The ultimate guide to organising virtual events

April 7, 2020

Table of Contents

We are living in challenging times at the moment, and event planners are being forced to cancel parties, weddings, conferences, festivals and much more. Guidance is unclear as to how long the measures will be in place. Though devastating for those in the industry, as always the country is rallying and finding new ways to connect with one another.

Our use of technology has increased in recent weeks and months as people rely on computers, online conference calls and social media to work, stay in touch with friends / family and keep occupied. Countless arts organisations and businesses within the night-time economy are finding digital ways to connect with their audience by offering live streamings of shows, online quizzes and much more. 

So how can event organisers get in on the fun? 

Reasons to run an online event

There are many different reasons why it could be beneficial for event planners and organisers to join in organising virtual events. 

  • Save money and save the environment

Virtual events are faster and cheaper to organise when compared to physical events. Plus, they’re more environmentally friendly as no one physically travels to online events.  This means you can cut costs and still run a fantastic event in no time! There’s no excuse not to give it a go, really. 

  • Keep up momentum

You may have several events lined up in the future, and you want to continue to promote your services. Link your virtual events to your future ones, perhaps giving a discount or exclusive entry to those who attend your online events. 

  • Showcase your skills

Online events are a great way to show your audience you’re still here, still working hard and ready waiting to help organise fantastic events once the restrictions have been lifted. If you can host a fantastic virtual event then people will be sure to remember you next time they need an event planner. 

  • Quell boredom

There’s only so many times we can all clean the house, right? If you’re a busy, buzzing event planner then it’s bound to be difficult not organising fantastic events and networking with people. Your customers and colleagues will also be feeling the boredom kicking in – and will be grateful to you for giving them something fun to look forward to. 

  • Make the most of your data

A virtual event allows you to reach a wider, untapped audience from around the world – something you probably wouldn’t be able to do for a physical event. You can use attendance data and engagement metrics to easily measure the success of your event, too. 

  • Improve accessibility

The inclusivity of virtual events makes them invaluable to many people who would not be able to attend physical events either due to physical restrictions, or financial considerations. 

What are virtual events? 

A virtual event is, quite simply, an event that’s hosted online. People meet on the web rather than in person, using video calls or digital conferencing tools to login and chat. 

Virtual events have been popular for some time now, particularly for events such as job fairs, open days or business-wide meetings where it’s not always geographically possible for people to come together physically. There has also been a recent rise in live-streaming events and on-demand content that allows customers to experience an event they wouldn’t always have a chance to experience (such as an expensive music gig or London-based show). 

Believe it or not, virtual events are not a new phenomenon. The world’s first virtual tradeshow happened way back in 1993. Since then, virtual events have continued to steadily grow in popularity. As society has become more reliant on social media networking and exciting new technologies have evolved, so too have virtual events. Now it’s perfectly possible to take tours of foreign cities from the comfort of your own sofa, watch award-winning actors take to the stage and connect with strangers around the world. The possibilities really are endless. 

Why are virtual events successful? 

Could you attract visitors and guests from the USA, Australia, China and other countries around the world to your event here in the UK? Chances are, probably not in their droves. Hosting an online event gives you the great opportunity to share your event with people from every corner of the world. 

Virtual events also have the advantage of longevity. Where a physical event encourages guests to live in the moment, online events can be accessed long after it’s over. Your guests can rewatch conferences or performances, or share the event with friends who missed it. The accessibility of online events means anyone from anywhere, no matter what their circumstance, can join in and feel involved. 

How to host virtual events

There are many different types of software out there that you can use to help host your virtual event. Many organisers are using Zoom (though there are security and privacy concerns surrounding this tool), Google Hangouts or YouTube to stream live events and run conference calls. You could also consider using social media such as Facebook or Instagram Live to reach a wider audience. Facebook Events is a particularly useful way to reach people who are actively searching for events to take part in. You can use tools such as Vimeo Simulcasting or Castr to stream to multiple platforms at the same time, allowing you to put the choice in your customers’ hands. 

Choose a suitable time and date, as you would a physical event. Check out what competitors are doing and make sure your virtual event doesn’t clash with anything else going on. 

What type of event are you planning to run?

Your event must stand out. For example, there are hundreds of online virtual quizzes going on so, if you want to enter this field, you must find a point of difference. Try an unusual quiz theme, or work with a well-known quizmaster to bring in your audience. It’s a good idea to do your research, see what’s out there and try to discover a new kind of online event that’s not over-saturated. This will help you to stand out and shine when it comes to marketing your event. 

Plan your format carefully. Are you planning on using a tool such as Google Hangouts to live stream a Q&A or are you going to try and share your screen with guests? Plan every aspect of your event, and make sure you’re trialling the software in advance. Ask a few friends to test out links and do a rehearsal of your event as you would a run-through of a physical event. 

