How to host a Virtual Event that converts (2020)

clock iconMarch 12, 2020 Event Marketing

Our world is innovating at a pace that’s unprecedented. Technology is improving on a daily basis, allowing people across the globe to build relationships. A great opportunity for us marketers. We can now create virtual conferences that people can join without having to travel. So, let’s focus on the right way to set up a virtual event!

To set up a virtual conference, you will need a plan, a good conference platform, the right equipment, some speakers and marketing reporting tools. Executed correctly, it’s a lead generation magnet.  

The truth is that the most valuable asset of a traditional conference is the ability to network with people. That’s generally where the audience draws the most value from.

With a virtual conference, you are able to facilitate the ability to network. Done correctly, it can even be more powerful than a traditional in-person event.

Virtual events are also a great alternative to traditional events in case you have to cancel them. An example is the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in 2020. Many events were canceled to prevent the spread of the virus. As a company, you need a back-up plan. Virtual conferences will ensure business continuity.

I will walk you through it in the next 8 steps on how to set up a virtual conference.

1. Define the ultimate goal of the virtual conference

Before you set up your virtual conference, you need to identify your ultimate goal.

What problem are you trying to solve with this virtual conference?

By understanding what you want to achieve as a business, you can tailor your conference plan to that. 

The ultimate goal of the virtual conference might have multiple angles. The marketing team might want to generate named account leads. The customer success team might want to reduce churn.

You need to identify all the ultimate goals of every department that’s working on this virtual conference.

Once defined, you need to start working on the success metrics. What are the numbers that you need to achieve before you call the virtual event a success?

You want to put these numbers in a dashboard that will measure the success of your virtual event. More about this at point 8 of this article.

2. Outline the plan

Once you have defined the ultimate goal and the success metrics, it’s time to start outlining your virtual conference plan.

You need to think about things such as:

  • Which virtual conference platform is best for our goal?
  • How can we provide the most value to our audience?
  • What can we do to improve conversion rates?
  • How do we give people the ability to network while attending the virtual event?
  • How will we promote this event?
  • What if there is an internet connection outage? Do we have a plan b?
  • Which speakers contribute best to our ultimate goal of the conference?
  • What design assets do we need?
  • What reporting tools will we use?
  • How will the follow-up plan drive maximum value?

Those are just some of the questions you need to answer. The exact plan will vary on the goal of the event.

It’s always a good idea to create your plan in a slide deck. This way it’s easy to present it to your stakeholders and your management team.

This also means you have to include various stakeholders in your plan. Before moving to the execution stage, create buy-in from all the relevant stakeholders.

3. Select a virtual conference platform and technical equipment

The best virtual conference platform will depend on the ultimate goal of your event. Some platforms are great for a webinar type format. This includes the ability to ask poll questions and other interactive capabilities.

A platform that I’ve used a lot for this is ON24 and GoToWebinar. But here is a list by G2 of the 10 best webinar software.

What platform do you use for large virtual conferences
(Markletic, 2020)

However, you might have the need for something more interactive. As mentioned earlier, one of the most important aspects of in-person events is the ability to network.

This is very hard through webinar platforms and they will not be the best virtual conference platforms to fulfill your ultimate goal.

A platform that I’ve used a lot that allows virtual networking is Zoom. It allows you to create breakout sessions and it allows people to chat with each other. If you set this up correctly, it can be even more powerful than in-person events.

The reason why is that you can see the full list of people attending if you want. People can cherry-pick the people with whom they want to network. This will provide a lot of value for your audience.

After selecting the best virtual conference platform, you also need to look at technical equipment. You will need things such as:

  • A high-quality microphone;
  • A high-quality camera;
  • Stable internet connection;
  • Perhaps some lightning equipment.

I’ve tested a lot of technical equipment for virtual events and here are my recommendations:

Virtual Conference Room setup
Virtual Conference Room Setup. (Image source: Podcastcenterla)

4. Develop content and arrange speakers

Without exceptional content and stellar speakers, you’re going to have a hard time reaching your ultimate goal for the virtual conference.

