Your virtual event plan isn’t just a collection of ideas for what your event is going to look like. It’s a living, breathing document that specifies and outlines every important element and consideration for your entire event. A solid virtual event plan ensures that you and everyone on your team knows what needs to be done, by whom and by when, so that nothing is overlooked.
The fact is, putting on a virtual summit or online event can be a lot of work. There are a tremendous number of details to work through and aspects to consider. Fortunately, not only can a virtual event plan ensure that your event is a success, taking the time for virtual event planning will pay off as you scale and replicate your event.
And remember, a virtual event can be a huge online conference or a single session webinar. It can be live or recorded, multiple tracks or not, focused on engagement or content… or all of the above. There are many types of virtual events and types of sessions you can plan your virtual event around. As you go through this virtual event planning exercise, you will have opportunities to think through all of the necessary elements and document them. That way, large or small, your next virtual event will be flawless.
When it comes to actually putting together a plan for your virtual event, you do have a few different approaches to consider:
- Study blog posts and videos and build it yourself.
- Outsource a team to create and execute the plan for you.
- Spend a day with me and walk into Monday with a complete plan in hand.
The first option is what I’m helping you with in this article. By the time you’ve finished reading this and downloaded the virtual event plan worksheet I will send to you, you’ll be on your way to having a complete virtual event strategy pulled together for your project. For each section, there are additional resources here in my blog, on my podcast, and online in general, that can help educate you on your options and make an informed decision.
For those who don’t want to be the virtual event planner for their organization, you can, of course, outsource the entire project. There are agencies who will build your plan and execute it on your behalf.
However, if you’re anything like me, you’d rather have a hand in assembling the virtual event strategy that your business is going to employ. You’d like to create a plan that you can improve on and use again. You see the tremendous value and potential that virtual events can bring to your business for many years to come.
But, you also want to make sure your event is flawless and want to rely on a professional to guide you. That’s where I can be of even more assistance. Skip to the front of the line and let’s schedule a VIP Strategy Day where I will walk you through every element of a Sold Out Summit. Instead of spending weeks trying to put together a virtual plan on your own, we’ll spend a day in a Virtual Event Intensive and you’ll walk into Monday with a complete strategy in hand.
Tools to Plan a Virtual Event
To get started, you’ll first need a tool or medium for recording and building out your virtual event plan. The planner I emailed you is a PDF that you can edit on your system, print out and mark up, or import into a Google Doc.
When I’m building out my own events or working with clients, we start with a doc for freeform brainstorming but, as soon as the high level details have been established, I transition to a Google Sheet where I can more easily organize tabs for different aspects of the event, and easily maintain rows and columns for all of the data associated with an online summit.
If you’ve used tools like Airtable, Asana, ClickUp, Miro or Monday, they can be great assets for organizing the entire project and communicating tasks and deadlines and updates across multiple teams.
In fact, my friends at Deskrig have built a pretty amazing system where, as you plan your virtual event in Airtable, it automatically populates your virtual event landing page, run of show, and more!
When I meet with VIP clients, I provide them with a customized, more in depth version of the workbook I’ve sent you that we walk through step by step. They also receive a Google Drive filled with templates, swipe files, a sample Planning Sheet based on the one I use myself, agreements, and more. All of which is delivered to them during their virtual event consulting session so that they don’t have to waste countless hours scouring the internet for examples.
Elements of a Virtual Event Plan
With but few exceptions, no matter the intended size and scope of your virtual event, you need to create a plan that has these elements to it. Through the planning process, you will consider each of these elements and, initially, make note of ideas, questions, tasks, concerns, and resources. Keep in mind that assembling a virtual event is nothing at all like building, say, a piece of furniture.
When you bring a new desk home from IKEA, it comes with step-by-step instructions that illustrate all of the pieces you need and at which point each piece connects to the next.
Virtual event planning is more of an iterative process where you’ll do an initial pass, fill in what you know, then add more detail and context, and start to work on some of the specific tasks that have been identified. As you build out the plan, you’ll also identify some tasks and elements that must be done at some point in the future, and the plan will help you not only remember to do those tasks, but also remove them from your immediate concern since they’re now scheduled.
For instance, one absolutely critical task in any virtual event is the Tech Check. Whether you’re recording or broadcasting live, any individuals involved in the critical production must test their equipment and connections to make sure their cameras and microphones work, and everyone’s clear on the run of show. But the thing is, if you’re just starting to plan your virtual event, that tech check is something you don’t have to do or worry about for weeks. You can schedule that in the days leading up to your event and as long as it’s calendared and communicated, you can turn your attention to more immediate needs.
