The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of thousands of in-person events, costing businesses over $1 billion since March. With many cities and countries still in lockdown, in-person events look to be severely curtailed until at least early 2021. 

While all of these cancellations pose challenges for businesses, the mass digitization of our everyday lives presents an opportunity. Online events, such as webinars, virtual conferences, and online classes open the door to promoting businesses and driving sales. 

Hosting online events such as webinars have several benefits. They have a relatively low cost to produce and are simple to organize, especially compared to a physical event, and people can attend from anywhere in the world.

While these facts are encouraging, there are also challenges inherent to an online event to keep in mind. Typically, up to 50% of your registrants won’t show up to your event, and when people do log in, you will need to hold their attention. If you’re considering an online event, you’ll need to plan carefully to get the most out of it.

Here are a few tips on how to make your first online event a success:

How to plan your online event

The first and most critical step in any online event is to choose a topic that will attract and engage people. Make your life easier by choosing a topic you know a lot about. Start by asking yourself the following questions in order to choose the subject matter or theme: 

  1. What pain points do your customers have that you could solve? 
  2. What benefit would you like people to derive from attending? 
  3. What next steps do you want attendees to take afterward? 

Once you’ve decided on your topic, it’s time to decide on the event’s format.

The format will depend on your subject and desired outcomes. Most online events fall into one of these categories (or a combination of them): 

  • Presentation: A presenter delivers a web lecture to attendees. 
  • Panel discussion: Two or more presenters discuss a specific topic and take questions from the audience.
  • Breakout rooms: Attendees split up into groups for a discussion or activity and then come back together. 

I’ve found that audience participation is more engaging than a simple presentation. Therefore, consider incorporating a breakout session or Q&A as at least part of your event. 

Once you have settled on your desired format, you can choose the appropriate video conferencing software for hosting your event, and then select a day and time. Research has shown that Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days to host an online event with 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. being the best time slots.

How to attract attendees

Once you’ve chosen your topic, format, and timing, it’s time to promote your event. A majority of your registrations will likely come from a signup form on your website, email campaigns, and social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook. 

Start by creating an opt-in page, also known as a registration page, on your website where people will sign up for the event. Your registration page should have the following elements:

  • A sign up form for registration.
  • A brief description of the event.
  • Learning objectives.
  • Brief bios of the speakers.

Also, consider offering a freebie as an incentive for people to sign up. Your bonuses should be relevant to your industry and the subject of the event. This can include e-books, access to free content, or a free consultation.

Once people have signed up, you will want to remind them of that fact. One challenge with online events is that people sign up for an event and then forget about it. You can tackle this problem by using an email sequence like the one below to remind your registrants to attend. 

  • First email: A welcome email to say thank you for signing up. 
  • Second email: A reminder one week before the event. 
  • Third email: Another reminder the day before the event. 
  • Final email: A final reminder an hour before the event begins. 

Reminders build excitement as well as making sure people don’t forget they signed up. I recommend using an email tracking tool to monitor your open and response rates. 

What to do the day of your event

You might be nervous before hosting your first online event. That’s normal! But if you’ve done your homework and prepared as thoroughly as possible, you’ll be fine. Remember to dress smartly, face the camera directly, smile, and speak confidently. 

Start by introducing yourself and your business, and briefly tell your story. Deliver the content you promised, leaving time for audience questions or a break-out session. It’s a good idea to offer an extra incentive for people to stay until the end, such as a door prize. Finally, end the event with a strong call-to-action such as a link to a squeeze page, invitation to sign up for your mailing list, or request to follow you on social media. 

The key to a successful virtual event lies in engaging with the audience. Aim to inform, inspire, and entertain. Most importantly, deliver the valuable content you promised. And always make time for audience participation when possible. 

What to do after the event

Your work as a virtual event organizer doesn’t end when the event does. Following up with your attendees is essential. Immediately after the event is your window of opportunity to engage new leads, sell your product or service, and build a relationship. 

Send a “thank you” email to all attendees within 24 hours. Not only is this good manners, but it is also an opportunity to gauge their interest in your business. Offering a special discount at this stage can sweeten the deal and drive conversions. 

You should also email those who registered but did not attend. Send a link to a recording of the presentation or a slide deck so that they don’t miss out. 

You can also use the follow-up phase to generate feedback, which will help you evaluate how well your event was received and what you could improve for next time. 

The COVID-19 crisis has forced mass event cancellations, but businesses can take advantage of the opportunity presented by online events. Don’t despair if your events have been canceled and your marketing activities curtailed. Make the shift online, and you’ll reap the rewards.