Before 2020, the word “virtual,” was synonymous with things like virtual reality goggles and cool tech gadgets. But unfortunately, it took on a new meaning in 2020 and became a buzzword for reasons we were not expecting.

The pandemic changed business as we knew it and forced event managers to pivot their in-person gatherings to virtual venues—or else forgo events for the foreseeable future. As municipalities shut down, event managers struggled to reimagine their in-person events as digital experiences.

But innovation and know-how prevailed, and we found a way to get the job done. We knew the show must go on (even without the 3-D booths and cocktails 🍸)—and it did.

As virtual events became popular in 2020, event managers also realized their value. They were saving money and serving more attendees because they weren’t restricted to a physical location.

People who could not attend in-person events suddenly became interested in this new digital venue—even if they had to forgo the business card-passing, cocktail-drinking, in-person experiences they were used to.

Virtual events have now become a staple. As businesses reopen, event managers are rethinking their pre-2020 strategies and hesitating to jump back into in-person events 100%. Attendees might not be ready for in-person events as well, and running virtual events provide increased opportunities to attract more attendees and sponsors.

If you are planning a virtual event, or want to learn the why, what, and how of running effortless, memorable virtual events, you are in the right place.

This article will discuss:

  • What virtual events are
  • How to plan a virtual event
  • The challenges virtual event managers face and how to solve them
  • Six must-haves when planning virtual events

Let’s dive in!

What is a Virtual Event?

A virtual event is conducted online (virtually), and attendees join from their computers or devices instead of meeting in a physical location.

Virtual conferencing is not new to the world. Before 2020, we used virtual meetings for everything from interviews and business meetings to on-demand exercise classes and webinars—and we still do.

But a fully engaging virtual event is not a webinar or a digital meeting. Virtual events bring as much of the in-person event component to the digital space as possible and create engagement-driven experiences to delight attendees and make them feel connected.

Which event type should you choose? If attendees are still concerned about gathering in person, virtual events may be necessary. Taking your event to the virtual space can also be valuable if you want to conserve funds, open up more digital sponsorship opportunities, and cast a wider net to reach more attendees with your content.

How to Plan a Virtual Event

How to Plan a Virtual Event

While planning a virtual event involves many details, we distilled the plan down into six basic steps:

  1. Identify your virtual event goals and KPIs
  2. Choose the right event management platform
  3. Set up your virtual technology
  4. Create your content and interactive elements
  5. Promote your event and attract sponsors, if necessary
  6. Set up post-event follow-ups, surveys, etc.

We will dive deeper into some of these planning steps later in the article.

Below is a list of questions to ask yourself while planning a virtual event. This is not a definitive list, but they provide an overview of some of the most critical elements to consider. 

  • What are your event’s goals? What do you want attendees to walk away with?
  • What are your KPIs? What do you hope to gain from the event?
  • How many days and how many sessions will be included in each day?
  • What interactive elements will you leverage to increase engagement?
  • What technology will you use?
  • How will you set your speakers up for success?
  • What are potential issues that could arise during the event, and how will you solve them?
  • What event platform will you use?
  • Will the content be 100% live, on-demand, or a combination of the two?
  • What are the ticket prices?
  • How will attendees be able to network with each other?
  • Will the content be available after the event, and for how long?
  • Will attendees have a guide that helps them answer all of their questions and get the most out of their experience?

The key to planning a successful virtual event? Plan it like an in-person event (sans the cocktails and 3-D booths), so attendees enjoy the same type of experience. But instead of booking a physical venue, you would secure a venue through a virtual event platform.

For example, it wouldn’t make sense to book back-to-back speakers for four hours. In-person event attendees would be squirming in their chairs—so would virtual attendees at their computers.

On the flip side, virtual events require more focus on interaction and engagement since attendees won’t meet face-to-face.

Put yourself in your attendees’ shoes. What would delight them and keep them focused on your content? How can you make their experience fun and rewarding, even though they are behind a screen? How can you keep them from getting distracted?

In a later section, we will dig into these questions more and provide some direction on ensuring a successful virtual event. If you need some inspiration, check out these virtual event ideas and examples.

Three Virtual Event Challenges (And How to Solve Them)

As an event manager, it’s critical to understand the challenges associated with virtual events so you can mitigate them in the planning stages. Below are three challenges we see event managers face and some tips on how to overcome them.

1. Keeping Attendance High

Sure, virtual events draw many more attendees than in-person events. But attendees also might forget or disregard them.

Attending an in-person event requires a lot of planning (travel, scheduling, etc.). Attending a virtual event requires turning on a computer and pressing a button; attendees don’t even have to get fully dressed!

So if you’re looking for ways to encourage virtual attendees to join and fully engage with your event, check out the following best practices.

Promote special giveaways or prizes for audience participation, and reward attendees for joining the event and passing milestones.

For the AdWorld 2021 virtual conference, the organization sent personalized graphics to all attendees and encouraged them to share on social media and use the hashtag #AdWorld2021. Participants were featured as the “Attendee of the Day” on AdWorlds’ social profiles.

adworld 2021

2. Maintaining Attention and Focus

Let’s face it. Other than cute kitten videos, it’s challenging to stay focused on one thing online for too long. Our eyes and minds need a break. So do your virtual attendees.

