Virtual Events: How to Connect with Your Audience Online

April 01, 2020
By iQ Staff
Computer screen with video call interface next to an envelope that reads "YOU ARE virtually INVITED".

Many industries are built on bringing people together. Yet, around the world, businesses are being forced to change how they operate and bring their services to customers in new ways. Restaurants are offering takeout. Grocery stories are delivering. Musicians are live-streaming concerts and companies are holding client meetings via videoconference.

In the absence of physical interaction, digital platforms provide a gathering place for people to connect over a shared experience. They allow us to simply be together, which is especially important during a time when we are all experiencing isolation.

Ready to bring your next event online? Follow these tips to make your virtual event a success.


Reach new audiences

In-person events limit attendees to your immediate location or require them to travel to get to you. Bringing your event online may allow you to reach a more global audience bonded by subject matter, not just location. Identify potential opportunities to engage with new customers. Use relevant social media hashtags, post in Facebook and LinkedIn Groups, and target those groups through paid promotion to get the word out.


Get creative

Think beyond presentation slides and talking heads — experiment with different formats of interacting with your viewers. Walk your audience through a product demo. Do a virtual panel with speakers from different locations. Use a green screen to put your audience into a new environment that showcases your product or technology. Plan a series of fireside chats with different industry experts that people can easily consume during their lunch break. Some conference organizers are even facilitating ChatRoulette-style virtual networking, matching attendees up for quick video chats.

One way to bring the event to your attendees is to mail them an event souvenir, booklet, swag item or prop in advance — something relevant to your presentation or that will simply enhance excitement and engagement. You might consider sealing the item with a “Do not open until” sticker so everyone can open it on camera at the same time.


Broaden your call for speakers

Leverage the expertise of people outside your immediate vicinity. Now that location isn’t a factor, reach out to your extended network of college alumni groups, professional organizations and LinkedIn connections to see if they’d be willing to participate in a virtual roundtable discussion or Q&A session. This is an opportunity to engage with people at every level of your industry, from leaders who can share big-picture insights to technical experts who can lead how-to demos.

“Have a clear vision of the experience you want to provide your audience.”


Set your event format and agenda

Have a clear vision of the experience you want to provide your audience. When they sign on, what will they be looking at? Do you want a more professional, polished feel or are you OK with a regular webcam and home office background? Do you want to ask your audience questions throughout your discussion and use their live feedback to adjust your presentation? Do you want to take live questions throughout or save them for the end? Prepare your agenda and plan for how you will execute with the technology and setup you have.

Familiarize yourself with the platform beforehand, including how to switch from your camera to your screen to other speakers’ cameras. If you have other presenters, schedule a pre-event dry run to walk through the agenda, ensure they’re comfortable with the technology and know when it’s their turn to talk.


Let people know what to expect

Based on the format of the event, the number of participants and presenters, and technology features, think through your ground rules and send a pre-event email to communicate expectations. Let attendees know how long the session will last and if they should plan to be on camera. Create a protocol for asking questions or leave room for a Q&A session at the end. If you plan on sending a recorded session or slides, make it clear upfront so people can engage more with the presentation instead of taking notes.


Seize post-event opportunities

After your virtual event is over, take steps to ensure you get the most out of your work. Post a recording of the event on your website as content, edit it into bite-sized videos for social media and repurpose your talking points into a blog post.

Growing your email list through virtual event registrations gives you a captive audience that you know is interested in what you have to say. Be sure to follow up your event with an email to attendees that includes supplemental links and materials. Point them back to your website to download your related e-book or register for your next event.

With in-person events canceled for the foreseeable future, consider holding your next event online and take advantage of the opportunity to connect with your customers, clients, colleagues or fans.


Want more? Check out the rest of our virtual events series for tips and tactics on connecting with an online audience.

Part 2: How to plan your next virtual event

Part 3: 8 technical tips for effortless virtual presenting

Part 4: 5 Steps to a Flawless Virtual Presentation