The topic of the virtual conference is important. However, what’s even more important are your speakers; just like at an in-person conference.

If you don’t have quality speakers, people simply won’t register for your event.

Especially in B2B organizations, it’s incredibly effective to invite customers to speak at your events. Especially customers that are in the same industry are your main target audience for the virtual conference.

People want to see what similar companies did with your offerings.

So in terms of virtual conference best practices:

  • Always arrange high-quality speakers;
  • Arrange at least 3 speakers for variation purposes
  • Create a top converting landing page to capture registrations;
  • Create appealing visuals for email, landing pages, and programmatic advertising;
  • Develop email invitation templates that focus on providing and explaining the value to your audience;
  • Develop a post-event nurture program;
  • Create content that sparks interactivity throughout the virtual conference

When you are going to host a virtual conference, always think about these items.

5. Promote the virtual conference

Your promotion efforts will determine whether the virtual conference is going to be successful.

You must realize that with a virtual conference, the chances that people won’t show up is higher. Generally, at in-person conferences, you can expect a no show rate of 30%. At a virtual conference, this will be slightly higher.

This means you need to do a great job of promoting the virtual event. In order to achieve your attendance goals, you will need to drive more registrations.

I’ve written an article about the best digital marketing strategies for B2B events. The same applies to virtual conferences, so have a look. 

Some virtual conference promotion best practices are:

  • Promote the event through email marketing, including third-party databases;
  • Use chatbots on your website;
  • Promote it through (paid) social media;
  • Ask your speakers to share it with their network;
  • Use employee advocacy to promote the event;
  • Implement a programmatic advertising campaign;
  • Ask your partner ecosystem to share the event;
  • Ask your sales team to promote it to their prospects.

6. Do a dry-run

Just like with real events, you need to do a dry-run of some of your presentations. You need to make sure that your speakers are familiar with your virtual conference platform.

A virtual conference is not rocket science but there are some things that can go wrong. You need to be prepared and always have a back-up plan.

During your dry-run, discuss potential problems and come up with solutions.

You will also need to test your equipment such as a microphone and a camera. If you have an interactive element to your event, then also test that. Make sure that people are able to ask questions. Basically, you need to test all the functionality of your virtual event

7. Gameday! Executing your virtual event

While hosting the actual virtual event, make sure to keep things engaging and interactive. You don’t want people to log out after a few minutes.

It always helps to have multiple speakers that provide a dynamic conversation.

Throughout your virtual conference, have some call-to-actions that people can engage with. Allow people to really participate in your conference.

A nice thing that I’ve done in the past is to host a virtual event during lunch and we sent all the attendees lunch. This provides a great experience for the audiences and we gained some traction on social media.

Be sure to collect feedback because there is always room for improvement.

8. Analytics and event follow-up

The event is done. Now it’s time to squeeze the most value out of it as possible. In the preparation phase, you should have created a follow-up plan.

Now it’s time to get all the leads generated into your marketing automation system and CRM.

Provide sales with a sales kit that will make their follow-up activities as effective as possible.

Things to include in a sales kit are:

  • Explanation and main takeaways of the virtual conference;
  • Email templates they can use for the outreach;
  • A link to your event dashboard. See this post for some examples
  • A link to the leads generated and sorted by the account owner.

As an event owner, it’s your responsibility that your sales team is following up. This means that you will be doing a lot of chasing. At the end of the day, it will be worth it!

That’s it. Those are the steps you need to take to set up a virtual event. Every marketing campaign starts with a great plan and structure. Follow these steps and you’ll be successful. Have you also considered virtual roundtables?

How to set up a virtual conference
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Ricky Wolff
Ricky's North Star is growth. He is the founder of Markletic, a blog about growth hacking and demand generation in marketing.