Virtual Events 101: Tips For Planning Your Virtual Event

May 7, 2010

Previously, I provided tips on selecting a virtual event platform.  In that posting, I covered team, technology and customer service considerations for selecting a platform.  Now, I’d like to cover the very important process of planning your virtual event.  A successful virtual event originates with a sound, strategic plan – one that’s researched, developed and documented well before the topic of platform selection is even broached.

Virtual events involve technology – however, as with physical events, it’s about the experience first.  Technology, while important, is there to provide the means to address your experiential goals.  Get the planning done right and technology decisions will fall out naturally from there.

Understand Your Audience

A virtual event planner must act like a product manager – to build the best “product” (i.e. event), you need to first understand your target audience / target customer.

Product managers need to employ “customer empathy”, while virtual event planners need to employ “attendee empathy”.  Product managers develop user personas – profiles of different users of the product.  Similarly, you ought to create attendee personas.

Identify the attendee profiles – and for each profile, document the “average user”.  Questions you ought to ask about your audience:

  1. Are they inclined to experience an event virtually?
  2. What topics/subjects are they most interested in?
  3. What online sites do they frequent the most?
  4. When they’re not online, what are they doing?
  5. How do they prefer to consume content?
  6. How do they prefer to interact with one another?
  7. What would prevent them from interacting, engaging, etc. online?
  8. What motivates them?
  9. What is their preferred form of reward (e.g. recognition, money, etc.)?
  10. How do you hold their attention?

There are many more questions you could ask.  Understanding your audience is one of the most important planning steps, so make sure you invest the right amount of time and energy here.  When done, document your “audience profiles” and share the document with your extended team.  Ensure you’re all on the same page with regard to your target audience.

Identify Your Funding Sources

The virtual event never happens if you’re not able to pay for its costs.  Are you an association that aims to fund the event with association or per-event fees?   Are you a non-profit organization who submitted a bid for a grant?  Or, are you a B2B publisher who aims to fund the event by selling sponsorships at a virtual trade show?

For virtual trade shows, identify possible exhibiting companies and forecast the amount of revenue you can generate from the sponsorships.  Review past events you’ve produced (whether physical or virtual) – and, review competitors’ trade shows to see which companies are exhibiting at them.

Regardless of the scenario, ensure that your funding model is identified – and, that the funds are “firm”.  It does you no good to spend a month profiling your target audience, only to have that work go to waste when you’re not able to obtain funding for the event.  If possible, seek to have your funds secured before you begin the subsequent planning steps.

Define your Format, Venue, Style, Personality

There are many types of virtual events: virtual trade shows, virtual career fairs, virtual product launches, etc.  Chances are, you already have a format in mind and that’s good.  Following that, however, you ought to consider the additional details of the design, style and personality of your virtual event.

The most direct (and cost effective) approach is to select from the pre-existing “event templates” of your virtual event platform provider.  They’ll allow you to select a theme from their template library and you can apply customizations on top of the base image.  While this approach is time and cost efficient, keep in mind that it’s more challenging to distinguish your event, especially if your competitor uses the same platform and selects the same theme.

If you have the budget (and time) to create a unique experience, consider the venue and theme – a virtual experience is not bound by physical space limitations (or, by gravity), so there are endless possibilities.  Do you want an outer space experience?  Perhaps not, but that’s possible if you so choose.

If budget allows, consult with a creative agency or design firm – you’ll first want to “storyboard” the event experience in the same way you’d map out a new web site.  In addition to event components, storyboard the user journey and user experience – map out how you’d like attendees to move through your environment.

Identify the Event’s Content

Most virtual event planners associate “content” with “sessions” (e.g. Webcasts, Videocasts, etc.).  Sessions are indeed important – invest the time and effort to identify hot topics, develop session tracks and recruit speakers and presenters.  Once that’s complete, identify additional content formats to include:

  1. Break-out Sessions
  2. Training Sessions
  3. Scheduled Chats
  4. Quizzes
  5. Games

Virtual events no longer need to be focused around the session schedule – as you can see from the list above, many content formats are available – and some are more effective at engaging and involving the audience.

Identify Potential Dates

Who knew that virtual event planning would be similar to wedding planning?  With regard to date selection, your first step is “conflict avoidance”.  You want to eliminate important dates within your organization (e.g. the date of your annual customer conference) – as well as important dates within your industry.  Then, review competitive events and related events in your industry, as you want to avoid those too.

Finally, consider seasonality dependencies, such as the December religious holidays or the week leading to Labor Day (in the U.S.), during which many families with school kids are out of town.

Once you’ve done the “elimination” of dates, consider events or occasions that would work well for your event – you might want to plan your virtual event around an existing physical event of your’s – or, plan for event around a key product launch you have scheduled two quarters from now.

