Virtual conferences are a resource that grew in popularity when the COVID19 pandemic forced people and businesses into lockdowns and social distancing. However, as COVID-19 restrictions wind down and society and commerce start to open again, virtual events remain popular.
Many businesses report they will continue to use virtual events post-pandemic. One survey shows that virtual event marketing will be worth more than $500 billion by 2028.
It’s not hard to understand the appeal of virtual conferencing. They are safe, less prone to disruption, and have a broader reach than local events. With ever-increasing competition in the market, it only makes sense to take advantage of whatever tools are available, which should now include a quality virtual event platform to host your conference.
This guide is full of tips and strategies to help you plan your next virtual conference.
Select the Right Virtual Event Platform
Using the right virtual event tool can make or break your online conference. Getting part way through your development, finding your virtual conference software missing some features you need could be costly. Here are a few must-have features you will need to host a successful virtual conference.
#1 Communication Tools
Live conferences will need live video streaming capabilities, especially for your keynote event. Your software should also have the ability to stream to a sizeable audience at once while also recording the proceedings.
Some conferences may require speakers to deliver their presentations simultaneously, so make sure your software can support multi-presentation sessions. Virtual event software like Dryfta can sustain 50 concurrent live meetings, which should be plenty for all but the busiest virtual conference.
Other communication options to check for are DMs (Direct Messages), one-on-one video conferencing, live Q and A sessions, polling, real-time chat, and file sharing.
#2 Virtual Booths
Virtual booths are a massive drawcard for attracting sponsors and improving the revenue-generating potential of your virtual conference. Attendees can explore and interact with your attendees through live video conferencing or viewing prerecorded content.
#3 Attendee Engagement
Virtual conferences must have the same level of engagement as a live event, which means virtual event software should have the capacity to host live one-on-one meetings. You can let your attendees know they can network this way by displaying a prompt in chats or virtual booths. Other engagement features that add value include multi-tiered chats, live polls, and gamification.
#4 Customization Options
Your virtual conference interface needs to be unique to represent your brand. Dryfta gives you the tools to create custom landing pages, event registration pages, and email marketing campaigns that you can customize to visually match your website and marketing materials.
Automating as many of your processes as possible will free up more time you can devote to creating the ideal online virtual conference. You’ll want to make sure your virtual event software contains the following automation features:
- Registration, ticket sales, and invoicing
- email marketing funnels
- Reminder emails
- Push notifications
- Text messaging
#6 Recording Features
Recording presentations creates more opportunities to monetize your virtual conference. Anybody who cannot schedule the time to attend your event may like the opportunity to purchase the recorded content. You could also charge a premium ticket price for attendees who would like a copy of the material they can review later or share with colleagues or who could not make the conference.
#7 Security and Support
Virtual event software has many moving parts, so you will need to know there is robust support behind any product you choose for whenever you don’t understand a feature or something is not working as you expected. Free training sessions, 24/7 support, and around-the-clock monitoring will ensure you host a trouble-free conference. It’s also critical for your software to provide secure payment gateways and comply with GDPR, CCPA, and PCI regulations.
Identify Your Demographic
Your target audience will significantly influence the content of your virtual conference, the speakers you invite, and the design of your marketing campaign. Understanding their needs is a top priority.
While you would be limited to a primarily local audience with a physically hosted conference, a virtual event opens you to a broader audience. Your attendees are not geographically limited when it comes to attending, so you can just as easily target leads and prospects in the next state over as ones in your hometown.
An international audience is also a possibility, but you will have to be mindful of timezones.
Decide on the Topics
Consider what topics your audience will find most meaningful and how best to deliver them. A virtual or hybrid event is just as capable as a regular conference in the types of sessions you can create, including lectures, policy updates, workshops, presentations, and state-of-the-field addresses.
Select Your Speakers
Every conference organizer would like to have a big-name speaker headlining at their hybrid event. Keep these qualities in mind when selecting speakers for your online virtual conference.
#1 Do they Have Relevance?
It’s great to have a well-known name present at your virtual events, but the message will fall flat if their content does not align with your audience’s interests or goals.
Select speakers who you know can solve your attendee’s pain points or provide innovative solutions to long-term problems in their business or personal lives.