Engage your audience

Keep your event short and involved. Where an in-person conference or event would have multiple elements happening at the same time, you must ensure virtual attendees are focussed on one element. Maybe run a speaker session one day, and a networking event a different day to break things up. Don’t try to create a marathon online event that will last all day – it’s unlikely people will stay engaged for that length of time. Be mindful that people may attend a three-day conference, or sit through speaker sessions for a whole afternoon but they won’t necessarily sit in front of their laptop for the same amount of time. Condense your content down, always trying to deliver the same amount of quality content just within a shorter time frame. 

Consider your equipment

You should also be mindful of what equipment you need. If you’re running a professional virtual event, you’ll need to consider investing in professional equipment. This could include a camera, microphone and any accessories you might need (such as tripods). It’s likely you’ll already have a decent WiFi connection but, if not, make sure you invest in the best. This’ll help ensure you don’t have any pixelation or slow connection. 

Live or recorded? 

Decide in advance if you are planning to run a live online event, or a pre-recorded one. Obviously a pre-recorded event will allow you to control the content, and removes margin of error. However, a live event is often more exciting and engaging. They allow people to take part and ask questions as the event happens. If you are hosting a live event, have a contingency plan such as a pre-recorded section just in case something does go wrong. 

Whatever the scenario, make sure you choose a suitable location. You don’t want a washing machine whirring away, or noisy neighbours disturbing your event. Choose a quiet location with a neutral non-distracting background and encourage any guest speaker to do the same. 

Marketing your virtual events 

First of all, decide on the USP of your event. Are you trying to deliver a professional-standard networking event or online conference, raise money for a great cause or simple try to contribute to the event community by creating something everyone can look forward to? Whatever your goal, make sure this is clearly communicated in your marketing message so people know what to expect. 

Make use of your current contacts. If you have a newsletter list, or an active social media following then reach out to these customers and let them know about your programme of virtual events. 

Just as you would physical events, plan dates in advance and begin to promote them. You could use sponsored social media posts to reach a wider audience, place adverts on community groups / forums or even reach out directly to groups or individuals that might be interested. Rely on your network where you are unable to rely on physical flyering or outdoor advertising. Trust your friends, guests and colleagues to spread the word about your event. 

Eventbrite gives you the option to mark your event as ‘online’ – this is great as it allows people to specifically search for virtual events. And, voila! Your event will appear in these searches. 

Virtual events are also fantastic tools for gathering participant data, helping your marketing efforts long-term. You can monitor the activities of each individual, discovering who’s most engaged with your event (for example, who exits a virtual platform early or who comments / networks with other users). As with physical events, you are able to take basic contact details for each participant to keep them informed with event updates – and hopefully acquire their permission to market to them in the future also. This means you can use your data to promote future physical events to your virtual audience.  

Can I charge for virtual events? 

It’s worth thinking carefully about the pros and cons of charging for an online event. Many virtual events are free. You could risk alienating your audience if you decided to charge for an event other people are offering. 

However, if you are offering training, knowledge or a unique experience there’s no real reason why you can’t charge the same for a virtual event as you would a live event. You must make sure you are only charging for a truly valuable, professional experience though, or delegates may not feel as though they have received good value for money. Think of it this way – will attendees receive the same level of service, expertise, knowledge sharing and information as they would a physical event? If so, you’re justified in charging them a similar fee. 

Are you just wanting to host a ‘fun’ virtual event to connect an online community? You may want to consider charging a lower amount. Some virtual event software costs money – and you don’t want to be left out of pocket. If you do need to charge your attendees a nominal fee for attending, you should consider:

  • Pay As You Feel. This way, attendees don’t feel obligated to pay to attend an online event. They will offer a donation if they’re financially able to. 
  • Charity donations. You could donate all, or a percentage of, attendance fees to charity. This will appeal to people’s good nature and demonstrate you’re organising a virtual event to show support, rather than to make a profit. 
  • Nominal entry fee. If you make it clear you need to charge attendees in order to cover your cost, it’s likely most people will understand and will be happy to pay via PayPal or another secure payment method. 
  • Find a sponsor. Could you collaborate with another local business to help sponsor your event? This will help cover your costs, enabling you to offer free attendance. 

Remember that organising a virtual event will help you reach a wider audience, which in the long-term could help grow your brand and accelerate your business. Think strategically. Would you rather run a free event that brings together over 100 people, or charge people and only attract a dozen or so guests? 

Don’t forget to measure your ROI. How much has the event cost you, versus how much money you’ve made from the attendance price? This will help you to tweak future event costs to ensure you’re striking the right balance. 

During your virtual event

Be aware that people may not be technologically savvy. Post assistance just before your event (either via social media or an email to guests, or both) giving people a brief ‘how to’ guide to accessing the event. This will ease the stress of attendees and helps your event to run more smoothly. 

You might be on the other end of a screen, but you can still be a great host. Look at the camera rather than the pictures of your attendees – this will give the impression of making eye contact. 

