Director of Membership & Events, Speaker, Co-Leader of the Chicago HubSpot User Group, Host of ‘The IMPACT Show’ Podcast
March 19th, 2021
When events first pivoted to virtual back in early 2020, it was a bit of a novelty. It was fun to see what people could do in a virtual format, and many did get creative!
From interactive, online improv comedy shows to 3D renderings of event spaces made for the digital space, there were many exciting and innovative online experiences available. However, as the months dragged on, with no end to the pandemic in sight, more and more companies were forced to move their events online.
This resulted in an abundance of events being thrown together out of necessity. They were sometimes glitchy and often missed the mark, but they were a quick means to an end so we accepted these flaws.
But now, here we are, a full year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and virtual events are still the only option for most. And now that we’ve seen what’s possible with virtual events, the bar has been set.
How do you find the events that will truly deliver on what they promise? How do you get the most out of events when your eyes are fatigued from hours of Zoom calls and you’re exhausted from mustering the energy for more networking without the promise of at least a free cocktail?
As with most things including in-person and virtual events, one big factor affecting what you get out of the experience is what you put into it. Here are a few big and many little things you can do to ensure you get the most out of any virtual event in 2021.
1. Do your research before you even sign up
One of the first steps to getting value from a virtual event is making sure what you’re signing up for is worth the money. I recommend doing a few things.
First, take a look at the agenda and read the session descriptions. Do they sound like what you want to get out of the event? Do they fulfill the promise of the event name?
Second, does it look like the organization has done virtual events in the past and has some experience? Is there any social proof or are there clips from past events? If it looks like their first virtual event does it look like they’ve really invested in it?
Look for things like a list of speakers and sessions, a page dedicated to the event, potentially a promotional video, or even just a visually appealing and easy-to-navigate page. This shows the event wasn’t just thrown together.
By choosing to register for events that are investing in their programming and experience you’re setting yourself up for success from the beginning.
2. Treat it like being “out of office”
Once you’ve registered, the next step is to properly block off the time on your calendar and let your team know you will be unavailable.
It’s easy to say “treat this like an in-person event,” but we all know that’s not realistic. Fortunately, there are several tips we can take from how we used to prepare to be out-of-office for a conference.
For instance, make a list of the things that need to be covered while you’re out and make sure someone will take care of each one. If you have work due those days get it done ahead of time.
When you’re blocking time for the event, be sure to factor in any time you’ll need for following up with new connections after the event. If you need to put together a presentation of what you learned, plan the time for that as well.
You also may need to communicate with more than just the people you work with. Do you have a spouse, roommate, or even kids you can tell that you are attending this event and your day’s schedule may look different than usual? Help them help you by being clear about what you’ll need that day.
3. Build your agenda ahead of time
In addition to blocking off time for the entire event on your calendar, you should build your specific agenda for the event day ahead of time.
Just like you would plan which sessions to attend at an in-person event instead of wandering around a convention center aimlessly, you should do the same with an online event.
The “my sessions” view from IMPACT’s recent event
Take a look at the sessions available and find the ones most interesting or relevant to you.
Most event platforms have functionality built in to help you build your own personal agenda and add individual sessions to it. Whether you use that as a reference or add sessions to your own calendar, it will help you to do this before the day of the event.
“It helps your day flow more easily and keeps you from having to make panicked, split-second decisions as one block of sessions ends and the next begins. I remember the first virtual event I attended last year had the agenda feature but I didn’t use it and I recall a few moments of, ‘I didn’t realize they had a session on that topic’ or ‘I didn’t know that person was doing a session’ then feeling a bit of regret missing those other sessions. Setting up your agenda ahead of time and marking alternate sessions in those time slots helps ensure that you can focus on the learning track and sessions that you signed up for.” -Adam Stahl, Digital Marketing Specialist at Kelser Corporation (IMPACT client)
4. Schedule time to watch missed sessions too
Once you’ve built your agenda, you may find there are multiple sessions at one time that you’re interested in. The beauty of online events is that recordings are almost always available after the event concludes.
If you have multiple sessions you want to attend that are happening at the same time, put time on your calendar now to watch these recordings after the event.
Bonus tip: Ask other attendees if they want to watch certain recordings and have a discussion after. This will hold you all accountable for watching the recordings and make sure you truly absorb and understand the information.
5. Start following any social accounts related to the event
One way to get more out of an event is to follow along on social media. Sometimes this means just checking out the event’s hashtag on Twitter or Instagram, however, I’ve seen some events do fun contests leading up to their event as well.
Twitter giveaway from #B2BMX Online Experience 2021
In the example pictured above, #B2BMX Online Experience gave attendees a suggested tweet to post for a chance to win a deep tissue massager!
I’ve also seen some send gift cards for coffee or lunch to attendees ahead of the events. You never know what you’ll find so it’s worth checking out what’s happening on the social accounts of the event as well as its sponsors.
