With more and more organizations relying on digital tools for almost every aspect of their business, it’s no surprise that virtual conferences or online events are rapidly rising in popularity.
Though most marketers still primarily prefer in-person events, as much as 70% of those who have already hosted online conferences said that they plan to host more in the future.
Market Research Media also predicted virtual events to grow from $14 billion in 2018 to an $18 billion-industry by 2024 – a steady growth of 5% each year.
In fact, with the rise of livestreaming and peer-to-peer virtual campaigns, virtual events are becoming ubiquitous as part of people’s regular online lives.
If virtual conferences are still a bit hazy to you, read the rest of this article as we explain what these events are, how they can impact your business, and how you should plan your first virtual conference successfully.
What is a virtual conference?
If you’ve ever been to any conference in your life, that’s pretty much what a virtual conference is – except that it’s done online.
A virtual conference is an interactive event done online by a group of people with similar expertise or interests, allowing them to learn from one another. If it’s a series of sessions with various industry thought leaders, it’s more popularly known as a virtual summit.
Instead of physical booths and vendors trying to sell their products to you, a virtual event allows you to meet and interact with other people by signing up for an online event platform, logging into the conference room, and watching the speakers present their knowledge in the form of a live or recorded video. You don’t even have to leave your desk for this.
Almost every business can use virtual conferences as a marketing tactic. Here are some examples of industries that can benefit from hosting an online event:
- Professional service providers like lawyers, realtors, and insurance agents
- Service-based businesses
- Info product and software businesses
- Physical product vendors
- Coaches, consultants, and authors
Wondering how exactly a virtual conference can work for your business? Check out this comprehensive article on the ins and outs of virtual summits.
Why should you host a virtual event?
As a business owner, hosting a virtual conference brings in a lot of benefits, such as the following:
It makes your brand more visible.
Whether you’re already an expert in your field or just starting, hosting a virtual conference can put your business on the map.
It enables you to reach thousands of new people beyond your network, allowing you to share your message with the world. Attendance won’t be limited by the size of the venue or the high-ticket prices.
Anyone from any part of the world can tune in wherever they are. They can even access videos at their own time if the event is recorded and made available on-demand.
It lets you build an email list fast.
You have plenty of ways to build an email list, like blogging, advertising, and social media. But nothing quite comes close to the speed of building a highly engaged email list through hosing a virtual summit.
Because people look at your online event as something valuable, you’re sure to get a lot of leads that can turn into customers in the future.
And the fact that virtual conference platforms collect information about your attendees is a huge benefit. You can use these insights to develop targeted content that resonates well with your audience, making your next online conference more successful.
It lets you connect and build relationships with influencers.
If you want your virtual summit to be successful, you have to invite industry leaders and influencers to join you. And you can’t ask them unless you’ve built a positive relationship with them.
Hosting an online conference fortifies these connections and lines you up with the best people in your niche. It’s also easier to invite them because they can conveniently work from their office or home.
You become an authority figure.
Just the mere fact that you’re interviewing the top players within your niche already positions you as an expert and authority in the eyes of your viewers.
It becomes easier for these people to like and trust you, thus gaining you a loyal following given your reputation. You’ll get invited to speak at more events, form partnerships with other influencers, and even land a new client.
It allows you to multiply your income.
You can also leverage virtual events to provide you with multiple revenue streams.
For instance, you can do a product launch with an event. You can also get event sponsors who will pay for an ad spot in your summit. You can also make the event free and charge people for video-on-demand downloads later on – currently one of the most popular ways to monetize virtual summits.
And because virtual events don’t cost as much as in-person events, you don’t have a lot of overhead costs. That means you can command higher revenue despite charging people less.
It helps you cut costs.
Compared to in-person events, virtual conferences cost significantly less to put up.
You don’t have to pay for venue rental fees that range anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. You don’t even need to pay for permits, licenses, travel and accommodations, catered meals, and other physical collateral.
With a virtual conference, you only have to invest in technology and tools. It’s a cost-effective alternative because you can still use these tools to set up more virtual conferences in the future.
How should you plan and hold a virtual conference?
Ready to plan and launch your first virtual conference?
Here’s a step-by-step guide to accomplish it successfully – even if it’s your first time.
Step 1: Have a plan and a vision.
The first thing you need to do before your virtual conference is to lay down the plan. To do that, you need to know exactly what your expectations are.
Here are some questions you need to answer first:
- What is your virtual conference all about?
- What topics do you plan to cover?
- When do you plan to run it?
- Who is your target audience?
- Which platform are you going to use?
- How many registrations are you expecting?
