A conference is typically a more formal affair, falling somewhere between a meeting and a tradeshow. While providing attendees an opportunity to connect, your virtual conference should also offer components of learning and community building. It’s not a tradeshow, where you have a group of buyers (attendees) and sellers (vendors/exhibitors). At the conference level everyone attends with a shared passion, vision and desire to expand their knowledge base while making personal and professional connections. So, here’s the formula for taking your conference online:



  1. Jump off with a platform. Just like when planning a virtual tradeshow, you’ll need a digital venue to host your conference. Most virtual tradeshow platforms will offer everything you need and then some, but you might also be able to use a more robust version of your everyday meeting software. There are several good options out there – do your research to find one that meets your needs and get signed up. 

    (Because needs will vary from business to business and legal requirements in your area may differ – I will refrain from recommending platforms by name here, but I’m glad to discuss your needs and help you find the right fit.)

  2. Plan the logistics. Choose the event dates and times as well as the distribution methods of your digital promotional materials.
  3. Invite industry experts to speak. There’s often no better lure to an event than a chance to listen to someone that can help you build your business.
  4. Invite industry brands to sponsor. Sponsorships are a great way to share the cost of the event with other companies while offering them an opportunity to promote their business to attendees.
  5. Invite your potential attendees directly. Before you start inviting people en masse you’ll want to line up some well known industry names as attendees or speakers to lend credibility to your event. You’ll also want to decide how many paid attendees you need to hit your breakeven.


Pre-Show Planning:


  1. Design a digital itinerary for everyone. Detail the time and topics for each speaker, when the breakout sessions will happen and when there will be opportunities for networking and parties. Link everything, so no one has to go digging for it. We want to design everything with the user’s experience in mind. 
  2. Plan engaging content. You want to keep your audience enthralled throughout the event. So design your marketing to match the level of enthusiasm you want from your audience. Keep it sleek and professional. Of course, you can send out a pre-conference kit electronically – but I invite you to consider something different. Especially if you are planning a conference that is typically held in-person, consider spending some of that typically higher budget on a wow-factor for the online version. Send a conference welcome kit to the attendee’s door. Include invitations to the events, itinerary and a drink recipe for the BYOB happy hour you’re hosting. Include promotional products – because everyone loves conference SWAG and we aren’t going to give that up to go virtual. Get them excited with items that inspire creativity and illustrate the level of expertise they can expect from your show.
  3. Plan next year’s conference dates. I know it’s a long way off – but you have a captive audience that you know is already interested in the subject of your conference, right there. Don’t miss the chance to market next year’s event at this one and offer a discount or a premium gift for early-bird registration.


It’s Show-Time:


  1. Provide large-audience meeting formats for keynote and secondary speakers. These can be hosted in your usual video meeting space with some careful planning or within a virtual conference platform. You’ll also want the ability for your speaker to show a presentation as they talk and the opportunity for moderated interaction when appropriate. 
  2. Breakout sessions are the new networking event. One of the best parts of any conference is the socialization. This is where we meet our people and make connections that can lead to new opportunities and long-lasting relationships.  Breakout Sessions on an online meeting platform offer a unique opportunity for a moderator to provide a topic for learning or industry specific conversation starters and then mix and match your audience into small groups to get to know each other and discuss.
  3. Host a party at the end of the event and add virtual happy hours to the close of each day. Don’t miss the opportunity to offer that human connection in a virtual setting. Plan live music intermingled with breakout sessions for people to talk and make new connections. Get your sponsors involved – what value can they add to a social session? Have attendance prizes and encourage people to connect both personally and professionally.



  1. Follow up and survey. Send a note to attendees thanking them for attending and soliciting their thoughts on every part of the experience. Reach out personally to each sponsor to thank them and to follow up on their perception of value. Offer ways for them to reach attendees, like a list of everyone that joined the conference (with their permission, of course). Encourage them to reach out in order to maximize their investment. 
  2. Debrief. Meet with your stakeholders to discuss next year’s event. Pros, cons, what worked, what didn’t and what you’re going to do next time are all on the table for discussion. Set a date for next year’s first planning meeting – and congratulate yourself on a job well done.


Take your brand boldly into the new normal. Keep pushing for real, authentic interaction with your tribe and keep your brand top-of-mind. If you need more ideas or a plan to get started, let’s talk. Remember, we are on this journey together.


Wishing you light and love. ~Hema

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