Virtual Conference Best Practices: Guide to Running a Successful Online Event

March 26, 2021
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The past year propelled the business world into the virtual realm. Nearly all business conferences held from last March until now have been done virtually. 

By now, attending a virtual event or conference is no longer novel, but considered the new normal, which means that adoption and ease of use are continuing to improve.

But still, there are special considerations for running a virtual conference that you will need to be aware of to maximize success and reduce the likelihood of technical difficulties (which your attendees will thank you for).

Our virtual conference tips will help you successfully navigate the three phases required to successfully plan, execute, and follow-up for your next event.

tips for running virtual conferences

Virtual Conference Best Practices When Planning an Event

During your planning phase, ask yourself important questions to determine why you’re holding your conference, who you hope to target, and what goals need to be set to measure the success of your event. Without proper planning, your conference will be disorganized and can risk hurting your company’s image and burning an unnecessary hole in the budget.

Best Practice #1) Identify a Clear Purpose and Goal

There should be no doubt in your attendees’ minds on what your conference is all about. If your conference’s purpose is confusing, you’ll risk turning away potential guests.

It’s important to set realistic goals and KPIs so you have something to aim for, and can create data and reports to measure your event’s success.

Common conference KPIs for virtual conferences should include:

  • Registration counts
  • Attendance rates
  • Leads generated
  • Sales

Best Practice #2) Merge Your Marketing and Planning Teams

Because virtual conferences happen online, the clear separation between your digital marketers and event planners no longer exists. Both teams have complementary skills that when combined, create a synergy that maximizes your conference’s reach and efficacy.

For example, your marketers might narrow down key speakers to invite, while your planners have the soft skills to persuade them to join your event.

Best Practice #3) Choose Virtual Conference Software That Includes the Features You Need

Make sure your platform has all the interactivity needed to create an engaging conference. Look for platforms that allow for breakout rooms, high-quality streaming video, private chats, and most importantly, built-in analytics and reporting.

Another important tip: make sure your platform is capable of integrating with other event planning software for maximum efficiency (e.g. syncing with CRMs and email marketing automation platforms). 

Best Practice #4) Develop a Dedicated Marketing Plan for Your Virtual Conference

All great conferences require a strategy for getting the word out, boosting registrations, and making sure people attend your event.

First, you should determine who your target audience is. Have your marketing and sales departments align to create a buyer persona. Each team will have important insights into what drives these people, so you can begin to create content and ad campaigns, as well as reach out to the appropriate sponsors and speakers who will draw the right crowd.

Once you’ve correctly determined your ideal audience member, you can begin testing different online channels and tactics to see where they are online, and what type of content attracts them to your event.

Want more event promotion tips? Check out: 12 Event Promotion Strategies To Attract The Right Audience And Grow Your Business

Best Practice #5) Find Appropriate Partners, Sponsors, and Speakers to Join Your Virtual Conference

Picking the right partners, sponsors, and speakers could very well make or break your event’s success. 

Pick partners, sponsors, and speakers who are key influencers in your specific field, add authority to your brand, and use their existing fan base and resources to draw in a large crowd.

Work with reputable people and companies, or risk hurting your messaging and brand.

If you find that your partners, sponsors, or speakers are wary of virtual conferences, consider setting aside time to educate them on the importance of virtual events. Often they may just be scared of learning new tools. Consider training them on your platform so they’re more confident.

Best Practice #6) Practice Makes Perfect: Prepare Everyone for Success

Another critical virtual conference best practice is making sure that all of your employees, vendors, sponsors, speakers, and partners know how to use your virtual conferencing platform!

Create a training webinar, or webinar series, and work with your entire team (including your company and outside companies or partners) to fully understand the ins-and-outs of your virtual conferencing platform.

The last thing you want is to find out on the day of your conference that your employees or vendors are unsure how to use the event platform. 

Best Practice #7) Provide Every Opportunity for Virtual Networking

Networking is the primary reason people attend business conferences. Guests come to meet new people, pitch their companies, and collect names and phone numbers to generate leads.

Luckily, networking is actually made easier through virtual conferencing apps.

Some virtual platforms model their networking features after social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. Guests can download the virtual conference’s app and create a user profile that features their interests and contact information, making it easy to message and start new video chats with other guests.

Breakout sessions are another important aspect of networking. Certain apps automatically match guests with similar interests to place them in the same breakout rooms to increase compatibility.

