Categories Virtual events

How to Host a Virtual Conference That Draws a Crowd

virtual conference: screenshot of Gather app

You have a packed event full of attendees. There are keynote speakers, discussion panels, trade show exhibitions, and sponsored booths.

This must be an in-person conference, right? Not exactly. You’re actually hosting a virtual conference while sitting comfortably in your home.

Online conferences aren’t like virtual meetings or webinars. They’re more intensive, can last for days, and have interactive experiences.

Attendees meet new people, learn from industry experts, and walk away with a wealth of new knowledge.

Let’s look at the benefits of going virtual and give you simple steps to host your own conference.

4 Benefits of a Virtual Conference

You don’t need to be in person to throw a successful conference. Going virtual gives you plenty of benefits that in-person events lack. 

1. Stretch Your Budget

Virtual conferences cost much less than physical conferences. You save on travel, accommodation, venue, event staff, and printed materials. 

2. Hosting Is Convenient 

Going virtual simplifies planning details. You don’t need to find a venue or event staff. Instead, find virtual conference software and plan to host the event from your laptop.

3. Reach a Global Audience

Virtual conferences pull attendees from all around the world rather than those who are local or willing to travel. 

4. It’s a Safe Bet

A great deal of planning and potential expenses go to waste if you cancel an in-person event. But there’s no need to cancel an online event, regardless of what’s going on in the world.

How to Host a Virtual Conference

Virtual conferences require planning, research, marketing, and execution. Follow these six steps to host a successful virtual conference:

1. Define Event Strategy and Set Goals

FinCon website homepage

Image credit: FinCon

Come up with a general theme, purpose, and structure for your conference to market to potential attendees. Focus on a specific audience, and give people a reason to attend.

Take this example from a personal finance conference, FinCon:

  • Theme: “Digital marketing event for anyone creating personal finance content on the internet”
  • Purpose: Learn how to create, promote, and profit from digital content
  • Structure: Keynotes, breakout sessions, mentoring program, and networking opportunities

Tell people how the conference will help them. Virtual conferences can help vendors and attendees:

  • Find new leads
  • Grow their brand
  • Gain customer trust
  • Build customer loyalty
  • Increase sales
  • Promote new products or services

2. Choose a Virtual Conference Platform

Pick event software that gives an interactive conference experience so everyone stays engaged. Look for some of the following features:

Event Layouts

Conferences should be easy to navigate and have areas for different activities. Choose a platform that lets you create spaces for these activities:

  • Keynote speeches
  • Breakout sessions
  • Networking opportunities
  • Information help desk
  • Branded exhibit booths

Many virtual event platforms only have a dashboard with a menu. However, virtual platforms like Gather let you create an interactive 2-D layout that lets attendees walk around your conference — almost like at an in-person event.

Networking Opportunities

People will often join your conference to meet new people. So, help them get to know each other.

This means audio, video chat, and messaging options for one-on-one conversations and group discussions. Attendees should be able to talk with presenters, exhibitors, sponsors, and other attendees.

Gather lets users meet as they explore the conference. As you walk up to a person with your avatar, a video chat pops up and you can introduce yourself — just like in real life.

Engagement Tools

It’s your responsibility to keep attendees engaged with your conference. Virtual conference platforms have unique features that will keep attendees interested:

  • Live webinars
  • Live Q&A sessions
  • Panel discussions
  • Polling
  • Gamification
  • Video conferencing
  • Screen sharing
  • Live stream
  • Whiteboards
  • Virtual handouts

3. Invite Speakers and Sponsors

virtual conference: Reuters MOMENTUM website

Image credit: Reuters MOMENTUM

Choose speakers who will draw a crowd and have valuable experience.

For example, the Reuters MOMENTUM conference chose C-level speakers from Boeing, Twitter, and Microsoft. They spoke on topics like building a better society through technology, which match the overall theme of the conference.

Sponsors also attract attendees and fund your conference. They’ll want to know the benefits of joining your conference. They care about return on investment and will need a reason to contribute.

When you send email invites to potential sponsors, talk about the benefits of this relationship. It can help them:

  • Build brand awareness
  • Increase sales
  • Access new leads
  • Promote products or services
  • Collect information from their target audience
  • Find new industry partners

You can also let people from their company give presentations.

4. Prepare Event Content

Collect content from sponsors and speakers ahead of time. Contributors should have:

  • Virtual handouts
  • Brand images (logos, banners, colors)
  • Presentation decks, images, and videos
  • Speech topics

Add this content to your virtual conference platform — make sure it’s ready to go well before your launch date.

Choose discussion topics with your speakers. You can have some input, but let them decide topics that match their expertise and the conference theme.

5. Market Your Event

You can’t have a conference without attendees. Here are some places where event marketing can increase attendance.

Event Landing Page

Inbound website

Image credit: INBOUND

An effective landing page includes event details, a link to the conference agenda, and a registration form.

INBOUND is a conference hosted by HubSpot. The user-friendly landing page has links to speaker bios, the event agenda, sponsor information, and registration.

An agenda is key. People will want to know the following details:

  • Keynote speakers
  • Speaker topics
  • Speaker bios
  • Date, time, and duration
  • Pricing

Keep event registration as simple as possible to increase sign-ups. Don’t ask for too much information — a first name and email address should be enough.

Email Marketing

Send invitations to your email list. Include event details, a registration link, and a link to your landing page to find more event information.

Personalize emails by using an attendee’s first name in subject lines or throughout email content.

Get people excited with subject lines like “It’s not too late! MarketingCon registration ends May 1st” or “Guess which CEO just joined our speaker list?”

Send attendees around three total emails to remind them of the upcoming event. Send one email after they sign up, another week before the event, and one right before the event starts.

Social Media Marketing

Use social media channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to update guests and find potential attendees. Start posting content at least a month ahead of time. Here are some ideas:

  • Introduce speakers and give brief bios.
  • Start discussions that relate to conference topics.
  • Tag sponsors or speakers in posts.
  • Create a hashtag for your event.

You can also encourage your employees or event organizers to share event details on their social media pages. The wider your reach, the more you can grow attendance.

6. Sign in Early and Give Support

virtual conference: screenshot of Gather app's welcome page

You don’t want laggy video or faulty audio equipment.

Sign in early to test video and audio quality. Ask your speakers to do the same. Tip: Platforms like Gather lets you test your tech setup before entering the conference space. 

Make sure you’re logged in during the entire event to provide support. You can even dedicate an information help desk.

Better Than in-Person Conferences

Virtual conferences are a smart choice for event planners. You’ll save money, simplify event planning, and reach a global audience.

These events may seem complicated. But if you follow the steps above, you can take the stress out of planning and host a successful event.Plan the event strategy, choose a platform, find speakers, and start marketing your conference. Most importantly, choose a platform that works for you. Try Gather for free — it’s a fun, user-friendly way to host virtual conferences.