12 Virtual Event Ideas From Professional Event Planners

Cassy Aite
July 15, 2021
12 Virtual Event Ideas From Professional Event Planners

Since the start of the pandemic, events have gone online, and even long-time event planners have had to get creative to make the transition from live events to virtual events.

We talked to professional event planners from around the world to learn more about their experience planning online events. Time and again, these professionals cited event engagement as the biggest obstacle.

Even the best video conferencing software can't replace face-to-face interactions. And in a world plagued by Zoom fatigue, an invite to your virtual conference could feel like another obligatory online meeting.

But, by harnessing the power of social tools and creating interactive online experiences, event planners have found innovative ways to increase engagement, create branded experiences, and provide greater ROI for their clients.

Learn from their success by trying one of these virtual event ideas at your next event.  

12 Virtual Event Ideas That Offer Proven Results

Whether you're hosting a product launch, a trade show, or a training for your virtual team, these ideas will increase engagement and make your event feel like a virtual party — not just another virtual meeting.  

1. Open Your Event Space Early

There are two questions clients often ask Leslie Blye, the National Sales Director at L!VE, a full service event production firm in Columbus, Ohio: "How can we ensure our attendees will be able to access and navigate the platform? How do we make it easier for attendees to connect with our content, one another and our sponsors?"

L!VE uses the LUX event platform to solve both these problems. A few days before the event, they send a video tutorial and invite attendees to join the virtual space. Then, they use gamification to reward attendees for creating profiles, visiting sponsors, and engaging with content before the event. They also add a countdown clock that changes to music, a DJ, a slideshow, or videos, 30 minutes before the event begins.

According to Blye, by launching early, "you can reduce potential technology issues that tend to hit 15 minutes before your first keynote speaker takes the virtual stage." Aside from reducing the technical issues that often accompany virtual events, setting up your event platform early "is also a great way to promote longer networking for attendees and greater ROI for sponsors." As an added bonus, allowing attendees to interact in advance reduces the need for forced icebreakers or long introductions.

2. Include Sponsor Demos

Companies sponsor events for the opportunity to promote their product to their target audience. When the event is virtual, it's harder to get sponsor products into the hands of potential users.  

We talked to Ellie Dickinson, the director of BCC Management, a professional conference organizer in Melbourne, Australia. (They frequently post event planning resources on their LinkedIn, so check it out if you need more tips for your next event.)

According to Dickinson, "When we first started it was difficult to provide authentic and engaging sponsor and delegate interactions so we needed to get creative." To overcome this obstacle, BCC Management started sending packages of sponsored products to event attendees in advance.

These packages allowed attendees to interact with a sponsor's product in real time. Dickinson tells us, "When it came time for sponsors to talk to delegates, [delegates] each had an item in the box that was specific to [the sponsor's] product and sale." Delegate interactions with the product helped organically shape the event.

"For example, we had one sponsor provide wine and then take virtual delegates through a wine tasting experience ... It was a great way to showcase their product, local region, and keep delegates engaged throughout the day," Dickinson says.

3. Invite an Illusionist

Andriana Avraam, founder of PINK MEDIA in Toronto, Ontario, likes to invite a mentalist and illusionist to perform 30-minute sessions at her virtual events. There's a clear benefit to choosing an illusionist as your exhibitor: Unlike comedians, speakers, and other presenters, an illusionist demands audience interaction as part of their performance.

PINK MEDIA works with Kevin Hamdan, a mentalist and psychological illusionist, who Avraam says is "super interactive, brilliant at engaging even the most reluctant digital users and Just. Mind. Blowing."

According to Hamdan, "I created this show from the ground up, focussing on what I call the big three E's: engage, entertain, and experience. ... I have created effects in the show where everyone in the audience gets to participate."

Avraam and Hamdan's partnership demonstrates the importance of working with talented vendors to create the best virtual events. Hamdan executes on Avraam's virtual event idea by providing an engaging show.  

Avraam tells us that her team has been asking for a lunch and learn just so they can see Hamdan again. "We can all use a little different type of wow-factor these days," she says.

