Learn about key concepts around the next generation of interactive webinars and events, so you can plan your most impactful presentations ever.
What are Virtual Events?
Virtual events are the online equivalent of in-person conferences, presentations, or other large gatherings of people in a single setting. Interactive webinars, virtual training, distance learning, town halls, and all-hands meetings are a few examples of virtual events. Attendees can join from any device, operating system, or browser from anywhere in the world.
Organizations often face spatial, logistical, and financial limitations that constrain their ability to address large groups of people in a single setting. These challenges can be related to unavailable building or room sizes, the complicated nature of an in-person production, or the potential travel costs incurred from an on-site event. Regardless of the prohibitive variables, the event still needs to happen as organizers and moderators navigate the many barriers between concept and launch.
This guide is designed to introduce you to best practices for hosting a successful virtual event — a convenient and highly effective approach for town halls, all-hands, trade shows, industry conferences, marketing webinars, corporate training, and distance learning courses. By the end, you’ll have practical knowledge to properly schedule an event, host a gathering, and follow-up with attendees.
How to Successfully Plan a Virtual Event
Ask any event organizer about the stress involved with on-site production and they’ll likely give you the darkest details. A major benefit of virtual events is the simplicity of digital setup, preparation, and promotion from the comfort of your computer. Gone are the days of reserving theater space or finding a boardroom big enough to host your guests — attendees can now join from any device, operating system, or browser. Modernized scheduling and invitations put power into the hands of event managers for any large-scale broadcast.
1. Get On the Books in Less than a Minute
The most user-friendly virtual event products offer a fast setup process for admins and organizers. Depending on the type of event you’re hosting, you may need significant lead time to coordinate all aspects of the presentation. In any case, initiating the process by getting a window blocked for the upcoming event is priority number one. Fortunately, cloud-based streaming solutions allow you to add a title and schedule the day, time, and duration in just a few clicks. Once the placeholder is set, you’re ready to extend an invitation to presenters and attendees.
2. Sync Calendaring Applications
Many organizations use common scheduling applications like Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar. Make sure to sync your virtual event software with these tools to create awareness with your fellow moderators, presenters, and attendees. Much like an on-site production, these time slots should be clearly labeled on participants’ calendars, so they show up when they need to.
3. Leverage Customization
Branding the end-to-end event experience creates continuity and a professional appearance for all participants. While evaluating different live streaming solutions, keep an eye out for customizable email invitations, in-event logo options, and flexible registration fields. Whether your event is intended for internal or external purposes, keeping your company’s mark visible through the join flow will keep your brand front and center for virtual audiences.
4. Develop a Promotion Strategy
Depending on who you plan on inviting — external prospects, customers, or internal constituents — you’ll need to develop an invitation strategy. Top-performing virtual events solutions feature three participant roles for any given broadcast: Moderators, Presenters, Attendees. As an organizer, you’ll be in close contact with other moderators and presenters while generating the content and presentation format. However, attendees are typically invited en masse either through a large internal email blast or by integrating with marketing automation tools. See below on the difference between participant roles:
- Moderators have full control over the event flow. They can start and pause the broadcast, mute/un-mute presenters, push polls live, answer Q&A, chat, promote attendees to presenters, and remove individual presenters or attendees from the event. Moderators also have the ability to select the appropriate audio and video feeds for the event.
- Presenters have the ability to provide audio and video into the event. They can share video or their entire screen.
- Attendees watch and listen. They cannot be seen or heard unless they “raise their hand” and are accepted by the moderator to join as presenters.
5. Prepare and Conduct a Dry Run
No matter if it’s your 1st or 50th virtual event, practice makes perfect. This applies to any event type, audience size, or broadcast duration — always conduct a run-through with moderators and presenters in your streaming solution. Why? Iron out the kinks! There’s bound to be questions about content flow, who’s talking when, how to answer audience questions, etc. As long as you commit to a rehearsal and address these concerns before the event, it reduces the likelihood that something will go wrong. Try and host a dry run at least one day before your event to make any needed program adjustments with time to spare.
How to Host and Moderate Virtual Events
It’s time to start your broadcast and deliver your message to the world. Event moderators have the responsibility of controlling many aspects of the live stream — from muting/unmuting presenters, answering questions, sending polls, and pushing content to the audience. BlueJeans has gathered these best practices from customers as well as our own first-hand experience moderating internal and external events.
