While most of the population is working from home during this time of quarantine, events are being postponed, rescheduled, and in many cases, cancelled entirely. This can be devastating news to professionals who rely on networking events to stay connected to their respective communities. However, in spite of these cancellations and rescheduled events, many people are creating solutions to this lack of networking by planning and hosting virtual events. If this sounds interesting to you, we’d love to help you out with some of the basics! Here are some tips to plan and execute a virtual event with some first-hand insight from Ryan Zerfas, Blackwood Creative’s VP of Customer Success and founder of Michiana Virtual Connect!

It all starts with an idea.

Ideas come in all shapes and sizes. If you recognize the need for a virtual event to connect your industry or the professionals in your area, you have a ton of great tools right at your fingertips to do so! Our VP of Customer Success, Ryan Zerfas, recognized that need during a conversation with one of his friends and fellow business professionals. Since big networking events are impossible at the moment, his friend had the idea to move a networking event online, but wasn’t quite sure where to start. So many people are reliant on networking events and communication, so Ryan took the idea and ran with it. 

“One of the first things I did was brainstorm to come up with a name that made sense,” said Zerfas. He came up with Michiana Virtual Connect because it fits so well; we’re in the Michiana area, the event is virtual, and it’s all about connecting. Perfect! He got some opinions from his friends and colleagues, and the name ended up sticking.

Find the virtual event platform that’s right for you.

Currently, Zoom seems to be the platform of choice for most meetings, classes, and virtual events. It was the platform that Ryan Zerfas decided would be best for Michiana Virtual Connect. “Zoom made sense because everyone is using it right now. There are other good platforms, like Microsoft Teams, but some are more for internal stuff rather than larger-scale events,” said Zerfas. “Since Michiana Virtual Connect wasn’t too tech-heavy, Zoom was able to accommodate that well!”

As Ryan mentioned, Zoom isn’t the only video conferencing platform that will work for your virtual event. Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts may work really well for your business. If you want to see your friends from the comfort of your own home, these double for that as well!

Create a method to stay in touch about your virtual event.

Another important aspect of this virtual event’s success was the creation of a website. “One of the most important things in the planning was making sure people were signed up,” recalled Zerfas. They used a form to collect names and email addresses for further communication about the event. This was extremely effective and helped everything stay organized during the event. 

Advertise, advertise, advertise!

There are so many ways to get people to come to your virtual event. With the help of social media, you’re able to reach a large number of people with the press of a few buttons. For professional events, consider using LinkedIn to advertise. Whether you just make a post or create an event using the LinkedIn Events feature, it’s a great way to meet other professionals in your area.

Using a combination of social media platforms and personal invitations, Ryan Zerfas turned his attention to creating a graphic to share on those social media sites. Thanks to his designer friend and Blackwood colleague, Jony Chagas, they created an awesome graphic which has circulated around LinkedIn recently. The website link was included on the graphic, so it also drove traffic there.

A very effective way to encourage people to attend your virtual event is to send out personal invitations. Write a direct message on LinkedIn or Facebook and extend an invitation directly to your friend. Michiana Virtual Connect had a lot of people show up because of personal invitations. It really works!

Keep your ultimate goal in mind from start to finish. 

Whatever the purpose of your event is will influence the ultimate goal you’re seeking to achieve. For Michiana Virtual Connect, the goal was relationship-centric. The goal was to form meaningful working relationships that couldn’t currently be made in person. If you’re going to start a networking event, your goal may be similar.

The end goal will determine the road you take to get there. Your format can also determine how your participants feel. Try breaking into groups to keep it more personal and friendly. But above all, make sure you’re going to be adding value to your market and keeping everything professional. 

After your event, consider sending out a survey to those who attended. It’ll be great to hear feedback from participants! You may discover that you really love it, and you can continue it for a while! If you’re not sure what your marketing strategy is currently doing for you, reach out to us here at Blackwood Creative. We’re in the business of building remarkable brands – and yours could be next. 

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