How to make your online event a huge success

Vinda Souza, VP of global communications at Bullhorn, shares, from experience, her top tips for running an online conference.

two young people using laptops outdoors

Many marketing teams’ events have been scrapped through to the end of the year. As a result, many marketers are being tasked with creating a virtual event for their company. And, as more people do it, it becomes increasingly difficult to stand out.

At Bullhorn, we host Engage events for the staffing industry every year across the world. In light of the pandemic, for the first time, we moved the event online, and I’m pleased to say that it was a success. We had nearly 4,000 people register and have heard great feedback from attendees. It was such a positive experience that we are planning on doing it again towards the end of this year, specifically for Europe.

As the head of our communications practice, planning the content and speakers for the event fell to me and my team. Here are my top tips for making your online event stand out.

1. Ensure you have a diverse range of speakers

It has always been important to have a diverse range of speakers and panellists, but now it’s crucial. Your audience will be looking out for it – I think it’s no coincidence that the talk with neuroscientist Dr Marcia Goddard on unconscious bias was one of the most popular sessions at EngageX. Simply put, the best way to ensure you have proper representation on the speakers’ side is to have good representation on the organisation side. Make sure you have all sorts of people looking for panellists, and you’ll be more likely to have all kinds of people in your line-up. I truly believe that one of the reasons we always have such a diverse group of speakers at our Engage events is because a woman of color (in this case, me) is tasked with finding those speakers. My unconscious instinct is to pursue speakers who I find interesting and like-minded, and therefore those speakers aren’t uniformly going to be Caucasian males.

2. Dress for success 

Zoom fatigue is real, and you need to avoid it. A talking head video in a dark basement, devoid of visual stimulation, with background noise and echoes, is tolerable in an ordinary Zoom meeting, but it won’t work for an online conference. Invest in your production value: make it visually appealing and interactive to make attendees feel like they’ve attended an event, not just logged into another conference call. Our creative team put together vibrant opening videos with bright colors and energetic music to keep people’s interest throughout the event.

3. Keep it light

Just because your event is online, it doesn’t mean you can’t have breakout times for chatting and non-work-related activities. At Bullhorn, we have a band called Stampede that plays at our in-person events every year, and we still played at EngageX this year, albeit just one song. It took quite a bit of planning, but it was well worth it – attendees said it was a great way to break up the sessions and it reminded them of happier times, when we were all able to safely congregate together.

4. Don’t find and replace

What works for a live event won’t necessarily work online – for instance, you can’t have breakout sessions that are an hour long with no visuals. People will fall asleep, play on their phones, or do laundry. Instead, you need ‘snackable’ content, live polling, pauses for interaction, cohesive slides, and compelling visuals.

5. Democratise your offering

In a time when so many people are struggling, you should consider eliminating or reducing registration costs. It makes sense to, anyway – even though there are some production costs involved, ultimately, you’re not making the same investments in a venue, food, and travel, which conference fees would generally offset. We made our EngageX event free because we are keenly aware that no online event is going to be as exciting or dynamic as an in-person event. Just as looking at a photograph of your friend isn’t as fun as meeting up with her.

6. Welcome your new guests

Another positive of an online event is that the people who couldn’t come to your in-person event because they couldn’t afford to travel, be away from their family, or have mobility concerns, can now attend your event. An online conference event can unite people whose paths might not have crossed otherwise. One of the best bits of feedback we got from our EngageX attendees was that they were thrilled to be able to send their whole teams, and that smaller firms that might not be willing to take their top producers away from their desks for several days of intensive travel and hotel stays were able to come to our online event and enjoy it. Expect more people to attend your event than usual and invite as many as possible – there’s no reason not to.

  • Bullhorn is a cloud computing company headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts.

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