26 Huge Questions To Ask Before Planning a Virtual Event
The growth of the Internet since the start of the 21st century has been immense, touching almost every part of our lives, from education to commerce to communications to entertainment.
Similarly, it has also touched practically every aspect of how we plan and manage events and, in the last decade, how we produce and broadcast events.
In the 2010s, virtual events (online only) and hybrid events (those that have both in-person and online audiences) have started to build steam due to both their convenience and their novelty. With the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, many event professionals, businesses and nonprofits have been forced to more seriously consider online events as a fundamental way of reaching their audiences.
And although this surge in interest will probably wane a bit when in-person events are again safe, virtual events are now a permanent part of the conversation when people consider their event mix, goals and audience needs.
But in the short term, there’s one glaring issue confronting many event planners: How do I get up to speed fast on planning and launching virtual events.
The event technology itself can be daunting, not to mention how to address the different expectations and behaviors of attendees with regard to Web-based programming.
So we thought we would offer up this list of questions as a sort of virtual event strategy checklist, guiding you through the process and making sure you cover all your bases as you get used to this new-ish experience of virtual event planning.
Oh, and you should check out this complete guide to virtual events once you have read through the questions below.
What is the single driving purpose or goal of the event?
Whether you are planning an in-person physical event or a virtual event, this is the starting point for either. It is both the main reason you are planning your event and the main takeaway or feeling you want your audience to leave with. And the act of defining it will probably lead you towards whether the event should be an in-person live event or a virtual event.
Who is the target audience you want to build the event for?
The wants, needs and characteristics of your target audience should drive practically every decision you make moving forward, from content and presenters to audience engagement and event marketing tactics. Consider creating personas of key target audience sub-segments to better understand their motivations and desires.
What is the anticipated size of your audience?
A big advantage of virtual events is that they can scale massively compared to physical events. But even though virtual events don’t have the physical limitations (venue rooms, physical spaces, etc.) that in-person events do, you will still need to define your desired audience size so you can determine the scope of your marketing efforts and video conferencing needs.
How will you address the wants and needs of your audience?
This is a key question in virtual event planning, one that requires that you know the wants and needs of your target audience in the first place. If you don’t know them, conduct an online survey of potential attendees to find out. If you do know them, conduct a survey anyways because you will probably learn some important things you didn’t already know.
What do you want attendees to take away from your event?
This takeaway could be one or two key pieces of knowledge. It could be expanded awareness of a concept, brand or mission. It could be a change of mind or attitude. It could be a feeling or a sense of inspiration. It could be new acquaintances or friends. Whatever it is, define it early on and shape your programming around it. This is the first step in planning an immersive experience for your virtual setting.
What date(s) and time(s) would be the most convenient for audience members to attend?
A huge draw of virtual events for attendees is the convenience. Of not having to travel (or pay for travel). Of sitting in one’s office or home and simply showing up. So you should make it even more convenient by setting dates and times for your virtual conference, meeting or event that makes it easy for attendees to log in and participate. Note that virtual attendees are inclined to multitask during virtual events, so pick times when they tend to relax or take breaks.
What technologies and devices will your audience members be using to attend/participate?
Is your audience younger or older? Do they prefer using smartphones or computers? Are they tech-savvy, early-adapting entrepreneurs? Are they unable to identify what browser or operating system they regularly use? Or are they somewhere in between?
Questions like these will help you determine the type and level of event technology you need to employ as well as the customer support you should be prepared to offer.
Who will be on your virtual event planning team?
A salient question because virtual events require an elevated level of technological expertise. Hence you may want to consider adding your in-house IT guru to your team or, if you don’t have one, outsourcing this until you feel you are up to speed with the technology behind virtual events.
However, you will also need to consider what other in-house staff members, outside contractors, volunteers, MCs and participants you will need in order to pull off your event.
What kind of budget do you have to work with?
Thankfully, virtual event budgets are usually much smaller than in-person events because there are simply fewer expenses (no catering, no live production crew, no venue or venue staff, etc.). However, you should still scope out how much you are willing to spend on talent (speakers, entertainers, etc.), marketing, technology, contractors and other related expenses.
If you want to generate revenue from the event, how will you do that?
If your event is a product, then you will want to consider all revenue avenues, including registration and ticket sales, sponsors and virtual exhibitors. If your event is promoting your mission or organization (like a non-profit), you may want to include donations and swag sales in the mix. If your event is for educational purposes, you may want to collect registration fees just to break even. And if your event is focused on developing potential clients, then you will need a sales and marketing strategy for nurturing those leads during and after the event and track your ROI by sales generated from the event.
What kind of content would appeal to your audience?
Online events typically live and die by the quality and focus of the content that’s delivered. So you will need to do your homework on the topics and ideas that will resonate with your virtual audience and the kinds of sessions and speakers that will create a memorable experience.
What is the best virtual format or event type for delivering your content?
This is where you need to consider the scope of your virtual event. Is it a simple webinar, a larger virtual meeting or conference, a blown-out virtual summit with networking rooms and virtual exhibitors, or something else entirely?
Start with the determining best methods for conveying your content or achieving your goals - keynotes, panels, video presentations, classes, online chats, Q&As - and then consider the framework or structure that will best contain those methods.
Who should deliver that content?
Just like industry notables, influencers and subject-matter experts draw people to in-person events, they are also big draws for virtual events because they will get more people to both pony up for registration fees and stay tuned in during the live event. In the end, you will need to decide what speakers, entertainers, panelists and other participants will best drive home your message to potential attendees.
