The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Events

Your Playbook for Success: How to host events that drive registration and captivate audiences
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Following the surge of remote workforces, 97% of marketers are confident that hybrid events will become more popular going forward. One of the most compelling reasons for the continued popularity of virtual events—the ROI (return on investment).

The allure of virtual events has drawn out the pain points of in-person events and trade shows such as sky-high prices for booths or onsite WiFi….imagine creating a memorable event for a fraction of the cost, all accessible to your customers, even in the most remote locations.

No last-minute flights, hotels, or expensive dinners to factor into your budget.

A New World of Events Has Emerged

There’s no denying that virtual events are here to stay. In fact, more than 80% of marketers have seen a greater audience reach since their shift to virtual. However, many virtual events follow suit of webinars and are viewed as a talking head providing no value by reading product pitches from a slide deck. Additionally, in the wake of the pandemic, event organizers are challenged with breaking up the Zoom fatigue their audience is facing.

Yet one thing is certain: facilitating virtual events that put experience above all will be the sustainable path forward.

Virtual events have solidified their place as a high-performing marketing channel. A Harvard Business Review study reported that 86% of virtual event participants yield as high or higher levels of engagement compared to face-to-face meetings. While in-person events will remain a pillar to the growth strategy of almost all organizations, content tailored to the masses presented over multiple days won’t be as necessary with the new world of virtual experiences.

Virtual events often have lower costs, reach a wider and more diverse audience, and if hosted properly, can be a notable revenue driver. However, some of the biggest challenges to hosting interactive virtual events are the technology and logistics—60% of planners still aren’t comfortable with the technology needed to host online events.

This playbook will uncover the possibilities of virtual events, challenges planners face when it comes to driving attendance and engagement, how to prove ROI, and how to leave lasting impressions.

Types of Virtual Events

From targeted account-based events to high-volume lead generation experiences, understanding the specific use cases for virtual events will guide your approach. Below we cover a few common ways teams are using Postal Events to engage remote audiences.
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Micro or ABM Events

Small or micro-events (under 50 attendees) are quickly becoming a favorite among Postal customers because they foster 1:1 connections, drive higher engagement and attendance rates, and can be tailored to the group. Creating a micro-commitment and delivering a thoughtful experience to a targeted group of decision-makers builds brand affinity and will often lead to discovery conversations. Common examples of these smaller group settings are round table discussions and virtual happy hours.

Account-based or ABM events don’t have to be mundane. The most memorable virtual events are personalized, relevant, and most importantly, engaging. Chances are if you’re selling to an executive at an enterprise company, they have already been on a dozen calls before they show up to their event. The 45-minute opportunity you have to capture their interest is absolutely critical to the long-term success of your event.

Our rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t sacrifice after-work hours or time on the weekend to attend the same event, you may not get the attendance you’re looking for. Some of the most engaging events have little-to-no educational content, but foster relationships and meaningful conversation.

Micro Event Idea: Invite some of your valued customers or employees to a Bring on the Birria Taco Cooking Class equipped with all the goodies to recreate a fun event at home.

*Postal Pro Tip: Carve out smaller, targeted audiences within your attendee base and host curated experiences for VIPs or speakers like a wine tasting, a cooking session with a chef, or a creative session with an artist. This can be a great way to engage in a more intimate virtual setting and a great opportunity to create unique sponsorship activations.

Trade Shows

Large-scale conferences and trade shows have started integrating hybrid components and digital experiences to connect with audiences that wouldn’t be able to attend the in-person event. For instance, leaders in this virtual event adaptation, like Outreach, have learned how to re-create the energy normally felt in their annual conference, Unleash.

There are a few styles of virtual trade shows that have emerged over the past year, but the best have learned how to integrate offline and online elements—in the Outreach example, a 90’s virtual dance party was hosted in lieu of a live conference party inclusive of a 90’s swag box landing on the registrant’s doorstep a few days before the party.

Trade Show Event Idea: Make sure there’s an exclusive talent, celebrity, or benefit to joining your event. Even on a large scale, you can create unique, personal experiences. Try bringing in a well-known comedy group, like Second City Improv, to facilitate an entertaining and valuable roast of your industry experts instead of a fireside chat. Want to book this out-of-the-box Second City show?

Internal Events

As workforces are forced to adapt to remote work, HR departments and people ops teams are struggling to uphold company culture and employee satisfaction via new channels. We are seeing an increasing demand for internal event support. We recommend facilitating as much employee-to-employee interaction as possible. Make sure your teams are meeting new faces outside of their team or department.

Internal Event Idea: Create an experience that encourages laughter, team spirit, and collaboration, like a professional trivia experience hosted by Bar None Trivia.

What is the Difference Between a Virtual Event and a Webinar?

A webinar is a presentation hosted online while a virtual event is a digital environment that encourages interaction between participants and the presenter. Though virtual events can encompass educational webinars, virtual events have more engaging components spanning across offline and online channels, and engaging elements beyond a well-designed slide deck.