#2 Choose Speakers Who Can Engage with Your Audience
Approach speakers you know have a knack for delivering highly engaging, captivating presentations. Not all content is exciting, which makes it even more critical for you to choose someone who can present it in a way that keeps your audience hanging on every word. Your goal should be to ensure every virtual event attendee leaves feeling motivated and inspired.
#3 Select Influential Speakers
While Relevance and engagement are critical traits your speakers should have in abundance, they also need to enjoy some level of influence in their respective fields or industries. Prospects are more likely to convert into ticket buyers if your speaker has some impact in the industry or field your conference is targeting.
#4 Industry Experience
A speaker with decades of experience in their field will have no problem covering the material. Still, they must also have experience motivating and inspiring a crowd, even if they are online and viewing from a screen via your virtual event platform.
Speaker backgrounds should closely align with the theme of your conference, but you should also know if they have presented to large crowds before and can they effectively talk on the topic with some authority.
How to Ensure You Get the Best Speakers
When you understand the criteria you are looking for in speakers for your virtual conference, you likely still have a considerable list to sort through. You need some way to cull it down to manageable levels, so you are not swimming in abstracts when you put in your call for papers.
#1 Create a Mock Agenda
One way to zero in on the most suitable speakers for your virtual event platform audience is to create a mock agenda. This document will include the topics you want your speakers to cover. This way, you will have few speakers to get in touch with, fewer abstracts to review, and your workload for reviewing papers will be significantly reduced.
#2 Research Suitable Speakers
You can’t have any shortcuts on this one, and don’t be afraid to add notable personalities onto this list. You never know who will respond, but you will miss out if you don’t get in touch. The more notable your speaker is in your industry, the easier it will be to sell tickets. Of course, in-demand speakers may cost more, so be prepared to factor that into your ticket pricing.
Not all speakers will be famous personalities, but there will still be plenty of talent for you to choose from. Consider contacting speakers who have a podcast, a successful YouTube or social media channel, or performed a TED talk.
#3 Check Your Current Network
If the idea of contacting noteworthy speakers is a little overwhelming, consider checking your existing network. Your current LinkedIn relationships may reveal a few hidden gems.
If none are forthcoming, reach out to other professionals in your network and ask them if they have any recommendations.
Your social media channels are an excellent resource you can use to broadcast a call for speakers. Be sure to stipulate what content you are looking for, and you will eventually connect with passionate individuals who can wow your audience with their unique and inspirational perspectives.
#4 Diversify Your Lineups
Your hybrid event audience will come from various backgrounds, so your selection of speakers should too. Make sure your virtual conference covers a range of views by adding startups, small business owners, and Fortune 500 companies. The heavy hitters are a significant drawcard, but the smaller players will always have insights your audience will find valuable.
Get Some Sponsors
Budget is a limiting factor to any conference, virtual or otherwise. Ticket sales will go a long way to cover the events’ cost, but sponsorships can help with financing, and more money gives you more options.
Attract sponsors to your event in exchange for benefits. A virtual event platform will provide a virtual booth where your sponsors can connect with your attendees and convert them into prospects and leads for their own enterprises.
You could offer your sponsors an opportunity to speak at your event in return for a fee and the opportunity to self-promote.
Market Your Hybrid Event
When you have wrapped up most of your planning, your virtual event software is set up, and you have lined up a few speakers and a conference agenda, it’s time to start your marketing campaign.
Virtual event platforms provide many resources to help with marketing, including promotional landing pages, registration forms, and email marketing. Try to get your marketing strategy started at least a couple of months before opening day. The more time it has to gain traction, the better off you will be.
Don’t forget your social media channels, as your followers are a ready-made source of leads for your hybrid event. You may also want to consider a paid advertising campaign on Google, Bing, Facebook, and Twitter, or wherever else you know your audience likes to hang out.
Email previous hybrid event attendees and members as your conversion rate will often reach higher figures than most other marketing strategies.
Speakers and sponsors might also like to get in on spreading the word, as they will benefit from the extra exposure your event will bring.
Follow Up With Your Audience
If you stop communicating with your attendees after the event ends, you are missing out on a lot of extra potential. Start with a thank you email, or send a participation certificate to show your appreciation of their attendance.
A post-hybrid-event survey is an excellent marketing tool to get the thoughts and opinions of your audience. You can use their insights and criticisms to perfect your next hybrid event.