As a part of an innovative, rapidly growing company, we on the Offline Events Team at SEMrush are used to handling unexpected tasks and changing directions quickly.
As a regular participant in global digital marketing conferences and trade shows, however, we could never have imagined that we would need to fully change our plans for the upcoming Spring/Summer event season.
We were still in the process of ordering our promotional giveaways for April events when the quarantine began, and we watched in dismay as most of the events we had planned for the rest of the year canceled, postponed, or moved online, all in less than two weeks.
At that point, we decided to take these unprecedented circumstances as a challenge, and change the situation in our favor instead of letting the obstacles break us. We decided to go online. Was it scary? – Yes. Was it worth it? – Definitely! Here, we will share with you our own experience of how we decided to go virtual and take our events online.
We have identified a few steps that we took which will help you take your own event from physical to virtual!
Step 1: Select Your Virtual Event Platform
This step is much easier said than done. With so many players in the virtual event solutions market, there is no right or wrong answer. It all depends on the scale of your event, and the features you would like to use. For SEMrush virtual events, we have chosen two platforms: Bizzabo and Zoom. Bizzabo has many features, such as break out rooms, but limits capacity to 500 people per session. Zoom, on the other hand, is great for a nearly unlimited number of participants but does not have extended functionalities like breakout rooms or other applications.
Step 2: Plan Your Event Down to the Last Detail
As with any event, planning for a virtual experience is essential, and might be even more important than for a physical one. Here, you do not have a room for small timing mistakes; you should write out the full minute by minute scenario to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Make sure to have coordinators and moderators from your organization for each session, which will help to mitigate technological issues, as well as any conflicts amongst speakers and/or attendees. In addition, don’t forget to plan your reminders carefully, as it is much easier for attendees to forget about online events than about ones they attend in person.
Step 3: Don’t Forget about the Fun!
You probably want to enlighten your audience with as much educational content as possible, but don’t forget to keep them engaged as well. Have interactive breaks with games, quizzes, and other fun activities which will help attendees to relax and be ready to concentrate on the next session. Have someone from your organization ready to participate in these activities as well, just in case the audience is shy. Your colleague can help set the tone for the rest of the audience.
Step 4: Test, Test, TEST
Equipment malfunctions and technological problems can be the downfall of any live, online event. Before everyone connects on the day of the event, do technological equipment tests with everyone who is part of the event, especially your speakers! Check their sound system, microphone, and cameras, as well as the background they will be using during their session. Send each speaker detailed written instructions on how to use your platform, to ensure your virtual experience is a success.
Step 5: Take Your Event Live!
Sit back and watch your event go live! Stay tuned in and attentive, and take notes so you will have extra details for your follow-up communication to attendees. You should have prepared your follow-up email well in advance, but make sure you include some relevant details from your speakers’ sessions and questions the audience asks speakers during the Q&A session. This will add a personal touch to your follow-up letter, and help convert those leads into deals.
These were the main five steps we went through when organizing our first virtual events. It took us just about a month to prepare for our own virtual experience with speakers and entertainment. Virtual events sound like they should be easier than offline ones, but be careful not to underestimate the time constraints, technological issues, and other roadblocks that might keep your event from being successful.
With careful planning and preparation, and a great team, you too can convert your offline events to online, and continue succeeding through 2020!