Event Planning Checklist for Delivering Memorable Experiences

In the next few sections, we’ll go deep on the four main components to swiftly managing a memorable and profitable virtual event.
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Here’s the basic checklist:

Setting Goals For Your Virtual Event

You’ve set goals before. But as marketers have adapted their event strategies in a changing world, so has their approach to goal setting. Our rule of thumb: map each event you’re planning with an objective that matches a stage in the customer journey. If your objective is to drive top-of-funnel engagement for your SMB audience, plan for a high volume, low cost per attendee event. Further down the funnel, if you’re planning to engage in late-stage, enterprise deals, consider a high-caliber, curated event.

*Postal Pro Tip: Make sure your events and budget also align to these critical stages in the funnel so you can ensure you hit your bottom line marketing and sales goals.

Top of Funnel (Low Cost per Attendee & Unlimited Registration)

“Lead Collector” Events

Keep these events light and short, preferably under 1 hour, and maintain a low barrier to entry. Select an event that doesn’t require an event kit to avoid being charged per person and to keep registration open longer.

Examples include:

  • Group Trivia Challenge
  • Interactive Comedy Show hosted by The Second City

Targeted Top of Funnel Events

These events are designed for a smaller, more targeted audience, allowing for attendees to ask questions or for you to showcase a quick product demo. Consider using event kits to maximize attendance and engagement.

Examples include:

  • Cocktail Making Class
  • Cold Brew Tasting

*Postal Pro Tip: Come up with a punny name or give your event a seasonal spin to make it feel more timely.

Middle of Funnel (under 50 high-value attendees)

Virtual Events for Warm(er) Leads

Leads or prospects who are aware of your solution won’t necessarily need to see a demo at this event. These experiences can lead to high conversions even if they’re for fun. Think of ways you could host an event and simply leave a good taste in your prospect’s mouth (literally!). While they will likely come in at a higher price point, that’s true of any tactic you use to move prospects down the funnel.

Examples include:

  • Beer, whiskey, or wine tastings
  • Wine and charcuterie pairing
  • Olive oil and balsamic tasting + cheese
  • Chocolate tasting + learning experience

Bottom of Funnel (50-150 valued customers)

Hosting virtual events for customers is a great way to boost loyalty and encourage renewals. Creating memorable experiences for your valued clients will make renewals easier and ultimately lead to expansion. These virtual events have a slightly longer duration (60-75 minutes) to ensure your experience has flexibility.

For instance, a cooking class may be too big of a commitment for a prospect. Customers are familiar with your brand and will generally make time if it’s a special experience. You can even allow them to invite a plus one. You don’t need an in-person happy hour to show your customer advisory board how much you love them. Host a VIP tasting where each beverage (eg wine or whiskey) is paired with a curated food item.

Family-friendly events are always a win, oftentimes the kids have just as much fun! Examples include cookie decorating and pumpkin painting.

*Postal Pro Tip: Be intentional with your content. Eg: after a class is done and the group is eating, use that time to talk about new features being released in the product and/or do a customer Q&A. For the Customer Advisory Board pairing event, after the second pairing, pause for a discussion on a set agenda item.

Creating a Memorable Experience

Virtual events face stiff competition for people’s time - Zoom fatigue is real! To meet your registration and live event attendance numbers, you need to consider the end-to-end experience of your event and how you can deliver a first class experience. Here’s a framework to think about how to develop a differentiated event design.
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1. Create a custom experience based on your target audience and customer segment. Much like wedding planners think about that first-touch experience of receiving an invitation, you should be considering your invitation as important as the event itself.

Idea: Creative touches like handwritten invitations with a QR code linked to a registration page are a great way to ensure your event is on the attendee’s radar and remembered by evoking the neuroscience of touch.

2. Curate content, speakers, and build-in unique moments. Depending on how long your event format is, it will be important to pay attention to session length and fun breaks designed to keep people’s attention in a virtual setting.

Idea: With some planning and the right partner like Postal, you can introduce interactive happy hours and other fun activities that include physical event kits. These are becoming popular as they tap into sensory experience: for instance, tasting kits or do-it-yourself activities. Send kits right to your attendees with everything they will need to participate and enjoy the live session. By marrying elements of digital and live event design, you can overcome the challenge virtual events pose and elevate it to a whole new level.

3. Get the whole team involved. Typically, promoting and event communication comes from one specific team. However, by leveraging experiences, you enable sales to connect with prospects in a way that builds a relationship – the same goes for customer teams with clients!

*Postal Pro Tip: Sending attendees a package related to your event evokes a powerful principle of persuasion – reciprocity. When people receive something that is unique and personalized, they are more likely to give back through a desired behavior, gift, or service – in this case, attendance and engagement with your brand and event.

Leveraging Your Tech Stack to Build Buzz and Maximize Attendance

60% of virtual event planners aren’t comfortable with their technology and 50% say they’re unable to create live engagement. Having the right technology to track your performance metrics and KPIs is a vital component to success.
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While there are plenty of options, you’ll have to put in the time to figure out which platform best suits your needs. If you’re planning on hosting a more complex event with breakout sessions and talent, chances are you’ll eventually consider investing in a technology that can meet the needs of a complex event.