1. Designate Two Moderators
Anticipating attendee and presenter needs during an event is part of a moderator’s job. Depending upon the type of live stream you’re delivering, expectations can be high for moderators to manage every non-speaking element of a presentation, such as sharing content while staying in lock step with every attendee question and comment. Although many streaming solutions allow presenters to share their own content, the following guidelines can be applied to those events that require moderators to control all technical components of a broadcast.
- Content Moderator: Generally, they’re in closest touch with presenters. This person is responsible for sharing their screen and clicking through a slide show, so that presenters can focus on their talk track. This moderator also shares pre-uploaded video with participants if warranted during an event. We also recommend that this person manages presenter video and audio mute/unmute in case those individuals forget as they’re speaking.
- Interactivity Moderator: Generally, they’re in closest touch with attendees. This person is responsible for crowd control. That may be related to technical and join issues where they communicate with audience members via chat. This moderator is also responsible for answering the text Q&A in real time as they’re submitted by attendees. For questions addressed directly to speakers, these should be relayed to speakers on camera during the live Q&A session (typically at the end of an event). Polling is also a popular feature with many virtual event products, the interactivity moderator is responsible for creating and pushing these to the audience.
The sole purpose of a two-moderator format is to allow presenters to focus on their content and not become preoccupied with numerous inquiries or items that will take them off track. It also allows one moderator to continuously connect with the audience.
2. Engage Your Audience
While it’s true the onus is on presenters to be compelling and make sure the message is received, it’s the moderator’s job to help retain audience attention. How? Use the engagement tools! You’d be surprised how many questions and comments happen in a 30-minute presentation. That’s your time to clear up any confusion, offer advice, and set the record straight for interested participants. Gathering polling data is a great way to allow attendees to express their current sentiments or tendencies in a multiple-choice breakdown.
By utilizing these communication tools (chat, Q&A, and polling), you establish a meaningful audience connection, build trust, and offer a truly immersive setting for participants. It can be hectic at times when lots of people ask questions. However, moderators find it rewarding to be the liaison between attendees and speakers — it’s fun to interact with people that care about your content!
3. Offer Content Variety
The reality is that audio-only events with slide share don’t stand a chance with today’s audience. Consumer and business technologies have created an expectation for live video, highly visual content, media playback, and multiple presenters. Regardless of event type, capturing and retaining attendee attention takes a concerted effort. Event organizers and moderators need to mix up slide show content with pre-uploaded video, presentation sections from different speakers, and modifying video layouts. This will make your virtual event much more memorable. And if you remember only one thing on this page: TURN PRESENTER CAMERAS ON!
How to Follow Up and Share On-Demand Events
When using virtual event software, moderators and organizers receive post-event reports with comprehensive attendee data. These reports include individual names and email addresses (and other registration information you required) along with: On-demand recording, chat comments, transcribed Q&A, polling responses, exit survey responses and rating, duration, and participation score. For marketing events, these details provide exceptional clues to lead qualification and buyer intent. For internal events, this data reflects employee satisfaction and behavioral trends when presented with a given subject. See below about how to best leverage these post-event reports and video recording.
Events for Internal Audiences
As the event organizer for large groups of employees, it’s important to complete the communication circuit with an effective follow-up strategy. If the purpose of the event was entirely informative, like a quarterly update or all-company announcement, your follow-up email can be straightforward and simply include a link to the recording. These can either be viewed within the streaming platform’s recording playback page or can be downloaded and shared on a variety of intranet sites like Workplace by Facebook, SharePoint, Google Drive, or the like.
However, there are plenty of occasions where questions go unanswered at the end of an event — the clock may have run out or presenters might have needed more time to answer a challenging question. In this case, it’s a great opportunity for moderators and organizers to include the answers to these questions in the follow-up email. At any rate, always include the on-demand recording to your event for anyone who could not attend the live broadcast.
If the goal of your internal virtual event is to collect employee data, polling responses can be extremely helpful. For example, HR departments often conduct virtual events for a culture pulse check, opinions on the state of the business, or general thoughts on past business performance. This polling data should be included in your audience follow-up and can play a pivotal role in the direction of your company’s future.
