How to make your virtual events a success

Pete Morgan

08 April 2020

Gartner predicted that only a quarter of enterprise meetings would take place face-to-face by 2024, but COVID-19 has accelerated the switch from physical to virtual. Today we all rely on online meetings to get anything done. Physical events and conferences the world over are either being cancelled, postponed or moved online.  

But making the switch to digital events isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. In our experience it can be more difficult to get a virtual event off the ground. Most definitely virtual events are just different. The best practices and techniques that drive success face-to-face don’t simply translate directly into the virtual world. 

With this in mind, I have outlined the four stages of running a successful virtual event. Consider them before venturing online. 

Attracting an audience to register 

Attracting high-quality audience is the first hurdleWhile COVID-19 will accelerate adoption, it also causes competition for attention.  

No matter how big your brand. How big your CEOego. Or how loudly the Chief Revenue Officer shouts, this cannot be achieved without an attractive offer tuned to audience need.  

At Metia, we champion the notion of always offering a fair exchange of value. In the case of events, audiences are being asked to invest their precious time by attending. If you ignore the basics of content quality, you will struggle to bring in audience. 

Motivating registered delegates to show up 

Unfortunately, the work doesn’t stop when a delegate has signed up. Typically, when planning a physical event with attendees paying an entrance fee one expects a 5-10% drop out rate of no shows. This number increases to 30-40% for a free vendor-sponsored event. For virtual events, experience shows that organizers must anticipate a 50-70% drop out rate on the day. Delegates have a lower emotional commitment to an online event. It’s easier to just not show up. And it’s a lot easier for other factors to disrupt attendance for virtual events. Simply pressure of work is more immediate. Do you log in to the event or respond to that firedrill just called by your boss? 

To mitigate this, individually engaging and managing delegates throughout the lead-up to event day can build a sense of personal investment and reduce drop-out rates.  

We have had success taking a one-to-few Account-Based Marketing (ABM) approach. Keeping the audience engaged is crucial in the days running up and taking a one-to-few approach adds a degree of personal interaction that is typically lacking with virtual events. 

Engaging delegates during the event 

When designing your event content, a good rule of thumb to follow is that you can only realistically hold the attention of a digital delegate for half the time you’d be able to hold the attention of an in-person delegate. If you were planning on running a 30-minute presentation in person, cutting this to 15 minutes online would be a better way to hold attention. It’s far easier for delegates to be distracted or leave a virtual event when they are disengaged. 

It's also important to find the best talent. Think about TV programming. Find the best host, presenter or moderator. If using internal resources, ask the hard question: do they really have the right skills and personality? Think also about injecting interactive elements, such as live Q&A or voting segments to sustain engagement.

Turn your virtual delegates into real world prospects 

Events, whether online of physical, are simply the start line of building a deeper business relationship but engagement will not progress unless action is taken quickly. 

Delegates are seven times more likely to respond if followed up on the same day as the event. If followed up a week later, they are only three times more likely to respond. In contrast, following up a month later means delegates are 84 times less likely to respond than they would be on day one. A disciplined response mechanism is essential and requires military-style pre-planning and execution to derive value from this investment. 

Moving forward with online events 

If taking events online is on your agenda, we’d be happy to share notes on our experiences or talk you through our case studies over a virtual coffee. You can contact us here. 

We’ve also created a list of 31 tools you might want to consider when planning a virtual event, you can find it here.