Live feeds also allows users to post, comment, and reply to each other on a wall, helping to facilitate communication between conference attendees.

how to plan a virtual conference

Virtual Conference Best Practices When Running an Event 

Virtual conferences offer unique possibilities and challenges that traditional events don’t have. Here are a few tips and considerations to keep in mind when running a virtual conference.

Best Practice #8) Keep Virtual Conference Sessions Short and Sweet

Traditional conferences tended to drag on because: A) they should have been held to a strictly timed agenda and B) because social pressure kept you from leaving the room.

However, with virtual events, nothing’s stopping your attendees from browsing YouTube or leaving your conference. The social pressure of staying and politely listening is gone.

Here’s a virtual conference insider tip: sessions must be shorter and more interesting to keep your audience’s attention.

Instead of an hour-long session, try to keep it to 20 minutes. And poll your audience regularly to keep them engaged. Use videos and other multi-media to create a more varied presentation.

Best Practice #9) Glitches WILL Happen. Have a Support Team Ready to Help

When hasn’t a virtual conference or meeting had some kind of glitch? It seems almost inevitable that someone’s internet connection will cut out, or a user will experience difficulties logging in (either because of inexperience or outdated browsers, etc.)

Know that glitches will happen and rely on a virtual conferencing platform that can offer support immediately, not in 30 minutes to hours.

Go for a virtual conferencing vendor that has support available 24/7 and replies within 5 minutes, offering you peace of mind that if and when you need support, they’ll be there to help you.

Best Practice #10) Record Sessions for Further Use and Virtual Conference Promotion

Recording your sessions gives you tons of content that can be recycled into more promotional materials after your event.

Was there a great question asked by an audience member? Turn that question into a blog post on your company’s website.

Was there a certain quote said by a speaker that resonated with your audience? Edit a snippet of that video and then share it on social media, making sure to tag your speaker to encourage cross-promotion.

Upload the best parts of your conference to YouTube, the world’s second most used search engine, and let it act as evergreen content to attract a new audience.

Find the best parts of your conference and upload them to your next event’s registration page, letting new visitors see what your event is all about.

Virtual Conference Best Practices Following Your Event

Even though your event’s over, there’s still work to be done. Post-event analysis and follow-ups are crucial in understanding your event’s success and keeping buzz alive, well after your event has finished. 

Here are a few post-virtual conference tips and tricks to keep in mind.

Best Practice #11) Analyze Data to Determine Virtual Conference Success and Opportunities for Improvement 

Remember those goals and KPIs you decided on in your planning stage? Now comes the time to analyze your conference’s metrics to see how well you measured up to your goals.

What was the ratio between registrations and attendance? Did those who attended stay the entire time or did they drop off? What was the interaction like between guests? Which speakers gathered the most amount of applause? Which live feed posts gathered the most likes and comments? 

All of these questions can be answered by looking at the data collected from your conference’s virtual platform and can quantify your event’s success to your marketing and sales departments.

Best Practice #12) Don’t Quit Cold Turkey. Follow Up with Your Guests!

Perhaps one of the most common but critical virtual conference best practices to fall by the wayside: the follow up! Remember, the aim of your conference isn’t to just get people to attend. It’s to generate leads and grow your business. 

Send thank-yous, post-event surveys, bonus content, conference highlights, and sorry-we-missed-you emails to everyone who attended or registered for your event.

Your event may be over, but your lead nurturing campaigns have just begun.

Keep your audience in the loop and interacting with your company’s online content so they will not only attend your next event but also tell their colleagues about it.

Host a Successful Virtual Conference With SpotMe

SpotMe’s virtual event and conferencing app is an intuitive and engaging platform that will create a memorable experience for your guests. No other platform allows for our level of hyper-customization, interactivity, and reporting and analytics while running a virtual conference.

Our interactive features allow your participants and speakers a fun and simple way to communicate with each other. Polling, Q&As, surveys, applause, and breakout sessions ensure your conference will be lively and entertaining for all involved.

And don’t forget about our rich networking capabilities. Let your participants and speakers set up their personal profile pages, upload their headshots, send private messages, create video chats, and begin posting, commenting, and replying to our live feed.

Interested in giving SpotMe a try? Reach out for a free trial.

Looking for more virtual conference tips? Read our guides: Our Favorite Virtual Conferences of 2020 and Why We Think They’re the Best and 10 Interactive Conferences Ideas to Increase Engagement with a Virtual Audience.

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