You know the crackling feeling of an in-person event: the hum of excited attendees, the buzz of interactive panels, the energy of a packed venue — not to mention those glass-clinking happy hours. But with the need for virtual events ever on the rise, companies and orgs of all sizes are designing digital experiences that mimic the magic of in-person ones.

We know there are plenty of challenges that can come from pivoting to a virtual event experience. How do you plan event content? How do you drive event registrations? How do making joining and engaging in an event simple and easy for even the most tech-averse guests? 

Here’s some good news: you don’t have to answer those questions alone. We’ve compiled a guide to help newbies and experienced event planners launch their own live event.

What is a virtual event?

Unlike in-person or hybrid events, virtual events take place exclusively online. Speakers and audience members come together digitally to share in a brief session or multi-day virtual experience. If you registered and attended a virtual event recently, you probably saw keynote speeches, panel discussions, live polls, Slack communities — all happening via desktop, tablet, or mobile device.

The beauty of a virtual event is that event planners have full creative license to design an immersive experience because you aren’t restricted by a physical venue.

In addition, event attendees can tune in from anywhere around the world, lowering the barrier of entry for those who couldn’t attend in the past.

Become a virtual events pro

A lot of work can go into making a webinar or virtual event run smoothly, but with Vimeo’s handy virtual events checklist, you’ll be an expert in no time

Six use cases for virtual events

The event space is expanding — it’s not just broadcasters anymore. With so many events going virtual, let’s take a look at a few ways Vimeo customers have taken in-person events online.

Internal Events

These events are for employees within an organization. Programming varies between a quick, 30 minute meeting to an all day event. Typical internal events include all-hands meetings, employee training, sales kick-offs, or company-wide events like holiday parties (BYOB!).

Because internal meetings are primarily hosted for internal attendees, gated or ticketed registrations are less important than privacy features like SSO.

For more info on internal events and the state of workplace communications, check out our report.

Conferences

Conferences are another common virtual event type. They can last for a single day or multiple days. They typically include a moderator or MC, multiple speakers and keynotes, breakout meetings, networking activities, and other experiences to keep attendees engaged.

Conferences attract virtual attendees interested in shared industry topics, networking experiences, and educational opportunities. Lead generation is important here, so expect to see free and paid events with varying access.

Webinars

Webinars are the original virtual events. They last between 30 minutes to an hour and commonly function as either a demand generation channel or a thought leadership channel. If you hop on a webinar, you’ll likely find housekeeping notes (aka “this webinar will be recorded”), speakers, a slide deck, data, and a few tools — like Q&A or live polls — to engage audience members.

Webinars center around actionable content. Organizations and creators looking to grow their audience can leverage webinars to drive leads for demand generation, increase thought leadership, brand awareness, and education around their services.

Festivals and award ceremonies

Fast growing categories of virtual events include performing arts programs, music festivals, and award ceremonies (like Vimeo’s previous VFA). Organizations are adapting their experiences for an online-only audience and finding innovative ways to punch up excitement.

Performing arts events may include live talent, exclusive interviews, or other live entertainment to keep audiences hooked. They also attract a broader audience coming together to celebrate an artist, a type of music, film, or entertainment.

Sporting events

In the last few years, sporting events have transformed to adapt to the times, which means sports content covers everything from live streamed games, on-demand games, live interviews, and other content to keep fandom alive.

Faith-based events

Local parishes are finding new opportunities through video. Faith-based communities find a lot of flexibility by live streaming their sermons and community events. Whether those events are services, classes, community workshops, or just a virtual gathering — live stream helps a congregation stay connected even when they’re apart.

What’s the difference between virtual events and webinars?

Thankfully, webinars and virtual events aren’t mutually exclusive! Julie Bergstein, Vimeo’s Events Programming Lead, has great insights into the two types of events.

Here’s a quick breakdown:

Webinars:

  • Typically one off events
  • Shorter session
  • Typically for lead generation or education

Virtual events:

  • Focus on experiences
  • Multiple sessions like panel discussions, break outs, and keynotes
  • More creatively or brand driven. It’s not atypical to see a brand identity for a virtual event like Vimeo’s Streameo or Outside the Frame

Additionally, the scale of a webinar and virtual event is a little bit different. 

Webinars are usually smaller events, lower lift for teams, and typically draws a smaller registration pool. 

Virtual events are larger, require more investments in resources, and attract a larger registration pool.