Logistics and data assessment will be an important asset for hosting an engaging virtual event. Platforms such as Postal Events come pre-built with tools that help you manage logistics such as event kits to maintain a higher quality of control. Not to mention, Postal’s Offline Marketing Dashboard in Salesforce helps you report on the effectiveness of event experiences in deal cycles.

Tips for Boosting Registration

An easy way to think about whether or not your event has traction is to do a sniff test on whether you’ve created FOMO, or “fear of missing out”. If you can cultivate a contagious excitement around your event, the message will spread on its own and make your life of promoting the big day a lot easier.

Consider a multi-channel approach that you’re likely familiar with, like email, video, social, etc but launch them in sequence to make a big splash.

*Postal Pro Tip: Create a hashtag for your event and encourage attendees to post pictures of their event kits on social media. This is an easy way to build interest, excitement, and FOMO. And it’s easier for your team to track success.

It’s one thing to create buzz and generate registrations, but it’s another to get live attendees. In fact, the average no-show rate for virtual events is 35% and growing. Here are a few ways to ensure your registrants show up excited and engaged.

Reminder Emails

Seems obvious, but ensuring you have adequate reminders (personal and automated) will help increase your attendance rate. Postal Events lets you set up to four reminder emails and personalize at your own convenience to engage attendees prior to your experience.

Idea: Send a $5 eCard for coffee to attendees and leverage this in your subject lines to keep your event top of mind.

Event Kits

We mentioned the reciprocity principle earlier. Offering an event kit or gift package for each registration is not only an effective way to get people in the door but to also get people to show up. If your kit has an interactive component that plays into the event, it can drastically increase the attendance rate. These kits can also be great content for attendees to share on social media—great word-of-mouth marketing and a FOMO builder.

Surprise Announcement

Promote via email and social media that you will be announcing something big at the event or have a huge surprise waiting for attendees. It could be something as big as an anticipated product launch, or a singer, actor, comedian, and perhaps a celebrity speaker. The idea is to create that suspense for something that occurs at the event.

Host a Giveaway or Contest

Hosting a giveaway or contest as a lead magnet to generate sign-ups can be one of the easiest ways to get more attendees to show up. Make sure you cover the details of the contest in your promotions. Make sure you’re not offering something that would attract the wrong audience. For maximum ROI, giveaway the item at the end of the event so attendees are incentivized to stay throughout the duration.

*Postal Pro Tip: Sending invitations from sales or customer reps that are already in contact with your attendee list will result in higher open and acceptance rates. An authentic touchpoint for sales and customer teams that will help accelerate your funnel velocity and customer renewals.

Engaging with Your Audience

To prevent audience drop off, a high level of engagement must be maintained throughout your event. No one likes sitting through lectures, especially when it’s through a screen. Go back through your event design and make sure you’ve crafted a run-of-show that has timing appropriately paced for virtual events with plenty of speaker changes and audience interaction over the duration of your event. Here’s some inspiration.
host engaging virtual events

Interactive Chats

Get your audience engaged in the conversation by having an interactive chat throughout the event. This can be a great way for attendees to network and riff off each other’s experiences or ideas. Make sure your team is involved and that your event MC or moderators keep an eye on the chat and bring up valuable insights or questions that come up. This is the ultimate in virtual event engagement.

Breakout Rooms

A little meet and greet right off the bat can be a great way to help attendees familiarize themselves with each other and the hosts.

Live Q/A Sessions

Similarly, live Q/A sessions after a short presentation give the audience a chance to catch up on anything they may have missed. Have some pre-canned questions ready to go in case your attendees are slow to kick it off.

Interactive Activities

Using an activity as the main driver to your event can drastically increase engagement. Assuming you delivered the materials to your attendees on time, activities can engage with multiple senses, leaving a better impression and higher brand recall. If you have an activity at your event, use it as the centerpiece of your virtual experience. Even better if it is attached to a physical component that attendees can interact with from home.

Giveaways

Announcing the winner to a giveaway is another easy way to keep engagement high. Turn on the chat room leading up towards the announcement to really see some sparks fly. Try to make the announcement towards the end, right after the last session for maximum attendance.

Polls

Conducting polls during the event and then announcing the results is a great way to see what your audience thinks in real-time. Sharing this information back with them provides transparency on your end and makes for an engaging event.

Following the Event

After your event, make sure you keep the conversation and engagement of your attendees. Consider saying “Thank You” with a handwritten note or e-gift. It goes a long way and will tremendously improve the performance of your post-event conversion rates.
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The best virtual events will be the ones that leave lasting impressions and build brand equity with attendees. Gone are the days of 60-minute slide presentations. If you want to deliver events that drive attendance and engagement, make sure you’re optimizing for attendee experience above all else.

The shift to virtual has created a disconnect for many. But with platforms such as Postal Events, you can leverage this new change as an opportunity to bring together your valued customers across the globe and build meaningful connections through unique, curated experiences.

Learn more and explore the Postal Events marketplace today.

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