Last spring, in March of 2022, I wrote about the Seasons of Change as my clients began to shift their focus away from their virtual event “season” and toward strengthening relationships among their growing teams. 

As summer moves into fall, planning is beginning to ramp back up for the fall and spring virtual events, so this seemed like a great time to talk about the 5 P’s that I think are critical to consider when planning any virtual event or workshop. In fact, if you have worked with me to design or plan your virtual events, you’ll notice that we work through these in our Discovery process at the start of any project.

If you do a Google search, you can find the “5 P’s of Successful __________” practically anywhere. Simply fill in the blanks.

I decided to focus on these 5 P’s of Successful Virtual Events: Purpose, Preparation, Participants, Platform, and Process. Let’s take a look at them one by one.

 1. Purpose

Before you decide on your dates, budget, platform, speakers, agenda, or any other details,  it is crucial to think about the real purpose of your event.

What is the true purpose of your event? If you say that this is your annual conference and we always have it, try again! Dig deeper. 

In The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker suggests that we “Reverse engineer an outcome: Think of what you want to be different because you gathered, and work backward from that outcome.” She suggests that “Specificity is a crucial ingredient. The more focused and particular a gathering is, the more narrowly it frames itself and the more passion it arouses.”

Drill down, continuing to ask yourself why you are doing the event. “Every time you get to another, deeper reason, ask why again. Keep asking why until you hit a belief or value.”

When I think of the purpose of an event, I also ask myself two questions:

  • What outcomes would I want the participants to take away from the event?
  • Is there a certain thing I would like participants to believe, feel, or do after the event?
  • What outcomes do I want my organization to experience after the event?

Defining the purpose gives us something to organize ourselves around. The rest of the planning and preparation can then focus on achieving these outcomes.

 2. Participants

Once you know your purpose and desired outcomes, you can begin to consider key aspects of your audience:

  • What audience would benefit from that purpose?
  • Who should the organization invite so that the outcomes are met?

Not everyone should be invited to join your event. The more specific you are about who would get the best value from your event and who would help your organization get what it needs from the event, the better you will be at defining the messaging that will help you attract that audience.

  • What does the selected audience want/need from your event?
  • How many participants will you need to meet your goals?
  • What kind of experience do you want them to have during the event?
  • How involved will your participants want to be during the event? How much involvement will help you meet your goals?
  • Are there certain emotions you would like them to experience during your event?
  • What do you want them to believe, feel or do after your event?

3. Preparation

Preparation! Preparation! Preparation!

The heart and soul of a successful virtual event comes from understanding the purpose and the audience’s needs and desires, then focusing your efforts on the preparations needed to achieve that purpose and meet the needs.

  • How will the purpose of the event influence the design of the event?
  • What level of participation from your audience helps you to achieve or accomplish those goals?
  • Can you identify specific activities that can drive those experiences?
  • Which platforms could support those activities and experiences?

The purpose of the event and the needs of the audience drive the preparation. Decisions and discoveries made during preparation will drive the topics you select, the speakers you recruit, the communications you prepare, and the platform you choose. Plan to spend most of your time and your budget on preparations for the event.

4. Platform

As we know from our foray into virtual meetings and events during the pandemic, not all platforms are created equal. 

The platform decision will be made during the preparation phase. A substantial amount of preparation will be needed to help you select the platform that best serves your purpose. 

Your event purpose will drive your platform requirements.

  • If you want participants to interact with each other, answer poll or quiz questions, or have conversations in small breakout groups, platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Webex may meet your needs.
  • Agendas which include multiple concurrent sessions, large numbers of participants, exhibit areas, poster sessions, or speed networking sessions, may require a more robust set of features offered by platforms such as Whova, Cvent, BigMarker, Webex Events, Hopin, Airmeet or others.

As you define the agenda, activities, and level of involvement between and among participants that helps you achieve your purpose, the requirements for the platform will become more clear.

5. Process

Finally, the process you use to work through the first 4 P’s will culminate in the program, tools, and team that will run and support the event.

The team you choose to oversee and manage the planning and the event execution will be the face of your organization for many participants. Select a team that works well together, knows the platform well, understands the audience, and can help you achieve the ultimate purpose of the event.

Planning and preparations for virtual events take significant time and resources.

Start early. Be sure you schedule sufficient time for the discussions and preparations that are required to make your event successful.  The timeframe can vary depending on the length and purpose of the event, the complexity of the program, the platform requirements, and the number and types of participants. If you need to hire temporary staff or expertise to support your event, be sure to allow sufficient time for contracting and onboarding of those staff.

Whether you are conducting a one-hour webinar or a multi-day virtual conference, working through these 5 P’s (Purpose, Participants, Preparation, Platform, and Process) is important to the success of your event.

Admittedly, this blog post gives only a very high-level overview of what needs to be considered. If you need support with the details of your virtual conference or event, let’s get a call on our calendars!

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