Identify the Event’s Duration

Single-day events are the most common today.  Your event, however, should have a duration that’s driven by your goals and objectives.  For instance, if you have more content than can be consumed (or scheduled) in a single day, consider the multi-day event.  If your event is based around an ongoing game, with points accrued over days (or weeks), then the game parameters will dictate the event duration.

For multi-day events, be sure you have an audience engagement strategy in place to incent Day 1 attendees to return for Day 2 (and Day 3, etc.).  In addition, keep in mind that multi-day events require staffing and support to be available for each live date, which adds hard and soft costs to the equation.


Hold your horses! Technology is fun and exciting, but before you jump into that step, be sure to spend the necessary time and effort to complete the planning steps outlined here.  In the end, you’ll be rewarded with a successful event.

Related Links

  1. Browse the Virtual Events 101 Index Page
  2. Download the eBook, “Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

Incorporate Gaming In Virtual Events

November 5, 2009


We’ve reached a point in the virtual events industry where users who have attended 1-5 events (or more) are starting to ask, “What’s next”?  If the industry doesn’t effectively answer that question, then users will eventually stop coming back and attendance will suffer.  One concept that makes a lot of sense is to introduce gaming into virtual events.  By doing so, you’ll achieve real results.  Why gaming?  It’s all about REEL:



Retention is a key objective of any virtual event – whether it’s a lead generation event (virtual tradeshow), partner education event or a virtual sales meeting, you want attendees to leave the event with a level of retention over the content you’ve provided (e.g. exhibitor product information, your own product and technology specifications or the the coming year’s sales priorities and initiatives).  Even in a virtual career fair, “retention” is about job candidates retaining information about your company and why they might want to work there.

With gaming, retention isn’t going to be achieved magically.  Rather, you’ll need to be very strategic in weaving your content message (and objectives) into the games themselves.  So you’re not providing games for 100% fun – but rather, crafting real business value out of participation in the games.  So first determine the messaging you want to convey to your attendees – and itemize the set of desired actions/outcomes you’d like to see them take in the virtual event.  Your tactics will then fall out from there, in terms of how to achieve your objectives within the games.  Sample tactics include:

  1. Place clues in the games that require participants to find and consume content in the show (e.g. view Webcasts, visit booths, etc.)
  2. Award game points based on participant actions
  3. Reward participants who successfully complete quizzes – whereby the questions are associated with content that can be found within the event

In summary, the structure of the game is all about driving business value – with attendees leaving your event with the desired level of retention.  The retention level translates into ROI on behalf of the event exhibitors, executive sponsors and show hosts.


All virtual event hosts want to maximize engagement at their event – long session times, high attendee participation, etc.  The way this is achieved via gaming is not just in the sheer interaction with the game elements.  There’s also the factor of competition.  It’s natural for users to exhibit a competitive spirit – competition brings us validation (to know that we’re “better” than the “opponents”), recognition (to achieve a certain status or to see our name atop the leaderboard) and acclaim (to know that we’ve been crowned the champion).

So be sure to make competition a key element of your gaming, as it provides the constant “pulse” (heartbeat) behind the event.  With a leaderboard that’s updated in near-realtime, there will be constant buzz and activity as players jockey with one another for the top billing.

At the platform level, use the familiar video game tactic of “unlocking” certain features or capabilities based on levels you achieve in the game.  Perhaps it’s a special avatar or profile image (to designate your status) or a capability that puts me at an advantage against other gamers.  Lastly, provide compelling prize(s) to participants – otherwise, their incentive to compete may wane.


When’s the last time you heard someone say they “had fun” at a virtual event?  Not too often, I’d imagine.  Well that’s a goal of gaming – while driving business value, you can simultaneously allow attendees to have some pure, old-fashioned fun.

Perhaps you create a game or two that has no (or very subtle) tie-in to your business objectives.  Or, you create a fun game that has business association, but is very fun to participate in (e.g. Jeopardy, Deal Or No Deal, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, etc.).  If you’ve generated retention on the part of attendees – and they enjoyed the experience, then you’ve just created a win-win scenario.


An obvious point, but enjoyment lends itself to loyalty.  The more I enjoy an experience, the more I want to do it again.  With gaming, you have a real (or “REEL”) opportunity to create attendee loyalty, so that they come back for your next event.

Furthermore, in hosting an extended event (consider the case of an ongoing event that runs around the clock for a few weeks), the competitive aspect of the event keeps users coming back in to interact with the games, accumulate points and keep (or improve) their standing on the leaderboard.  As a virtual event host, loyalty is your pot of gold – loyal attendees means loyal exhibitors, sponsors, etc.

In summary, incorporating gaming into virtual events is a REEL opportunity that you should consider – if done right, all of your constituents will thank you for it.

Related links

  1. Gaming and Virtual Reality at Cisco’s Annual Sales Meeting (
  2. Cisco GSX — A Countdown to a Landmark Virtual Event (
  3. Marketing Lessons from Foursquare ( – observations on the mobile gaming service created by Foursquare)

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