ll measure success. Depending on your specific virtual conference, event goals may include:

  • Growing product or brand awareness
  • Increasing memberships
  • Providing education and support
  • Boosting customer loyalty
  • Generating revenue

Plan virtual event content and delivery

Use the pre-event period to focus on content delivery. Remember, you need to level up your engagement efforts to hold the audience’s attention. We suggest deploying a mix of live and pre-recorded content and giving the audience tools to engage via chat, Q&A, and gamification. 

The best event technology lets you easily embed streaming links, both live video and pre-recorded video, to the event agenda for a seamless content experience. You can also pre-record event content well ahead of your conference and schedule it to go live at a specific time. 

Pre-recorded content can also help if you have a sponsor or speaker who’s unavailable on the day of the event. It can also help reduce mistakes during the in-person event and ensure a flawless delivery.

Secure sponsors early

People visiting and walking by various virtual conference sponsorship booths

Event sponsors play a key role in the success of events by both funding your conference and amplifying pre-event promotions and buzz. Regardless if you already have a group of loyal sponsors or are planning your first online event, you need to demonstrate how your virtual conference will provide value and deliver ROI

Virtual event sponsors typically want:

  • Exposure in your virtual event platform via banners, commercials, etc.
  • Dedicated profiles and landing pages
  • Access to attendee data and leads
  • In-event speaking opportunities 
  • Discounted event tickets

We suggest you offer a mix of a la carte sponsorship opportunities where the organization can customize their promotions, as well as tiered sponsorship packages—typically gold, silver, and bronze—in exchange for varying levels of exposure.

Promoting the virtual conference 

Promotion proves critical for driving registrations and boosting excitement around your virtual conference. You want to create that FOMO. Make it irresistible. Add a sense of urgency.

Use a mix of event marketing strategies and promotional channels to reach the greatest number of attendees. Make sure to consider your attendee base and customize your promotions to match your target registrants. 

Two of the most effective event marketing channels include:

Social media: Social often proves the most affordable-yet-effective tool to reach your target attendees. Use your attendees’ favorite social platforms to advertise early-bird pricing, promote contests and giveaways, and showcase your top speakers. You can also ask your keynote speakers to promote the event on their social media channels.

Email: Utilize your previous registration lists and build segmented email campaigns with customized content. This  allows you to more effectively market to different attendee groups, track open metrics and click-throughs, and retarget promotions until attendees register.

Your complete roadmap for planning successful virtual events

Dive deeper into virtual event planning. Download The ultimate guide to virtual event planning to learn more about planning successful virtual conferences. 

During the virtual conference

Promote Audience Engagement

Utilize your virtual event platform’s engagement features to keep attendees on their toes and active in the content. Some core engagement features include:

  • Live chat: The best virtual conference platforms include a live chat feature specific to each of your online sessions, rather than a massive chat stream for the entire event. It allows attendees to comment in real time and engage directly with speakers and other attendees.
  • Q&A: Give your audience a voice by allowing them to ask questions during online sessions and vote on the questions they want to hear answers to the most. It replicates the speaker-attendee interactions we all miss about in-person events.
  • Polls: Attendees love to answer polls, and as an added bonus you can crowdsource data right from your event. Promote the findings on your social channels during your virtual event, and they may even score media pick-ups.

On-demand webinar: The fun starts here: how to amaze, delight, and engage your event attendees!  

Facilitate networking and connection

Virtual conference attendees talking to each other at tables in room in front of big windows

Don’t skimp on networking opportunities during your virtual conference. Attendees frequently rank networking as a top reason for attending events. Even without connecting face-to-face, online conference organizers routinely deploy fun and exciting ways for attendees to network. 

Some ideas include:

  • Hosting small-group virtual happy hours based around a fun topic or shared interest
  • Using event technology to serve as a virtual matchmaker
  • Using gamification to entice attendees to meet and connect

Another popular networking solution involves building a community around your virtual conference. For example, you can host an “after-party” on the community platform to give attendees the opportunity to connect on their terms in a casual setting. After your virtual conference, keep the community active with webinars, virtual roundtables, topic-based discussions, games, and more to promote year-round networking. 

Gamify your virtual conference

Gamification is one of our favorite engagement strategies, notably because it adds a boost of fun and excitement to virtual conferences. 

Gamification lets you reward your attendees for activities they would typically do at an event, such as:

  • Checking in to an online session
  • Answering trivia questions
  • Completing a survey
  • Visiting a virtual sponsor or exhibitor booth
  • Posting about the event on social media
  • And any other fun ideas you can dream up!

Just make sure to offer some top-notch prizes and promote your leaders frequently to keep the competition flowing. 

How RFMS uses gamification to boost attendee engagement at events

See gamification in action: Check out how RFMS created 350 game challenges to boost attendee engagement

After the virtual conference

Review event data and metrics

After the dust settles from your virtual conference, take some time to review event data and metrics in your virtual event management platform. 

You should be able to review an abundance of attendee and sponsor data, including:

  • Live stream views (including pre-recorded videos)
  • Session attendance
  • Platform feature utilization
  • Effectiveness of engagement efforts
  • Visits to sponsor banners, profiles, and landing pages 
  • Gamification metrics, including active participants and completed challenges
  • And more!

Use your virtual meeting insights to see what worked and what didn’t, then make improvements for your future events. You’ll be able to see if your engagement efforts resonated with attendees and which breakout sessions and topics generated the most buzz. Most importantly, you can provide your sponsors with intricate event data down to the individual attendee level.

Follow-up with attendees and sponsors

Event metrics are highly valuable, but you’ll also want to reach out to attendees and sponsors directly. Deploy a post-event survey to collect feedback, ask about areas for improvement, and find out what they liked the most. Try sending the survey out within a few days of your virtual conference while it’s still top of mind.

For more, check out our post: How to find and secure event sponsorship: the ultimate guide

Host a virtual conference with Webex Events

Delivering value before, during, and after events.

Webex Events provides a truly end-to-end virtual conference platform that easily pivots between in-person and hybrid events. We help organizers around the world achieve event success with our:

  • Industry-leading mobile app
  • Registration, check-in and badge-printing solution
  • Advanced studio production
  • Sponsorship capabilities
  • Engagement features
  • Event analytics
  • And more!

Schedule a free demo to see how Webex Events can take your virtual conference to the next level!