6. Build your attendee profile as soon as you’re able
Once you register for an event, you’ll usually receive a confirmation that often invites you to set up your attendee profile.
Here’s an example of what we send to encourage attendees to build their profiles.
As soon as you get the information on how to do this, start setting up your profile right away. The sooner you build out your profile the more likely you’ll be to connect with people as they sign up.
This is my profile for our Website Optimization Summit event
Plus, building out your profile ahead of time saves you from having to do it frantically the day of the event when you should be watching sessions and enjoying the event content.
7. Seek out potential connections ahead of time
Once you’ve built your attendee profile, it’s time to start connecting with other event attendees. This may happen within the event platform or in a separate community where attendees gather ahead of an event.
This is a great way to seek out people you may want to connect with, ask questions about sessions, and more.
8. Get your boss or manager to attend
How many times have you attended an event and come back full of ideas only to be met with a total lack of enthusiasm from your team or manager?
Our friends at Sprout Social would tell you the best way to solve for this is to get your boss to attend with you! They suggest tying the invite to something they care about.
“Whether it’s the ever-evolving preferences of your audience (i.e. business intelligence) or executing your customer care a bit more flawlessly, pinpoint one specific session or high-level speaker that will push them over the edge to actually registering and watching, either with you or on their own.” - Lucy Hitz, Sprout Social
9. Prep your breakfast, lunch, and snacks
In-person or virtual, events can be taxing. You need to take care of yourself to make sure you’re fully aware and engaged, which means food is important. In addition to staying hydrated, keep your body powered with food that won’t make you crash.
By planning out your meals and snacks ahead of time, you’ll prevent yourself from reaching for cookies as a snack during the event which will probably lead to a sugar crash.
I like to find a healthy snack or two I’m excited about and keep them accessible in a basket on my desk so they’re easy to grab when needed.
10. Keep yourself hydrated
I cannot say this enough: Drink water! Keeping your body hydrated will help you think faster, more clearly, and boost productivity. Feeling a little bit of brain fog? It may be dehydration.
Even if you’re feeling sluggish, before you reach for another cup of coffee, start with a glass of water. Want to feel like you’re at a conference or fancy hotel? Toss in some fresh fruit or cucumber slices to flavor your water.
Deciding which type of water to reach for? (Tap water, spring water, purified, etc.) Well, fun fact, I’m kind of a water nerd. And my wife is a self-proclaimed water snob.
There are tons of great resources to learn about the health benefits of different types of water but one of my favorites is the world’s leading water sommelier, Martin Riese. If you haven’t seen him, check out this video clip where he discusses the waters he shares on the France/water episode of Netflix’s Down to Earth.
11. Test your tech and have your charger handy
Adam Stahl speaks from experience on this one. He attended one of our events and midway through, his headset broke!
“You may already have backup options available but it’s worthwhile to become familiar with your options and how you would switch over. For example, if you were attending a virtual event on your laptop while using a headset that failed, your laptop likely has built-in speakers and a microphone. You’ll just want to make sure you know how to set those as your new default inputs and outputs, so you don’t miss any of the action!”
12. Invest in blue light glasses
With all this added screen time, especially on virtual event days, it may be time to invest in some blue light blocking glasses.
Blue light from your screen can make it difficult to focus and cause eye strain. Blue light blocking glasses reduce this strain making it easier to concentrate and enjoy the event without discomfort or fatigue.
IMPACTer Carina Duffy sharing her new blue light blocking glasses with us
Admit it’ The first thing you do when you get a break during an event (virtual or in-person) is probably check your email. And, when you see any that need answers, you dive right in and start responding. Before you know it, the break is over and the next sessions have already begun and you’re late. Plus, you didn’t even get up from your desk!
How can you avoid this situation all together? Put up an out-of-office email message! This is something you would absolutely do if you were attending an in-person event and in this case, the same should be true for a virtual event.
While event organizers will do their best to make sure you have an easy and smooth login experience, things can always go wrong. From a typo in your username to forgetting your password, there are little things that, while easy to fix, can slow you down when getting logged in.
That’s why you should always try logging into the platform ahead of the event. Whether it’s the day before or a week before, just don’t wait until the last minute or you may wind up missing the start of the event — and at least all of IMPACT’s events have a pretty interesting kickoff that you don’t want to miss!
15. Go in excited!
When event day rolls around I know I’ve been tempted to skip many events because “I just have so much work I need to do.” However, before you bail, take a look at your agenda.
Why did you sign up for the event in the first place? Why did you pick these sessions?
This should be enough to refresh your memory on why you signed up and get you excited for a day of learning, networking, or whatever your goal is.
16. Resist the urge to multi-task — seriously
Many people will tell you the #1 best way to get the most out of a virtual event is to focus only on the event and not multi-task. Ha!
It’s 2021 and we’re in a global pandemic; That’s nearly impossible, right?
