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Virtual Event Design: Top Tips for Immersive Online Experiences

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Designing comprehensive online events—that are inviting and memorable—is no easy feat. Especially after in-person events disappeared in 2020—people want to feel as connected as they did when attending in-person events, even while interacting behind a computer screen.  

Anyone can slap together a few Powerpoint presentations, present via Zoom, and call it a virtual event. But designing unique immersive experiences that keep attendees fully engaged takes thoughtful planning and conscious design. 

This article will discuss top tips related to online event design and focus on engaging attendees with unforgettable experiences. Whether you’re designing a virtual event or a hybrid one, these tips will provide insight into captivating virtual attendees and making your online event as close to the in-person experience as possible.

Start with a Solid Strategy

Virtual event design always starts with a solid event strategy. The event strategy outlines why you are running the event and what you hope to get out of it. 

Event strategy doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process, though (😌). Outline your goals, what you want your attendees and sponsors to get out of the event, and how you plan to increase engagement. 

The key is to remember you are not just designing an event—you are creating a human experience. There are living, breathing humans on the other side of that screen, and they need to be fully immersed in the event experience to stay engaged (and delighted). Always keep the attendee in focus as you plan your event design strategy.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What are our event goals? What do we hope to get out of the event?
  • What do attendees and sponsors hope to get out of the event?
  • How will we measure event success? What are the KPIs?
  • How will we keep attendees engaged and interacting?
  • How can we bridge the gap between virtual and in-person attendees for hybrid events?
  • How can we engage with attendees before, during, and even after the event? 

The answers to these questions will form your event strategy and guide your decision-making throughout the event planning process. Each attendee, sponsor, and presenter experience should align with your goals and objectives for the event. 

Essentially, your strategy is your roadmap to guide your event design and preparation. The rest of this article will walk through some of these strategy points related to event design. 

Learn from event experts and get a sneak peek of the Socio platform! Watch our recent webinar, “Raising the Bar on Virtual Events,” and discover pro tips and learnings gleaned from powering thousands of memorable online events.  

Map Out the Attendee Journey

It’s time to put your marketing hat on. 

Similar to how marketers map out different customer journeys through sales funnels as they become leads and eventually customers, event managers can (and should) map out their attendees’ journeys. 

Why? Because all attendees are not from the same demographic, nor do they share the same behaviors and characteristics. 

If you liked strawberry ice cream and told us it was your favorite, and on the day of the event, we served you chocolate instead, would you be happy or displeased? Yes, this is a simplified example, but the point is that by segmenting your attendees and mapping out their potential journeys, you can personalize each group’s experience. Give each attendee the strawberry ice cream (or chocolate if they prefer) event experience they desire.

Virtual Event Design: Map Out the Attendee Journey

Another benefit of segmenting and targeting specific attendee groups is the amplification of your sponsorship opportunities. In addition to basic sponsorship opportunities, offer targeted promotion to groups segmented by attendee type using tools like video or networking rooms. Sponsors will be much more willing to promote to people who share similar characteristics to their target audience. 

How do you segment attendees? First, map out each touchpoint your attendees will interact with at your online event. Here are six typical attendee touchpoints along their journey:

  • Pre-event promotion and awareness
  • Registration and agenda
  • Session tracking
  • Networking
  • Sponsor interactions
  • Post-event followup

Start with a sophisticated virtual event platform with built-in segmenting features that allow you to curate and personalize attendee experiences.

For example, imagine you’re hosting a hybrid event and will have an in-person audience as well as virtual attendees. During the registration process, registrants can choose their ticket type (in-person vs. virtual) and this information should seamlessly populate in your event platform. You can then use this information on the backend to control which features are visible to separate audiences so you can tailor the attendee experience.

virtual conference
With Socio’s registration software, curate attendee experiences seamlessly by automatically porting attendee data into the platform after registration. 

Take segmentation a step further and you can design event journeys based on attendees’ preferences by customizing your registration forms. Do they prefer one topic over another? What are their key concerns? Why are they registering for the event? The more characteristics you can discover about your attendees, the more personalized the journey you can create for them. 

How can you customize attendee journeys? Below are some examples:

  • Customize content based on attendees’ preferences
    • A CEO would prefer more leadership-style content than a non-executive
    • An attendee who is joining the event live would appreciate some interactive elements in their workshop to engage them more
  • Curate targeted networking groups
    • Create groups around specific topics and attendee roles
  • Provide targeted sponsorship opportunities
    • Create targeted sponsor groups and match sponsors with target customers
    • Offer sponsors isolated opportunities, where they are the only company to gain access to a particular audience segment
  • Delight attendees with special surprises based on their preferences
    • Your attendees will remember the extraordinary things you do to make their experience memorable. Use gamification and other interactive features (attendance bonuses, prizes, etc.) targeted to their preferences to make their experience one to remember. 
    • Send physical event swag to attendees before the event to generate buzz and give them incentives to join.

Knowing your target audience and consulting your personas throughout the online event planning process is key to planning a successful event and assessing whether attendees will enjoy a particular feature or content topic, sponsor, etc. 