Answering these questions beforehand is essential before you invite speakers for your summit.
Speakers would want to know how they can benefit from the event, so make sure that your target market matches theirs. They’d also want to have an idea of what their reach will be if they participate, hence the number of your expected registrants.
As for your vision, narrow down your topic so that you can home in on the specific target audience you want to attract.
It’s also good to have an overarching theme or big idea for your event. This will curate the whole experience for your audience and bring them the most value. You can host an opening priming session and a closing synthesis session to highlight the connections among the sessions.
Step 2: Figure out your event format.
You typically have two choices when planning your virtual summit: live or recorded. It’s a huge decision because the format you choose will shape up the experience of your audience.
With live presentations, you’ll have a lot of interaction with your attendees. It is livelier and more energetic than recorded ones, but it’s prone to technical errors as well.
On the other hand, doing pre-recorded summits reduces the chances of tech issues. It’s also more flexible for your speakers since they don’t need to show up at a particular time.
The great news is, you can combine both options. You can do pre-recorded videos and have a chat box where you and the other speakers can interact with the audience.
Another thing to consider is the presentation style of your summit. Are you going to interview your speakers? Are speakers going to talk directly to your audience and teach their material? Or will your speakers create a slide deck for your audience?
You can choose among these presentation options regardless of whether your virtual event is live or pre-recorded.
Step 3: Contact potential sponsors.
Sponsorships give you instant credibility and social proof because attendees see that companies and brands trust you.
If you’re planning to get sponsors, reach out to them, and provide details on how the sponsorship can benefit them.
You can create tiers that match the different needs of your sponsors, as well as provide them with exclusive links where they can track how much traffic your event is sending them.
Step 4: Reach out to your speakers.
Inviting speakers allows you to build beneficial relationships with industry experts and associate your brand with them for added credibility.
If possible, get speakers with a large audience for a greater reach. Some of them might even be able to commit a certain number of registrations.
When reaching out to industry experts, you can send them an email arranging for a video call so that you can discuss the matter more quickly.
Reach out to them at least two months before the event as many of them are busy and would probably need more than one email to get their attention.
Once you’re in the video meeting, make sure that you hit the following points:
- What the event is and why you’re doing it
- What the speaker would get for participating
- Other speakers you’ve booked to develop credibility around your virtual conference
Step 5: Create your assets and set a timeline.
A virtual conference needs a lot more planning than a single online event. That’s why you need to have a timeline when you’re going to accomplish your tasks.
Some of the assets you need beforehand include:
- A landing page consisting of a home page, agenda page, and session pages
- A video hosting site to allow you to embed your videos in your landing pages
- A video production plan that details all the steps you need to take to record your videos. Most virtual conferences use different lecture formats, such as a recorded interview, live Q&A session, and a recorded lecture.
Remember, your virtual conference starts even before the actual event. Most experts recommend having a base timeframe of 16 to 20 weeks, depending on your experience with event planning. Consider allocating more time if you want to involve sponsors—around three to four months for experienced companies and five to seven months if you’re just starting.
Step 6: Promote your virtual conference.
No one would attend your summit if you don’t promote it, so it’s crucial to have a promotion plan all laid out.
Marketing your even seeks to accomplish two tasks: get people to register and convert those registrants into actual attendees.
Here are some ideas on how to promote your event:
Blog about the online event.
One of the most common ways to do that is to blog about the conference. Brainstorm blog topics circling the topics your speakers will discuss and schedule a series of promotional posts around those. Having an editorial calendar in place will help.
However, make sure that you don’t make every post a promotion. Instead, only insert your promotional posts periodically and focus on still giving value.
Send reminder emails.
Typically, you need to send out at least three reminders about your event – the first a week before, the second a day before, and the last on the day of the event. But that’s just the bare minimum.
Sending these reminder emails will help keep your attendance up and make your event on top of the minds of your registrants.
Post on social media.
You can also use social media to promote your virtual event. Aside from promoting it in your social media channels, post them also in relevant Slack, Facebook, and LinkedIn groups.
Social media can help you build anticipation for your event. You can run a contest, giveaway to generate more excitement among your registrants.
Ask your speakers’ help.
And finally, you can leverage your speakers to promote the event with you.
You can ask them to send an email to their list, write a blog post, or promote it in their social media accounts. You can even create speaker promotion packets with pre-written emails, blog posts, images, and social media copy to make everything easier for them.
Leverage affiliate partnerships.
How much easier would things be if you get other people to promote your virtual conference? That’s what affiliate partners do for you so that you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting.
