With the rise of remote working, virtual events have become increasingly common across the globe. As a relatively new form of engagement, hosting these events can often seem like a challenge. But if done right, they can be extremely rewarding.
By bypassing the problem of getting everyone in the same location, online meetings are an opportunity to assemble diverse teams of people from all over the world. However, they also come with their own set of disadvantages.
Online meetings are less intimate, and non-verbal cues can be more difficult to pick up on. This means that collaborations can be less productive due to a more constrained flow of discussion than in face-to-face meetings.
There are, however, ways to optimize online meeting spaces to create an engaging and fluid experience for participants. In this article, we outline our top 10 tips for virtual hospitality to help you plan an event that is - if not more - engaging and productive than an in-person event.
Understand your target audience
The first and most crucial step to hosting a successful online event is to understand who your audience are, including their interests, what they're looking for, and how to engage them. You could create an audience profile- or several- to best keep your target audience in mind when proceeding through the planning process.
Promote your event on social media
An advantage to online meetings is that they aren't constrained by time or space; they can be done anywhere, at any time. This means that the potential audience pool is far larger and more diverse than for an in-person event.
In this situation, social media is your best friend. Promoting events on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn will allow you to engage with a huge variety of potentially interested persons, whilst tools such as hashtags will allow you to simultaneously target a more specific audience.
Set a time that works for everyone
Depending on the size and scope of the event, you may be hosting people from different time zones. Make sure you are aware of these time zones when picking a time for your event, so that everyone can attend without problems.
You could do this by considering the likely profiles of your audience i.e., do they work 9-5, flexible hours or are they unemployed? For smaller or more intimate events with an expected guest list, you could even conduct a poll to find your audience’s best availability.
Use the right software
User friendly software with screen sharing such as Zoom or Teams are great to engage with professionals in webinars, whilst an event designed to host a painting class or a wine tasting session might require other features, materials or logistic processes.
Set clear objectives
What is the event for, and what inspired you to organize it? By clearly identifying your objectives, you create the space to shape your event around them. Is your goal to inform, connect, or entertain?
Different objectives lend themselves to different event structures, so establishing a clear purpose ahead of time is necessary. Leaflets, newsletters, and introductory emails are a few of the methods you can use to communicate your objectives.
Use engaging slides
Software such as PowerPoint or Google Slides are a great way to present and keep track of information you want to share with your audience. However, knowing how you use them is key.
Try to avoid long blocks of texts, and instead insert photos, videos, quotes, and audio files. You can even use interactive charts to actively engage your audience in real time.
Encourage audience participation
Let's be honest - online meetings can be tiring. Research has shown that "Zoom fatigue"- the exhaustion that follows online video meetings- is becoming an increasingly widespread problem.
Suggested strategies to tackle this increasing phenomenon include the use of online engagement tools that promote active verbal participation through polls, chat functions and more.
For example, the immersive virtual event platform, Chati, has features including attendee matchmaking and breakout rooms for networking, and ‘in-event gamification’ including scavenger hunts and trivia games to boost audience engagement and participation.
Personalize the experience
Online events, especially large-scale ones, can sometimes feel intimidating. If your audience is unfamiliar with the subject of the event, or the other people attending it, think about ways to make them feel more connected and comfortable.
Have you been to any similar events that have inspired you? What did you like about them, and why? You can make active use of cameras and mics, provide strong introductions, and use smaller break-out groups to help individuals engage on a more personal level.
Troubleshoot IT ahead of time
Test your internet connection and run a practice meeting with your team to see if you encounter any problems. Checking the audio and video quality on multiple ends is a must, as is paying attention to potential lag and patchy signals. If there is something wrong, it gives you time to fix it without inconveniencing your audience on the day of the event.
Pay attention to feedback
Ask your audience for feedback and implement it. Ask them questions, such as what they thought of the software. You can even ask your potential audience what they would like to see ahead of time. If there is anything they are particularly curious about or interested in, you can structure your event to engage with them more deeply on that particular topic.