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by By Gary Vlk | September 01, 2010

As the popularity of virtual events grows, many meeting planners are integrating them into their organization's overall event strategy. As with live meetings, producing a successful virtual event involves extensive planning, careful content development and precise execution, as well as a significant time investment and a proven strategy.

Following are tips to ensure successful virtual events.

• Set a strategy.
Develop a comprehensive event strategy, goals and objectives, by considering the following:

How do events fit into your overall marketing strategy?

Are events, especially virtual, appropriate for your audience and the best tool to communicate your message?

Should your event be a stand-alone virtual experience or a hybrid event with virtual and live components?

What do you want your audience to know, feel or do as a result?

What does success look like when the event is over?

• Assess the audience. What is the technology experience level of your audience? Are they used to using technology in their everyday lives, or are they still more comfortable with pen and paper? Take this into consideration when determining the level of technology you are introducing and the training that will accompany it.

• Allow extra planning time. Virtual events incorporate many of the same elements as live meetings, so be sure to build planning time into your schedule and ensure proper staffing. Especially the first time around, be sure to put buffers into the schedule in case you run into any new or unique technical difficulties during preproduction.

• Work with tech experts. If your event is for an internal audience, engage your internal IT department early to help ensure attendees have sufficient bandwidth and so that any challenges with access are resolved beforehand.

• Provide great content. Keep the content and delivery engaging. Vary your presentation formats with polling, Q&A and chat functions to keep attendees interested. This will also help participants to retain information and come back again for more.

• Test drive it.
Use the virtual event platform for pre-event communication. Bringing attendees together early for an educational session or to get them familiar with the virtual environment is a great way to test the process for usability and to help attendees get comfortable with it.

If live interaction is a part of your event, build sufficient rehearsal time into the schedule. As with live events, presenters will be able to engage with the audience and content more fully if they are comfortable and well-rehearsed. Schedule sufficient rehearsal time with all presenters to work out technical details, review logistics and allow them to practice their material.

• Open the virtual door. For hybrid events (which feature live and virtual components), consider opening the virtual environment early. Providing virtual access before the live event even begins allows attendees to network before they get on-site; it also introduces virtual and live attendees to key topics and messages being communicated.

• Make use of data. Make the most of the data capture, tracking and intelligence of virtual events. One of the key benefits of hosting or participating in a virtual event is the performance and behavioral data that can be collected from attendees. Take advantage of this and market it to sponsors.

Tracking behavior, including which site areas attendees visit, how much time they spend at each and what questions they ask, can be invaluable for event sponsors, as well as allow you to craft a more effective experience next time around.