Just make sure that you make promotion easy for them by providing them with everything they need to market your event – promotion calendar, suggested mailing time, social media graphics, and copy.
Step 7: Don’t forget to have customer support.
You never know when you might run into some technical issues in the middle of your summit. That’s why you need to set up a customer support desk that will assist your audience when they encounter technical roadblocks.
You should also make things easy for your registrants right from the get-go by doing the following:
- Send your registrant a schedule of the sessions, where he can access them, and when he can expect the recordings to be available upon sign up.
- Post navigation links to key information on your event website.
- Have a support email address and phone number at the footer of your website.
- Provide a contact page with support information.
- Email your registrants regarding their support options.
Step 8: Launch your virtual event.
It’s the day you’ve been waiting for!
Before the launch, make sure to:
- Check that all videos have been recorded and uploaded properly
- Test your landing pages
- Remind your registrants regarding the schedule
- Remind your speakers to log in 30 minutes to an hour before the broadcast time
- Keep an eye out on your email for any issues people may have accessing your event
Step 9: Evaluate your event.
Was your event worth it? There’s only one way to know – analyze your metrics.
Virtual conferencing platforms allow you to keep tabs on your traffic, number of registrants, and views your videos got. These give you the exact number of leads and clients you got, plus how much each of them is worth to you.
You may also ask for feedback by sending a survey form to your registrants. It will show you the parts that are most relevant to your audience and your areas for improvement.
Step 10: Nurture your list.
Virtual conferences are an excellent way to build your list. But you need to have a plan for your list afterward if you want to keep your subscribers.
Have a communication plan for your registrants after the event. After sending them a feedback or survey form, you may want to continue sending them relevant content and promotional emails to keep them on your list.
What are the platforms you can use for virtual conferences?
With virtual summits gaining a lot of traction these days, you have plenty of options available when it comes to platforms and software you can use to create an online event.
Here are some recommendations:
As one of the most popular event platforms online, GoToWebinar makes it easy for you to launch and deliver video and audio meetings.
You can share recordings, send automated emails to registrants, share files, and do a live chat with your attendees. The audience can even join the live discussion, ask questions, and answer polls.
With MegaMeeting’s intuitive and user-friendly features, participants don’t need to install any program or app to use it. It offers a broad range of video technology and telephony modes so that a wide range of users can access the online conferences – no limit to the number of participants.
If you upgrade to its Enterprise version, you can take advantage of its private branding features and private server access.
CiscoWebEx integrates video, audio, and content sharing in one video conferencing platform.
It features a variety of capabilities, such as recording meetings, sharing files, and muting or unmuting participants. You can also integrate it with other apps and processes.
Best of all, CiscoWebEx has built-in intelligence that detects background noises and mutes them so that you can conduct your events with fewer disruptions.
If you want full control over your video conference, having a self-hosted WordPress site is the best choice. You can host it in your chosen web host, like Bluehost, Hostgator, and WPEngine.
To create landing pages, you can use the VSM Website Template. It’s also advisable to customize your templates according to your brand, which you can do by installing the Thrive Architect page builder.
Teachable makes it simple to set up a paid access area in which you can host your virtual event. It’s an intuitive platform so you can set up everything yourself.
It can host an unlimited number of courses, and even offers course bundles, upsells, and onboarding calls.
Thinkific is another software similar to Teachable with roughly the same features.
However, its basic plan already allows you to integrate payment platforms like Stripe or PayPal to get immediate access to your funds with its instant payout offer. It also integrates with a wider variety of apps compared to Teachable.
If you’re going to monetize your virtual conference, you need to add a shopping cart to your website to collect payments.
ThriveCart is one of the easiest shopping carts to use out there. It will only take you roughly ten minutes to set it up and enjoy its multitude of features.
Email Automation Tools
ConvertKit allows you to send out email blasts to your virtual conference attendees before, during, and after your event.
You can automate your emails so that you can easily send them out when triggered by an action or a certain time. You can segment your list so that you only send them content based on their interests and lifecycle stage. It even has pre-built automation to help you get started with your email campaigns.
Another email automation software that you can use is ActiveCampaign.
Aside from segmenting your list and automating the sending of emails, ActiveCampaign also offers email templates to make it easier to craft compelling and click-worthy emails. You can even put different messages in front of different people based on specific rules while automating those emails.
Aside from programs and software, don’t forget to buy a decent microphone, camera, and lighting to set up a professional-looking recording studio at home.
Virtual conferences can work in any industry, from health and fitness to arts and crafts. By leveraging online events, you can get instant visibility within your target market and set yourself apart from other influencers and entrepreneurs within your niche.