And remember, you can grab the worksheet and fill it out on your own, or you can book a Virtual Event Intensive with me and we’ll work through it together with the benefit of my experience, recommendations, templates and swipe files. It’s totally up to you.
Virtual Event Goals
The very first episode of the Virtual Event Strategist podcast, and the first element of your virtual event plan is Goals, because this is the most important point. Take your time and really consider what it is you want to accomplish with your event.
Your goals will include your major objectives, of course – what do you want to accomplish from your virtual event, but should also elaborate specific measurables. Not just registrants, qualified leads. Not just sales, but a specific revenue amount. Not just brand awareness, but specific metrics for brand mentions.
As you’re planning the rest of your event, the decisions you make should always align with your goals and your target audience.
Virtual Event Audience
Next, consider specifically who you’re trying to target, and this needs to be extremely narrow and detailed. The more focused you are in who you’re targeting, the more effective your event planning and marketing messaging is going to be. And as a result, your online event will be more successful.
Build out an avatar or persona for your target audience and carefully consider the specific problem or problems they’re experiencing that your virtual event can solve or help them solve.
Ideally, you should talk to clients and prospects about their most significant challenges and pain points and use a lot of the same language they use when they’re talking to you.
Budget can often be a challenge, particularly for first-time virtual event planners, since it’s an entirely new project and most of us have no idea how much anything costs, or what we even need.
This is where it’s helpful to run through creating a plan at a high level, initially, to get some idea on the scope of the event you want to put on and what you might need, then it’s easier to do a little research on pricing and note some ballpark figures.
For an online summit, the virtual event platform is typically one of the largest initial investments, followed by paid speakers if you need them and paid media spend. Refer back to your goals, whether it was leads or revenue or something else, and extrapolate how many attendees you will need in order to meet those goals.
For instance, if your goal is to bring in 500 qualified leads for your business, and you estimate that only about 25% of your event attendees will be qualified buyers for your sales team, that means you’ll need 2000 or more registrants, right?
Whatever that number is, note that down, because most of the virtual event platforms and solutions you research are going to charge you based on the number of events you plan to run, and the number of expected registrants you anticipate.
Date & Timing
There are several considerations when it comes to determining specifically when you plan to host your virtual event, including:
- Lead-time for production, speaker selection, and content creation, plus…
- Lead-time for promotion to achieve goals
- Best time / day for audience
- Check for holiday, celebrations, sports or other events in conflict
- If hybrid, will it be simultaneous?
- Is this part of a series?
Think through those points, make notes in your virtual event planner, and make a decision when you feel you’re ready.
Virtual Event Platform & Tech
The platform you use, whether that’s Zoom or a tool specifically for virtual events, like Airmeet or Hopin, is an important decision, and one that you will not be able to make definitively until you’ve worked through more details of your virtual event plan. Start filling out these details and when you have a rough idea of budget, attendee expectations, and other specific requirements, schedule a few demos with virtual event platforms.
Feel free to drop a comment below or hit me up on Twitter if you want some recommendations on platforms to consider given your needs.
- Available budget
- Expected Attendees
- Design resources
- Agenda requirements from below
- Sponsor capability
- Necessary integrations?
- Separate event & registration page needed?
Your detailed agenda for your virtual event will include the specific times and speakers and topics for each session you have scheduled, as well as networking time, exhibition hall, and anything else you wish to include. Before you can get to that level of detail, you need to think about your vision for your event and how you want your event to flow.
Will your event be a single day or multiple days? Multiple tracks within each day? Live videos or pre-recorded?
Will attendees have networking opportunities like round tables or breakout sessions? What other kinds of activities do you wish to schedule?
The virtual event planner has more detailed prompts and for each I recommend noting whether or not that’s of interest, and if it’s a requirement. Keynotes might be required, while table talks might be a nice to have. This detail will help you determine the best virtual event platform for your needs.
Do not recruit speakers and build out your detailed agenda until you’ve determined your virtual event platform and technology. Here’s my reason why the platform determination comes first.
The speakers you bring in for your virtual event not only deliver the content that will help your audience and attendees, they also speak to the clout and authority of your event and, by extension, your brand. I typically recommend clients to have budget set aside specifically to pay for at least some paid speakers, because in most industries the paid speakers will be the most recognizable names and authorities.
But not all speakers need to be paid. Many professionals are excited to speak at events and do not need to be compensated because that’s not their business model. Maybe they’re less experienced or, more likely, they have a full time position and speaking at an event like yours brings awareness for both them and their brand.
