How To Host a Virtual Conference
Hosting a virtual conference is a natural move for a company or organization that is already hosting face-to-face events. It is also paramount for those looking to implement some new ways of holding events and online education. There is no doubt that virtual conferences add value to business models.
However, hosting virtual conferences come with a lot of logistical challenges. How long should the conference be? Who should speak? Who should you invite? How should you send out the invites? What tools and technology should be used? It is all so overwhelming. To help ease the pressure and help you plan a successful video conference, we have prepared a list of invaluable tips on how to host a virtual conference.
Create Context for the Content
Hosting a video conference is all about rounding up different presenters, scheduling them for group webinars throughout the conference, and you are done. Wrong!
Attendees often have high expectations when attending webinars. And without a clear motive, they end up learning very little. The content might be great, but without a theme, it’ll be useless. To deliver value and have attendees return on subsequent conferences, you need to curate the experience to help the content deliver value.
For instance, for an entrepreneurial video conference, the theme could be; entrepreneurs are made, not born. To succeed as an entrepreneur, one must commit to continuous growth, learning, and the process.
To introduce this theme, you can have priming and closing sessions every day. In the priming sessions, you can highlight the main idea alongside other smaller ideas and show how they are all interrelated. In the closing sessions, you challenge attendees to review their day, reflect on what they’ve learned, and share several ways they’ll take action on the information shared.
Make Marketing Easy
The best promoter for your video conference is a person who has a stake in the process. This could be a sponsor, a presenter, an attendee, or an exhibitor.
Most businesses supply presenters and vendors with images and the special language they’ll use to advertise the video conference in emails and other social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn.
While you can’t always depend on attendees to market the video conference, you can’t rule them out. Depending on the conference’s theme and timing, they could share it with their friends on email or social media.
Use Meaningful Social Platforms
Virtual events don’t have the same level of interaction that face-to-face events do. That’s one of the downsides of going digital. But while the interaction benefits of face-to-face events don’t always translate to virtual conferences, the quality of interaction you can get from a virtual conference if you pour some effort and thought into it is staggering.
Let’s take Zoom, for instance. Most businesses love it because it has a chat and a Q&A feature built-into their webinar windows. With proper planning and great management, you can get attendees to comfortably use the chat and Q&A tools to facilitate healthy exchanges and learning.
Part of the planning goes into ensuring you ask thought-provoking questions during the session and continually encourage attendees to contribute to the process.
Note that quality interaction doesn’t just happen – at least not at the start. You’ll have to remind attendees to participate in discussions and chats. Also, sending emails of active discussions to attendees before the conference can help them prepare adequately.
Use Live Video
Courtesy of video conferencing apps like Zoom, streaming video during a live webinar is now a walk in the park and a lot less risky. Even for a small portion of the virtual conference, having a live video can make an event feel more personalized and intimate. Generally, it’ll help boost engagement.
You can use video for a couple of minutes at the conference’s start to introduce speakers and then turn it off once the speaker starts presenting. You can also use video for the priming and closing sessions to add context to the content. The idea is to show that the learning environment is virtual; real people participated in the conference to teach, discuss and learn.
Have a Strong Customer Support
One of the best ways to prove that your conference is professional is to have a great support team for your attendees. This is especially important if you’ll be charging a premium for the virtual conference.
The 21st century is a good time to live in. Technology has spread its hands in every industry. It’s not a surprise that people are used to using virtual events tools for discussion, boards and webinars. But the fact that they are used to these technologies and tools doesn’t mean that they won’t run into problems during the conference.
Aside from technology, not every attendee understands the conference’s logistics, including where they will access the conference, what time the sessions will be, and when they can expect the recordings. To ensure everyone is in the know, you can post navigation links to important information in obvious spots on the write. Alternatively, you can email the details beforehand.
For the few that need extra support, you can have a phone number and an email address through which they can contact you. Post this information at the footer of your site or on the contact page. You should send this information via email as well. It’s no use having great customer support that attendees aren’t sure it exists.
If you are running the show alone, you can get professional help from a freelancer. Sites like Upwork have a database of qualified persons you can use before, during, and after your live sessions. The beauty of it is that they are available at affordable rates.
Prepare Your Presenters
It’s great that you managed to line up great leaders to take different sessions of your virtual conference. However, the leaders need support, practice, and feedback to deliver as expected. To bring out the best in your presenters, communicate the theme and expectations for every session through a phone call or email. You can have two calls a couple of weeks leading to the virtual conference.
One of the calls should be a content call. On this call, talk through what the presenter plans to cover during their session and discuss various ways to improve their presentation to make it more impactful and a success. For instance, you could match a presenter with an attendee willing to be used as a case study during the presentation for a better understanding of the subject point. Alternatively, you can have two presenters collaborate on one session.
Generally, the content call guarantees that presenters have already started to think about their presentation and brainstorm ideas of how they could make it better.
Aside from the content call, you should plan for dry runs a couple of weeks leading to the D-day. The dry run will give you a clear picture of what attendees will receive and judge if it’s good enough or needs more work.
Though we cannot promise the virtual conference will proceed without glitches after the preparations listed above, we are sure that the time spent practising and fine-tuning the content will improve your event’s quality.
Attendees Are Collaborators
We mentioned that attendees could be invaluable collaborators when it comes to marketing events. Through social media tools like discussion and chats, they can also contribute to the learning experience. You can use attendees to improve the experience in a couple of ways.
You could ask them to volunteer for case studies during the live conference sessions. As a case study, they provide a sales page from their business that the presenter and other attendees can learn from. Alternatively, they can share challenges and opportunities they are facing in their business for other attendees to discuss and generate value from.
Reach Out to Sponsors as Partners
Depending on the type of business, picking vendors to work with as sponsors might not be part of your plans. However, a virtual conference provides you with a great opportunity to grow in this sector.
A vendor is any company or business that sells services or products that your target audience might find valuable but that don’t compete with your offering.
Most people think to work with an audience; they need to have a big audience. On the contrary, most vendors are concerned with the quality of the audience – do they fit their target market’s characteristics? If you can offer an opportunity for them to speak to such a group directly, then you’d help increase their sales.
You can monetize the value therein by displaying logos on your site, by mentioning and linking them in your emails and allowing them to address the audience during one of the sessions (or all).
Aside from generating revenue, you could have them market the virtual conference to their audience. You can encourage this by offering them complimentary tickets as part of the deal.
If you’ve never worked with a sponsor before, it can be a daunting process. Below are some tips to simplify things for you;
- Know the benefits you offer prospective partners and sponsors and include them in your prospectus
- Research similar virtual events in your industry and see vendors who sponsored the conferences. While at it, look for sponsorship rates.
- Identify a person in your target company who makes decisions on sponsorship deals. Most often it’s someone in the marketing department.
- Check with your network to see if anyone has contacts with a person in your target company. You can use this connection to get your foot through the door.
Hosting a virtual conference is less time-intensive and risky than other alternatives. However, it doesn’t mean that they won’t make the effort to plan. If we were to give one last piece of advice, it’d be to start planning in advance.
Everything we’ve highlighted above can be done even if you are working alone – it just needs dedication and proper planning to line things up.
These are our top virtual conference hosting tips. What is your experience hosting a virtual conference and what other tips do you think we left out?