Your Ultimate Guide to Planning & Hosting Virtual Events
Online and hybrid events give you greater flexibility to reach more people in new ways. Use our step-by-step guide to plan and execute a successful virtual event of any size or scale.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
03Using the right tools
04Building an interactive experience
05Preparing for your event
06Promoting your event
07Hosting your event
Why host a virtual event?
Whether you’re affected by travel and venue restrictions or simply looking to bring your event to a larger audience while saving time and money, there are a number of reasons to move your in-person event online.
When your speakers and attendees can join from anywhere, it creates amazing opportunities for networking, knowledge sharing, teaching and learning, and connecting on a more personal level.
Even if you aren’t ready to go 100% online, you can still add a virtual component to expand your reach. Hybrid events create an experience that in-person and virtual audiences can enjoy together.
of event organizers plan to keep their virtual audience once they go back to in-person events1
The best online events are...
Live and interactive
Live experiences are more interactive than pre-recorded content, enabling greater connections.See how we made our first virtual Zoomtopia 95% live.
Make your event come to life with immersive experiences that bring attendees together.EUNIS created unique online experiences at its first Digital Congress.
Build the experience around your audience’s unique needs and preferences.The Marche du Film - Cannes Film Festival went virtual using Zoom API and SDK.
True to your brand
Let your event format and content reflect your brand to the people who love it.Storytelling and conversation are at the heart of TEDxMelbourne's online events.
of people agree that video creates a greater sense of engagement2
Ask the right questions
Asking the right questions will allow you to build a strong foundation for planning and making decisions, from choosing the right speakers to figuring out how and where you should promote your event. Here’s a list of questions to get you started.
Who’s my target audience?
Knowing your target audience will help you shape your entire event experience, from your agenda and schedule to the content you provide.
Why should my audience attend?
Consider what value you can bring to your audience in terms of content, networking, and other opportunities.
What experience do I want my audience to have?
Immersive, interactive, collaborative — think about how you want your attendees to engage with the content, speakers, and other event-goers.
What objectives do I want this event to achieve?
Whether you want to educate current customers or find potential leads, understand your goals and objectives and create a strategy around achieving them.
How much time do I need to plan my virtual event?
For first-time virtual event planners, we recommend no less than four to six weeks for most events. Give yourself at least 12 weeks for a large, multi-day online event with concurrent tracks.
What kind of tech support do I need?
Engage your IT team (or hire a tech expert early on — Zoom offers event experts to assist customers with setup, planning, rehearsal, and live support) and include them in all your meetings to identify technology limitations, recommend solutions, test, and fix issues.
What’s my virtual event budget?
Allocate budget for attendee acquisition and marketing, content development, speaker fees, attendee gifts, and video and audio equipment.
How will I measure the success of my event?
Metrics will vary depending on your event objectives, audience size, industry, and type of event.
A few to consider are:
- Number of registrations
- Percentage of registrants who attended
- New leads generated for sales
- Sessions attended
- Survey results
- Virtual event and session NPS
- Number of demos
- Meetings held
- Social media mentions
- Online reviews
- Revenue generated
Make sure you set up ways to track metrics that are most important to you.
Using the right tools
Meetings, webinars & integrations
The right tools will make planning easier and help your event go more smoothly. Depending on the experience you want to provide, research and select your tools in the early stages of planning so you can make the right decisions for your event and be more efficient with your time and efforts.
Zoom Meetings or Zoom Video Webinars?
Deciding whether to use Zoom Meetings or Zoom Video Webinars — or both — may be one of the most important choices you’ll make for your virtual event. The right product will allow you to design an experience that meets your objectives and ultimately results in a successful event.
For example, when planning a larger conference, you may want to use the webinar platform for keynotes, guest speakers, and entertainment (think main stage) and the meetings platform for breakout tracks and smaller roundtable discussions.
Consider these three key factors when choosing between a meeting or webinar format:
Do you want participants to interact with each other, or do you want the focus on your presenters?
If you want the audience to be on video, speak, or share their screen, then go with Zoom Meetings.
If you want the event to be view-only, where the host controls which attendees are seen or heard, then go with the webinar platform.
Internal or external audience
Attendees you know (e.g., employees or customers) often pose less risk of being disruptive and may want the interaction that Zoom Meetings offers. Zoom Video Webinars is a better choice for events where you’re dealing with large groups of unknown attendees, because it gives you more control over factors like who can speak and be on camera
Use Zoom Meetings for:
Smaller, interactive trainings
Use Zoom Video Webinars for:
Main stage presentations
Live event entertainment
Product demonstrations to a large audience
Leveraging Zoom integrations
Integrate Zoom with your existing tech stack to run your online event more efficiently.Visit the Zoom App Marketplace for 1,000+ integrations!
Want to charge for your session? Connect Zoom with PayPal directly, and Eventbrite or CVent through Zapier, to streamline the payment process.
Building an interactive experience
Design your event world
What makes a good event? It’s all about the experience you give your audience.
