With trade shows getting canceled left and right, and with zoom calls popping up in their place, “virtual events” are entering company conversations far more than they ever used to. But how can you set your company’s virtual event apart from all the others, and why is it so critical to make it so engaging?

  • Everyone everywhere is getting flooded with content.
  • We’re wading through a sea of same.
  • We’re all battling Zoom fatigue.
  • We’re sick of staring at low quality webcam feeds.

Virtual events have goals, just like trade shows. If you want to accomplish anything, your virtual event needs to keep the attention of your viewers. That means you’ll have to go into building it with the end in mind.

Before you jump into anything else, you need to outline your plans more specifically. This is where “the Five W’s” come in handy: who, what, when, where, and why.

1. WHY are you doing the event?

What are you trying to accomplish with it?

2. WHO is your audience?

Are they Internal or External? This affects promotion and how engaging it needs to be. Employees are usually a tiny bit easier to get into contact with, for one thing. For another, you’ll probably have an easier time roping them into attending… but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make them want to attend!

What are their demographics? Have you built personas to map out their pains, their goals, and their major selling points?

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3. WHERE will people consume this?

Sure, they’ll probably be at home, but will they be streaming the feed on their big-screen TV, or on a teensy little iPhone? This is definitely something to consider when you’re creating, say, Powerpoint slides. Don’t put mountains of text or intricate graphics on the screen if they won’t be able to zoom in. Do the zooming for them!

4. WHEN will people attend?

Believe it or not, some of the question of “Where” comes into play here: is your audience going to be Global, or Local? This will definitely affect your choice of when to push out the event, because you have to take time differences into account. If you want the event to be live, but you have attendees California and in France and in Australia, you’d better put some major planning into the release!

Will this event be only Live, or will it be made available On-Demand? Will you initially push it out live, and then make it available later? Will the VOD (video-on-demand) be a gated deliverable, or completely open to the public? Make your choice before you get started.

5. WHAT do you want your audience to feel or do after interacting with the event?

Knowing this will help you plan your call to action, or perhaps prepare viewers for any sort of follow-ups you’re planning. Do you have another event coming up? Are you going to try and send them a survey? Do you want them to hit the “buy now,” button, or to go tell their friends about the event they just attended? Plan, plan, plan that all now.

Once you have your strategy and goals laid out, it’s time to build out your event. There are almost infinite activities or sections you could include, so how on earth can you choose at all between them? Easy. Just remember: W.I.I.F.T!

W.I.I.F.T: What’s In It For THEM?

You are not necessarily your audience, and your audience is not necessarily you. This virtual event is all about them. What they want. What they like. That means, as much as you may love your product, this is probably not the time to be running a Billy Mays infomercial. Keep your audience’s desires and needs in the forefront of your mind as you plan.

Running Time is a Major Stumbling Block for Some Businesses.

A lot of companies trip up here, because they assume that a three-day trade show ought to be translated into a three-day virtual event. But let’s be honest: when was the last time (or any time) you ever binge watched a Zoom call!? Nobody does that!

What do people binge? Entertainment. Movies, shows, and documentaries. News stories or Buzzfeed videos. They can’t stomach nearly as much content if it’s not going to be as engaging. So, the longer you want your stream to be, the more entertaining it had better be!

Your virtual event does not have to be padded out to hit several hours or even days in length, if what you want to communicate can be shared in just thirty minutes. Customers will appreciate you for valuing their schedule (and device fatigue) as you plan out your event’s running time.

Run of Show Should Be Planned In Advance.

Whether your show is going to be broadcast live like Ed Sullivan, or is pre-recorded like I Love Lucy… there still needs to be a scheduled agenda laid out.

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Before the “main attraction” of your content starts, you actually need to capture your audience’s attention and let them know how much time remains before the real show begins. That way they know that the broadcast is working, and how long they have to grab extra snacks or take one last bathroom break.

Pre-show content could be a collection of sponsored videos, or just a simple image with a countdown clock and some music playing. You can even add a little slide saying, “You should hear music playing,” so that your team can check the broadcast and your viewers can check their headphones or speakers. Better to sort out tech issues now, rather than in the middle of the important presentation you’re wanting to share!

Kick-Off Video

When the hour finally strikes and the stream is set to begin, it is time to set the tone for the entire rest of the show. These first few minutes are the crucial time when you will either draw in your audience, or give them permission to tune out “yet another boring virtual event.” Is the opening screen going to fade into a pixelated zoom call, and the usual “welcome to our event,” recitation? Or are they going to see high-definition, adrenaline-pumping, heartstring-snatching footage?

To grab their attention and take their breath away, we recommend starting off the event with some sort of high-energy kickoff video. It will help keep them from straying too far during the rest of the event, just in case another engaging video might pop up at any moment!

Host/Emcee’s Introduction

Next your viewers will encounter “the face” of your event. The host or main speaker that you choose will, again, affect their opinion of the rest of the broadcast.