In addition to feeling fatigued, virtual attendees also get distracted by Facebook notifications, text messages, and barking dogs which continually compete for their attention.

How do you keep attendees focused and avoiding distractions? Keep your attendees interacting and encourage them to turn on their cameras so they feel more connected to the events.

Consider the timing of your events as well. Give breaks for lunch and schedule events to give attendees ample time for rest throughout the day.

Also consider interactive elements such as:

  • Q&A
  • Live polls
  • Ongoing giveaways
  • Games and prizes

3. Keeping Networking Alive in the Virtual Event Space

In-person events are a hotbed for networking. Attendees need nothing more than to walk around, share stories, and strike up a dozen conversations to connect with others.

To mimic the networking dynamic of in-person events and create an immersive experience for virtual attendees, consider the following:

  • Schedule small targeted networking sessions so attendees can chat one-on-one with other attendees
  • Set up team-building activities and games to help attendees “break the ice”
  • Host sponsored or incentivized networking sessions throughout the event, not just after the days conclude
  • Keep networking sessions open after the event concludes
  • Customize the networking sessions to pair attendees with similar passions and interests (i.e., targeted networking)

Suggested reading: Virtual Event Design: Top Tips for Immersive Online Experiences

6 Must-Haves for a Memorable Virtual Event

6 Must-Haves for a Memorable Virtual Event

Planning a successful virtual event requires attention to many details. Below, we discuss six essential elements to consider during the planning stages.

Set Clear Goals and KPIs for Your Virtual Event

What is your overall goal for the event? How will you measure success after it’s over? Do you want to increase brand awareness, attract more clients, generate revenue, reward your employees, or all of the above?

Setting clearly defined goals is critical because they will guide your planning and marketing strategy, and help you make the best planning decisions. 

Socio’s Live Data Dashboard gives you 360-degree insights to identify what’s working (and what’s not) in real-time, so you have a robust collection of data to make your future events even better.

Also, define KPIs before the event to determine benchmarks and determine what event success looks like.

Example KPIs:

  • Event ROI
  • Number of attendees
  • Sponsorship engagement and revenue
  • Attendee engagement – measure chat channel traffic and engagement
  • Social media engagement
  • Attendee satisfaction – conducted via post-event surveys
  • Event website traffic
  • Marketing email open rates/clicks
  • Registrants vs. actual attendees – How many registered but did not participate?
  • Minutes watched – Attendee duration for sessions. Which sessions were the most popular?

Help Your Speakers Prepare a Successful Virtual Presentation

Here’s where things get a little tricky. You’ve got multiple speakers presenting from different locations using different equipment, and you want everything to look seamless and run smoothly without any mishaps. It’s not easy, but it’s entirely doable.

You have a couple of options here:

If budget allows, send presenters an equipment package (light, microphone, webcam, backdrop) and instructions on how to use it and set up their space. Designate technical team members to walk through the setup with speakers, and conduct dry runs.

A lower-cost alternative is to send speakers a list of preferred equipment and work with them one-on-one to ensure their setup meets your expectations. Provide a virtual background for them to use during the live presentation.

Pro Tip: Do a technical check/walkthrough right before the live event and prepare pre-recorded presentations if you experience technical or connectivity issues.

The cherry on top for making sure the speaker experience is aesthetically pleasing for your attendees and speakers: overlays and banners.

Personalize these elements with your event logo, sponsor information, or speaker information, –– just make sure they’re consistent and flow with your event’s theme.

For more information, read this resource on how to set up your virtual event speakers for success.

Encourage Interaction and Engagement

We touched on how to increase engagement and attendee participation earlier in this article. Let’s discuss how event managers can take advantage of fun and exciting elements to create engaging experiences for attendees.

The key is to create an experience for virtual attendees as close to the in-person experience as possible. Here are some ideas:

  • Use an event app to encourage interaction
  • Allow attendees to create unique profiles
  • Event gamification: Games and challenges for attendees to gain points and get prizes
  • Small, targeted networking sessions during and after the event
  • Live Q&As and polls
  • Private and group live chat
  • Document, photo, and file-sharing capabilities
  • Connection and engagement with sponsors via video rooms

Socio’s webinar, “Raising the Bar on Virtual Events,” included an event game with prizes for attendees who ranked at the top of the leaderboard. To top off the fun, we randomly selected someone from the Top 50 leaderboard participants to receive a gift card.

The event also featured our own hashtag (#dreambigvirtual), and we encouraged attendees and Socio staff to take selfies using our selfie booth. To add to the fun, a Cameo actor from the movie Inception was a great way to entertain during the event!

Create Something Tangible: Hybrid-ize Your Virtual Event

Your virtual attendees won’t experience anything physically tangible, so why not bring something tangible to them? Planning a hybrid event (or even just a hybrid experience) brings some of the in-person event dynamics to virtual attendees.

If you feel that some kind of in-person interaction is integral to your event’s success, consider hosting a hybrid event, which merges in-person and virtual components. If you want to learn more, read our in-depth guide on how to plan memorable hybrid events effortlessly.

