How to plan amazing virtual events in 2021

Cassy Aite
July 15, 2021
How to plan amazing virtual events in 2021

In 2021, virtual events are where it’s at. It’s never been easier to transition your live event to a digital one and reach more people in the process. With event technology improving all the time and guests getting used to virtual platforms, virtual events are a marketing and engagement tool that’s set to remain popular — even as the world reopens and live events become an option again.

In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about virtual events. We’ll cover the main types of virtual events, how to plan and host one, and our favorite online event ideas to include.

What is a virtual event?

A virtual event is simply one that takes place online in a digital space — instead of happening at an in-person venue. Virtual events have risen in popularity and continue to be a great way to bring people together in one place, no matter their time zone or location.

You could host almost any kind of event as a virtual event, and it works equally well for personal and business events. Some types of events work better in a virtual space though. Here are some of the most popular virtual event types.

Virtual conference

Conferences are one of the most popular in-person events to transition to the virtual realm. These big, multi-featured events pair well with virtual event platforms where people can explore a digital space. The betting and gaming industry’s SBC Summit did exactly this with a virtual event space that mimicked a conference venue.

Virtual conferences typically feature keynote speakers, breakout sessions and workshops, and virtual networking areas dedicated to helping attendees learn, network, and explore ideas. These virtual events also often feature online trade shows where exhibitors gather to display their latest product launches and technology to potential buyers.

Webinars

Webinars are a simple type of online event where people log in to watch and engage with a presentation. Typically you’ll have one or more speakers that lead the audience through digital content like slide decks, videos, and interactive quizzes.

While most webinars are hosted live, you can also host pre-recorded content at specific times to give the illusion of it being live. This makes them a popular choice for businesses that want to bring new clients into their ecosystem through educational sessions and demos.

Live stream events

While you can’t beat the in-person experience of being at a live show or festival, live streaming brings some of that atmosphere into people’s homes and offices.

Live streaming comedy shows, music shows, festivals, and cultural events is becoming a popular way to enable more people to enjoy the things they love. Hosting a live stream event requires some technical support — there’s always a bigger risk when you go live — but they’re often worth the extra work and can create immersive experiences for guests.

With the pandemic causing disruption in 2020, many festivals and live shows were forced to cancel. Others, like Glastonbury, took the show online with live stream performances available through a ticketed event.

Virtual networking events

Virtual networking events make it easy for people to make connections with potential clients and partners wherever they’re based. They often take place in more casual environments like on a large Zoom video call or in specialized virtual networking event tools.

While in-person networking events can be hard to reach unless you’re hyperlocal, online networking makes it easier than ever to build great relationships across a distance. This breaks down barriers and can help create interesting and strong partnerships.

Team building events

Virtual team building events help bring your team closer together. A virtual format means remote teams can easily get together for a fun session focused on problem solving, teamwork, leadership, and relationship building.

You can get really creative with virtual team building events. They’re the ideal opportunity to try out a virtual escape room, set up logic challenges, or simply host a quiz night and a virtual happy hour.

Virtual classes

Virtual classes can be a great way to make education and learning more accessible. Instead of having to head to the local community college or another venue, attendees can join from their home or office to learn a new skill or improve an existing one.

Often, virtual classes take the form of an interactive video conferencing call where attendees can watch slide decks, answer questions, and take part in immersive learning. It's a great way for virtual teams to offer continuing education. For more practical and hybrid classes, this might be mixed with sending attendees a box of materials or using a Hoppier virtual card so they can buy learning materials in advance.

How to host a successful virtual event

A woman is excited attending virtual events on her laptop

While virtual events and in-person events often cover the same content, event planning for an online medium is a little different. You need to put more focus on event technology, and consider how you’ll handle event promotion.

Here’s our advice on how to plan a successful virtual event.

Have a goal in mind

Every great event starts with a reason for existing. Before you get into the planning stages of your virtual event, have a clear goal that establishes what you want to achieve.

Your main goal might be to raise awareness of an upcoming product or service, or you might want to use your virtual event to try and convert interested audience members into customers for your monthly plan. Whatever your goal is, knowing it before you start planning means you can hyperfocus every detail of your event.

Where you can, make sure your goal is SMART — that’s Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Instead of using your virtual event to “sign up new customers,” switch your goal to something like “sign up 25 new customers to our starter plan.” It’s more focused and means that, down the line, you can measure the success of your event against your goal.