This Emcee doesn’t necessarily have to be on the entirety of the stream, and they may not even be your employee or your keynote presenter at all. However, whether you choose a company representative or professional talent of some kind; whether they’ve memorized their lines, or need a word-for-word script on a teleprompter; this person will guide your audience through the event and its different stages. So choose with care!

Keynote Presentations

Remember W.I.I.F.T? Whomever presents your content, have them keep the audience’s needs and desires in mind. And where possible, don’t just let the stream remain a one-sided presentation. Invite interactivity!

Virtual events can engage audience members with polls, contests, panel discussions, or Q&A sections. Whether you sent out surveys beforehand to generate interest or are pulling up results in real time, your viewers will be far more interested whenever they have the chance to interject or affect the direction of the show even in some small way.

Video Presentation

Variety will keep things fresh at all times during your event. Rather than have two or three powerpoints back to back, why not throw in some pre-recorded videos or documentary-style content in-between them?

Not only will this give your presenters time to get situated or set up without as much pressure on the clock; but you will also give your audience permission to take a breather between keynotes. And that brings us to our next item…

Take Breaks (Even Lunch Can Be Communal)!

Don’t forget, your viewers may need restroom breaks or just a moment to stretch their legs. And instead of expecting them to just eat in the middle of your event, why not show you care by setting aside time for them to collect their meal and enjoy it in a low-pressure setting? You can play some sponsored videos, or return to that countdown clock so they know can walk away from their screen to cook something up or work on other tasks without missing anything.

Even better, why not make their lunch a company affair? Free food or corporate discounts have always made meetings a little sweeter. What if you arrange for all your attendees to receive an Uber Eats or GrubHub discount to use? You could send out digital gift cards via email when people first register, or display a promo code on the screen for any viewers who actually tuned in. You could set an earlier breaktime around 11:15am for everybody to place their orders, so that their food will arrive by noon when the lunch break begins. Polls asking what they ordered could even invite more communal interaction and camaraderie!


If your virtual event is particularly interactive with Zoom-like capabilities, don’t be afraid to break up your large audience into smaller groups here and there. Utilize breakout groups, just like trade shows used to, where users can interact with each other or learn more about a particular topic that sparks their interest.

Closing General Session

Just as your virtual event needed a clear opening and welcome, it also needs a tangible ending and farewell. Your opening was your audience’s first impression, and it affected the energy of the broadcast. Your closing is your last chance to impact the opinion they’ve formed about it. Send them off with a bang!

Happy Hour/Entertainment

Depending on the personas you laid out for your audience, you may decide that including an optional happy hour to your event is worth adding to the itinerary. Just like the lunch break, this will invite your viewers into another low-pressure environment where they can enjoy themselves and feel valued as human beings, not just as event attendees.

The possibilities are endless here. Just like a lunch gift card sent out in advance, you might also have the resources to send them a small bottle of wine or champagne to enjoy. You could have sent them a video with instructions on how to mix a “signature cocktail,” for the evening. You also could have requested submissions in advance for their favorite recipes to share. And, of course, you can ask them to submit pictures or videos of themselves enjoying the drink or snack with a customized hashtag during the event.

As for the event itself, you could let the conversation wander; but alternatively, you could have any number of entertainment options available. You could host musical talent; comedy performances; trivia games; contests with prizes; truth or dare competitions, maybe even with audience votes affecting the outcome; video-based questions; or even play videos like company gag reels showing the mistakes and flubs your team made when they were preparing some of the virtual event’s videos.

Regardless of all the famous speakers you might acquire, all the special effects you arrange, or the amazing interactive virtual capabilities your event will have… that won’t do you much good if nobody attends. You need to generate interest and collect signups!


Send out email invitations to your audience– be they employees, customers, or prospects. Post all over social media for days or weeks– maybe even months in advance! Build social campaigns, and perhaps even pay for some ads. Send out the news in a press release. Partner with social media influencers in your industry. Release a teaser or hype video about what’s coming. Even putting the info and a link into your email signature could generate interest!

Now, most of your promotions will be filled with information about your speakers and business partners. However, get them in on the action too by sending them “toolkits” or a collection of assets to boost as well! Give them images or even videos to send out in their own email newsletters, or to post in their own blog article, or to share on social media with the announcement, “Look what I’m attending! Guess what I’m speaking on! Tune in, guys!” 


If you thought the promotion would end once the event started, you guessed wrong! Release emails, even during the event, to those who haven’t logged on; or to send your viewers a graphic or PDF or asset that was mentioned in the latest keynote presentation. And hey, don’t stop those social media posts either! Have your viewers live-tweet or post a photo of their experience, using a customized hashtag. You never know who might see that the event is live and will sign up right then to see what’s going on!


The end of your virtual event isn’t actually the end of your promotions, either. Send follow-up emails to your attendees. Or, before the event’s release, prepare a sales sequence or automated workflow to send them through once they’ve finished watching the livestream. Ask them to fill out a quick survey to express what they thought of the event. And, of course, keep up that paid media campaign online to let people know when the video-on-demand may eventually be made available to the public!

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