One of the ways many of our customers are providing value to their members is by moving their events into a virtual platform. If you haven't done this before, it can be overwhelming - especially when you're trying to pull it together with little time to spare.
As a company with customers all over the continent, we have some experience with virtual meetings and events - You may have even attended our recent virtual event MC Thrive, where we hosted over 400 attendees in our very own Classroom platform for a full day of speaker sessions, a virtual vendor marketplace, and plenty of fun and games (trivia and attendee awards!)
Is your organization wanting to take your events virtual, but unsure where to start? Check out our playbook below where we've outlined all the main considerations from planning, prepping, and executing an awesome virtual event that your members will be talking about all year!
Virtual Playbook Outline
Complete an internal assessment by asking yourself, and your staff, the following questions. It may seem simple, but understanding your goals and what resources you have available to accomplish them will help a lot to align your team and get everyone moving in the right direction!
- Why do we feel the need to do this?
- Who is our audience?
- What are we trying to accomplish?
- Do we have the staff to facilitate?
- Do we have the tools to facilitate?
- What is the format (all virtual? hybrid?)
- How will we generate revenue (and profit!) from this?
Securing Sponsors and Exhibitors. If you plan on having sponsors and exhibitors for your event, consider the ways that you will be able to feature them in a virtual event format.
- Will you be posting their logo in a partners section?
- Will their logo appear next to a certain speaker?
- Should a representative of the company give remarks during the event?
- Before reaching out for sponsorship, ensure you have thought through how you can best make their sponsorship valuable to everyone involved!
- Plan your content. Start with an outline of what you'd like to provide for your attendee experience, considering any materials, speakers, sessions, or other sessions or breakouts (vendor marketplaces, additional materials that may be beneficial to visitors, etc.). Be sure to consider the time for transitions, how long it will take speakers to get settled and ready to present, and more.
- Material Assessment - Do you need to have any graphics created specifically for this event? Do you have the tools to pull off each part of your event day (chat room plug-ins, PDF handouts)
- Sourcing Speakers - Consider who you want your speakers to be, and how the content of your event will make it stand out in a crowd. (Our marketing team has some great tips about sourcing speakers in a blog post they did here!)
- Event Length and Complexity - Will your event be one day with multiple sessions? Or perhaps span multiple days? If you want to run multiple live, concurrent sessions, do you have the available staff to monitor and assist in each session? These are all great questions to consider when planning out how to pull things off. For smaller staffs, simpler may be better, and even doing a mix of prerecorded content and live sessions might meet the needs of what can stay manageable while still providing great content to your attendees!
- Live webinar provider. For these, it's best to do some research - ask colleagues, think back to great events you've attended and see what provider they may have used, and get to vetting those systems! As you are checking out systems, be sure you have a list of what's important to you - do you need multiple speakers at one time? Do you need to be able to run sessions concurrently? Do you have a very large event where hundreds (or thousands!) might need to be logged in all at once? Do you need live support the day of your event? Knowing what is most important to you will help you make a decision on what software is best for your needs.
- Virtual trivia was a big hit at our event, MC Thrive, and was a fun break for attendees. We didn't do anything fancy - just found software online and guided our attendees through the process of clicking a link to get to the trivia we'd set up, and we were up and running!
- Chat room plugins. Many webinar providers offer chat as part of the webinar, but do you want additional gathering places outside of sessions where attendees can chat and virtually "network"? A chat room not tied to the speaker sessions may be worth looking into!
And of course, perhaps the biggest question - where will you host the entire event? The best software for this will depend on your needs. Do you want a location online that is branded specifically to your organization and event? Do you want a site where you can post recordings and event materials after the event has come to an end, either as an attendee resource or to be able to continue to monetize the event sessions?
- Value proposition - what is uniquely valuable about your event? How will it be different (and better!) than other similar events? Really spend some time focusing on the messaging around this, because it can make a huge difference in helping your event standout.