4. Host a Lip Sync Drag Battle

Virtual event ideas: a drag queen poses, representing a lip sync drag battle

This outside-the-box corporate event idea is a favorite of Lahoma Dade from Events Unleashed in Austin, Texas, who says that it's "created super great engagement with [her] clients."

To host a lip sync drag battle, you can hire professional drag queens to face off against each other, or you can invite audience participation by asking attendees to lip sync their favorite songs and hiring a drag queen to serve as your moderator (many professional drag queens are experts at improv and comedy, and offer their services as MCs). The beauty of lip syncing is that — unlike karaoke — you don't need to be a great vocalist to participate.  

Regardless of whether you have professional drag queens or event attendees do the lip syncing, you can encourage audience participation by using applause to choose a winner (or using a thumbs-up system in your messaging platform — with attendees being able to give up to three thumbs-up per performance.) Display a leaderboard to keep the competition fierce.

Dade uses this virtual event idea for her non-profit clients who support people living with HIV and AIDS. But it would also be an on-brand experience for organizations that want to support the LGBTQ community, raise awareness for an anti-bullying campaign, or simply promote a culture of creativity and inclusivity.  

5. Add Chats, Q&As and Polls

Over the past year and half, RockIt Events, a boutique marketing and events agency in Scotts Valley, California, has successfully made the switch from live events to award-winning virtual events. Founder Heather Hite leads all types of corporate events, including user conferences, sales kick offs, trade shows, road shows, president's club incentives, corporate parties, internal client meetings, and more.

RockIt Events recently hosted a 20,000-person event for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. During this virtual conference, RockIt Events embedded live Q&A, chat, and polling features into the video player, allowing attendees to interact with executives, speakers, and Aruba content experts in real time.

Aruba also hosted live polls ranging from technical questions related to the session content to polls where the audience could select their favorite event mascot. Q&As, chats, and polls require input from the audience, which keeps attendees engaged. According to Hite, "Out of the 20,000 event attendees, nearly 17,000 participated in the chat, Q&A, or polls."

6. Set Up a Virtual Engagement Zone

Another favorite event idea from RockIt Events, their virtual engagement zone features a virtual photo booth, gamification, live music, and more. The virtual photo booth allows attendees to upload or customize a picture, gif, or boomerang with a variety of stickers, backgrounds, and photo frames — all branded for the event.

Attendees can then post the images on social media, using the event hashtag. This helps promote the event with user generated content — a common feature of live events that's often lost when they go virtual.

Hite tells us that at the Aruba event, "Over 1,000 attendees participated in the branded, virtual photo booth. Nearly all attendees joined in on the personalized, gamification journeys as well."

The virtual engagement zone also included virtual swag bags with items such as digital coloring books and custom Zoom backgrounds. And there were a variety of musical performances, including a live DJ, dueling DJs, a band, dancers, and more.

7. Play Virtual Family Feud

Virtual games are great team building activities for remote teams. Dawne Eisenberg of Pop! Events Group in Toronto, Ontario, uses the popular trivia game show, Family Feud, as her basis for a fun virtual event idea.

Just like in Family Feud, you can divide your event attendees into teams. Ask trivia questions with multiple answers, and have each team try to guess the most common answers. Create a branded version of this game by asking questions related to your company and its products.

You can even use Family Feud as a unique team training exercise. Teams that know more about your products can win prizes for providing the right answers. Teams that know less will learn as they go.

According to Eisenberg, "This activation has really helped companies increase employee engagement while working from home."

8. Create Immersive Energy Breaks

As the President and Founder of CSP Worldwide Event Management, headquartered in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, Carey Smolensky has been producing events for over four decades. His favorite virtual event idea is to use breakout sessions — or "energy breaks," as he calls them — to keep event attendees engaged.

During designated event breaks, CSP Worldwide keeps the energy high with an MC, a DJ, thought provoking trivia, gamification based on company culture, and the use of camera, mic, and messaging features to create engaging competitions.

