Digital Event 101: How to Host a Successful Virtual Event

This is what you need to know when it comes to moving your events to a digital platform

With the coronavirus pandemic still keeping us from hosting large gatherings, businesses and nonprofits have had to pivot to turn their live fundraisers, webinars and galas virtual. That’s where marketing partners like Yakkety Yak can lend our expertise. So far, we’ve helped clients raise over $349,000 in funding through virtual events, and at this point, we’re virtual experts at hosting events online, so check out our guide on how to host a virtual event and learn how you can better connect with your audience in an impactful way. 

We’ve learned that for a virtual event to be successful, people have to be engaged and feel connected to it. That’s where planning out the key details in advance, taking advantage of available technology and focusing on outreach and promotion can make your online event one to remember. 

Understand Your Goals

Before doing anything else, ask yourself this: What are you trying to accomplish with this event? Are you hosting a virtual conference or educational webinar? Or, maybe you’re a nonprofit and need to promote an online fundraiser? Identifying your goals will help you figure out your benchmarks for success.

Considerations:

  • What are the expectations for the event? 
  • Is it a conversation the audience simply watches, an interactive discussion that invites attendee participation or a fundraiser or other large-scale event that has many moving parts? 
  • Do people need to buy tickets in advance, or is the digital event free?
  • What is the event’s intended reach?  Do we want to bring in people from anywhere and everywhere or only invite an exclusive group? 

Without knowing the answers to these questions, you won’t be able to choose the right technology, do strategic outreach or promote your event, so make sure to map out your goals first before diving into anything else.

Gather the Essential Elements

Once you’ve aligned on what your event is all about, it’s time to start gathering together all the pieces you’ll need to make it an epic one. The major considerations here are technology, outreach and promotion. You should also decide whether you want your virtual event to be live or have pre-recorded elements and figure out how you want viewers to access it, whether through a custom landing page or by linking to the video stream. 

Technology

Based on the kind of event you plan to put on, figure out the best technology to use. If it’s as simple as a conversation between two people with a sprinkling of audience interaction, then hosting it on Instagram Live or Facebook Live could be the way to go. These platforms have the benefit of being relatively easy to use while also offering a way for attendees to ask questions and comment in real-time. 

Take the Ashland Breast Pumps x Chicago Birthworks Collective collaboration as an example. We set this live interview up on Instagram, so that the host, Yakkety Yak CEO Ashley Logan, and featured expert, Lactation Counselor Nicole Miles, could have a seamless and natural conversation. At the same time, we monitored the comments section to gauge engagement and answer any questions. This kept the event simple and low-tech.

For events focused around presentations or learning, platforms like Zoom or GoToMeeting™ tend to be ideal. These offer screen-sharing capabilities, live chats and face-to-face connection. Plus, most people already know how to use them at this point, so they’re great for ease of access. If your organization frequently produces events, you may find these platforms ideal, since sending out invitations is as easy as providing a link. 

Finally, if you’re hosting a large-scale event that requires multiple features, figure out your exact needs and settle on a budget. What do you want the platform to do? What isn’t going to break the bank? What will be easiest for your audience to access? For the American Brain Foundation’s Commitment to Cures event, we landed on Zoom because everyone was familiar with it and we didn’t need too many other bells and whistles. For the Cara UnGala and Summer Social, we built landing pages to meet their needs since there were multiple pieces that needed to work together, including live video through YouTube, live social media feeds, a silent auction and a donation thermometer.

Outreach

Connect with the people you’ll need for your event well ahead of time. In fact, before setting a date and time for your event, make sure all of your chosen speakers, entertainers and organizers are on board. After all, these are the people who will boost your viewership and make your event special.

You may also want to consider the schedules of your host and any special guests when deciding how live you want your event to be. Do you want everyone to be live on camera or would you rather pre-record some elements and play them during the event? While fully live events have an immediate feel, incorporating pre-recorded videos or testimonials can help you better manage the moving pieces.

Plus, this outreach can help determine how accessible your event should be. Extra special guests can be a paid bonus for an otherwise free event or be member-only access. For this, consider using password protection on the event page or requiring advance registration. This will also help you determine how exactly to promote your event.

Promotion

Speaking of promotion, it’s time to launch a strategic promotional campaign. Even if you have all the other pieces in place, your event won’t be a success without people to attend it. Figure out right away who you need to speak to, what you need to say and the best way to reach them. Creating a combination of email invitations and reminders along with social media posts featuring the key details will inform your audience about the event and encourage them to attend. If you have the benefit of a special or celebrity guest, developing social media posts or emails to share with their network as well can help your event reach a larger audience.

In Yakkety Yak’s experience with the Robin’s Wish event for the American Brain Foundation, our greatest challenge was communicating this amazing opportunity to a ton of people in a short amount of time with limited resources. We took to organic channels, sending copy to organizations with audiences we knew would be interested, and ultimately garnered an audience of more than 2,000 people. When hustling like this is necessary, think outside of the box and make use of the connections you already have. But, if you do have the time and resources, give your promotional campaign the TLC it deserves and create hype for the event you’ve put so much work into.

Put the Pieces Together

Once your goals are set, your logistics in place and your speakers signed on, it’s time to bring it all together. Again, make sure your entire team is fully aligned on every piece before putting anything into action in order to avoid having to radically change the event and re-communicate the details to your audience in the future. 

Write a script. Whether it’s short reminders on the points you want to hit or a word-for-word account of what needs to be said, you’ll want to have guidance to get you through the night. Not only will this ensure that everyone knows what’s being said when and at what points you may be cutting away to pre-recorded video, but it’s also a way to ensure all transitions are smooth throughout the evening. 

For more inspiration, check out these tips on spicing up virtual events. And don’t forget to avoid these common pitfalls to ensure success.

Do you feel ready to put on an epic virtual event? We have a team of experts ready to guide you through the process. Reach out to us today to get the digital party started.

 

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