Sometimes it won’t be realistic to simply recreate your live event in digital format. In 2020, IMEX realized this, and instead of turning their popular B2B conference into a one day online event, they instead created PlanetIMEX — a learning hub for professionals. This meant the event still helped educate others, but in a different, more achievable format.

Plan your event

Once you have a goal in mind, you can start planning your virtual event. This is the stage where you’ll consider the event type, format, size, date and time, and a rough outline of how you want it to look and feel.

While you don’t need to worry about sourcing the perfect venue and negotiating with caterers or other in-person vendors, you’ll still need to manage the digital equivalents. Swap a venue for a virtual event platform, and in-person vendors for software suppliers. When it comes to catering, Hoppier virtual cards are a fun way to bring event catering to your guests — wherever they are.

If you’re planning a big virtual event or event planning isn’t within your skillset, hiring an event planner is a worthwhile investment. They’ll be able to take your ideas and create a strategic plan to make them a reality.

Invest in virtual event technology

Some virtual events are casual and a Zoom call provides all the platform support you need. For others, you’ll need to look at a more focused event tech solution to help you host an impressive online event.

The type of virtual event technology you need depends largely on the type of event you’re hosting and how immersive you want it to be. For a small yet quirky product launch, you might only need a virtual environment and some marketing software. For a big virtual conference, you’ll need a full event technology stack that makes planning, hosting, and marketing a breeze.

Virtual event technology helps you make your ideas a reality with the help of structure, automation, virtual spaces, and more. Some of the most popular types of tools include:

  • Website builders
  • Registration and ticketing platforms
  • Sales CRMs
  • Marketing automation software
  • Video conferencing apps
  • Gifting and catering apps
  • Event engagement apps
  • Event management platforms
  • Virtual environments
  • Collaboration tools

For an in-depth look at event tech, see our virtual event technology playbook. It gives you a detailed look at tools and trends, and explores how to find the right event technology for you.

Bring in event sponsors

Hosting any type of event can get expensive — even online events. To help offset the costs or simply to make it more of a community effort, bring sponsors onboard.

Event sponsors get access to your carefully built audience and the opportunity to raise brand awareness, promote products or services, and build their own lists of sales prospects to follow up with after the event. In return, you get to partner with a great brand and enjoy co-marketing opportunities — plus the sponsorship fees can help you pay for the event or invest to make it even better.

Seek event sponsors that feel like a natural fit with your brand, your event topic, and your values and goals. Build a sponsorship package that benefits both parties, and try to bring sponsors on board as early as possible. That way, you have the whole pre-event period to maximize the reach of your event together.

Promote your virtual event

For your virtual event to succeed, people need to know about it. While you can’t put up billboards or banners around the city to promote your conference, you can harness the power of online advertising. Create targeted lists based on your audience's behavior and interests, then reach your target audience on the social media platform where they spend their time — whether that’s Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

Another great way to promote your virtual event is through people. Partner with industry influencers, and look for ways to invite key people to be part of the event — whether that’s as a speaker, special guest, host, or sponsor.

For a closer look at how to plan and execute a great marketing strategy, take a look at our guide to event marketing. We’ll take you through tips, pitfalls to avoid, and exactly what you should feature in your event marketing plan.

8 immersive virtual event ideas

A musician plays for virtual events audiences

Anyone can host a virtual event, but hosting a great one is an art. Here are some of our favorite activities and feature ideas to help you host a truly impressive virtual event.

1. Host an online trivia quiz

A trivia quiz is a fun way to bring your event attendees together. It’s an ideal game idea for a casual virtual party, but it also works as an icebreaker or post-event activity for a virtual conference or networking event.

2. Hire a virtual DJ or entertainer

For a fun way to kick off or close your virtual event, a live streamed musical act or comedy show is a big draw. You could bring in top talent or local comedians, singers, bands, or entertainers from your hometown to put on a lively show for your event attendees. For smaller events, this can be a good icebreaker or first item on the agenda — while for larger events it’s an ideal event closer and pairs well with a virtual happy hour.

3. Create a virtual photo booth

One of the most popular features at a physical event is often the photo booth. It’s a space where people can get together and pose for funny snaps, and it's a great way to record memories or create user generated content. Take that experience online with a virtual photo booth where guests can take branded photos and share them on social media.