What’s more important is the topics you coordinate to have presented at your event. Refer back to your Goals and the Audience you’re targeted with your virtual event, and the challenges they’re facing. Recruit speakers and topics that can address those pain points specifically, and help your event achieve the overall results you’re looking for.
- List staff who could potentially speak.
- List current partners/ambassadors who could potentially speak.
- List known names/brands who would bring prestige and recognition.
- Match potential speakers against determined topics and reach out.
- Research other speakers for remaining topics and reach out.
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion considerations.
An optional element of the virtual event plan is event sponsors or partners. You may not incorporate other brands into your event but if you do, you’ll need to consider what that looks like and what the requirements are. If it’s a paid sponsor offering, what are the sponsorship levels and benefits? If it’s a partnership, how are you going to approach partners?
Note these details, then brainstorm potential partners to start reaching out to, and make sure they’re aligned with your brand and target audience.
- Determine requirements
- Determine benefits
- Brainstorm potential partners
One important point not to be overlooked in any virtual event plan is how your attendees will register for your event, and what information will you capture?
This is overlooked simply because so many virtual event platforms and ticketing systems have built in forms for name and email and technically, that works. You’ve now captured my information sufficient to send me details about the event and for me to log in.
However, you know nothing about me. You haven’t qualified me at all. While we likely do not want to pepper attendees with twenty questions up front, the registration form is the perfect time to get some basic qualification done – whatever that looks like for your business. Maybe it’s the size of the registrant’s company, what tools they’re using currently that compete with your brand, or something else.
When I run events for Agorapulse, we always ask attendees how many employees are part of their social media team, and how many social profiles they’re managing, as that tells us instantly which of our service plans they’d likely need to invest in. And that makes them qualified.
You may also want to ask categorization questions so that later, during networking periods, you can use matchmaking capability offered by some platforms to facilitate networking. Such as whether a business is B2B, B2C, Govt. or NFP.
Consider what questions you need to ask attendees up front and then make sure your virtual event platform can accommodate.
Communication of and during your virtual event is critical! This is predominantly via email though could include channels like Slack or Discord if applicable.
First, you will have a series of emails that you can and should send to your existing audiences to promote your upcoming event. You can also provide your speakers and sponsors with versions of these emails so that they, too, can promote your event to their subscribers.
You will also have emails that must go out to attendees.
Do not rely on the virtual event platform to have these already set up and optimized for your event. While most platforms do an great job of having templates in place to communicate to your attendees, it’s your job as the virtual event planner to review those templates and customize, delete or add however needed to ensure that your attendees have all of the information they need.
Also make note, once you select a platform, whether that service allows you to send emails on the fly or not. Some do not and if not, make sure that you have an email system or CRM where the registrants are automatically flowing into and, through which, you can send emails if needed.
We’ll talk about backup plans in a moment but if there’s a significant change or issue with your event, you will want to be able to communicate that to all attendees instantly.
Virtual Event Promotion
Promoting your virtual event is a Big Deal. There’s a ton that you can do and the planner has an extensive list of ideas. Additionally, the entire second season of The Virtual Event Strategist is devoted to virtual event marketing. Be sure to listen & subscribe to the podcast!
The key is to think through everything that you want to do, and consider the time and resources that you’ll need to prepare each promotional element, and the timing for using that element.
For instance, if you want to broadcast live video interviews with some of your speakers and then repurpose those interviews into blog posts, video snippets, and podcasts, you’ll need to schedule those out in advance of your event with sufficient time to prepare the interview, conduct it, repurpose it, publish the repurposed bits, and still have enough lead time before your event such that people who, say, hear the podcast, will be inclined to register.
One benefit of having the list I’m proving you: not only will it give you ideas of marketing tactics to try, it’ll also give you a resource to turn to if, in the days leading up to your event, registrations aren’t where you want them to be. While that can be disappointing, it’s also an opportunity for you to stretch yourself and your team, or think outside the box, about ways you can reach different audiences.
- Blog Post ideas
- Paid Media
- Sponsored content
- Live Interviews
- Live Show & Podcast guest interviews
- Teaser Video
- Press Release
- Twitter Handle Hashtag & Bio Update
- Influencer Marketing
- CSV of Session Tweets
- Affiliate / Tracking Links, UTM Parameters
Run of Show
While your attendees will have their detailed agendas for the day, you, as the virtual event planner and producer, will have a Run of Show. This is your production sequence that can include schedule, timing, queues, links, scripts and more. You might have a single RoS for the entire event, or a sequence of RoS’s that lead you from session to session.