An online event can be so much more than sitting at a computer viewing a live feed or video. If you’re taking an event that’s usually in person and transforming it into a virtual experience, be creative and thoughtful in bringing some of those interactive elements online.
From pre-event prep to the live experience, see how you can build interactivity and engagement into your event.
Create an engaging agenda
A virtual event should have a quicker pace that keeps attendees engaged and helps prevent drop-off.
- Keep session length to less than an hour — and allow time for Q&A to maintain engagement through the end of the session
- Schedule breaks between sessions
- For multi-day conferences, consider ending your day earlier than you would in person
- Expecting a global audience? Create a follow-the-sun agenda with region-specific sessions
- Include networking sessions using Zoom Meetings and the Breakout Rooms feature
Topic discussions on Zoom Chat
Use Zoom Chat to allow registered participants to connect and network before and during your event. Set up and promote channels with all participants two weeks before the event to start a dialogue and pose questions to encourage attendees to interact. During the event, you can create chat channels on different session topics to continue engagement.
For larger conferences, you may want to invest in building a digital world where attendees can explore and where partners can have virtual “booths.” Some platforms even allow participants to create avatars that can interact in a virtual environment.
What would your attendees have received at an in-person event? Send it in the mail or with a delivery service for a happy surprise.
- Branded swag
- Gourmet snacks
- Personalized keepsake
- Partner giveaways
- Food delivery gift cards for a virtual lunch
The Q&A feature allows attendees in a webinar to submit questions for live or written responses during the session. Here are a few tips for using Q&A during a webinar:
- If you anticipate a large audience, coordinate with panelists or bring in other hosts to help answer questions during the event.
- You may want to designate members of your team to manage the Q&A so presenters can focus on speaking. If your Q&A team is not participating in audio or video, you can hide their video feed via the Hide Non-Video Participants feature.
- Have a few thought-provoking questions prepared, in case you don’t receive enough high-quality attendee questions to fill the allotted time for Q&A.
- Consider your audience and potential for disruptive or inappropriate behavior when setting up your Q&A. For an internal audience, you may want to be more transparent with showing questions and responses, while a large-scale, general admission event may require more restricted Q&A settings.
- You can adjust Q&A settings during a webinar to allow or disable anonymous questions, or change whether attendees can view, comment, or upvote questions.
- Review the Q&A report after your webinar and follow up with attendees whose questions weren’t answered live.
Get real-time feedback from your audience or gauge their level of understanding with the content you’re presenting using the Polling feature. You can set up poll questions and choices before your event and launch your pre-set polls during the session.
Let attendees engage with each other in smaller groups during your event. You can assign attendees to Breakout Rooms in real time, pre-assign attendees, or allow them to self-select which room they want to join and move freely between rooms.All you need to know about Zoom Breakout Rooms.
Ask for feedback
Send a post-event survey to collect feedback after your event. If you’re using Zoom Video Webinars, you can set up the survey to launch automatically after your guests leave the session.
Want to see these features in action?
Request a demo with a Zoom expert.Request a demo
Preparing for your event
Get your team ready
Running a successful online event is a team effort! You’ll need to prepare your speakers and have your event team aligned to make sure everything runs smoothly. Run through our event checklists to ensure you don’t miss a beat.
Production team checklist
Streamline your production team
Designate your producer(s) that will be in charge of all things production related.
Create a Zoom Chat channel
Leverage Zoom Chat to create dedicated channels with your team planning the virtual event to stay aligned on tasks and action items. Zoom Chat allows you to collaborate in real time with internal as well as external team members.
Create a production schedule
Your production schedule should include a timeline of all sessions, presenter information, transitions, procedures, and breaks, and when they will take place.
Create an event workflow
Clearly define and visualize your online event experience with technical specs for each session, live streaming options, and other details to align producers with technical and presentation teams.
Technical team checklist
Set up meeting and/or webinar settings
Work with the presentation team to clearly define and enable settings for each session — for example, if Q&A is enabled or if attendees can chat.
Enable practice session
When scheduling your webinar, be sure to select “Enable practice session” so hosts and panelists can join the webinar platform early to set up.
If you’re using Zoom Video Webinars, each panelist is required to join using a unique link sent to them by email. Once speakers have been chosen and your webinar has been scheduled, send an invitation link and make sure they’ve received it.
Schedule a dry run
Do a dry run with your presenters to test cameras, microphones, lighting, and other settings, and practice intros, content, and transitions. Encourage them to join the dry run with the equipment they’ll be using on the day of the event.Get your dry run checklist
Set up livestreaming
Presentation team checklist
Prepare your presenters
Send presenters how-to resources for using Zoom and ensuring audio and video quality ahead of time.
Create a panelist schedule
If your session has multiple speakers presenting, create a schedule and let each presenter know how much time they’ll have.
Gather speaker materials
Ask speakers to submit their presentation content, bios, and audience questions (for live polling or Q&A) well ahead of time.
Hardwire your internet connection
This will help you avoid any tech issues with an unstable wifi connection, which can affect audio quality and the overall attendee experience. Encourage presenters to do the same.
