A mystique surrounds virtual events because of their foundation in technology and the very images conjured up by the word “virtual”.
In reality, many of the principles that apply to successfully launching physical events apply to launching virtual events. As Kenny Lauer of event management firm George P. Johnson recently put it, “an event, is an event, is an event”. With that said, there are nuances associated with virtual events that must be considered.
One of the first mistakes that many make with their first virtual event is to select a technology platform as the first step. This is like selecting a venue for a physical event before you know what kind of an event you’ll be doing. As you wouldn’t select a venue for a physical event until your requirements were defined, neither should you decide on a virtual event technology platform until clearly defining your requirements for the event.
The process of defining your requirements for your first virtual event should be anchored to assessing audience needs and developing a plan to leverage the unique capabilities of virtual events to effectively meet those needs.
Once you have an idea for your event based on an assessment of audience needs in your market, it’s essential to validate the idea. The process of validating your virtual event with prospective attendees and sponsors before committing resources to a launch is a critical risk management technique and the secret sauce in launching both physical and virtual events.
In launching events over the past 15 years, I have developed the following process for validating potential event ideas. This process should be used before going forward with your first virtual event launch:
1. Specifically define your target audience and sponsor categories.
2. Identify current needs of both targeted attendees and sponsors. The success of your virtual event launch will be determined by your ability to meet a current market need more effectively than existing physical events.
3. Create a detailed description of the new event concept. The first two steps produce a clear definition of the event including a focused look at who the event is serving, what market needs the event is meeting and a sense of how your event will meet these needs in a superior manner to existing alternatives.
4. Secure support of indsutry “influentials.” Most markets are highly influenced by key associations, companies and individuals, this step provides a methodology for securing their support for your launch.
5. Prepare an event budget. In your first virtual event, expectations should be conservative. Modest revenue forecasts and thoughtful consideration of all expenses are important. One of the nuances in virtual events are unique costs like webinar production. Make sure they are contemplated and accounted for. Be sure to contemplate roles and responsibilities for launching your virtual event and build whatever temporary or contractor resources will be necessary into your budget.
6. Decide whether to pursue, modify or abandon the virtual event launch. With qualitative market feedback and a framework for the business opportunity, it’s decision time.
Whether your event is physical or virtual, there is no replacement for using solid risk management practices in event launches.
Note: This post was an excerpt from my June 2009 column in Folio Magazine.