Best Practices for Running a Virtual Conference

virtual conference

Even as businesses continue to re-open and consider what a post-pandemic world might look like, virtual conferences continue to be an attractive method of connecting with the capital markets. With global travel restrictions remaining in 2021, we continue to see a large volume of conferences and events executed virtually, and we don’t expect that to change in the immediate future. 

Early on in the pandemic, we certainly saw some struggles with both the format and technologies associated with making the transition to virtual events. Now, more than a year in, presenters have become much more comfortable and adopted this new approach rather seamlessly.  Investors have also embraced the shift to virtual, so much so that expectations are higher than ever, with attendees demanding increasingly more from these experiences. 

Working with hundreds of clients to navigate this new virtual world over recent months has provided the Q4 team valuable insights into ensuring that virtual events stand out, deliver value and engage key constituents. These best practices can help any company leverage virtual events to engage attendees and meet their growing expectations.

Know Your Audience to Design a Curated Event

One of the keys to hosting a successful virtual event is understanding your audience and designing an experience that caters to their needs and expectations. For instance, some audiences may not be as technologically savvy as others. For those, it’s important your virtual event solution is as simple as possible. For a more tech savvy audience, you may opt for an enhanced and more interactive experience that provides more opportunities for engagement. 

Understanding the world attendees live and work in today is also incredibly important.  Remote working environments can bring endless distractions and we’ve all, no doubt, had some personal experience with Zoom fatigue. While many of us may be attending more events, it’s likely that event attendees are unable to give the same level of attention and focus as they might have when sitting together in a ballroom.

As a result, it’s critical to create a virtual event that’s both engaging and respectful of the audience’s time. Make sure that sessions are concise and the right length for the audience, as well as the specific topic. Avoid long or repetitive sessions when possible, and, perhaps most importantly, include breaks in the schedule. We would never plan an in-person event without time to grab a coffee or return a phone call, and we need to understand that our virtual attendees need those same breaks. I’d suggest adding a little bit of buffer – maybe 5-10 minutes – between each session, as well as several formal breaks throughout the day. Think about the traditional “school schedule” here and provide two “recesses” of 15 or 20 minutes – one mid-morning and the second mid-afternoon – and then an hour lunch break.

Finally, avoid the common mistake of trying to replicate an in-person event. Not all aspects of a traditional conference translate seamlessly to digital. A focus on replicating the in-person experience may cause you to miss some of the benefits of digital. One of these is the ability to  really know your audience and provide a more tailored experience.  For example, consider creating a microsite where all information related to the event can be easily found. Or really step it up with customized landing pages for different attendees. Another interesting approach is hosting a Q&A session that integrates polling during the live event for real-time feedback and insights. Keep an open mind and explore the new possibilities presented by this virtual world.

Do the Prep Work

I think many tend to believe that virtual events don’t require quite as much time to plan. And while there may be fewer tasks, when possible, we’d recommend confirming all of your vendors at least two months in advance, and perhaps even further out for larger events. This will ensure you can book your preferred providers and avoid potential compatibility issues. When designing a virtual event experience, it’s imperative to understand and account for all the various browsers, platforms and devices conference participants and attendees may be joining on.

This past year has illustrated how technology can effectively make or break your virtual event.  A simple but extremely important practice is to ensure that attendees (particularly presenters!) test their internet connection prior to the event. Don’t be afraid to send speed test links with recommendations. As a best practice, we recommend presenters participate in a speaker onboarding session from the same location and device they will be using on the day of the event. During these sessions, ask speakers to do a speed test and help them troubleshoot.

Anticipating, and preparing for, challenges ahead of time is key to a successful event. This can include tech training and testing, speaker rehearsals, preparing for expected questions and prioritizing accessibility to mitigate hidden barriers to attend your event.  

And, beyond technology, do the upfront work to help attendees navigate the experience. Provide clear instructions, explain how to submit questions and send out reminders and useful information ahead of the event.

Follow up

To extend the life and value of your virtual conference, consider sharing the event recording and transcript. You can post this to your website and send directly to key contacts and attendees. Following up with the top questions (and answers) discussed at the event can encourage and continue engagement well after the event.

Don’t forget to utilize your event data to inform future strategies. Following the event, research exactly who attended which sessions and align any follow-up accordingly. Providing audience data to your leadership team can also provide valuable insights into what content is resonating most (or least) with the investment community.

These are just a few of the best practices we’ve seen, but I think we’ll see organizations get increasingly creative to capitalize on the opportunities presented by this transition to virtual.  To learn more about hosting a virtual event, click here.

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