When the pandemic hit earlier this year, the events space changed overnight. Physical events across the world—from Facebook’s Global Marketing Summit to the Olympics—were canceled, and companies rushed to provide online events instead. 

Whether this is the beginning of a fundamental shift away from in-person events remains to be seen but, even if they do make a return, it’s unlikely to be before 2021. 

With this sudden change, how can you run an online event that not only delights attendees, but also brings in meetings, leads, and revenue? 

 

Is an online event the right answer for you?

Events are a key part of many companies’ lead-generation strategy, accounting for up to 40% of their leads. While some of the big names have been able to successfully generate leads by switching to virtual events though, that doesn’t mean you necessarily will. These are still early days, and the expected number and quality of leads from online events is yet to be established. 

Before you jump on the virtual event bandwagon, it’s important to step back and assess your overall lead-generation strategy. Rather than essentially creating a new channel (virtual events), it might be more effective to divert the resources you’d normally use for in-person events into other channels you’ve already established, such as content marketing or digital ads. 

 

Understand the differences between online and offline events

Assuming that you decide to go ahead with a virtual event, the first thing you need to appreciate is that it’s completely different from running an in-person event. If your plan is to “do the same, just online,” you can expect big problems. Rather, you need to come up with a plan that takes into account the complexities of a 100% digital event. 

For example, one of the first considerations is the format of the event. Are you going to live-stream talks, or are you going to open up on-demand access to pre-recorded videos? Will you have one speaker at a time, or will you have a panel of speakers?

While you may not have to worry about hiring out a large venue, putting on an online event is still going to cost money, including technology (see below), promotion, and a team. How are you going to cover those costs? Are you going to charge for the event, or will you rely on sponsors? 

 

Deliver what your attendees want

Why do people attend in-person events? For many, it’s a chance to hear from industry leaders, and maybe pick up a new strategy or two. However, peoples’ priorities have changed. Your event and your speakers need to focus on what your audience cares about right now

Another reason people attend conferences is to rub shoulders with others in their industry. By building in opportunities to network, you’ll be creating value for your attendees.

If you’ve carried out in-person events before, work out how you can deliver that same experience online that matches your brand. By delivering what people love about in-person events, while also eliminating the downsides, you’ll have a truly standout event on your hands. 

 

Focus on engagement

I hate to break it to you, but your event isn’t the only thing going on in your attendee’s lives. People are working from home, multi-tasking, and taking care of their kids. As online events become the new norm, the novelty factor will very soon wear off, if it hasn’t already. 

Whatever format your event follows, you and your speakers need to actively engage with attendees throughout, or you run the risk of being just background noise. 

When SaaStr put on their virtual event, they found speakers who featured Q&A sessions and used stories performed well, compared to those who “just read slides of data.” If people have the opportunity to ask questions, they’re more likely to stick around and pay attention as they wait for their answer. 

 

Test your tech

Finally, consider the technology that will be powering your event. How professional do you want to be? Will speakers stream from a state-of-the-art studio or their living room? Will they be using professional broadcasting equipment or their iPhones?

While it’s great to make full use of the available technology to provide the best experience possible. At the same time, don’t make things unnecessarily complicated, especially if this is your first online event. The simpler the setup, the less that can go wrong. 

Either way, you and all speakers should test everything before starting. Test the internet connection, the hardware, the software. Test the presentations, then the transitions. Test the slides and the music. As the saying goes, hope for the best but always prepare for the worst. 

 

Conclusion

While events have been hit particularly hard this year, those who’ve been able to successfully pivot into digital events are enjoying the benefits, reaching a larger audience than ever. As the online event space matures and the bar is raised, you can create events that both produce a clear ROI and delight your participants. 

 

Check out this B2B marketing leader’s playbook for getting +9,000 attendees at his virtual event.