Hybrid events use physical locations where speakers can present and live stream the presentations for virtual attendees. But if you don’t want to book a physical place, consider adding other tangible elements to mimic the in-person dynamic.

Send your attendees and speakers event swag right after they register. Include event hashtags on the swag and encourage attendees to share photos with their swag to generate buzz for the event. Get sponsors involved and include their logos on the swag as well.

The sky’s the limit with what you can do to make stronger connections. During our EventHack Hybrid Games, we were introduced to a company that designed a creative hybrid-crossover event for its client called the “Avatar Bar,” where virtual and in-person attendees could meet up, compare avatars, and network.

Create Something Tangible: Hybrid-ize Your Virtual Event

The event included customized avatars within Socio event management software, Oculus goggles, real and virtual cocktails, Bluetooth headphones, and sponsored swag. Fun and excitement were had by all attendees. Read more about it here.

Amp Up Your Digital Promotions

With the capability of attracting a large audience for your virtual event, you have a broader audience to target for promotions. Below are some digital tactics and elements to include in your event promotion strategy.

  • Branded landing page/website for online registration
  • Targeted social media ads – target offers by attendee characteristics. Determine where your attendees frequent online and focus on those channels.
  • Targeted PPC ads
  • Social media posting – create an event hashtag to drum up excitement, send short snippet videos as teasers for the event sessions. Post regularly leading up to the event to remind attendees and create buzz.
  • Email marketing – generate buzz for registrants and entice non-registrants to sign up
  • Get event speakers involved with promotion
  • Leverage A/B testing to increase conversions

Maintain Outreach After Your Virtual Event

Even after your virtual event is over, it’s not time to say goodbye to your attendees, sponsors, and speakers!

Some post-event tidbits to think about:

  • Personalized thank-you’s to speakers
  • Prizes to game winners
  • Webinar recording of the event
  • User-generated content
  • Access to your event year-round

Following through after the spotlights are off is key to maintaining relationships and establishing your credibility. Attendees can get a taste of future event topics, and you can nurture curiosity for those who couldn’t attend or are interested in staying in touch.

Lastly, sending curated email follow-ups is another great way to keep track of those who are engaging with your post-event content.

Use these follow-ups as a way to launch related content and drive virtual event audience engagement beyond your event.

Choose the Right Event Virtual Event Platform

You need a venue to host your in-person event. It’s no different for virtual events.

The right event platform becomes a location to host your event and an immersive event experience for attendees and presenters. Essentially, the event platform is your home base where all of your event components come together.

How do you choose the right event technology? It depends on your event goals and what components you will require to fulfill those goals.

Let’s say that you rely on sponsors for event revenue. Consider a solution that offers unique promotional opportunities for sponsors such as sponsored video rooms, sponsor “booths,” group demos, live chat, and more. You should have the ability to creatively monetize your events however you deem necessary.

If your virtual event goals require robust features such as networking, gamification, interaction, sponsorship features, and video streaming, consider an event app that provides these advanced features and multi-device functionality. 

Are you incorporating in-person components and streaming professional videos? Look for a platform that has an RTMP player so you can use your preferred provider and stream your high-quality videos with confidence. This feature is especially beneficial if you want to leverage sponsorship commercials, professionally branded banners, or other promotional media.

If you are looking for a full-scale approach and need training and professional services in addition to a robust platform, consider an end-to-end solution that can partner with you to ensure your event runs seamlessly and hits your goals. 

The key is to start with your event goals and overall plan and identify what event platform features will help you achieve it.

Run High-Powered Virtual Events With Socio

Socio is an end-to-end event management platform that powers virtual, hybrid, and in-person events. With sophisticated software and white-glove service, Socio makes event management effortless, and enables event managers to create memorable event experiences for attendees, presenters, and sponsors. 

Socio has a rich feature deck that makes event planning fun, easy, and rewarding. Below are just a few of Socio’s many features:

  • Seamless 1:1 networking
  • Video rooms
  • Customized registration design
  • Curated attendee experiences
  • Gamification, live chat, Q&A, polling, and more interactive features
  • Custom branding
  • Mobile event app
  • Customized sponsorship opportunities
  • State-of-the-art flexible video streaming and RTMP functionality
  • Advanced reporting and analytics
  • World-class support
  • Professional services
  • And more

Socio’s comprehensive interactive web app is easy and painless to set up. Also, you can make changes to the app during your event and from wherever you can log into the Socio platform (laptop, tablet, mobile device, etc.).

socio virtual events

With Socio’s intuitive Communities platform, allow attendees and sponsors to network and build relationships long after your virtual event ends. Keep your community engaged and active all year with unique features such as gamification, networking opportunities, personalized messaging and content, social walls, 1:1 chat, and more. Boost sponsorship ROI with year-round exposure to your community.

socio app for virtual events

Want to learn how Socio can power your next virtual event? Schedule a personalized demo today with our Socio Event Experts.

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

Olivia VanCuren
Olivia VanCuren

Content Marketing Specialist @ Webex Events (formerly Socio). Words enthusiast. Passionate about events that foster meaningful connections.