4. Host a virtual happy hour

At an in-person event, happy hour gives you an unrivaled opportunity to meet and talk with people from the event — whether that’s other attendees, sponsors, hosts, or speakers. It’s both a social and business networking opportunity. Recreate that experience online with a virtual happy hour, and use Hoppier virtual cards to give your attendees a balance that they can spend at their favorite local bar or drink supplier.

5. Set up speed networking

Speed networking is a great way to get to know other people at an event, especially if you’re new to the industry. It’s also the perfect way to introduce people to each other online with the help of virtual meetings. Create a dedicated virtual space and make room in your agenda for a speed networking session where people can talk one-on-one in a private virtual meeting for a few minutes.

6. Invite a live sketch artist

Event attendees often wonder whether they should be taking notes, and a virtual event is just the same. Give your attendees more chances to get involved and create an amazing event takeaway by inviting a live sketch artist to capture notes, ideas, and conversations at your online event in real time. Not only will you have practical notes for your attendees to take with them, but they’ll be visually attractive and a great marketing point for future events.

7. Create virtual coffee breaks

Sometimes guests crave a casual space to get away from the bustle of a live event. Give attendees the chance to relax, unwind, and catch up in a casual way with virtual coffee breaks. Whether you create a digital space using a virtual event platform or simply leave room in your schedule, this is also a great way to introduce some wellness into your event. For a wellness-focused event, combine it with optional mindfulness, yoga, or meditation sessions too.

8. Create a virtual swag bag

Everyone loves an event goody bag, even if they’re mostly full of promotional items. Give your attendees a fun post-event experience by creating a virtual swag bag. Seek out discounts and promotional offers from your sponsors and exhibitors, and create a digital bundle alongside a Hoppier virtual card. That way, your guests can use the balance on further learning, wellness, or entertainment after the event.

More virtual event ideas

Eager to add some more activities and experiences to your virtual event? Take a look at our guide to the best virtual event ideas for even more inspiration on how you can transform your event from bland to exciting — including tips to incorporate gamification, storytelling, and more.

An easy way to cater your virtual events

Virtual events are a great way to bring people together, market a product launch or new service, and support industry learning and innovation. With the right event technology and speakers, the best virtual events can be truly immersive — but they still lack the attendee experience of many live events.

Bring some of that live event feel to your virtual event with the help of Hoppier. Our virtual cards make it easy to handle event catering and corporate gifting for virtual events, by giving your guests a balance they can spend on the vendors of their choice. It’s an easy way to create a hybrid event feel without dealing with complicated logistics.

Food and drink your guests actually want

In-person events often feature catered snacks and meals, and even with the best choices it’s hard to please everyone. You run into the same problem when sending gift boxes for virtual events — there’s no easy way to create a food and drink basket that your guests will all love.

Hoppier allows you to offer personalized event catering in an affordable way. With a virtual card, your event attendees can choose to order coffee, snacks, or lunch from their favorite local restaurant or vendor.

Vendors that attendees can order catering from for virtual events

They don’t need to prepare lunch at home — instead they can enjoy a meal provided by you. Plus, it helps reduce food waste as your guests aren’t disposing of mailed out food they can’t or don’t want to eat.

Streamlined event catering management

Planning and hosting a virtual event is hard enough without having to add even more admin to the mix. Sending food and drink baskets or boxes to your event attendees might sound like a nice thought, but it adds layers of management and logistics issues that your team doesn’t need.

With Hoppier, your event catering management is more streamlined than ever. Instead of dealing with suppliers and shipping companies, you can simply add your event guests to your program and email them a virtual card loaded with a pre-set spending balance. It’s simple.

A virtual credit card spending limit

Simple doesn’t have to mean bland, though. Hoppier cards are fully customizable with custom color options and brand logos. You can also personalize the email your guests receive with their Hoppier card, so it’s another opportunity for brand messaging and engagement.

A virtual credit card to reward guests at virtual events

Not only does Hoppier simplify your planning and management, it can help you recover some of those typical event catering budget losses too. Any balance left unspent on Hoppier cards gets returned to you once the end date passes, so if your guest is a no show or doesn’t need to spend their whole balance, it isn’t lost.

Virtual events made easy

Virtual events are here to stay. They're a powerful marketing tool and hosting an amazing one can help you engage your target audience. With these tips and ideas, you should find it easier than ever to turn your event dreams into reality — creating an immersive online experience for your guests.

If you want to take your virtual event to the next level with hybrid elements, try Hoppier. Our virtual cards make event catering and gifting simple. They help you improve the event experience by letting your guests choose exactly what they want to eat and drink.

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