Part 1: Virtual Event Playbook: What You Need to Consider When Planning Your Virtual Event

Part 1: Virtual Event Playbook: What You Need to Consider When Planning Your Virtual Event

Why and How Virtual Event?

Some things change, some things stay the same. Pandemic or not, our human need to come together and share information remain – whether for social reasons like reaching out to friends and family. Or economic and financial, like connecting with clients and colleagues to conduct business.

The methods may have changed, as we see a growing number of events being done virtually (online) or a mix of virtual and face-to-face (hybrid). This trend is seen likely to continue even as we are now more than a year into the pandemic, with virus mutations causing uncertainties and travel restrictions still largely in place.

But one thing remains certain – developing and staging successful events require meticulous planning no matter if it’s online or off, in normal or pandemic times. This playbook is designed to give you a few important tips to consider when planning your virtual events and is presented in three parts to discuss what you need to focus on Before, During and After the event. You can learn more from 7 most effective way to boost the audience engagement.

Part I: Before the Online event

  1. Set clear goals to define your strategy

Begin with the end in mind. Be super clear of what you want to accomplish at the end of the online event and let this guide you as you make decisions that will shape your event concept and strategy. Here are some simple questions to ask yourself to get clarity on your event goals.

  • Why are you staging the event?

Do you have a new product or service to introduce and sell? Is it for knowledge and information sharing? Do you need to engage your existing audience, or to attract new ones? However you reply to these questions will impact the way you should plan to hold your event.

For example, at the start of the pandemic, many companies turned to virtual talks or seminars to engage current clients and deliver value to their customers. During these times when it was deemed a bit insensitive to aggressively push and sell to clients, companies still needed to find a way to stay “top of mind” and relevant so they can seamlessly continue business when things go back to normal. Many conducted how-to seminars and shared knowledge and research on surviving the pandemic with topics such as business recovery, identifying and pivoting to new opportunities, etc. Some also did tailor-made online sessions with their VIP accounts in lieu of the usual personal visits.

Nowadays, many economies have recovered – however travel remains restricted. Trade shows are once again coming to life with organizers shifting to virtual shows to take full advantage of the business need while prioritizing safety. If conducting trade is your event objective, then you’ll need to plan accordingly – including choosing a platform that can support product displays (virtual booths) and setting up buyer-supplier meetings.

You can learn more details about 6 Types of Virtual Events for B2B Business

  • What is your main message?

What is your primary content and is it addressing a business demand? If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is setting priorities. Companies are now more aware of what is business critical versus what is nice to have. Make sure your message is highly useful and relevant to your selected target audience to ensure that you get their interest and participation.

Is your message time-sensitive? Let your content guide you on deciding when to best stage your event. At the start of the pandemic, online medical symposia and discussions were aplenty as it was important for people in the industry to get together to understand the virus and agree on the next steps forward.

Speaking of timing – some may think that staging virtual events mean you can hold it any time and as many times as you wish because you are not restricted by venue booking, attendee travel and other logistics and costs. While this may be true, it is important to consider what best suits your audience. For example, physical sourcing events in Asia traditionally happen in April and October. When staging virtual trade shows, it is worth noting this tradition as it may have impact on when the buyers are ready to do their bulk purchasing, and/or when the suppliers are ready with new products to exhibit.

Lastly, determining your main message also gives you direction on the researchers and speakers you need to enlist to develop and deliver your content.

  • Paid or free virtual event? Single or multi-day?

These two questions would have become clear to you once you’ve got your event objective and main message fixed and settled. But these are also decisions you need to confirm at the very start of your event planning.

If your event objective is to increase revenue, be it from ticket sales, service subscription or B2B/B2C trade, how you set up and promote your event would be completely different versus staging a free event. If you offer a combination of free and paid content, make sure you are ultra-clear on which is which to avoid confusion and disappointment. You may decide to arrange a separate day for all your free content, and another for your premium paid content.

Depends on the complexity and richness of your content, you may opt to run the event for a day or several days. Unlike physical events where participants have intentionally travelled to the venue and are “locked in” to engage with the speakers, organizers and other attendees, virtual events can happen at any location where distractions abound making it difficult to hold attendees’ attention for a long period of time. Consider half-day events, running for 2-3 days to combat “screen fatigue” at your event.

  1. Know – and cater to – your target audience

When you scream in space and nobody heard it – did you scream at all? This analogy applies for events. The event’s success is largely measured by how much participation (attendance) it generated and how satisfied the participants are. Needless to say, it is important for organizers to know who they are talking to – and cater to their needs – when planning an event.

This is true for physical events – but is doubly critical for virtual events. Apart from a strong content, physical events can also utilize venue location, decoration or even F&B to impress attendees. A good face-to-face customer service experience can also soften the attitude of not-so-happy participants, if delivered attentively and sincerely enough. Virtual events do not have this luxury – and so it is crucial to deliver in all other aspects of event planning.

We’ve already established in point #1 above regarding the importance of relevant content. The next thing to consider would be how to effectively deliver the content – and you need to know enough about your audience to decide how to address them. Consider the questions below to help you on your planning.

  • Are you reaching out to current clients or new prospects? Beginners or experts?

Not only would these differentiations affect your content, it will also impact your time to market. Having a readily available database of current clients to invite to your event could mean you can start your event promotion 1-2 months prior. Meanwhile, you need to allot more time (and marketing money) if you wish to expand your reach to new names. Even as you may already have new prospects in your database, you may still need to spend more effort to introduce your company and gain their trust compared to those who already know you.

If you are catering to current clients, you may decide to offer premium content to your biggest and most loyal customers to make them feel special and valued.

Selecting content for beginners or experts is also a key consideration to ensure participants are suited to your event (and vice-versa), and that they can follow the event proceedings. Otherwise you’ll have bored or unengaged attendees because they are too junior to understand what is happening, or they think the content is too basic and not worth their time.

A caveat on audience segmentation – too broad or too narrow? While there is a desire to tailor-make events to specific groups of audience, make sure you do a proper analysis of cost/effort versus benefit/profit. You don’t want to put too much work on an event that only caters to a very small hyper-specific audience (unless you deem it is worth it).

  • Where are they located?

This answers basic and tactical decisions that will impact your event, like time zone and language. Also, be aware of any special events happening where your target audience is located, like holidays or even other events (physical or virtual) that they may be interested in and compete for their attendance.

  1. Choose your platform

With the popularity (and necessity) of virtual events nowadays, there are plenty of platforms available to host your events online – some more sophisticated than others. So how do you choose? Go back to your event goals! Below is a quick checklist of questions to ask yourself:

  • How many participants do you target to attend?
  • Do you need to break out in smaller groups in some sessions?
  • Do you need to receive and reply to real-time comments, or conduct polls and surveys on the spot?
  • Do you need to display products in virtual booths?
  • Do you need to record the event for redistribution later?
  • What kind of metrics and analytics do you need to review at the end of the event?
  • What is your budget?

Sometimes the simplest and most basic platforms can suffice for small-scale events, but if you need more than just live-streaming of presentations then make sure you choose a platform that can support all your deliverables.

Lastly, discuss with your platform provider about their security features. Even for free events, you want to keep your content exclusive to legitimate audience you wish to target.

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Benjamin Franklin once said: failure to plan is planning to fail. Avoid failure by following the tips shared above. You can also check out other articles available at for anything and everything related to virtual events.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of this playbook about planning During and After the event. Coming out soon!

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