Will your participants be in the same location or different locations?
Now we get into the logistical planning of virtual events. If all participants are broadcasting from one place, then you can more easily control the entire setup (audio/video equipment, virtual event software, etc.). If each participant is broadcasting from their own location (much more common), then you will need to ensure that each person knows how to use your chosen technology platform and that their equipment (camera and microphone) and bandwidth are sufficient.
How many days and hours of content do you want to provide?
This is part of a key value proposition regarding your event, namely … what do you want the virtual experience to be like and how you want to position your event to remote attendees.
Do you want to do a comprehensive take on a broad issue? Then a longer event on a variety of related topics is probably necessary. Or maybe you want to do a deep dive on a narrower topic? Or a quick-take on a timely issue? Answers to these questions will give you an idea of the length of your event.
How many and what kind of sessions will that require? Will they be simultaneous?
As a virtual event planner, one of your biggest challenges will be holding on to your virtual attendees’ attention. So keeping your session lengths to 15-25 minutes is critical.
Using this as your yardstick, you can start to divide up your topics and presenter assignments accordingly. And if you are offering different tracks for say a live event, now is the time to start planning how you will align those tracks next to each other and if you want to allow attendees to view sessions from a single track only or be able to access content from multiple tracks.
What capabilities and features will you need to broadcast/stream your event?
Your content decisions for your virtual meeting or event will dictate your event technology choices, and here you have many. Live video. Recorded video. Slideshow presentations. Live chat. Polling and surveys. The list is long, so first determine your technical needs and those of your presenters, and then start shopping for a virtual event platform that meets those needs.
Will you need to consider audiences that speak different languages? Or closed-captioning?
A big virtual event planning decision is how broad do you want to open up your audience. If you want or need to cross borders, then you should seriously consider translating your content on the fly as well as closed captioning.
What virtual event platform do you want to use to broadcast your event?
You have hundreds of options in picking virtual event software, but there are three main categories of virtual platforms, going from least to most comprehensive.
- Free live streaming tools like YouTube Live and Facebook Live.
- Video conferencing and webinar tools like Zoom, GoTo Meeting and WebEx.
- Video summit and trade show tools like 6connex, vFairs and ON24.
Note: When considering event tech tools, you shouldn't forget the applications you and your team will need to actually plan and manage all your event details and internal communications, like event management and planning software, group text tools and email communications.
Does your team have the proper technical experience to produce the event?
We discussed this earlier when we talked about your event team members, but because technology is so critical to your event’s success, it’s important to cover again. A good idea is to first create a list of all the tasks required in running the technology for your virtual event and the skills and time required for executing those tasks. Then you can properly assess if you or your team have the skills and time to tackle those responsibilities or if you need to outsource this.
What equipment will you and your participants need to broadcast the event?
Typically you are looking at three key pieces of equipment for each presenter location.
- A web-compatible camera, which can be a high-quality webcam or, for better video quality, a DSLR or mirrorless camera.
- A web-compatible microphone, preferably one that either integrates with your camera or a USB mic that connects to your computer.
- A computer that integrates with the virtual software platform you have selected and connects to the Internet.
Do your on-camera participants have adequate bandwidth?
You should make sure your presenters have enough bandwidth and a stable signal so that their live feed does not diminish or drop. At bare minimum, your presenters should have at least 3 Mbps of upload speed (but ideally 10+ Mbps) in order to transmit a stable video/audio signal (some experts even recommend 50+ Mbps if you are broadcasting to thousands of virtual attendees using interactive tools like live chat).
Oh and presenters’ computers should ideally be hard-wired via Ethernet cable; if they must use WiFi, their computer should be in near proximity to a WiFi router (a few yards or meters at most).
What are the best marketing channels for reaching your audience?
Promotion and marketing play a massive role in whether you will have a successful virtual event or not. Ideally, you should not pick your marketing tactics or tools without first observing the behaviors of your target audience with regard to the communications channels they use and the online content they consume.
So if your audience likes to use Instagram and Facebook, follows a few dozen key influencers online, commonly communicates via email and text, and frequents a few dozen industry-specific websites and blogs, then you have a good start as to where and how to reach them.
What marketing tactics or components will you need to deploy?
Based on your audience research, you can now determine the marketing tactics you need to deploy, which often include event websites, blogging, registration forms, email marketing, event-specific social media pages and posting, event apps, online advertising and affiliate marketing (promotion through partners and presenters).
What data or key performance indicators do you want to measure?
Many event organizers who plan virtual events love the fact that they can measure practically anything, from website traffic, social media interactions and event registrations to session logins, live event participation and attendee survey results. You should pick the data points that will mean the most to you and give you insights into your audience and outcomes.
How will you continue to engage with attendees after the event?
Once your last presenter has signed off, your event planning and management isn’t over yet. At that point, you should consider posting the recorded virtual event content so your audience can “relive” the event and so people who couldn’t attend the event can experience it for the first time.
Also, you should send out a post-event survey so you can measure the satisfaction level of your attendees and factor that into planning future events. Finally, you should start marketing your next event by promoting it via email to your recent attendees.
In many ways, virtual event planning mirrors the event management process many of us employ for live in-person events, which should lower the intimidation factor of diving into virtual events.
With that said, walking through the questions above will help you address the items specific to managing online events and, hopefully, transform you into an expert virtual event planner in no time!