According to Smolensky, these energy breaks have led to an "overwhelming positive response" and have helped to promote an "exciting camaraderie between attendees."

9. Add Visual Storytelling

Nirjary M. Desai, Chief Experience Officer at KIS(cubed) Events — a global events agency with offices in Atlanta, Georgia — says that the key to a good virtual experience is "creating it in a way that the audience and participants engage with the brand [and] mission of the event from the comfort of their home."

Brand storytelling is a key aspect of Desai's events, which incorporate brand color schemes, themes, media, and products. KIS(cubed) also delivers mailers and experience boxes before the event so attendees can interact with the brand in a more tangible way.

In order to use storytelling successfully, your event — like every story — needs a hero. The hero can be your company, your employees, or your customers, depending on who you're celebrating. Tell the story of an obstacle that your hero overcame in order to get where they are today.

According to Desai, it's "important not to lose the human connection. [You need to] make people feel engaged and valued."

10. Set Up a Virtual Casino

Virtual event ideas: A man holds poker chips, representing a virtual casino night

Claudia Zervos of Your Great Event in Glendale, California, specializes in fundraising events for clients in the non-profit sector. One of her favorite virtual event ideas is to set up a virtual casino, featuring online versions of traditional casino games like poker, blackjack, and roulette.

According to Zervos, "This particular theme has been very successful in keeping the audience engaged — AND supportive in the fundraising goals of the organization."

If, rather than raising money, your goal is to recognize your clients and employees, you can use this idea without requiring a buy-in for attendees to participate. Simply give rewards to the winners of your virtual casino night.

11. Broadcast Your Event From a Professional Studio

Using a film studio to record and live stream your event can add a level of professionalism to your virtual experience. Ryan Zynger, owner of Zynger Events in Los Angeles, California, rented out a studio in Houston, Texas, to broadcast a recent event for their client Aspen Challenge.

According to Zynger, "Having a live host in a studio with some branding, props and room to move around, made it a lot more engaging and exciting!"

Zynger personalized the event for attendees by streaming participant's faces in a video used on all breaks. They also had a DJ play music and used their online platform to highlight participants' dance moves. This allowed them to feature all of the event participants on screen.

The professional production value made all of their on-screen elements a success. "It was quite the show!" Zynger says.

12. Bring in Familiar Decor

Jen Hansen, Senior Event Specialist, at Event Lab in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, suggests incorporating familiar decor elements from your live events to make the transition to virtual more seamless.

According to Hansen, "Since many causes are lucky enough to have repeat attendees, the recurring decor items (such as a red carpet entrance, chandeliers, silent auction tables, etc.) make attendees feel comfortable, familiar, and as if they are actually a part of the live event atmosphere that they are so used to."

If you host an annual soirée, consider adapting your traditional activities for a digital space. Try to recreate the emotional experience that attendees would typically have at your event.  

Hansen tells us, "I think creating a comfortable, yet engaging atmosphere helps ignite generosity and philanthropy as it sparks all the feels that attendees are used to feeling inside a live event space."

Capturing that experience in a virtual space can lead to long-term results for your annual event. If you can create a successful virtual experience, you'll be able to stick with virtual events or use a hybrid event model to reach a wider audience in future years.

Our Favorite Virtual Event Idea

Virtual event ideas: Hoppier cards used to fund food and beverage for virtual event attendees

The end may be in sight for social distancing, but for virtual events, the future looks bright. More companies have made a permanent shift to virtual teams, and virtual platforms have allowed businesses to get closer to their global customers and business partners. A well-designed virtual event helps build on these relations.  

At Hoppier, creating rewarding virtual experiences is what we do. Hoppier's virtual cards allow event attendees to order food and beverages from local restaurants and national vendors — recreating the catering experience they would have at a live event (but better, because now they get to choose their own food!).

You can also use Hoppier cards to provide event swag or offer prizes to the winner of your virtual casino night or Family Feud game. And unlike traditional gift cards, any unused funds on your Hoppier cards can be refunded after your event. Sign up for a free demo to learn how Hoppier can increase engagement at your next virtual event.

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