Virtual events are popular today, but they can still be tricky for event organizers to plan. It surprises event planners and managers to know that treating virtual goings-on like in-person events is a good rule of thumb throughout the whole process—all it takes is a little best-practice tweaking for the virtual environment.

Here’s everything you need to know to plan a stellar virtual event from start to finish.

Before the event: virtual event planning and promotion

Perhaps the most extensive part of the process is event planning. Like an architect develops sketches and blueprints before contracting out the construction of their creation, an event planner needs to have the outline ready to go—and well ahead of time. Here are some virtual event best practices to follow before your event starts.

1. Understand the basics and set goals

Piece of papers with the acronym SMART on it in colorful letters. Each letter has a hand written explanation of the acronym next to it. Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound.

Before you lift a finger, it’s important to have the basics down. In this case, that means setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals—otherwise known as SMART goals.

Ask yourself:

  • What exactly do you want to achieve with this virtual event?
  • How are you going to measure success?
  • Are your goals realistic?

2. Research your target audience

Each type of audience has different wants, needs, and expectations, so understanding them is vital to planning an experience that resonates. To figure out the target audience for your virtual event, complete the following:

  • Look at the data from past virtual events. All the data you’ve collected from past virtual events doesn’t need to stay archived. Study it over to develop a better understanding of your target audience.
  • Create an attendee persona. What does your typical attendee look like? Use historic data to help you build a strong persona.
  • Ask. There are seldom better ways to get a more straightforward answer than simply asking. Send out a survey that will help you collect data about what ideal attendees are looking forward to about the virtual event.

3. Decide the type of event you’re planning to host

Back view of male employee have online video call on laptop with diverse multiethnic colleagues, man worker involved in webcam conference or virtual event on computer with multiracial businesspeople

A lot is possible these days, and while some functions may work better as a hybrid event or in-person event, they can all work effectively no matter the format if planned properly.

What type of event are you planning? Is it internal or external? Once you consider a few questions, you’ll be able to decide what type of virtual event will work best. Here are some popular options:

4. Create a realistic timeline

Yes, the timeline of the event itself needs to be realistic, with adequate time between sessions and sufficient breaks. But the planning timeline leading up to the event needs to be realistic, too.

Start planning as early as possible, and leave yourself a reasonable amount of time to complete the rest of the list items in this section.

5. Choose the right virtual event platform

Partnering with the right platform is essential when hosting a virtual event. When you have access to a robust suite of features, it makes planning, facilitating, and following up that much easier.

A virtual event platform brings together everything you need to facilitate an exciting and successful event experience—all under one roof. We’re talking:

An end-to-end management platform promotes continuous engagement and drives better results.

6. Design an event website

Two women working on new website design choosing pictures using the laptop surfing the internet.

An event website acts as the information and ticketing hub for attendees. It’s where they go to learn more, register, or purchase tickets. At a basic level, this means it should include:

  • The date, time, and location of the event
  • A registration or ticketing form
  • The event agenda

But if you want to get more granular, consider including pictures or videos of past events (or screenshots if they’ve been virtual), data about past events that communicates their success, and testimonials from sponsors, exhibitors, or attendees to get people excited.

7. Spread the word on social media

Closeup up hands holding cell phones with various like, comment, and emoji notification popups

Social media and event marketing go hand in hand. And the good part is that you don’t need a ton of content to start sending tweets, posting on Instagram, or promoting the event on LinkedIn.

Start with a teaser that informs, such as the date, then slowly send out more specific information as the agenda comes together to build anticipation.

8. Start email marketing early

Business person reading emails on smartphone and laptop computer screen online, communication and marketing concept

One of the most cost-effective ways to market your virtual event, email marketing is best done as early as possible. Even if you’ve yet to put together a solid event agenda or even book speakers, so long as you have a rough idea of how the event will unfold, you can start sending emails.

9. Book guests, speakers, and entertainers

Fans at live rock music concert cheering

Even in a virtual environment, keynote speakers and entertainers are a must-have. A speaker is a requisite for creating stronger and recyclable event content, and entertainers help break up the ‘business’ of a virtual event.

Here are a few tips for hiring speakers and entertainment:

  • Keynote speakers should give talks that are relevant to the event and its themes.
  • Entertainment should adapt nicely to the virtual environment and be interactive.

10. Create sponsorship packages

Sponsorship packages are sent to potential sponsors for your virtual event and should include any important information about your organization—and the event itself—with the intention of piquing their interest in your cause.

When putting one together, be sure to include:

  • Information about your organization, such as your mission statement
  • Event details, including the agenda or run of show
  • Benefits of becoming a sponsor, such as engagement opportunities
  • Sponsorship tiers (if you’re offering a leveled sponsor system)
  • Contact details for your organization

11. Create event content

Event content is more than a value add for virtual events. Since these things take place 100% online, event content proves necessary for success. Beyond booking speakers, entertainment, and other guests for the event, strategize about other types of content, making sure they’re fun, engaging, and interactive.

A great way to approach this is by creating content with gamification in mind. More on that in number 17 on this list!

During the event: Virtual event production

People know about the event, you’ve already sold a bunch of tickets, and the content is built. Now it’s time to produce, maintain, and optimize.

