As blogger and international development specialist, Duncan Green, confesses:
With the occasional exception, my mood in conferences usually swings between boredom, despair and rage. The turgid/self-aggrandizing keynotes and coma-inducing panels, followed by people (usually men) asking ‘questions’ that are really comments, usually not on topic. The chairs who abdicate responsibility and let all the speakers over-run, so that the only genuinely productive bit of the day (networking at coffee breaks and lunch) gets squeezed. I end up dozing off, or furiously scribbling abuse in my notebook as a form of therapy, and hoping my neighbours can’t see what I’m writing. I probably look a bit unhinged…..
This matters both because of the lost opportunity that badly run events represent, and because they cost money and time.
When you’re considering hosting a virtual event, what are you trying to achieve? Here are a few suggestions:
- Grow awareness for your business. There are most likely competitors and other companies targeting the same target audience as you. Consider partnering with those other companies, or clearly defining your x-factor.
- Generate leads and acquire new customers
- Create a revenue stream from sponsorships.
- Cultivate relationships with influencers, and current customers.
- Spread your message
- Establish yourself as an authority and thought leader in your industry
These are all important aspects to consider before you begin to reach out to event speakers. The better you know your audience, the easier it is to understand the kinds of topics and speakers that they are interested in. If you have a clear range of how many people you expect to register, that will help sell your event to potential speakers, as it will provide them with the expected reach. Facebook ads are often one of the most common ways to promote a virtual conference and reach your specific audience.
In order for your event to be successful, you need attendees, but more importantly, you need attendees that are interested in your event, so make sure you take the time to really narrow in on them.
The great thing about hosting a virtual conference is that speakers can participate from anywhere.
Unsurprisingly, the crux of a successful event hinges on attracting the right speakers for your event that your target audience will be excited about. The great thing about hosting a virtual conference is that speakers can participate from anywhere, which eliminates any huge time or travel commitments. For really busy and highly sought after speakers, this increases the chances that they will say ‘yes’.
Keep in mind that this is a powerful partnership, as you can provide them with an amazing platform to reach audiences, and they will provide credibility for your brand. It’s also beneficial to seek out experts within your company. When reaching out to speakers, explain the purpose of the event, the benefits of aligning with your virtual conference, anything that you require from them, such as potential topics. It’s also important to create a system where you can follow up with them, and once you’ve agreed, a system where you keep in contact with them. Since everything is typically organized online, it’s important to have systems in place to keep you and your speakers in the loop and on track. This also helps and reminds your presenters to promote the event.
Consider scheduling a couple of calls with speakers in the prior weeks leading up to the event to ensure you’ve provided them with everything they need to be prepared. Talk through the expected points the speaker plans to discuss during the session and provide feedback to ensure each session is engaging, smooth, and successful. This can be achieved in a number of ways, choosing willing attendees to provide feedback during a live session, or collaborating with presenters to deliver part of the session, either pre-recorded or live. The basis of the call is to ensure the material and presentation lines up with the expectations initially set out. The content call ensures the presenters have actively thought about their material, how it is being delivered, and doing so in an engaging and valuable manner. It’s not meant to be a completed presentation at this time, but rather an overview of what the presentation will look like. This call is the perfect opportunity to provide feedback and time to help fill gaps, or revise accordingly based on the ideas you generate and the feedback you provide.
After the call has been completed and the presenter has some actionable feedback to improve or tailor the presentation, schedule a practice presentation. This is great to do about a week or two prior to the scheduled session and once they’ve had time to apply the feedback. This provides both the host and presenters with an opportunity to run through their session, or as much as they deem necessary, get final feedback, and ensure everyone is comfortable with the online platform used during the virtual conference.
- What is this conference about?
- Who is the intended audience?
- What do you hope to accomplish? What do you hope participants get out of the conference?
- Who will be on your planning committee? Does this group have the expertise, network, and time to get everything done or should more people be added to the committee?
- Is there anyone else who should be on the planning committee in order to increase diversity or representation? Think especially about if you have anyone with expertise or experience with accessibility and inclusion.
- What is your timeline? When would be a good date for your target audience to attend? (think about events and deadlines in your discipline like major conferences). What days of the week work best? What time of day works best? How will that work for people in different time zones?
- Is your timeline reasonable? Can you accomplish all the steps required in the time proposed?
- Will you have regular meetings of the organizing committee? How often?
- Where will these meetings be held? What technology will be used? Who will schedule them? (later in the “technology” section you will need to think about where you will keep notes)
What is the name of your conference?
- What is your conference hashtag?