Keep your audience informed and engaged throughout. If there’s a long delay, or something goes wrong with your technology, your audience needs to know. You can also interact with your guests, chat to them and answer questions using a chat or comment feature. 

Virtual event ideas… 

Online social events

Quizzes seem to be the top choice for event organisers. Virtual quizzes are relatively easy to execute and provide a fantastic opportunity for friends and family to socialise. Make sure your event theme is distinctive and will appeal to a wide range of people. 

As an alternative, why not host a virtual book club, workout class or craft group? This allows people to connect with each other and try something new.

Virtual conferences

Yes, huge conference halls with hundreds of exhibitors and a stellar line-up of guest speakers might seem more impressive but you’d be surprised how effective a virtual conference can be. Arrange a number of speakers to dial in and allow your guests to interact with them and ask questions as well as listen to their presentation. This gives an intimate, personal dimension to an otherwise audience vs speaker relationship. 

Webinars 

Online seminars give you the opportunity to engage a wide audience as you can vary the topic per event. Get a chef involved for a live cooking demonstration, or arrange a fitness coach to deliver an informative webinar. You can quickly build an online audience who’ll tune in time and time again. 

If you regularly run training courses, professional networking events or meetings then now’s your chance to try setting these up virtually. Simply ask delegates to log in and take part via an online streaming tool instead. 

Product launches

If you work with a number of clients to create great events for product or brand launches, there’s no reason why this can’t work online. Create online product demonstrations, tutorials and even online competitions to give guests the chance to win a product. 

Online karaoke or open mics

If your audience is a creative bunch, why not host an online karaoke marathon, or open mic event? This gives people the chance to showcase their skills to a wide audience, and provides the perfect opportunity to do something a little bit different. 

Charity fundraising 

You can run a fundraising event online – though it may take some stellar organisational skills. Invite guest speakers from the charity, plus people the charity has helped. Then, open up the floor for attendees to donate or take part in other fundraising activities. 

Charity auctions or raffles are particularly popular, and there’s no reason you can’t run these events virtually. Set up auction items via an online auction page to allow people to bid electronically. You could even run a live auction digitally if you have an auctioneer at the ready to manage people’s bids! 

Websites such as GivePenny allow you to post fundraising videos and keep track of your donations. 

Virtual exhibitions and tours

Museums, galleries, theatres and other attractions could offer virtual tours of their building or exhibition. Include pre-recorded or live commentary from a valued member of staff or expert in the field. This will help make the event extra special. 

You don’t need to necessarily tour an exciting facility. If you have regular clients and customers who would be happy to showcase a ‘sneak peek’ then why not give it a go? A factory or laboratory would make fantastic online tour content. 

Conventions

If you’re an event planner specialising in organising conventions, why not shift your focus to the digital world? Fans can gather together online and connect as they would do at a physical event. Organise guests, speaker slots and icebreakers to get everyone feeling involved. 

Digital shows and performances 

Theatres and arts venues have been recording performances for years. Now there’s no better time to release them to the public. There’s no reason why local amateur groups or even professional performers couldn’t get together to rehearse and perform a digital rendition of a popular piece. 

Online festivals

Programme a themed series of short events throughout one day. If you want to run a virtual music festival, arrange a line-up of musicians to give live or pre-recorded performances. This could also work for a food or drink festival – set up a group of experts and connoisseurs to give tasting sessions and demonstrations.  

Do I need to insure my virtual events? 

Insurance for physical events can be expensive. Here are the types of insurance you’d normally have to consider, and how this changes once you go digital:

  • Public Liability Insurance

Public Liability Insurance will cover you for third party injury or damage as a result of your negligence. A virtual event is unlikely to cause anyone to have an accident, fall ill or receive physical damage. Therefore you’re unlikely to need Public Liability Insurance for a virtual event. 

  • Employers’ Liability Insurance 

Chances are you’ll be running the event from home independently, so you won’t need an employee’s involvement. However, if you are a well-established event planner with a team of employees working with you already then your Employers’ Liability Insurance is likely to cover you if you all work from home anyway. Check the Terms and Conditions of your policy to make sure. 

  • Event Equipment Insurance

This one’s obvious. As you aren’t running a physical event, you won’t need physical equipment. You may need to make sure equipment such as your computer is insured if you’re using it for work purposes, though. 

  • Event Cancellation

Even if you do have to cancel your virtual event (and you’ve charged people for it), you’re unlikely to need to recuperate irrevocable costs such as venue or supplier deposits. Simply refund your customers or postpone the event to a different date. 

  • Additional Covers

Terrorism and non-appearance of an individual (such as a guest speaker or celebrity) is unlikely to affect your virtual event. If you are operating a large-scale virtual event such as an online conference or exhibition and charging people high sums to attend in order to listen to a guest speaker, additional cover may be relevant but these kinds of virtual events are extremely rare. 

For more information about event insurance, visit our website

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