How to host a virtual event

Introduction

We might be living in a post–COVID society, but virtual events aren’t going anywhere. While people no longer rely on their screen for every event (that got old pretty fast), 2020 revealed that the virtual world could open up whole new audiences. Knowing how to host a virtual event can be a game changer for any speaker.

Today, many event planners are running both in-person and virtual events throughout the year. So what does that mean for you?

Whether you’re a speaker, an event planner, or an entrepreneur who wants to amplify your voice, virtual events offer you a world of opportunity. At this point, you’ve probably attended quite a few. Some of them were probably terrible–poor wifi connections, off–sync video, or no engagement with the audience. Hopefully a few of them were awesome–whether because of the great audio/visual production quality or because the presenters actually engaged you through the screen. The good news for you: the barrier to entry for how to host a virtual event is very low. Just about anyone in any industry can do it with the right kind of preparation!

Today we are bringing you 21 rapid fire tips for hosting a virtual event. These tips are divided into three sections:

  • The “why” behind virtual events (in case you’re still not sold on the idea).
  • Planning & Marketing (how to prepare and make sure people show up).
  • Tech & Production (what gadgets you need–and don’t need–for your presentation to go seamlessly).

By the end of this piece, you should know how to host a virtual event, feel equipped to start planning your first virtual event, or be ready level up the events you’ve already been hosting!

Why host a virtual event?

A virtual event can’t exist just to hear people talk. It needs a purpose. Here are a few things virtual events can accomplish for you that fulfill that higher purpose!

  1. Make up for events you lost. Did COVID cancellations severely impact your speaking schedule or five-year plan? In the rush of rebooking and rescheduling post-COVID have you totally missed the boat? If there’s not a seat for you at the table, make your own table! Hosting your own virtual event takes relatively little time, offsets your financial losses, and allows you to grow your audience in new ways.
  2. Get people to enroll in something. If you offer a variety of products and services, virtual events are a great way to make sales. The event itself should consist of imparting some of the value that is in the bigger product you’re promoting. Even if it’s something small, it’s always wise to include some kind of backend offer for attendees. If you’re selling something with a high dollar value (at a discount for attendees, of course!) you can make a massive return on investment on a relatively small event. In fact, a smaller virtual event is a great way to test if your next big idea will gain traction!
  3. Create hype for yourself if your services aren’t in high demand yet. If you recently picked up speaking or started your own business, your financial prospects might not look too hot. Hosting virtual events is an amazing early-career strategy to get you exposure and remain a sustained part of your business model. With a solid organic marketing strategy (see the next section), you can plan virtual events in as little as 2 weeks without spending a cent.
  4. Enter the events industry in a low-cost way. If you’ve long wanted to host your own events but never had the time, budget, or space, congratulations! You can host a stellar event online from the comfort of your kitchen table. Experimenting and growing your business through virtual events is a great onramp to hosting bigger and better events in person in the future. There are many casual ways to see if you can gain traction in the virtual space before you host your first online event. AMAs, live streams, and even live-tweeting other events are all great methods to pave your way.
  5. Create a more accessible forum for attendees. One of the best things about hosting events online is how accessible they are. Attendees no longer have to weigh the sacrifices of extended time and travel away from their families, not to speak of the high costs. Diversifying your audience this way provides untold benefits for your own business and for the events industry at large. While you don’t want to make your event too easy to sign up for (and then skip–see our pricing tips below), this can be a very rewarding reason to pivot to virtual.

How to plan and market a virtual event

So you realize you have all the reason and motivation in the world to host a virtual event. Now you’re wondering…Where do I even start? Do I have to hire someone? Should the content I prepare be the same as if I was doing this in person?

As your goals vary, so do your options. But many of the principles of how to host a virtual event remain the same, no matter whether you have 40 or 4000 attendees.

