Virtual events not your style? If your plan is to wait out the pandemic and skip them altogether, I’d think twice. We may all be anxiously awaiting the day we can get back to packed venues and cramped offices, but virtual events are here to stay.

As Ryan Cantor, VP of Product & Marketing here at Thryv said on Search Sessions back in May:

Once people have been forced to adapt to some of these technologies, a lot of them aren’t going to go back.

But here’s some good news: You can start adding virtual events now. Here’s how to plan and host a successful virtual event for your business:

Pick a Virtual Event Type That Fits Your Business Goals

Before you begin planning your first big (or small) virtual event, ask yourself this: “What type of event is this?” or “What am I trying to achieve?” Once you have those answers, carefully determine what event type will enable you to reach your goals. Common virtual event types include:

  • Webinars. Webinars allow an organization to share presentations, videos and/or other content virtually with a large audience.
  • Workshop or Online Class. These informational events are typically for smaller audiences. In these interactive events, participants follow along with the instructor and walk away with some sort of finished project. Workshops or online classes are also collaborative and allow participants an active role in the discussion.
  • Virtual Meetup. Online meetups are a great way to connect a group of people who share a common goal or interest. Meetups are great for building community among your patrons.
  • Livestreams. Livestreams are easy to host on a budget. You can host a live stream on social media, like Instagram or Facebook as well as other live streaming platforms. Livestreams are great for announcing new products, hosting a Q&A or simply entertaining your audience.

Example: A small, independent gym is looking to add value to a patron’s membership while their doors are closed or class sizes are limited. For this, a gated, live-streamed class that members can access through an online portal provides value and keeps members engaged.

Develop an Event Plan

A virtual event has a lot of moving parts, no matter the size. Begin by answering some basic questions.

  • How will I stream my event? There are a variety of live streaming options available for events, big and small. Some options include Facebook or InstagramPeriscope or IBM Video. For Thryv users, Zoom is a great option for webinars and video conferencing. Plus, it can be found on the Thryv App Market.
  • Who will be hosting my event? Depending on the type of event, you may want to consider hiring a moderator or you could turn to a charismatic staff member.
  • How much will my event cost? The cost of a virtual event can be a tricky one. Is the event a replacement for a typically in-person class, or it is a new offering? Ensure that the price of your event corresponds with the value provided.
  • Who will have access to my event? Is your event a value add for current clients? Or, are you hoping to entice new customers with your virtual event? If you wish for your event to be more exclusive, you can provide attendees a personalized passcode or event access in their client portal. Alternatively, you can provide a link to the event to anyone who fills out a form fill on your website.

Build Excitement Around Your Event

There’s a lot of competition with virtual events these days. You don’t want to put a lot of time and effort into hosting a webinar or workshop and have no one show up. It’s time to bust out your inner marketer and get people as excited as you are.

  • Email: Use your current contact list of current and prospective customers and send them personalized event invitations.
  • Test messaging: Communicating with customers via text or SMS messaging is becoming more popular among businesses. Since everyone carries their phones with them 24/7, send an invitation right to their pockets with an easy way to RSVP. Even better, cut down on event no-shows by strategically sending event reminders.
  • Social Media: You’re excited about your new virtual offerings, tell the world! Boost awareness with organic or paid social media campaigns.

Keep Murphy’s Law in Mind

When it comes to technology, I believe in Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” So be prepared.

Do a run-through of your virtual event or class before you go live for the first time. This way you can test everything from your internet connection to your host’s preparedness before getting in front of your audience.

It’s okay if something does go wrong. Remember, no event is perfect. If something does go awry, don’t be too hard on yourself. TV news has been going live for years and always rolls with the punches.

Ensure Communication Goes Both Ways

Whether you are hosting a workshop or a webinar you never want your audience to feel like Charlie Brown in Miss. Othmar’s class (wah-wah wah). Take your events to the next level by keeping your audience engaged with the content.

  • Take polls or surveys during the presentation. Polling is one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to increasing audience engagement. Word clouds or multiple-choice questions provide an understanding of how your content is being perceived by your audience.
  • Be open to questions. Enable your audience to interact directly with you and ask questions throughout the session. This not only ensures that your audience is getting what they want out of your event. It also provides insights into the content you can incorporate into your next virtual event.
  • Incorporate games or contests. Gamify the experience to keep your audience engaged. Is there downtime between sessions? Fill the gap with fun interactive games. You can even provide prizes like discounts or gift cards to the winners.
  • Social Media. Rule #1 to a great virtual event: A great hashtag. Give your audience the opportunity to tell their followers about how awesome you and your small business are.

Keep In-touch After Your Event

A virtual event is hard work. And, when the final attendee logs off, your work isn’t quite done. Be sure to follow up with your attendees to ensure you’re getting the maximum benefit from all your efforts.

  • Say thank you. Share your appreciation for the customers who attended your event with a follow-up thank you email or text. Saying thanks is a great way to build relationships and loyalty among your customers.
  • Ask for feedback. How’d you do? Ask your patrons what they thought of your event to get insights into what you did right, and what you can do better next time. You can use a pop-up survey before the event closes or tag a review onto the thank you email you are sending out.
  • Provided event collateral. Your event was a smashing success. Great, let your patrons watch it again. Record your live event to share with event attendees along with people who registered but were unable to make it. You can also use clips to market your next virtual event.
  • Create post-event content. Engage with your guests and follow up with content that builds on the event content. Not a content king? That’s okay take cues from your audience. For example: If questions were asked but not answered, turn them into a blog post.

Planning and hosting a successful virtual event may seem like a lot of work, but the results will be worth your effort. From engaging your current clientele to reaching new leads, virtual events provide tangible benefits to small businesses.

Plus, as we said, virtual events are going to be part of the new normal, it’s time to jump in with both feet.