With the pandemic and social distancing measures continuing into 2021, an online event may be just what your business needs to keep customers engaged. In 2020, we saw local yoga studios host live meditations, and florists host flower arrangement classes. Some companies got extra creative, even shipping beauty packages for beauty tutorials and chocolate boxes for live tastings during a factory tour ahead of live events in order to make it more interactive. 


Here’s your roadmap for planning your first virtual event. While there are more technical aspects to consider, much of the themes to good event planning remain the same: stay organized, stay communicative and keep your customer service & engagement in mind at all times. 


1. Planning Ahead Phase


Nail down the objective of the event: Before a single speaker or attendee is notified, gather with your team for some comprehensive planning. The first question to ask is: what is the goal of this event? Is it to showcase your company’s expertise? Is it to give an audience a preview of your latest product launch? Be specific. 


Nail down the basics: Once you’ve identified the topic, ask yourself the basics of any business event. Who are the speakers? Who is your target audience? Ideally, how many attendees would you like? How long is the event and what is the best time to reach your target audience?


Figure out your run of show: The basics are typed out. Now plan out the day’s program of events. Does it start with a welcome keynote by you, the event host? Is there a networking hour among all attendees? Is there an audience Q&A after the guest speaker? Figure out the format and assign specific time slots to each session.

Figure out your budget: Ideally, as a small business owner, you want this event to cost you virtually nothing. First, determine whether you can book keynote speakers for free. Even if they speak pro bono, it’s always nice to offer them a small token of appreciation. But make sure to calculate every cost that will go into this virtual event. 


Pick your platform: New specialized platforms like Hopin and Airmeet have emerged to serve businesses seeking to host online events on a mass scale. But many small business owners will find that tried and true platforms like Zoom, Google Meet and even Instagram Live can serve their needs for a virtual event. 


Advertise and invite: Like any clear invitation, make sure to communicate the essentials of your virtual event: the subject matter, date, time, location (Zoom? Hopin?)  and information on how to register. 


2. Day Of Event Phase


Make Time for a Test-run: Make sure to speak with each of your guest speakers and ensure they’re clear on how to log in and any other details. Consider doing a test-run on whichever tech platform you choose. Make sure their video and audio work swimmingly, and make sure they know how to use the platform features, such as screen-share or other video host capabilities. This can be done days before the event, but performing a test-run that day should also be a must. 


Reminders!: After nearly a year of working remote, everyone has some aspect of “Zoom fatigue.” Keep attendees excited about and aware of your event. It’s best to send out a reminder about your event the morning of--and if it is an evening event, it is okay to send another reminder an hour ahead of the event.  


Grand Welcoming: As the host, you will likely deliver opening remarks and introduce the speakers, and give guests a general rundown of the event. If anyone runs into any technical difficulties, designate a team member to help troubleshoot or guide anyone who’s been logged off during the virtual session. 


3. Follow Up Phase


Collect Insights: Be sure to store information about all guest speakers and attendees. Build a mailing list for future events or updates about your business. If they attended then they obviously have a deep interest in your industry and what your business provides. Platforms like Zoom typically generate a report on registrants. You can email these attendees a recording of the event, and even survey them about the online discussions. What were the highlights of the virtual event for them? The results may surprise you. 


Reflect with yourself and your team and what worked, and what you’d do differently next time. These routine team debriefs are the key to mastering virtual event planning.