How to plan and host a virtual event

There are a couple misconceptions around virtual events: the first myth is that you can copy and paste an in-person event into a virtual event. Unfortunately, not all in-person experiences translate in a digital space, especially when you’re competing for attendee attention and facing the uphill battle of digital fatigue and virtual event fatigue. 

The second misconception is that virtual events take less time to plan than in person events. Depending on the amount of content you’re planning to produce for your event, you’ll need to allocate enough time to prep. For example, Julie Bergstein, our Events Programming Lead, recommends 3-6 months of planning for 4 hours of virtual event content.

The reality is that virtual events need just as much time and attention to be incredible experiences.

So to help you hit the ground running, we’ve got nine tips on how to host a virtual event.

1. Determine your virtual event goals.

Before you plan your virtual event, you’ll need to identify event goals. Identifying goals also helps determine the type of virtual event you’ll produce.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the goals for my virtual event?
  • Is this an internally facing or externally facing event?
  • How many event sessions do you plan to have?
  • Will the event registration be free, paid, or both?

2. Identify your target audience.

Any seasoned event professional will tell you the most important KPI is the attendee experience. Make sure your virtual event hits the mark by clearly identifying your audience beforehand.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are you trying to reach?  
  • How do you need to reach them?
  • How will your audience interact?

3. Create stream-worthy content.

Content dictates everything when producing a live event — how you shoot it, what type of cameras you’ll use, how to light it, and even some of your encoding and technical choices.

Five components to awesome virtual event content:

  • Relevance: Make sure the live streaming content live streaming aligns with the interests of the intended audience, and that the content matches your brand voice and targeted prospects and customers.
  • Engagement: Keep viewers on their toes by encouraging interaction with the stream (we love keeping things exciting with the live chat feature). Keeping the audience entertained will make sure attendees get the most out of the day.
  • Succinct. While event attendees are willing to immerse themselves in day-long experiences for in-person events, they hold much less patience for a 7 hour live stream. Remember to only provide the most relevant and engaging content.
  • Consistency: If possible, turn the live event into a series (either annually or otherwise). “Keeping your events consistent is a guaranteed way to increase brand awareness and brand equity, while engaging meaningfully with your audience,” says Vimeo’s Live Production Lead Tom Gott.
  • Takeaways: What is the call to action at the end of the virtual event? If you want to convert the audience, make sure to facilitate viewer interaction after the event is over.

Once you have an idea of the type of content you plan to produce, be sure to solidify all the details in an event run of show.

Pro Tip: The “golden window” is between 25 minutes of bite-sized information, short and snappy presentations, and key takeaways.

4. Create an event registration page.

If you’re streaming an event that you’d like to sell tickets for — or just control access to — you’ll want to leverage an event or webinar registration page. With a dedicated event platform like Vimeo Events, you can easily set up events for your live event, integrate your CRM, and create a registration flow.

“We’re intentionally building a sense of exclusivity around our live streams, so it’s not like tuning in to an Instagram Live stream with thousands of other people who don’t have a shared interest,” Will from Zinc Agency tells us. “Those elements of connection have been really important.”

We’re intentionally building a sense of exclusivity around our live streams, so it’s not like tuning in to an Instagram Live stream with thousands of other people. Those elements of connection have been really important.”

Will Steinberg Co-President of Zinc Agency

5. Set up custom reminder emails.

A successful webinar strategy is critical to drive attendance. When someone registers for your event or webinar with Vimeo, three emails can be automatically sent to ensure they can attend and watch content afterwards. 

Customize your emails with your logo, branding colors, content, dynamic tags, and links to make it easier for your attendees to experience your event the way you want them to.

6. Follow-up post event.

Ideally, the post-event experience will engage registrants and attendees long after the event ends. Consider creating a web page or portal for on-demand webinar or event content and make them accessible for those who registered. And to keep your event content polished, plan to trim your videos and add chapters to help your attendees and views find the content they need quickly.

A comprehensive virtual event platform can help you plan out your presentation content, gate your experience to help you drive leads, provide production tools to create a stream-worthy experience, all while providing the analytics and automation to make it less of a hassle.

7. Make it interactive.

Your job is to make the viewing audience feel like they’re there in person — even if they’re watching in their PJs. To impress your online audience, make your digital experience match the level of quality you’d expect from an in-person event. Create an engaging experience with tools like Q&A, live polls, and live graphics.

The Ann Arbor film festival team used the live chat feature for their Q&As — and it worked like a charm. “I was surprised at how much of that community sensibility I felt knowing everybody was viewing it together,” Leslie says. “The chat brought some great energy to the online experience.”