If you’re planning a multi-track virtual event that will have multiple live sessions occurring simultaneously, you’ll likely have a remote production team with separate hosts for each track or session, and therefore each will have their own Run of Show.
This can be as detailed as you need to be, and some event systems will help build RoS’s dynamically based on data you enter into the event planning system.
I recommend using this to note not only session times, but green room times and other important details, and have a version for each key individual and their personal timezone.
For instance, if I’m hosting a virtual event that has sessions starting at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm Eastern Time, but I’m in Central and my speakers happen to be on Pacific, I’d have a Run of Show that noted for me the start times in CST and also noted that I needed to be in the green room, ready to check everyone’s audio and video, fifteen minutes prior to each session’s start time.
By the way, this is one of the reasons I advise selecting a virtual event platform before you build your detailed agenda. You may find that as the host, you cannot go a session’s green room until you’ve left and completed the previous session, which means you would need to schedule those sessions with sufficient time in between.
Virtual Event Backup Plan
The truth is, things will go wrong with any virtual event. What sets the pros apart from the amateurs is their preparedness for whatever can and will go wrong.
Some preparedness comes with experience. If your event MC is on screen with your speaker and the speaker suddenly drops out of the session, we hope the MC will be experienced and calm enough to cover for them for as long as it takes for them to restore their connection and resume.
While no one can anticipate everything that could go wrong, careful planning in advance can prevent many potential issues, as well as prepare you to swiftly and smoothly handle other issues when they arise.
For instance, it’s easy to envision the possibility of a speaker having poor Internet connectivity that threatens her audio or video quality, or drops them altogether. An experienced virtual event planner and producer will have tested their WiFi beforehand and considered backup WiFi options, as well as had graphics, video or other time-filling mechanisms already prepared in case of such an event.
Do all of your key speakers have backup cameras, microphones and headphones? Perhaps even backup systems? Are their presentations backed-up to the cloud? Would you consider having a pre-recorded version of their talk that you can air in case they cannot go live for any reason?
If you’re planning a large event with a thousand registrants or more, work directly with your virtual event platform to determine their capacity and capability as well. They should have multiple backup and contingency plans for any number of potential issues their might face which could impact your virtual event.
Finally, do not forget the importance of follow-up activities after your virtual event has concluded, and make sure they’re part of your plan from the start.
For instance, if the purpose of your virtual event is to generate qualified leads for your sales team, that’s something your sales team needs to be aware of and planning for well in advance, as well as your Marketing Ops team. Shortly after your event ends, you’re going to want emails going out to targeted attendees, SDR contacts to the most qualified and interested prospects, and so on. All of which takes at least a couple of weeks to organize and prepare for!
Fortunately, you’re putting together a virtual event plan that will help inform all key stakeholders.
You’ll want to consider:
- Session Recordings & Recaps
- Ask for Feedback
- Next Event
- Thank You notes & gifts for speakers, etc.
- Content Repurposing
You don’t have to do all of these things after your event, but at least think about them that way, if you want to send Thank You gifts or follow-up surveys, you’ll have time to prepare them,
Best Practices For Your Virtual Event Plan
I mentioned at the outset that your virtual event plan is a living document. That’s because I want you and your team to refer to it, add to it, edit and change it, brainstorm on it, and allow it to be your central source of truth for your event. Technically it can be a spreadsheet or project management system or whatever tool or format you wish, so long as it’s a single, central resource.
Another best practice is to identify early on in your planning process who all of the key stakeholders are for your event in your organization and make sure they’re involved as much as they need to be. I’ve actually included a section and reminder to that effect within the very first part of the virtual event planning workbook for you.
Maybe you’re the only one involved in planning, executing, and benefiting from your event, but if there are other people and departments in your organization who will be tasked to assist you, may benefit from your event, or perhaps just need to be aware that this project will be consuming the majority of your attention for the foreseeable future, note them down.
This will help you ensure that everyone who needs to know in advance may be communicated to. Plus, the earlier you notify and involve other team members, the sooner you will have additional eyes on your plans and minds who might have new ideas and fresh perspectives into your virtual event strategy.
Imagine though if you didn’t have to go into your first virtual event as if it really was your first. How successful might it be if you had the experience of dozens of past virtual events and business models to help inform all of your decisions? That’s what spending a VIP Strategy Day with me can do for you. By all means, download the worksheet and give it a go. When you’re ready to knock everything out in a day and walk into Monday confident in your plan and strategy, my Virtual Event Intensive is for you.