Publication by Miro about the future of distributed teamwork

How to plan a virtual event – even when your team is remote

You suddenly need to organize a virtual event in a matter of days, but your team – and possibly your audience – is all remote. How can you be agile and quickly transition to remote planning for a large virtual event? And once it’s planned, how do you actually pull it off? 

This may sounds like an impossible task, but don’t worry – we’ve put together this guide based on learnings from our online conference, Distributed, to help you get started.

Joanna is in brand marketing and has planned field events, meetups, and virtual conferences. She is passionate about events and creating unforgettable experiences for attendees to connect with brands and products.

Remote event planning

If you’re working from home for the first time, it can be challenging to adjust to a new state of mind and environment. The good news is that the planning aspect of the event is no surprise. It’s the remote collaboration that may sound daunting. That’s why we broke it down for you below – and created an event planning Miro template to help you and your team work together.

1. Clarify the event plan

Think about all the steps you need to take throughout the event planning journey. Using a mind map to create an overview will guide you through the planning process and give everyone on the team an understanding of how everything works together.

2. Identify key stakeholders

Outline the roles and responsibilities of your most important stakeholders to ensure everyone has a clear understanding of what role they play in the team and what they are ultimately held accountable to. Miro has a stakeholder mapping template you can try. 

3. Gather input and ideas

No doubt everyone will have some great input for what this event could be. Conduct a kick-off brainstorming meeting to get those ideas out in the open and use them to define your conference strategy, event theme, and possible topics. This allows everyone to provide their suggestions and contribute to the overall discussion.

4. Keep track of progress

Ensure everyone has visibility into the progress being made. A calendar is used to provide an overview of all tasks collectively, and a Kanban board helps with sprint planning, focusing on one week at a time. Use Zoom and Slack to also help your team stay aligned.

5. Give collaborators ownership

Give collaborators a section on the Miro board so they feel ownership. Tag other contributors if you need help and collaborate in real time. For instance, work with your design team to update the landing page as your program team secures more speakers. Don’t work in silos!

We made you this nifty template to help you get started!

Learn more about this template in Miroverse>>

Execution: it’s all in the details

As you nail down the planning aspect, you now need to think about the logistics of running the remote event and executing it flawlessly. As the event owner, you want to prepare in advance and think about the little details, since those will make a big difference!

1. Test the tech in advance

This step is important, especially if you’re using a new platform. Start by using the tech during an internal meeting. Then, solicit feedback from the team to work out any kinks before your event. Work with your tech vendor to make sure the setup is perfect.

2. Prep speakers and moderators

Conduct prep calls at least a week before the event to make sure everyone is on the same page. Go over the final content, session details, tech set up, and friendly reminders, like finding a quiet, well-lit room for the live session.

3. Create an “onsite team”

You have your speakers and moderators. Let them focus on the content and engage the audience. On the back end, you want dedicated people to handle the tech, ping speakers when they need to sign on (or if they’re running late), share insights on social media, and so forth. That way you’re not scrambling to do everything.

4. Hop on the call early

Arriving at least 10 minutes early is helpful in order to get everybody situated, screen share presentations, and have a few seconds to relax. Speakers may run late – it happens. So it’s good to have a 10-minute cushion.

5. Think about post-event strategy in advance

Don’t let the energy die after your event ends. Think about how you can repurpose the content for post-event engagement. For instance, you can upload your videos on your events page and gate it for lead generation, or upload them onto YouTube for increased brand awareness.

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Keeping your audience engaged

The most challenging thing about a virtual conference is engaging your audience, especially if you’re working from home for the second consecutive week. You don’t want to sit on another Zoom call and listen to a series of webinars; you want to interact and connect with people. How do you recreate the experience of chatting it up with a fellow attendee while in line for coffee? Well, we have 10 tips for you.

1. Keep it short

If you’re thinking of having back-to-back sessions, we’d recommend having a two-day event, max. With anything longer, it’ll be hard to retain your remote audience over time. You can also consider spacing out the content in a span of a week and host up to three daily sessions to avoid digital fatigue.

2. Kick off with a remote happy hour

Establish ground rules where everyone must have their cameras and mics on, with a drink in hand. Conduct an ice breaker to get the conversation started. You can break into small groups on Zoom for intimate discussions, e.g., what are you looking forward to the most at this conference? This allows others to see and hear people in real time, and feel more connected to the event.

3. Have a dedicated moderator

This is important in order to create familiarity and a sense of connection. When picking a moderator, you want to find someone who is personable, can speak on the subject matter (but doesn’t have to be an expert), and keep it concise. A good moderator will put the spotlight on the speakers, not on themselves, and make sure everyone contributes.

4. Try different formats

Mix it up – don’t just have back-to-back presentations. We recommend fireside chats, panel discussions, lightning rounds (three speakers will have 20 minutes to present), and interactive workshops. Having different formats makes the overall experience more exciting and engaging, especially when you allow your audience to interact with the content.

5. Consider having live sessions instead of pre-recordings

Hosting sessions live makes it feel more real and genuine. If you’re afraid of last-minute tech problems, make sure you prepare in advance and do test runs with the speakers. To elevate the production experience, you can have a high-quality backdrop with your branding, or create a virtual background on Zoom.

6. Make all talks interactive

Keep your audience at the forefront. Make sure they’re included and feeling heard throughout the event. You can do this by launching polls, utilizing live Q&A, the Q&A feature, upvoting on favorite questions, and contributing to the conversation in the chat box.

7. Take live visual notes of panel discussions and fireside chats

Engage your audience by capturing notes and key highlights in real time. It helps them follow along and have something to look forward to after the session is over. Here’s an example from a live AMA we did on running virtual events.

8. Encourage speakers to do an AMA

Slack is a great tool to use to host a Q&A session. AMAs are a great follow up after the event and a chance for the audience to connect with the speakers. We did this after Distributed last year and saw a lot of asynchronous conversations on Slack.

9. Schedule breaks throughout the day

Just like an in-person conference, people need time to use the restroom, refill their coffee cups, and take a breather. During this time, you can continue the conversations on Slack, or even better, have a Zoom up and running for anyone to pop in for some face time.

10. Create an online space for sponsors

If you have sponsors for the event, but are not sure how to incorporate them into a virtual conference, think about setting up a virtual exhibit hall. This is a great opportunity for sponsors to showcase their product and provide cool offerings as an added benefit. Here’s an example:

Keep the momentum going

You’ve done the unthinkable and put on a virtual conference for thousands of people in a matter of days. Congrats! Before we call it a day, let’s conduct a retrospective with the team to identify what went well, areas of improvements, ideas for future events, and next steps. It’s important to get everyone’s feedback and see how you can improve. It can only get better from here!

When you go over next steps, think about how you can repurpose content for continued brand awareness. Here are some ideas for becoming a content machine:

1. Share slide decks on a board and turn it into a content hub with relevant resources. Here’s one our Head of People did as an example:

2. Write an event recap on your blog with your learnings (both wins and fails).

3. Create visual summaries from the sessions. Here’s an example to show you what we mean:

4. Upload videos on YouTube.

5. Turn presentations into podcasts.

Everyone is getting used to the new norm of running virtual conferences. There’s really no single right way to do it, but as long as you think about all the steps and plan out the details, the event will come together seamlessly!

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