Seven Tips for Hosting a Virtual Conference

The way we work has changed dramatically in the past five months, but our need for connection, learning and team building remains the same. While we may be doing these things differently than we ever have before, we can’t lose sight of their importance.
For the right reasons, many events have canceled but, some can continue virtually. SageSure’s Marketing and Sales team hosted it’s first virtual conference last month, and it was a great success. If you’re looking to connect, share information and infuse some energy into your team, here are seven tips for hosting a virtual conference.

1. Timing is everything

When people come together for traditional conferences, they all adjust their watch and internal clock to the host city’s time. However, holding a virtual conference means you need to consider various time zones. Setting a 9 a.m. start time in the Midwest might be great, but not if some of your participants are on the West Coast. Understanding where your participants reside and setting times that allow everyone to be participating during business hours is not only considerate, it’s important to facilitating engagement.
In addition to negotiating time zones as you establish your schedule and agenda, you’ll want to share your plan with your guests and adhere to it. You wouldn’t keep participants in a session past the allotted time in a regular conference, so don’t do it virtually.

2. Be clear and creative

Determining a clear purpose for your virtual event is foremost to delivering quality content. Getting creative and showcasing your content inside a theme will be even more memorable. What do you hope to achieve through your virtual gathering and how can every session fulfill that purpose? Thoughtful consideration of what information you are presenting and how you are sharing it will ensure you do not misuse attendees’ time. Once you’ve established your purpose consider wrapping your content with a theme. Are you recognizing ‘top’ achievements? Encourage participants to wear crazy hats on their top. Celebrate ‘sweet’ success thought a Candyland theme with breakout rooms named after the gameboard and treats to match. Great creative. Find a away to tie all your elements together under common idea.

3. Encourage engagement

Captivating your audience with quality content and delivering it unexpectedly is key to hosting a successful virtual conference. Simply, putting a presentation together and sharing your screen while you talk about the facts and figures isn’t enough to keep your audience engaged. Creative delivery of your material is important. Use polls, surveys and games to showcase your content and create engagement.
“During our conference, we created a Jeopardy game, complete with our very own Alex Trebek and company subject matter experts that served as contestants,” said Tammy Nelson, chief marketing officer for SageSure. “Virtual attendees were split into teams and received pompoms to cheer on their player. Contestants answered questions that revealed important company information. Not only was it valuable, but it was fun.”

4. Surprise and delight

In addition to sending information to your participants that might be necessary for them to participate in your sessions – agendas, booklets or material relevant to your content – consider delivering treats or company swag. Prepackaged treats will help fight the video conferencing fatigue. A new company polo, thermos or tote will be an unexpected way to show your appreciation for their attendance. These are things that you would probably think about doing for a seminar or conference if you could be together in person – don’t overlook these opportunities to surprise and delight your audience just because you’ll be engaging virtually.

5. Don’t overstay your welcome

Professionally connecting virtually with platforms like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Webex and Google Hangout can be mentally exhausting. It’s the hyperawareness to not become distracted and miss valuable information that you can’t pick up by nudging your coworker; an intense focus on the face of the person communicating as to not seem distracted and disinterested; that, coupled with staring at your image and constantly trying to determine if your appearance or expression is suitable, is fatiguing. Understanding how a virtual event impacts your audience differently is essential to how you structure and use your time. Plan for and take breaks and know you might not be able to cover as much as you could in person.

6. Use technology

Technology can be your greatest asset and a considerable liability in a virtual conference. Implementing virtual breakout rooms and platforms that allow collaboration like FunRetro,can help you take your virtual gathering to the next level and make your audience feel like they are teleported to a different place. But we all know technology is great until it isn’t. When you’re planning your virtual conference, be sure to do some test runs and have a contingency plan if something fails.

7. Connect

Uncertainty abounds in our world. Finding ways to connect with others, celebrating something positive and increase overall feelings of goodwill is needed now more than ever. If your audience is well acquainted, you might consider providing opportunities for individuals to celebrate or recognize a coworker for their leadership, commitment or hard work. That, of course, will take some preplanning, but the outcome will pay dividends. Another way to create a connection is to work as a team – and do something for a good cause.

“We conducted a survey before our conference and asked participants to identify a national charity they felt an affinity for,” said Nelson. “We split our participants up according to the charity they chose and played group trivia. Teams were competing for the opportunity to win, and the company made donations on the teams’ behalf.”

Nothing beats getting together with coworkers to synergize and strategize. However, if you can’t be together in person, you might want to consider a virtual event. While you’ll need to plan differently and invest time in executing a seamless experience as you connect with your peers and leaders virtually, if you follow a few guidelines, we promise you’ll be glad you did.