Minimize background noise
Use a standalone microphone or good headset for the best audio quality. Set your audio settings to suppress background noise.
Open your video settings to enable HD, adjust for low lighting, and touch up your appearance if needed.
Set up your background
You can create a branded virtual background for all presenters that shows their name, company, and title. If you prefer not to use a virtual background, make sure your real background is clean and uncluttered.
Dress to impress
Choose solid colors over stripes or small, busy patterns. If you have a green screen, make sure what you’re wearing is a different color!
Promoting your event
Drive registration & attendance
You can design the most amazing event experience in the world, but if you don’t take the time to promote it, your target audience won’t know about it. Create assets that allow you to market your event effectively and drive attendees to your website to learn more.
Your landing page or event website should provide your visitors with all the information they need to register and attend your event. It should also communicate the value your event will bring to visitors — what’s in it for them, and why they can’t miss it.
What to include on your event website:
Brief event overview
What’s it about? Who’s it for? Give attendees a taste of what to expect in 1-2 short paragraphs.
Agenda and schedule
Don’t forget the time zone!
Include a short description of each session.
Include a photo and short bio to promote your speakers’ credentials.
Exhibitors and sponsors
Showcase sponsors supporting your event with logos and company info.
Compile a list of resources, like blog posts or websites for further reading, or an event chat channel on Zoom for event-goers.
Answer common questions like “What’s the cost to attend?” and “Will I be able to view recorded sessions after the event?”
Draw your audience in and promote your brand with visual assets that persuade target prospects to attend.
Zoom Video Webinars allows you to customize your registration page with your organization’s branding and tailored questions.
A sizzle reel can also help generate excitement about your event on social media and in other marketing efforts.
Marketing your event
Start promoting your online event at least two to three weeks ahead of time to drive registration numbers. Don’t forget to create source tracking links for webinar registration to see which marketing efforts are most effective.
Send marketing emails and reminders. A/B test your subject lines and consider two to three mailers prior to the event to maintain awareness. Consider using video content in emails to get prospects and registrants excited about the event.
Content marketing enables you to tell the story of your event, provide information, and go more in-depth than an email. Use the right keywords to increase organic traffic.
A press release and media outreach highlighting notable speakers and other compelling details can get your event in front of more eyes. Put together a media list with industry publications and look for outlets that cover events like yours to reach your target audience. Be sure to offer interested reporters invitations to the live event.
Get followers buzzing with an event hashtag, graphics, and social media campaign. Don’t forget about ads and boosted posts to go beyond organic reach.
Partner and speaker marketing
Create visual assets and sample social posts partners and speakers can easily use, like a graphic template they can tweak to add their name and session information.
Hosting your event
You’ve done the planning and prepping. Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty: hosting your event. From the dry run (absolutely necessary!) to the big day, here’s what you need to keep in mind.
1. Hold a dry run / dress rehearsal
Schedule a dry run about one week before your event with your production team, event hosts, speakers, and anyone else with an active role, to address any issues before the big day.Dry run checklist: Everything you need to go over
2. Set speakers up for success
Provide your speakers and panelists with tech setup tips so they're prepared to look their best.
3. Join the practice session
A webinar practice session lets the host start the webinar and allows only the panelists and co-hosts to join. Give your speakers a call time to join 10 to 20 minutes earlier than the event starts so they can join the practice session, test their audio and video, and troubleshoot last-minute problems before broadcasting live.
1. Open the doors early
Try to launch your webinar a few minutes early to allow attendees time to join before the program starts. If you want to play welcome music, make sure it’s royalty-free.
2. Check your settings
While attendees are joining, this is a perfect time to make sure your meeting or webinar settings are correct. Check to see if you’re recording and livestreaming to the proper platforms, and start the livestream if it’s not automatically enabled. Also ensure Q&A settings are correctly enabled and that panelists and co-hosts have the right permissions.
3. Opening script
Kick off your event with a short housekeeping announcement letting attendees know whether the webinar will be recorded, how to submit questions, and what the webinar is about. Don’t forget to thank speakers and sponsors!
Leverage content & engage attendees
That’s a wrap! Once your event is over, that doesn’t mean the work is complete. Take a few extra steps to collect feedback, leverage recordings, and follow up with leads so you can get the most out of the event that you worked so hard to execute.
Capture feedback from attendees on what worked well and areas for improvement. Use the survey to collect the Net Promoter Score from attendees for the overall event and for each session.
Edit recordings and transcripts, and make them available on your website or event page. If you like, you can gate the content to collect user data from viewers accessing the recordings.
Send an email to attendees with a link to the event recordings and additional resources.
Leverage insights from reports to qualify leads and utilize the key integrations mentioned above to funnel leads to sales.
Make your next online event even better than the last by assessing what worked and what didn’t. Utilize attendee data and feedback from the reports, as well as any speakers and panelists, and track engagement with your content and other event features.
Take your next event online
Want to learn more? Contact our sales team to get started with your virtual event today.