Some promising feedback from Vimeo’s virtual event statistics reporting shows participants believe Q&As and tutorials work best when thinking through the most important event elements.

reporting on what event elements work best

8. Test everything.

First rule of live streaming? Test. EVERYTHING.

The best thing you can do to prevent mishaps during your online event is test everything, but most importantly, your stream. Test primary equipment workflows, backup equipment workflows, audio quality, video quality, internet connection, and any and all redundancies. Perhaps most importantly, confirm your upload speed by testing your connection at a website like Speedtest.net. You should schedule time to test all of your video production equipment both off-site and on-site.

Wondering what gear you need to live stream? Read this.

9. Create a remote broadcast checklist.

It’s likely that (in the short term) your need to collaborate with a distributed workforce on your virtual  event. Here’s a quick checklist of what you’ll need:

Five point remote broadcast checklist:

  • Connectivity: Chances are your company’s office wifi is better than what you have at home. Check your speeds and, when possible, use a wired connection.
  • Capture: How will your audience enjoy your content? Think about what cameras and mics you’ll use, and how you’ll bring in remote guests to your virtual event.
  • Encode: What software will you use to bring your event into the internet ether? We’re keen on Livestream Studio 6, but there are other options out there, too.
  • Distribute: Where will your virtual event live? Think about whether you’ll want to secure the content (like with SSO), or spread far and wide (think simulcasting).
  • Engage: A beautiful viewing experience is only part of what makes a great virtual event. Audience engagement tools like live Q&A, polls, and chat can further create a memorable event.

Virtual Event Checklist

Making event planning easier with the simple but might virtual event checklist

10. Prepare for “Murphy’s Law.”

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” Tom says. But don’t let that scare you off! If you identify the things that might go wrong, you can create a plan for how to handle them. Go in with a plan, solid tech, a top-of-the-line ticketing platform, and the right support, and you’ll be prepared for anything that comes your way.

To learn more, check out our Vimeo experts on how to plan a virtual event.

5 reasons virtual events make an impact

We get it. Pivoting to a virtual event for the first time can be daunting. Around the internet, it’s clear that virtual events are an effective way for event marketers to extend their reach. Here are a few reasons why your next digital experience might have even more payoff than your last IRL one.

Virtual events extend your reach.

We’ve seen customers increase their reach 50x by simulcasting a conference stream to social channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, and more.

Leslie Raymond, director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, noted that they were able to reach more people than ever during their first year going virtual. “We saw our audience grow from 10,000 ticket holders to 16,000 streams from 50 countries, with over 27,000 viewers for the whole week,” says Leslie.

We saw our audience grow from 10,000 ticket holders to 16,000 streams from 50 countries, with over 27,000 viewers for the whole week.”

Leslie Raymond Director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival

Virtual events democratize your experience.

Anthony Rudolf, partner at creative agency Co.create NYC, leverages live video for their annual Welcome Conference for hospitality workers:

“We’ve used live video at the Welcome Conference since day one. Restaurant and hospitality workers are overworked and underpaid, so the likelihood that they would have the time or finances to attend was small. We looked at video as a way to really democratize the talks that were happening.”

Virtual events extend the shelf life of your content.

Your content doesn’t stop being valuable once the online conference is over. Videos and talks can live on as a branded, searchable experience that can continue to drive engagement.

Virtual events allow you to get creative.

With an online-only experience, you can play with content formats, bring in additional speakers as remote guests, explore new revenue streams, and engage your audience in a measurable way. Will Steinberg, Co-President of event marketing agency Zinc, has found even more opportunities for customer engagement using virtual events:

“We’re finding more educational elements in live streaming as opposed to what we’ve done in the in-person space,” says Will. “With our culinary events, a chef used to do a demonstration, and the guests would enjoy their dining experience at the venue. Now, we’re sending out meal kits and branded aprons before the live stream even starts, and it’s become a much more hands-on experience.”

“That’s a huge benefit that we were never really able to take advantage of before during in-person events.”

Virtual events are here to stay.

While the surge in virtual events in 2020 primarily helped attendees and event planners safely gather, it’s clear the format is here to stay. In fact, Vimeo virtual event statistics reporting revealed 72% of survey participants expect to attend just as many, if not more, online events once in-person events are back.

In order to stay ahead of the curve, marketers should consider how to produce compelling virtual events that hold attendee engagement and fit into their overall marketing strategy.

graph of participants who believe they will attend a virtual event once in-person events return

Go live with your next virtual event

Originally published on August 7, 2020. Updated on August 23, 2022.