Whether it’s because you have kids e-learning in the background, are sharing your workspace with a spouse or roommate, or are just very susceptible to the distractions of your house, there are some things you can do to push these distractions aside and focus.
First, make a deal with yourself that you won’t multi-task unless absolutely necessary. Whether this means unplugging your external monitors, putting a “do not disturb” sign on your home office door, or even just wearing headphones to stay in the zone, set yourself up for success from the start.
Communicate to whoever you are home (or in the office) with that you’ve invested time and money into this event and to get the most out of it you’ll need to stay focused as much as possible.
Yes, it’ll be hard, however, do the best you can and it will be worth it.
17. Engage with other attendees in the platform
One of the best parts about virtual events, in my opinion, is you can chat with people the whole time. I love getting to chat with other attendees all through a presentation.
Since you don’t get the shared moments of laughter or applause that you’d get at an in-person event, use the chat to generate and absorb that excitement!
We have lots of fun in our event chat
Many events even have presenters keeping an eye on the chat. Whether they answer your question live or comment back in the chat, this is a level of direct access to presenters that we just don’t get at in-person events. So, take advantage!
If it does get distracting, most platforms will allow you to minimize the chat panel. If not, stick a Post-it note on your screen to cover it up.
Then, when the session is over, check out some of the networking opportunities available. Many virtual events now offer roundtable discussions, breakout chats, 1:1 networking, and more.
18. Get comfortable...but not too comfortable
One of the best parts about attending a conference from the comfort of your own home is that you can spend the whole day watching sessions from your couch in pajama pants, right?
Well, maybe. If you’re someone who can focus and absorb new information while comfy and cozy, that’s great, however, I’m willing to bet many of you are like me and unless you’re fully dressed and at a dedicated work space, you may not focus as much or for as long. Plus, if there is video networking available at the event, you want to make the best first impression.
So, do what’s right for you. Dress in whatever will make you comfortable, but also keep you in the right mindset. Find a spot that has adequate back and neck support and won’t leave you straining after a few hours of watching sessions.
19. Use your agenda to guide your attire
Whether it’s dressing up or wearing sweats (or both) get to know what the event has to offer before you decide what to wear.
Will there be video networking? Maybe toss on some pants...
But in any case, set out your outfit for the day ahead of time (and based on your agenda) so it’s one less thing to worry about on event day. Plus, doing this may make it feel a little bit like packing for an in-person event.
20. Practice your elevator pitch
When it comes to the networking aspects of virtual events, you need to be prepared to quickly share who you are and what you do. Since it’s probably been awhile since your last in-person event, your elevator pitch may be a bit rusty.
Are you looking for a new job? Want to share what services your company offers? Make sure your pitch is refined and rehearsed so you’re ready to rock every speed networking opportunity available to you.
21. Plan for a walk or other screen break
Remember when I cautioned you against spending your whole break answering emails? Well, I want to broaden that to say: Step away from your computer during breaks!
Get up. Move your body. Whether it means going for a walk down your street on a break or even walking around your office, make sure you take a few minutes to get out of your chair and get your blood flowing.
22. Take time to get to know the sponsors
Much like at in-person events, virtual event sponsors are eager to connect with you. Plus, if you’re interested in the content of the event, there’s a good chance you’ll be interested in the sponsors too.
Since it’s much harder to connect in a virtual space than a trade show floor, many sponsors invest in exciting things to get attendees to their virtual booths or start conversations. So be on the lookout for giveaways and special offers, too.
23. Have a “one thing” when you end the day
If no one else from your organization attends the event with you, you can almost guarantee the first thing you’ll be asked following the event is “what did you learn?”
By having one key takeaway you plan to take action on right away, you’ll be able to clearly and easily answer this question and, furthermore, once you start taking action you’ll be able to point back to the event and reference it as the starting point for your initiative.
This will help you get support for attending future events. My best advice is to write down your one thing. Make it very clear and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day.
24. Follow up with new connections within one day
Last but not least, don’t let the connections you made at the event fade into the abyss!
When the event is over, take a few minutes to connect with people on LinkedIn, via email, or in event platform. Send a personalized message or even a quick video to say hello and remind them of what you talked about at the event.
Another great way to build connections with attendees even after the event has ended is to find out if there’s a community where attendees hang out. For instance, for each of our events we now have a dedicated community within IMPACT+ for event attendees to discuss sessions and get to know each other.
It’s time to love your next virtual event
With these 24 tips, you’re all set to make the next virtual event you attend well worth your time. Do you have other tips that help you get the most out of virtual events that I forgot? Let me know in our community, IMPACT+!
Want to learn more about digital sales and marketing?
Master digital sales and marketing when you join IMPACT+ for FREE. Gain instant access to exclusive courses and keynotes taught by Marcus Sheridan, Brian Halligan, Liz Moorehead, Ann Handley, David Cancel, Carina Duffy, Zach Basner, and more.