How to plan a virtual event (based on 14 months and 200 events of experience)

How to plan a virtual event (based on 14 months and 200 events of experience)

While we look forward to the return of in-person connection, virtual events are here to stay. To help you plan for your upcoming virtual experience(s), we rounded up tips from SJC Media’s events team, which has hosted 200+ virtual events since the pandemic began.

While we look forward to the return of in-person connection, virtual events are here to stay. To help you plan for your upcoming virtual experience(s), we rounded up tips from SJC Media’s events team, which has hosted 200+ virtual events since the pandemic began.

May 28, 2021
virtual event blog graphic

Virtual events is one of the eight 2021 media & marketing trends defined by our SJC thought leaders. We take a deep dive with the research, stats, insights and tips to help you assess how this trend might be one to consider for your marketing strategy this year.


virtual events collage


Whether we want to be or not, we are all now experienced online event attendees. From webinars and panel discussions to meetings and conferences, over the last year, we’ve seen it all (virtually). While forced to remain apart physically, many marketers have embraced creativity to keep in touch with their audience and find new ways for them to experience their brand.

With vaccination rates on the rise, we are approaching a return-to-normal, including the option for in-person events. (Hurray!)

Virtual events, however, have provided brands with unique flexibility, creativity, expanded reach and lower costs than in-person events. So they won’t be going anywhere.


“While many of the changes in business practices last year were a direct result of Covid-19, some innovations will stay with us even after the pandemic lifts,” says Doug Kelly, President of SJC’s Strategic Content Labs. “Among them will be the continued growth of virtual events and conferences.”


According to studies and industry experts, the future of events is hybrid. One study reported by emarketer reveals that in 2021, the majority of marketers and event planners worldwide (42 %) are moving to a hybrid approach with face-to-face interaction and a virtual component. Thirty per cent are planning virtual evens in lieu of in-person events in 2021. (We were curious and polled our SJC LinkedIn audience. While only 3 per cent of respondents hope events remain virtual, 41 per cent hope events return to in-person and 55 per cent would appreciate the option for both.)

With us all craving more personal connections, virtual events need to present as fun, authentic, real-life experiences.

Here’s what Jason Maghanoy, SJC Media’s Head of Business Development (and host of many TL Insider interviews over the course of the pandemic) has to say:


“It’s true, we are Zoomed out. But not because of screen fatigue.

We’re Zoomed out because the content sucks. It’s your 80th meeting. The panel is led by a person who’s terrible on stage IRL. The call is frozen because the speaker’s WIFI doesn’t work in their basement.

I have a Zoom chat with my family every Sunday at 4:30 p.m.I tune into it like my favourite show because it offers real connection. It’s Zoom that’s actually compelling (which is funny considering, well, it’s a family Zoom chat). So want to win at Zoom? Mirror what works when you spend hours with the people you care about the most.

Get a ring light and a better Wifi connection (to start). Be authentic. Lose the scripting. Get into arguments if something makes you mad. Talk about human things because what makes us human transcends the channel we’re on.

In the end, make Zoom encounters as fun, educational and shareable as your favourite shows. It’s another meaningful touch. It’s a new way to help your customers experience your brand. And the best is when it’s real, you know?”


Planning your next virtual event: a checklist

What are the specific tactics to to make your next event a real success? We turned to our SJC Media events team, which, since the start of the pandemic has organized over 200 virtual events and experiences for its members and brand partners. Most of the events are offered through TL Insider, Toronto Life‘s membership program that pivoted to virtual very early on in the pandemic. Since then it has hosted virtual panel discussions, cooking lessons, interviews – and even a virtual “Are you smarter than a fifth grader” competition.

