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Four steps to design a perfect virtual event + Worksheet

May 06, 2020

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There is a way to make every aspect of your virtual event stick in your attendee’s mind - and it all starts with a solid plan to help design your perfect virtual event. 

In this article, we're outlining how to design an attendee-centric virtual conference. We even have a worksheet you can use to ensure nothing gets missed along the way! 

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Remember: Design for the attendee's experience 

Creating an awe-inspiring virtual event takes more than simply stamping out each event using the same template; stellar events require creativity and innovation. Planning a virtual event requires the same steps and tasks that you need to complete to run any good event - but your customers are getting used to better and better virtual conferences. To keep them engaged, you have to keep things sharp and fresh. 

What will shape how each particular event will land is a deep understanding of what each group of attendees wants. Running a customer-first event isn’t easy, but with this guide - and a bit of Design Thinking - you’ll be well on your way.

Applying design thinking to virtual events! 

Design thinking is the process of creatively solving problems. You put with the focus on understanding human needs and come up with solutions to meet those needs. It works very well for User Experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX) - and it functions great for events, too. 

By applying design thinking to the virtual event planning process, you put yourself in the attendees’ shoes. Going through the same steps as they would, and figure out how to enhance their journey. 

Ask yourself the question: How can I design an event where the attendee feels that everything is consistent and engaging?

Organizing a virtual event includes a lot of aspects that need to come together to create a seamless experience. Timing, speakers, engagement tools, technical details, high-quality video, and audio, etc. The act of designing your virtual event is the glue that holds it all together to see how different elements fit together and where they don't. 

The value of designing your virtual event:

  • Pinpoint the weak spots in your event. 
  • Identify areas where you can add extra value. 
  • Minimize struggles, eliminate guesswork, and cut down on confused and frustrated attendees. 
  • Make your ideas tangible in the form of prototypes that enables you to communicate the ideas more effectively.
  • Organize your virtual event with the focus on the attendee as the driving force for the event's success, rather than an afterthought. 

Let's get started! Here's how to design a virtual event: 

The design thinking concept consists of four phases that we are going to apply to the virtual event planning process. Note that design thinking is a non-linear process. Each discovery from one step influences and redefines what you've done before — you'll never be moving in a straight line. 

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Step One: Empathize 

Building empathy is the centerpiece of designing your virtual event, as all the next steps depend on how well you know your target attendee. In this step, you want to get to know your target attendee's wants, needs, and goals. 

Describing someone's feelings and emotional state can be challenging because every human being is unique. Don't get caught up on the different attendee personas that might be at your event; start with an attendee persona who is entirely unaware of your virtual conference, and work from there by answering the following questions: 

  1. Why should they care about my virtual conference? 
  2. What does the attendee's daily life look like? 
  3. What is my ideal attendee’s skills, knowledge level, attitude, connections? 
  4. What activities should I be doing to address both my questions and the potential pain points for the attendee?
  5. What value are they looking for as an outcome from the event? 

Your answers will give you a good grasp of who is your ideal attendee and what value she is looking for. It might help to have an illustrated image of your attendee aw well, which you can use Hubspot's; make my persona; tool for. 

Another effective way to have a deeper understanding of your ideal attendee is through interviewing. The key to an effective customer interview is to structure it as an open conversation, keep asking "why?" (even if you think you already know the answer!). Remember, the goal is to uncover as much insight as possible—not to confirm or negate a preconceived notion.

Step Two: Define

Define step is dedicated to defining the attendee's pains, expectations, and commitment. By gathering all the information about your ideal customer persona from the previous step, in this step, you will start making sense out of them: 

  1. What difficulties and barriers is my ideal attendee coming up against? 
  2. What are my attendee's expectations from attending a virtual event? 
  3. What sacrifice is my attendee expected to make to attend my virtual event? 
  4. What does my attendee expect in return for attending my virtual event? 

Pains are any problems that the attendee may experience along their journey- starting from before they know about your virtual event until the post-event follow-up email. Think of thoughts and feelings that are keeping your ideal attendee from doing something. Pain points are as diverse and varied as your prospective attendees themselves. So, you need to focus on two types of pain points: 

  1. Difficulties and barriers your target attendee is coming up against.
  2. Difficulties your attendee might have along her journey- this will help you to know and offer support at critical stages where they might need help- before, during, and after the event. 

Expectations: If you wish to meet or exceed your attendees' expectations, you can only do so by getting to know what they are, and your first step is to listen! 

The best way to identify your attendee's expectations is through interviewing. However, there are also considerable opportunities in social media to listen and understand your attendees. Informal communication from social media, can show you the good, bad, and ugly of the Attendee Experience. Using a media monitoring solution such as Brand24, you can quickly learn what your attendees posted about a past edition of your event, or track a competitor who ran a virtual event before. 

Commitment: It is often expressed in time, energy, registering, preparations, and efforts of different kinds are all examples of commitment; even attending a virtual event from the ease of their homes involves some level of commitment. 

Understanding these trade-offs will provide insights into how to create a positive experience and also helps exceed expectations. 

By the end of this step, you will have a clear problem statement. It's important to frame it in a user-centric way. For example, rather than saying "We need to…" - where the focus is on you and your company - frame it in terms of your attendees. "My attendee (or name of your attendee persona) needs…". 

Step Three: Ideate 

Now that you have the problem and attendees' expectations and committed efforts formulated into words, you can come up with ideas for your virtual event and potential solutions. This is where the magic happens! 

This step is all about creatively finding ideas for your virtual event to excite your audience. There are a lot of ideation techniques, from brainstorming and mind mapping to roleplay scenarios. Choose whatever method will work best with your team. Also, in this step, you will want to explore: 

How does the event change them?: Try to answer, "How do I want my attendee to leave the event, what new skills, knowledge, attitudes, and connections have my attendees acquired during their experience of the event?" 

Gains: The opposite of pains, gains describe the positive outcomes and the benefits for the attendee. Think of how to alleviate the pains and what your attendee might be surprised by- positive emotions, high virtual engagement, and smooth and seamless experience. 

Satisfaction: Now that you know your attendee's expectations, you need to design to meet and occasionally exceed expectations in delivering experiences of satisfaction. 

Promise: The primary input for the event's marketing message. 

Step Four: Evaluate

Gathering your ideas and all the information from the previous actions. It's time to flesh it all out into the experience journey map, starting from the moment when your attendee wasn't aware of your event till preferable post-event action. 

Breaking down the attendee's experience journey and list out all the touchpoints, will allow you to determine how and when different elements of your event are conveyed to attendees so that it creates a cohesive experience. 

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Attendee experience must be carefully pre-planned and architected to have a truly amazing event. Think of your event as an experience; every participant enters one way and walks out affected somehow, hopefully for the better. Your attendees can quickly get distracted, Netflix, news, a child, or other ten tabs opened next to your event. 

The bottom line is; the experience is what will keep your attendee engaged throughout the event.  

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