12. Test event technology beforehand

Given that virtual events are quite literally built on technology, ensuring everything is operational and without kinks is principal before your guests log on. Test your internet connection, microphones, video cameras, and any other devices that are integral to delivering a smooth experience.

If possible, conduct a dry or tabletop run of your event beforehand. This can help you iron out any wrinkles, amend breakages, anticipate problems, and mitigate risks as best as possible.

13. Develop a run of show (or run sheet)

A run sheet is an organized document that outlines a cue-by-cue sequence of events as they’re planned to happen during an event. Having one helps ensure that everything (and everyone) is on task and on time.

If you’re crunched for time, don’t worry about creating a run of show from scratch. There are plenty of templates out there that are already formatted and organized—all you need to do is fill it in.

14. Plan breaks in between sessions

You wouldn’t expect in-person eventgoers to stay on their toes for 10+ hours as they traverse a large event venue and attend a handful of sessions. The same goes for virtual event attendees, which is why it’s essential to build breaks into the event agenda.

A good place to start is to block off time for lunch and maybe a couple of coffee breaks. During these allotted break times, there should be no in-progress sessions or speakers that attendees would miss out on if they decide to step away from their desks to grab a bite.

15. Facilitate networking opportunities

One of the main draws of most events is the ample networking opportunities, so facilitating them in a virtual environment is key. This is best done in a few different ways, including:

  • Outlining dedicated time for networking in the event agenda: This might include virtual roundtable sessions or breakout rooms for connecting.
  • Encouraging networking engagement: We’ll talk about gamification in the next list item, but having a networking leaderboard is a great way to gamify professional connections and encourage people to participate.
  • Providing tools that make virtual networking easier: An event app with dedicated networking and community features is a great example of a valuable tool that’s both easy to use and accessible.

16. Gamify event content

Gamified content is inherently more engaging. For gamification to be successful, it needs to have a few fundamental mechanics, including:

  • Friendly competition: This makes event content more exciting and contributes to a more interesting event experience overall.
  • A leaderboard: This adds a visual element to gamification that incentivizes participation while encouraging others to join in to see if they can climb the ranks.
  • Rewards and prizes: Being able to earn something for participating in or engaging with a piece of event content further incentivizes attendees to take part—just make sure prizes are worth their time!

17. Encourage attendee engagement

Man in well lit home office on left of screen siting in front of a computer displaying attendees of a virtual event on a virtual event platform

Virtual events are at their best (and most valuable) when attendee engagement is high. Encourage participants to chime in, whether that means taking advantage of live chats, breakout rooms, live polling, or discussions. Try:

  • Hosting a Q&A session
  • Using gamification strategies
  • Holding a giveaway
  • Recording event content to make it on-demand later

The higher the engagement, the better the data you’ll have to analyze post-event. 

18. Leverage a mobile event app

When you take advantage of a mobile event app, it quickly becomes a go-to source for information, engagement, networking, follow-up, and pretty much anything else you’d want to do before, during, and after a virtual event.

And while its real value shines in how attendees and other event participants interact with it, it can be just as useful for event staff to keep everyone on task. The Webex Events mobile event app allows event organizers to include the agenda, networking, gamification opportunities, and more all in one accessible location.

19. Showcase your sponsors

Sponsors expect to achieve ample ROI when they choose to support your event, so showcasing them with thanks is important. This can be done in a few different ways, including but not limited to:

  • Introducing them on your event website
  • Talking about them on social media
  • Having branded virtual meeting and breakout rooms during the event
  • On-screen sponsor placements

20. Collect feedback in real time

Collecting attendee feedback in real time provides a sense of how things are going as it unfolds, allowing you to improve attendee satisfaction quickly.

To do this, take advantage of live polling features to quickly and accurately collect feedback from attendees about their event experience. Stow the gathered information away for later to use in your post-event routines and strategies.

After the event: follow-up best practices

As things wind down, there is still plenty to do. Closely following a virtual event, consider these best post-event follow-up practices to make the most of the experience.

21. Generate reports

Reporting tools are key when it comes to evaluating event ROI and determining the success of specific sessions and activities. When reports can be automatically generated, it’s even better. For an effective report that will align the entire event team, measure KPIs that include:

  • Attendance
  • Social media mentions
  • Content engagement
  • Sponsorship ROI
  • Attendee satisfaction

To learn more about tracking event goals, check out Event marketing KPIs: measure event success with these top 11 KPIs.

22. Follow up with attendees

Having a post-event follow strategy allows you to extract even more valuable information from your attendees, as well as nurture leads that were generated during the event.

23. Repurpose content for continued engagement

Repurposing event content isn’t lazy—it’s strategic and a great best practice. You’ve gone through the trouble of creating and organizing engaging content, so abandoning it after only one use would be a waste. Examples of repurposing include:

  • Speakers: Record sessions and edit clips of important talking points to distribute on social media.
  • Seminars: Record and archive these to offer as on-demand webinars later.

While some exclusive event content is expected and can be a great selling point to persuade ticket sales and registrations, content repurposing helps increase post-event engagement and generate new leads.

24. Feed lessons back into your event strategy

Throughout all stages of virtual event planning and execution, an event organizer and manager can learn a lot. Once you’ve measured KPIs and visualized data in reports, funnel all of that knowledge back into your event strategy so you’re better positioned for even greater success at your next virtual event.