Events for External Audiences
Marketing webinars for product launches, advocacy programs, and thought leadership are commonly used for large-scale streaming events. Ultimately, the goal of these presentations is to generate leads and create better brand awareness for customers and prospects. A well formulated follow-up campaign can turn event attendance into a sales opportunity.
Post-event reports and attendee participation data dictate the marketing (and sales) follow-up process. First, it’s a great idea to integrate your marketing automation system for attendee outreach. If an integration for your software is unavailable, you can also manually upload the registration list into your CRM or marketing program. Send all registrants and attendees a link to the recording as well as a call to action based on the content they watched. This could be a link to a related asset, a product video, or a “try now” button for your service. Poll responses and questions are another great way to assess buyer behavior. For example, if certain leads answered ‘yes’ to a poll regarding product interest, give them additional attention. You can hand these ‘hot’ leads to your sales department, in addition to an automated follow up, for a human touch and potential discovery call.
Types of Virtual Events
While virtual events can cover just about any type of online gathering for a large group, the six main types of virtual events include marketing webinars, virtual conferences, trade shows, all-hands meetings, town hall meetings, and virtual learning.
It’s remarkable how much flexibility users have with an all-in-one streaming product. Instead of trying to combine multiple audio, video, and web content applications to host a broadcast, organizers can leverage a single solution for many event types. Learn how the scalability of virtual events enables presenters and attendees to connect in any public or private forum.
For the purposes of product launches, thought leadership, and customer advocacy, marketing webinars allow organizations to connect with business prospects. Often one hour or less in length, marketing webinars generate interest in a product, service, or industry topic. Typically, presentations involve two or more on-camera speakers and a slideshow with content regarding their field of knowledge or product-specific information. There are opportunities to engage audience members through chat, Q&A, and polling — all valuable tools for subject clarification and lead nurturing.
Virtual Conferences & Trade Shows
Intended to capture the interest of customers and prospects, these online exhibitions showcase multiple product and service offerings from an assortment of industry-specific brands. In some instances, a single entity will host user conferences or “summits” aimed at educating their customers and partners on best practices. These can include multiple keynote speakers, workshops, and training sessions. Live video streaming allows these trade shows to display physical and software-based demonstrations with interaction between audience members and brand representatives.
Given the travel challenges and physical limitations for some, hosting virtual graduation commencements is a great alternative. Universities and high schools opt for a live video stream to connect the graduating class with friends and family across the world. For large institutions, there are typically two types of commencements: Entire university, and individual college departments. Leading virtual events solutions support up to 150 camera feeds and 50,000 attendees in a single broadcast. For example, multiple on-camera presenters can include: the university president, valedictorians, famous alumni, emeritus members, donors, advocates, and celebrity guests. Graduating students can also appear on camera as presenters, and get demoted to an attendee as moderators control the roll call. This method is recommended for smaller college departments rather than large, all-university addresses.
All-Hands and Town Halls
As the number of dispersed office locations as well as remote employees increase, there’s demand for more inclusive and engaging all-hands meetings that allow participants to interact with executive teams. Virtual events for all-hands, also known as town halls, allow corporate leaders to effectively communicate strategic vision, deliver business updates, celebrate milestones, and respond to real-time questions from employees. This level of top-down transparency is critical for business culture and solidarity by bringing the entire workforce into the same digital ‘auditorium.’ Using live video Q&A with attendees, the ‘raise hand’ feature, chat, and multi-presenter video streams align organizations and reduce logistical limitations of in-person events.
Online education has become a staple of academic institutions across the world as students are given the option to take classes virtually. Additionally, virtual events have grown in popularity with business enterprises that need to train large groups of knowledge workers. Sales enablement is one example of internal video streaming that’s used to impart product knowledge to customer-facing teams. Whether deploying virtual events for students and instructors, or to bring internal participants up to speed on a given subject, using a scalable, interactive video platform conveniently connects users from anywhere. The best vendors in this market offer an ‘engagement index’ that calculates attendee attentiveness based on duration and participation. Once an event ends, organizers get these attendee scores in a summary email, so they can determine their influence and modify the presentation in the future to optimize content delivery.