- Agenda highlights - people want to know what they're signing up for! Be sure to take special care to point out the highlights of the event, including special speaker sessions, to help build excitement and interest
- Promos - Be sure to post promos for the event on social media. Maybe consider doing a giveaway for free registration by conducting a small contest (like and share to win!). This strategy will help your followers spread the word for you!
- Day of event - Don't let the social media buzz stop just because the event has started. Take time during sessions to continue to do social media contests and challenges by asking your attendees to post pictures, tweets, or anything else you can come up with, and hashtagging those items with a special event hashtag so others can see the fun!
- Follow up - Don't forget to post about the great day(s) you shared together! Consider posting key quotes from speaker sessions, congratulations to contest winners, or additional thank you's to sponsors and attendees - the good will goes a long way!
- Internal run through - Make sure everyone on your internal team knows the program for the day of the event, what time everything is happening, and most importantly, that everyone knows who is responsible for what.
- Speaker run through - Just as important as your internal team knowing how things should go and what to expect, your speakers should too! Be sure they understand the run of the event at a high level (what events come before and after them), be sure they understand their time slot, and maybe most importantly, do a run through with them from a technical perspective to ensure their audio and video equipment are all working properly, and that they understand how to navigate any software you are using for their part of the event.
- To facilitate all of the above, we recommend creating a "run of show" document (for MC Thrive, our run of show document was 23 pages - yes, really!) This document should provide an outline of the events of the entire day, and include specific details about which staff member is doing anything at any given time. Having this document to follow through together, both during practice runs and the day of the event, will help clear up any confusion!
- Aside from your staff and your speakers, don't forget to equip your attendees with everything they'll need to know! This goes beyond simply sharing the agenda for the day - make sure attendees know what links to use to get to which sessions, how to log into the site and access content, and how to navigate around whatever software you've chosen for the event itself. It may help to send this information out at least a day or two ahead of time to give you and your staff a head start on answering questions and helping people with login or access issues so that it's smooth sailing the day of the event. If you have the time, putting together a short video with instructions and navigation tips to send to attendees ahead of time can be a huge help!
- Last but not least - Have a plan B! (It is technology, after all.) Even despite all the best laid plans and practice, sometimes road bumps (or all out calamity) can still occur. Spend time thinking through possible disruptions and issues and what your team plans to do in those situations. If a speaker simply cannot get their audio to work, what will you do? If your entire webinar platform completely crashes, do you have a backup Zoom account you could use to pull attendees to? If the event cannot be conducted, what will your refund policy be? No one likes to think about the worst-case scenario, but knowing you have addressed possibilities and have a contingency plan in place will help to put you at ease!
- Executing the plan - be sure everyone knows where they need to be and what they need to be doing. Make communication plans clear for the day so that everyone understands how they can reach each other, or who may possibly be unreachable at any time. Be sure that everyone is equipped with the run of show document and knows to adhere to the time slots for each of the days sessions and activities to provide a great attendee experience.
- Responding quickly to attendee questions/needs - This is so important! A great idea is to have an email address set up specifically for event questions, troubleshooting problems, etc., and to have at least one or two staff members monitoring it before and during the event. If you have attendees popping into the chat box saying their screen has frozen, they can't hear the speaker, etc., hop right in and ask that person to email you directly at the support address and you'll be helping them right away! Not only will they appreciate the direct support, but it will also ensure that the chat and Q&A area stay clear for attendees to be engaging with your content and speakers, and not flooding it with technical issues.
- Send thank you's to attendees; exhibitors; sponsors - Don't forget to let them know that they were part of making it a great event!
- Survey attendees, exhibitors and sponsors - Getting feedback on your event is vital to knowing what people loved, what they found valuable, and what you could do better next time.
- Conduct evaluation exercise internally - Once everything has calmed back down, get your staff and volunteers together to review feedback and discuss everyone's thoughts, opinions, and takeaways from the event. And then - start planning the next one!
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