How many times have you seen an advertisement for an event you desperately want to attend, then felt disappointment when you realized you couldn’t go?
This happens to people constantly for many reasons: an event is too far away, it’s at the wrong time, you can’t get childcare, or there are accessibility barriers.
With virtual events, many of these obstacles to attendance can disappear.
Virtual events open up a whole new set of opportunities for individuals or organizations looking to build their audiences and make an impact. And one powerful way to do this is by planning a virtual event series. In an event series, you can explore topics in greater depth and develop community over time.
If it sounds like a lot of work to plan not just one event but multiple events in succession, don’t worry. This post will walk you through the foundations of how to successfully plan a virtual event series, and explore the benefits of this model so you can be sure you’re investing your time in the right ways.
Ready to jump in? RSVP ‘attending’ and let’s get started!
What is a virtual event series?
A virtual event series refers to a series of regularly occurring programs tied together by a common theme. This can include both a finite series with a set number of sessions or ongoing, recurring events. An event series serves as a way to inspire conversation and provide a series of deep dives into subject matter — and with today’s technology, you can do it all online.
A virtual event series can take many forms. Here are some common examples.
Types of successful event series formats
The video below is an example of a recurring event that I plan each week — the Venture Café After Dark concert series, which comes at the end of each weekly Venture Café virtual gathering for innovators and entrepreneurs. It’s a great way to wind down a day of working, learning, and networking, and attendees know they can expect it each week.
Why plan a virtual event series?
In practical terms, a virtual event series gives you the space to explore multi-faceted or complex topics by breaking the content up into contained, digestible segments. You don’t want to overwhelm attendees with more information than they can handle in a single sitting, and there may be time limitations to your event. This is especially true with virtual events, when audience members’ attention spans may be shorter.
Whether it’s a course, a community discussion, or anything in between, recurring events also offer an invaluable way to build community. One reason for this can be explained by the contact hypothesis in psychology: The more that people interact, the more likely they are to become close. With an event series, you’re not only bringing people together — you’re bringing together people with a shared interest of some kind. Starting from a place of commonality sets attendees up for establishing fruitful connections.
From a marketing perspective, an event series is an engaging way to build an audience by delivering standout content over time. Each individual event represents another touchpoint with your audience. And when people know they can keep coming back to you for solid events, you can build your brand authority as a go-to resource in a particular field.
By taking a few simple steps in your planning process, you can increase your chances of success as you launch your virtual event series.
Planning the foundations of a virtual event series
It’s essential to consider the basics when planning your virtual event series, because they dictate the type of audience you’re going to attract. After considering the questions listed below, you’ll be able to kick your event off with a bang, and both you and your audience will have a clear vision for the series and why it’s relevant to them.
Start by determining if a virtual event series is the right format for your idea. Think through these questions:
Is it a priority to build a community around the recurring events?
Will the content and discussion build over time?
What will compel my audience to attend the event series, and not just one single event?
If you answered the above questions affirmatively, it’s time to move onto more specific practical considerations:
How long will my event run?
During what part of the day will I host my event?
What do I expect from my attendees?
What platform will I host my event on?
How often will the event take place?
Now let’s talk through each of these considerations more deeply.
Length of event
The length of your event should be dictated by the goals of your event and your key audience. For example, if you want to attract working professionals, a recurring two-hour event may be too heavy of a time commitment. Also consider that audience members are easily distracted from virtual events, so ensure your length of time is intentional and that you have enough content to fill your time window. In CIC’s network, virtual events in the one hour to 90 minute range tend to be the most popular and successful.
Time of day
The time of day also dictates who will be attending your event, so consider the times that your target audience will be free, then aim to schedule your event within that frame. If you know that your audience will mainly be working 9am to 5pm, aim to schedule your events in the early evenings or during the lunch time slot. At CIC, we’ve found that our lunchtime events tend to be most popular, as people look to break up their work day.
Setting audience expectations in advance
If you need your audience to do work in between sessions like reading or listening, make your expectations clear from the beginning so you don’t catch your audience off guard. Feeling unprepared can be a huge source of discomfort for an attendee and can often discourage engagement. Always provide material well in advance so that audience members have enough time to prepare. You can also help your audience feel prepared by closing each event segment with a preview of what’s to come in the next session and provide all necessary links. Consider sending a reminder email a few days before the next session with this information included.
Choose the right platform
What kind of engagement do you want from attendees during your event? Will they be mostly listening, interacting with one another heavily, or somewhere in between? The answer to this will determine what is the right video conferencing platform for the event. Each platform (like Zoom or Facebook Live) is different, so make sure to do your research.
For example, if you want to teach/lecture, accessibility may be more valuable to you than engagement, so a livestream would work best. If you want your guests to build community, interact, and form connections, choose a platform with a high-level chat function that allows participants to speak and show their video.
Determine the frequency of your events
Frequency can be a bit tricky to figure out — you don’t want to overwhelm your audience with too many meetings, but you also don’t want your audience to forget about your events. Having a consistent schedule can help audiences plan ahead.