When designing your event, follow this simple question and answer process:

Will my persona like this feature? Will it make them feel more connected to my online event and provide a unique, immersive experience?

If ‘yes’…

Does this feature fit into my overall event goals and objectives?

If ‘yes’ again, you might have a winner. 

Craft a Compelling Event Brand

Your event brand encompasses the visual elements, aesthetic, style, and personality of your virtual event. Stellar event branding is compelling, memorable, and wows attendees, sponsors, and presenters.

Your branding will be evident in every component of your event: website, logo, event management platform, promotions, content, swag, themes, digital media, and more.

When crafting your event branding, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Remain consistent. Whether designing your virtual event stage, providing backgrounds for speakers, or branding your event app, keep the branding message, colors, and design consistent across all components. 
  • Help your brand stand out on its own. Your event branding can reflect your organization’s branding, but ideally, your event brand should stand on its own. Maintain your brand’s personality, but take some liberty with your event brand’s aesthetics and style.
  • Leverage an event management platform. Use an event management platform that allows white-label branding and full customization. 

Tailor Your Run of Show for Momentum

With so many event details to design, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the moving parts. Below, we listed a few points to remember that often get overlooked when compiling your run of show.

Share Content and Scheduling

Send the event schedule days in advance and allow attendees to sign up for sessions and get notified when they start. Remember to schedule content, networking, and specialized rooms for all attendees’ time zones. 

Fatigue quickly sets in after prolonged periods of staring at a computer screen. For online events, break up the event into fewer sessions per day instead of cramming all of the content into a couple of days. Also, keep sessions shorter and the content digestible and include short Q&A sessions between longer talks to break up the time and keep attendees engaged. 

Virtual attendees might get bored with one-sided discussions. Build interactive elements into each session and prepare presenters to interact with attendees in real-time. Work with speakers before the event and ensure they are prepared with the right equipment. Prepare pre-recorded sessions in case technology falters.

Incorporate Gifts or Swag

Mail out pre-event swag or host an in-person component (hybrid events)—something attendees can get their hands on to make your virtual event as close to an in-person experience as possible.

Capture Event Data

Online events reward you with tons of data to leverage for future events. Ensure your event platform collects data on engagement and participation and leaves digital trails for you to follow and access.

Boost Engagement and Interaction 

While mapping out your attendee journeys, consider what interactive elements will engage members. At a minimum, provide:

Virtual Event Design: Boost Engagement and Interaction

You want your attendees to have some fun! Virtual event design incorporates these real-time elements to encourage interaction and participation. Give attendees a reason to stick around instead of being distracted by incoming emails, adorable puppies (who can resist?), and Amazon deliveries.

Provide gamification around attendance and activity. Enact a points-based system where attendees can win points for attending sessions, participating in activities, and playing collaborative games. The more points, the better the chance of winning a prize. Or reward people with a gift for earning a certain number of points. 

Engage Virtual Event Attendees With Coffee ☕

During our EventHack Hybrid Games, one of our participating teams came up with the idea of a networking “Coffeehouse Connection.”

The idea is to provide your attendees with $5 gift cards to purchase coffee (or tea) from their favorite cafe before they join the event, along with exciting topics to discuss at the event.

Create “coffee rooms” during the live event based on attendees’ beverage preferences (coffee, tea, espresso). If you are running a hybrid event, your in-person attendees can join the coffee rooms from anywhere and feel more connected to the virtual attendees. 

The key is to make your online event experience rewarding enough to keep attendees participating instead of getting distracted. 

During our EventHack Hybrid Games, Event Nerd CEO Damany said, “Zoom fatigue is real, but you don’t hear anyone discussing ESPN fatigue. This is because ESPN was designed to keep you engaged. This is where we get to think like marketers and television producers.”

Keep your marketing hat on when designing your online event experiences. It’s not just about pushing stellar content. Focus your energy on creating immersive experiences that delight and keep attendees glued to your event. 

Need more inspiration? Here are seven virtual engagement ideas your attendees will remember.

Power Your Virtual Event Design With Socio

Socio is an end-to-end event management platform that takes the guesswork and stress out of virtual event design. 

With its feature-rich deck and world-class support, training, and services, Socio provides everything event managers need to create memorable, profit-boosting events. 

Power Your Virtual Event Design With Socio

Socio features for virtual events include:

  • Full branding and customization
  • Flexible state-of-the-art live streaming
  • Video Rooms
  • Q&A
  • Live polls
  • Live chat
  • Gamification
  • One-on-one and group networking
  • Sponsorship visibility
  • Real-time data and metrics
  • Professional training and services
  • And more!

Make online event design easy (and fun!). Try Socio and create immersive, rewarding event experiences that last long after your event. 

Want to learn more about event design with Socio? Schedule a personalized demo today with our Socio Event Experts.

Olivia VanCuren
Olivia VanCuren
Content Marketing Specialist @ Socio. Words enthusiast. Passionate about events that foster meaningful connections.