Virtual Event Planning: 3-6 Months Out [1/4]
So, you’ve been tasked with planning a virtual or hybrid event. Perhaps you’ve planned one before, maybe this is your first time, but if you are used to planning F2F events, sometimes making the switch to online can come as a bit of a shock.
We often get asked how long it takes to plan a virtual or hybrid event. The answer always depends on the complexity and scale of the event you are planning, however there are useful benchmarks that can be used as a general rule of thumb to get things rolling.
In that spirit, this is the first in a series of blogs designed to keep your virtual and hybrid event planning on track.
UKSV are here to support you in any capacity, so if you are planning a virtual or hybrid event and could do with some advice or support, get in touch! We’ve been planning and implementing online events for over ten years now.
Determine your goals and objectives
A good place to start is to begin thinking about why you’re putting on this event. This will subsequently inform every following decision, therefore you need to spend some time developing your goals.
Make sure you’ve taken into consideration what a successful event will look like for you and how you will measure success. For example, are you aiming for X number of attendees or do you want to reach X number of ticket sales revenue? Create goals that are measurable and specific so you can understand if you’re hitting or missing the mark.
You should also determine who your target audience is at this stage as this will again help you make relevant decisions when it comes to further planning. For example, where are your audience based? Do you have people in different time zones that you need to account for? How will your audience be experiencing your event? With hybrid events, you need to make sure you are accounting for both your virtual and in-person event to provide both with a valuable and enjoyable experience!
Think about which of your personas will be attending. This will help you when you think about content and promoting, for example what speakers will really excite your target audience? Think about where they ‘hang out’ online so you can create a presence there.
Follow a plan
As with any event, you need to create a plan to help keep you on track for the big day. Create a timeline to adhere to, complete with deadlines for your team. There’s nothing worse than getting a week out and realising you still have so much to do.
An online event is no easy feat, and it certainly isn’t a one-person job. Make sure you have a good team around you and clearly define roles and deadlines for each team member. Communication is key here, so be sure to hold regular meetings for updates and to discuss any challenges your team may face.
Start planning with plenty of time to implement. Many people begin their planning stages around 6 months out and start the groundwork around 3 or 4 months out. As with planning any kind of event, planning time all depends on the scale and complexity of your activity, so take these timescales and make sure they are proportionate to your end goal. Give yourself enough time to get all your ducks in a row – and a little for contingency, should a duck waddle astray.
Set a budget
A crucial aspect for any event, your virtual event budget has a very important role in the rest of your event planning. When you sit down to consider your budget, be realistic. Think about how much money you will have coming in (if any), for example will you be working with sponsors? Are you charging for ticket sales? Forecast how much you foresee your event bringing in, but don’t get carried away!
Then, once you’ve thought about the money coming in, you need to think about the money going out. How much do you foresee your event costing? Again, be realistic. Think about the cost of hiring tech, crew and your speakers/entertainment should you choose to have any. You will also need to consider the costs of your chosen platform.
Keep your budget up to date with forecasted and actual spend. This will save you from any nasty surprises at the end of your event!
Consider the format of your hybrid event
Your aims for this event (and by now, you should have those crystal clear in your mind… if not revert to point one!) will directly inform your chosen virtual event format. Are you looking to create an open discussion with industry leaders? It sounds like a panel or forum would be the best format for you. Do you have a large number of speakers and product showcases to host over a number of days? It sounds like a web-conference may be most suitable.
How ever you choose to structure your hybrid event, be sure to keep both audiences in mind at all times. For example, you will need to ensure that your audience sat at home have the same networking and interactive abilities as your in-person audience. You could have a member of staff dedicated to your virtual audience to make sure they are being well looked after and to ensure any hands raised for speakers get answered.
Consider the platform for your hybrid event
Your format then directly informs your hosting options. You will now need to think about what virtual event platform is right for you and your chosen format. Consider how your virtual audience will receive your event and how they will interact with the content – HINT: this is very important to the success of your event so really give it some thought!
With the event landscape being as it is at the moment, there has been a lot of discussion about the many differing virtual events platforms available. In fact, we even wrote a blog about it. The fact is different event platforms excel in different areas. Platforms that work well for webcasts may be limited in their ability to deliver more complex events such as a conference with more moving parts.
Make sure your chosen platform will accommodate all your needs and includes all the features you require to host a truly great event that hits all your targets.
Content is key! Create a content plan
No hybrid event, or any event for that matter, can be a success without killer content. By now you’ve done your research and you know your target audience inside-out, therefore you should know what will really get them excited about coming to your event. Which speakers would inspire the most ticket sales? Who would your audience love to do a Q&A with? How do your audience like to interact with one another? All these considerations will help you to build a content plan.
There are some general virtual content best practices that you will need to also take into consideration, such as including interaction (imperative!),
It’s important to make sure your content and speakers truly align with your event purpose and add value.
Think about your tech and production needs
Now you’ve chosen your format, platform and have a good understanding of your event’s aims and audiences, you need to start thinking about how you will pull it off logistically.
For example, will you need to rent out equipment? Are you going to be including some pre-recording segments? Once you understand what equipment it is you need, you can then think about how to source it. Any good events agency will have access to top-of-the-range recording equipment and will set you up quickly and efficiently.
Now you’ve thought about the tech you need both on the day, and pre-event, you can start to think about tech that can be used at your hybrid event. Bigger events often have apps created for the attendees. This is not only a great way to interact with your audience and keep them engaged, but also a fantastic way to receive data in real time during the event and gauge success.
You need to make your event memorable, but for the right reasons. More often than not, negative experiences leave for lasting impressions, this is why we always recommend hiring a tech team who will be on standby should anything go awry with the digital side of your hybrid event. Not only will they be able to quickly get you back up and running should something happen, they will also give you the confidence you need to focus on other areas during the event.
You will also need to consider the security risks that come with the virtual side of a hybrid event. Make your event secure by using a trusted events partner. This is particularly important if your event is a corporate event with sensitive company material.
Now your event is starting to take shape, you need to create a marketing plan to get the word out! Start with a marketing timeline that begins a couple months prior to your event. This gives your marketing time to build up momentum and really get people excited about your event, boosting ticket sales or sign-ups.
With your marketing plan, you want to create an online presence. Since your whole event is online, this is important! If you’re holding a big event that you plan to host yearly, or has previously been hosted in person and has a good following, consider creating a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram account solely for your event. This will make it easier for you to communicate directly to your audience before the event and give people the chance to better understand what your event is all about.
Make sure this timeline is clear and whoever is responsible knows what posts are going to which platforms and on what days. Remember, social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are used for different purposes. It’s best practice to post to each platform with content tailored to the uses of the platform itself.
There are plenty of other ways to promote your event other than social media. You should also think about email marketing, paid advertising, a dedicated section for your event on your website, partnerships and sponsors.
The initial planning stages are a crucial time for online event planners. During this time you will make important decisions that will inform the rest of your planning and schedule and therefore should not be rushed!
If you’re struggling with any part of the above, get in touch and we can assist you in your bid to create engaging, meaningful online events that your audience will remember.
Look out for our next blog which will be from 2 months out or take a look at our infographic to jump ahead!