A common misconception is that frequent meetings are more valuable. In reality, the most valuable frequency for your recurring event series depends on several factors. While there is no perfect formula for finding the best frequency, there are some indicators. For example, if your virtual event discusses relevant industry topics that are updated regularly, you may opt for a weekly event as there will be a lot to discuss! Also account for the time you will need to source any speakers, prepare discussion points, and create a schedule, knowing that you’ll need to get all of this information out to your attendees in advance of your event.
Lastly, looking at what your audience needs to do to prepare can indicate frequency. If it’s an event that requires a high level of participation and involvement from attendees, a less frequent event may fit well so that attendees aren’t rushed. If your event is a lower lift for attendees, such as a drop-in meetup, you may be able to increase your frequency. Again, consider these indicators knowing that there is no perfect way to know what your frequency should be. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what rhythm works best!
Once you’ve found a basic structure that works for you, consistency is key. Communicate any changes in schedule in advance, and remember to ask your participants for feedback on timing and frequency on a semi-regular basis. This will not only allow you to adjust your format to fit the needs of the audience you’re trying to reach, it will also make your audience feel engaged and heard. Attendees may be less inclined to share feedback in a group setting, so giving them a chance to voice their perspective in the form of a post-event email or survey can be beneficial for you and your virtual event series.
Building your virtual event series audience & community
Now that you’ve nailed down the logistics of your virtual event series, it’s time to engage your audience! In this section we’ll discuss how to get those RSVPs in with event promotion, as well as how to encourage engagement during and between sessions.
1. Write an informative event description
Attendees want to know exactly what they’re getting themselves into before they hit the RSVP button. Your event description is a great place to put relevant information such as speaker info, an agenda, the platform your event will be hosted on, and any pre-event work required.
For example, CIC runs a weekly podcast club, and while we don’t have a set agenda, we always make sure to put a link to the podcast being discussed and a couple tidbits of information into the description. That way, when an attendee hits the “Enter Zoom Room” button, they know what to expect and how to best participate.
2. Keep your branding consistent
Develop your brand identity through your visuals and writing so that when people see your post, they automatically know it’s you. (Think Dr. Seuss: When you see one of his books, you know it’s his. Find your inner Dr. Seuss and make your brand unforgettable.)
Some elements of branding to consider include:
Fonts and colors used in promotional materials
Tone in promotion and in the event itself (e.g. Is the event formal or more casual? Corporate or entrepreneurial? Insidery or welcoming to all experience levels?)
Taking a bit of extra time before you begin to develop what you want your brand to be can save your event from inconsistencies and getting lost in the shuffle.
3. Determine the right channels & schedule for promotion
Know where your attendees are online, and go there! Whether it’s a LinkedIn group, Eventbrite, or a local events newsletter, make sure you’re visible where your audience is.
A clue to help you here is to look for events that are similar to yours. They’re likely to have the same audience that you are hoping to attract, so try posting on the same websites or calendars as them. Eventbrite, Meetup, and Facebook can be exceptionally helpful to post on, as they use an attendee’s RSVPs and search history to suggest other relevant programs. Don’t forget to look for local events calendars as well! If your event aligns with supporting the innovation ecosystem, you can look to places like American Inno or the CIC Events calendar in your city.
On your own personal social media pages, get into a rhythm with your promotion and posting. While you don’t want to bombard your followers, do keep in mind that posting regularly helps interested people keep tabs on the great opportunities you’re offering. Post about your event series in advance so people can put it in their calendars, and don’t be shy about offering reminders closer to the event date or as your series progresses. Remember, not everyone will catch all of your social posts. Regularity in your promotion helps you to cast a wider net and to stay top of mind for those who are interested.
4. Give your attendees ways to keep in touch between sessions
To encourage engagement outside of your virtual event platform, give your community different ways to keep in touch between sessions.
Some video conferencing systems will provide you with attendee emails depending on how they registered. Use this information to your advantage! Invite attendees to a Facebook group, register them for your newsletter, start a Slack channel, or post a discussion on your LinkedIn page. Just be sure to keep your communication between events intentional and informative so that it doesn’t end up clogging inboxes. In addition, give attendees a way to opt out of these communications. They may choose to unsubscribe, but as long as your events are engaging and relevant to them, they’ll be happy to keep coming back.
Launching your event series
Hosting a recurring event can feel daunting at first. There’s a lot to consider and even more to do. But with a little planning and a lot of consistency, the results will be something you can be proud of and look forward to. Plus, the gratification of watching it play out is well worth it. For me, there’s nothing like the feeling of watching my Venture Café After Dark set after doing all the planning, or listening to an audience member get really excited about the podcast I chose for our podcast club. There are so many different options and formats that you can choose from to make your event perfect for you, so get out there and happy hosting!
Looking for support in planning a virtual event? CIC Events provides event space, equipment, and expertise to make your gathering a success.