  1. Market organically. You don’t have to spend a fortune on ads to bulk up your registrations. Use every unpaid channel at your disposal to tap into your audience’s desires. Ask your followers and subscribers what they want from you. Make it a conversation–test out event ideas and get their input before you solidify your program. Those people you engage with will be far more likely to register and attend.
  2. Ask your friends to promote your event to their audiences. If this is your first event, your other entrepreneur friends will probably be happy to do you the favor. But as you expand your virtual event hosting skills, you can start offering something in return! Consider inviting them as sponsors, guest speakers, or giving them the opportunity to offer special discounts or products to your audience.
  3. Charge for attendance. Don’t feel bad about this. The truth of human nature is that if they don’t pay, they probably won’t show up. Hosting your event online does not suddenly make it worthless! You can often deliver a more personalized experience and give your audience more bang for their buck with a virtual event, so maintain your fees with pride. (This goes for appearing as a virtual speaker at another event too. Especially if it is a large conference that has shifted online, you shouldn’t feel bad charging fees like you would for the same audience in person).
  4. Mail out physical tangible swag to attendees. This one costs a little extra, but it’s a great way to replicate some of the benefits of in-person events. You can also build hype by inviting attendees to post pictures of their goodie boxes with a special hashtag. Or consider limiting the freebies to the first 100 signups. Something that engages your audience further is a better strategy than offering immediate recordings of the event to anyone who signs up, which unfortunately incentivizes not showing up.
  5. Content is everything. Make up for the loss of in-person interaction with absolutely amazing content. Unless you’re specifically hosting a virtual networking event, your audience is missing out on a lot of the usual benefits of an in-person event.
  6. Schedule content in short segments. At a typical conference, the keynote speaker can get away with going overtime. You can’t do that over a screen–your audience will leave their laptop in the next room while they lunch. Whether you have multiple presenters or are a one-man/woman-show, try to keep virtual sessions to 30-60 minutes max. You’re competing with people’s email and text notifications, so be punchy with your content especially with Q&A sessions.
  7. Make the audience feel like they are there with you. This means always looking at your camera, being a good communicator, and having stellar content.
  8. Set goals for your event. To run a successful virtual event, you need to establish some key performance metrics by which to measure your success. Depending on the scale of your event, those goals could include signing people up for your next event, selling a certain amount of product, or growing your email subscribers list.  See our blog on goal-setting here for ideas on how to implement this. When you outline your goals and agenda, keep in mind how many hats you will need to wear or delegate during your event. You can probably manage your first few events by yourself or with one teammate.
  9. Gather data. You can learn so much from your event. Use your registration form to ask questions that can help your business. Take note of everything that comes up during Q&As and send a feedback survey to see what your audience really thought. Data will help your next virtual event be even more successful and can be leveraged in all areas of optimizing your business.
  10. Follow up immediately. Communicating with your attendees quickly with a call to action is absolutely essential. Have an email ready with a feedback form, sales pitch, discount, free notes, or anything else that will keep them coming back to you for more content.

Tech and production for hosting a virtual event

You’ve honed your presentations to perfection, invited a couple amazing guests to lead breakout sessions, and have your follow up email queued up. But what does it take to make your virtual not a flop? Do you have to drop a couple grand on equipment and software subscriptions before you let yourself be seen on the screen?

We recommend starting simple and upgrading as you host more events, so here are some foundational ways to set up your virtual events for technical success from the beginning.

  1. Just use Zoom. Which platform you choose is not the place to set yourself apart, especially at your first events. People know and trust Zoom. It is super safe and time-tested as a platform. Zoom Meetings are great for interactivity and feeling like a group, while Zoom Webinar is ideal for broadcasting information with a few questions at the end.
  2. Create an in-home studio. If you find virtual events are totally your scene, it is worth it to invest in a setup that is always ready to go and requires very little prep. Listen to this podcast right here to learn how to optimize your virtual speaking space. The next three tips cover the basics you should start with.
  3. Don’t skimp on your audio. If you can only invest financially into one area of your virtual events production, make it audio! A good microphone will make a world of difference. Try to get one that stays close to your face (e.g. a discreet lapel mic) and use headphones to further eliminate background noise. Audiences are far more forgiving of bad video than bad audio, so prioritize a microphone before you make investments in lighting or cameras!
  4. Invest in an external camera system when you can. An external webcam (there are many affordable options from Logitech) or a DSLR connected to your computer are great upgrades, but your computer’s camera will do the trick if your audio setup is good.
  5. Get a box or ring light. In a pinch, great natural lighting while facing a window will work fine, but you have to time your event very carefully and rely on the weather to cooperate. A green screen + ring light can easily take your video quality up a notch without breaking the bank.
  6. Outsource as needed. If you want your virtual events to impress, there are many options for outsourcing management and audio/visual features. As you step up your game, outsourcing aspects of production will Don’t feel like you have to do this because you’re hosting a day-long conference instead of an hour-long webinar! Your event only has to be as simple or as complicated as you want them to be.

Conclusion

In the last two years, we have seen the speakers and event planners in our TSL network accomplish amazing things virtually. Now that we’ve armed you with some of that cumulative expertise, the future of virtual events is bright and so is yours! We hope these tips empower you to consider making the most of the opportunities of the internet and hosting your own event, whether it’s a huge operation or an hour-long livestream.

If hosting your own event doesn’t sound like your thing but you like the virtual events space in general, listen to this podcast on how to become a virtual speaker.

Want to know exactly what to say to finally land paid speaking gigs?

We’ll send you the exact three emails you can send to conference planners and event organizers that Grant Baldwin (our founder) used to book over $2M in speaking gigs. 

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