From event conception to post-event communication, here is a comprehensive round-up of tips and takeaways:

Pivoting an in-person event to virtual
  • Make sure the event still feels interactive. We often allow members to leave their mics/cams on so they can feel as if they’re participating.
  • After trying a few different styles of events, determine which one resonated the best with your audience. (Which had the highest registrations, the most member engagement, the best feedback etc.)
  • Consider sending a survey to your audience to find out what they’re interested in.
Planning a virtual event
  • Recruit the right team. (An outgoing host, someone to program interesting guest speakers, someone to market the events and a team member to manage the back-end logistics like creating the registration pages, setting up Zoom links, editing the recorded sessions and managing the guest list).
  • Source great event partners. (We engage clients who have access to deliver event kits right to members’ doors and to offer something special, that they can’t purchase themselves at a store).
Promoting a virtual event
  • Send reminders about upcoming events. We first offer access to TL Insiders and then open up to a larger audience if we still have space
  • Create quality visuals; they definitely help sell an event.
  • Outline what members can expect to get out of the event and what exactly is included to make the member experience as simple as possible.
  • Make the date/time/and login details super clear so members can quickly decide if they’re able to attend.
Hosting a virtual event
  • Set up a quick platform test in advance of the live event. (Make sure the guest’s WIFI is working properly, answer any last-minute questions the guests may have, and go through the run of show so there are no surprises.)
  • Meet in advance of the live broadcast for sessions with multiple panelists. We find that when guests feel comfortable interacting with one another, the conversation is natural and has a good flow. For Fireside Chats, we send the speakers a list of questions beforehand to better help them prepare.
  • Log on 10-15 minutes early to make sure everything is running smoothly.
  • Send members the Zoom link and event details 24 hours in advance of the event. We also send them a calendar invite with the link to make extra sure they receive access.
  • Stay calm! With virtual experiences, unexpected connectivity issues can happen. that require on-the-spot troubleshooting.
  • Create a backup plan.  We assign a co-host for every event and if there are any technical issues, they are able to step in and manage the event.
Follow-up re a virtual event
  • Send out access to the recorded sessions. Not everyone can make it to the live session.  Sometimes speakers also give tips or suggestions (ex good books to read) so we like to send that bonus material to members after as well.
  • Consider post-event coverage to reach a larger audience If the experience is really special. Here is an example of the recap we published of our Lola Kassim, General Manager of Uber Eats Canada.


Curious to see these tips in action? Here is a round-up of some of the team’s most memorable virtual experiences from the last year. We’ve included the  recordings so you can get the full post-event experience, too.


TL Insider Fireside Chat with Lola Kassim, General Manager of Uber Eats Canada

Lola talks talks to Ken Hunt, President & Publisher of SJC Media, about the resilience of the restaurant industry.


Building black power and permanence

Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Canada, talks to SJC Media’a Jason Maghanoy.


A South Beach Style Cooking Class with Chef Lauren Mozer of elle cuisine

As part of TL Insider’s Future of the Restaurant Industry summit, members took a virtual “trip” to South Beach, making a variety of cocktails and snacks for a fun and interactive cultural experience.


The Future of Entrepreneurship in Canada

TL Insiders joined for a Fireside Chat with Michele Romanow, “Dragon” on CBC Dragons’ Den and Co-Founder & President, Clearbanc.


The Future of Sales

TL Insiders joined for a TL.talent workshop featuring sales leaders from Shopify, Salesforce, LinkedIn, #paid and SJC Media.


The Future of Writing & Pitches

From networking nights to ZOOM to writing the perfect email, being able to communicate effectively will be the most important skill to have post-Covid-19. As part of its Future of Downtown summit, TL Insider held  special Masterclass led by one of the city’s very best communicators, Bob Ramsay. See our recap of takeaways here.


A Virtual “Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader” Competition

TL Insiders and their children joined a group of University Health Network doctors and researchers for a fun evening of STEM trivia from home. During the virtual experience, parents competed against their kids for an opportunity to win prizes from


Become a  TL Insider for all kinds of upcoming exciting virtual events and experiences.

If you missed our earlier 2021 media & marketing trends deep dives, check out:

Content to live buy: 5 ways to drive the e-commerce experience

How media brand trust benefits advertisers 

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