The Art of Virtual Event Planning: Developing a Clear Strategy and Approach

Planning a virtual event for the first time may seem daunting, but what many companies may not realize is that they already have the tools to pivot to virtual — the biggest lift is applying what you already know to this new environment. Your secret weapon is the intimate knowledge you have on your brand and audience. Pairing that with the right strategy, platform, and proper execution will bring your vision to life.


Developing a Clear Strategy

Evaluating your toolbelt is the first step to making a successful virtual event happen. A clear understanding of your goals, your audience, and what your event needs to achieve to be successful are your strongest guides. Develop a strong and consistent theme and key messaging built from your toolbelt — when you believe in your message, your event attendees will believe in it too. The goal is to allow your brand’s story to be front and center, focusing on the new opportunities that virtual events can deliver.

Once you have your strategy outlined, you can move into ideation. While virtual events can increase flexibility and shareability for viewers around the world, they are not just a “substitute for the real thing.” Lean into virtual. Your goals and messaging will stay the same, but the key is to design the experience for the virtual environment rather than shoving your existing event onto the screen. Check out these examples of some successful events that pivoted their existing in-person programs to virtual last year:

  • Sporting events: While fans couldn’t attend games at the stadium, the NBA created a virtual fan experience using new technology to bring people together to celebrate the relaunch of basketball.

  • Oprah’s WW Virtual Event: Weight Watchers pivoted their stadium tour with Oprah to the screen, continuing to help people recommit to themselves and create stronger, healthier lives from a virtual venue.

  • Annual meetings: Creating a world tour event that connects Salesforce with its consumers through an online experience provided all the benefits of the event content with increased approachability and inclusivity.

The success of a virtual event relies on your strategy and the proper application of your core messaging and ideas. You already have the things you need to create a successful and engaging event online, so here are three key elements to integrate when developing your event strategy:


  1. Build the team: From internal support to external vendors, make sure you assemble a team that is not only capable of making your event happen but also has the interest and optimism to bring your vision to life. When your team believes in your vision and cares about the final goal, your virtual experience will thrive.

  2. Lean into the opportunity: Look at your virtual event not as a painful bridge to cross, but as a new and exciting opportunity to connect in a new way. That may mean scaling to new and broader audiences or bringing global attendees together for the first time ever.

    Just like evaluating a new venue in a new location for an in-person event, the process of selecting a virtual platform will require you to look at your event’s goals and choose the platform that will help you meet and exceed those goals. The opportunities for interconnectedness are incredible.

  3. Pause: While this may seem like a strange element for strategizing a virtual event, the power of pause is huge. It does not just have to be a quick breath before you act. It can be the space in which you confirm the merit of your action — in this case, creating an experience. Stop and take the time to consider your strategy and the “why” behind your virtual event. Why are you creating this event? What purpose will it serve? Is it relevant to your audience and does it meet your goals?

Take the time to think through the intention behind the virtual event and how you can make it a valuable and meaningful experience. Keeping these three important elements — a reliable team, opportunity outlook, and pause — will create a clear path for your vision and produce a successful and valuable event for your audience.


The “Art” of Event Planning

Events too often rely on routine and traditional approaches when we should be focusing on creating something unique and valuable to attract your audience. At a time when connection is more important than ever, taking a human-centered approach to your virtual event allows you to create meaningful, memorable experiences that are valuable to your audience.

Producing a successful event is all about having the right approach. Let your toolbelt guide you in this new environment, focus on your program’s goals, architect the experience for your audience, and in a world where content is king, lead with creativity. The “art” of event planning will go much more smoothly when you integrate these seven tips into your roadmap:


Focus on value

Work hard to marry your goals with your audience’s needs and desires. Why are they attending this event? What are they looking to get out of it? What holds their interest? What will they find valuable and captivating?


Design holistically for the audience experience

Even though it’s virtual, continue to create an event that is immersive. Map an attendee journey to be sure you are nailing each touchpoint. Consider the same needs as in-person events: How can you make the event more than just what they watch on the screen? How does the space feel? Is there anticipation? Is it welcoming and inclusive? Does it make the audience feel invested and leave them wanting more?


Choose one theme and one CTA

Any more than one theme or call to action (CTA) for your event will just get lost. From the initial invitation to the pre-event mailer and keynote, ensure that each touchpoint works hard to tell your story and bring your event to life. Allow the audience to leave your event with one central concept that they can immediately integrate into their experience.


Decide on the right platform

Outline your strategy and audience needs first, and then go hunting for your platform. Consider the flexibility of customization, support and availability of the tech crew, and engagement features for the success of your platform and event.


Approach gimmicks with caution

Create a captivating environment that doesn’t rely on gimmicks or shticks to create engagement; instead, prioritize the quality and relevancy of your content. For example, gamification is a tool used to motivate audience interaction and engagement, but it has become a virtual buzzword and is not right for all events. For some events, it might be a distraction from the content and muddy the message. The same can be true for celebrity talent. Bringing in a big name to attract folks will only hurt your content if they are not relevant and do not help tell your story.


Learning opportunities

Think of each event as a learning opportunity about how to get closer to your audience. Dig deep into “what-if” questions to continue pushing the envelope, evaluate platform metrics to improve upon for the next event, and be ready to move nimbly with each learning to constantly adapt and evolve to the changing landscape.


Enjoy the experience

You are exploring an emerging environment, and you are part of the changing experience of virtual engagement. Enjoy this opportunity and lean into it.

When you approach a virtual event with these tips in mind, it will help you develop an event that really connects with your audience. By focusing on the value your event will provide to your audience and their experience, you can create an event that is “of” that audience, one that will feel organically like part of the community, not just for them.

Some of our successful virtual events at DPEM have included:

  • BlackLine BKO + SKO: A multiday virtual event experience to rally employees together to inspire, engage, energize, and motivate them around BlackLine’s goals.

  • UCSF Saturday Night Stories: Building donor engagement and bonding attendees to the university on an emotional level through an experience that highlights the compelling human stories behind UCSF and presenting gratitude to the donors who made the campaign’s achievements possible.

There is so much to consider when it comes to virtual event planning: Sticking to a theme and a schedule, deciding between exciting options, key speakers, influencers, experiences, and maintaining audience engagement through relevant content are just a few of the things you’ll have to juggle. With so much to work through when making the switch to virtual events, an outside support team can provide the clarity and master planning that will allow full exploration of your options and pathways without getting off track.


DPEM Virtual and Hybrid Event Playbook