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May 14, 2024

14 Virtual Event Formats and How to Choose Which One to Use


A common question for coaches considering virtual events is “which format to use?”. Before choosing a format, it is important to be familiar with the formats you could use. This helps you pick what will work best for you to connect with participants, generate leads, and sign-up clients.

The term webinar is often used as a generic term to describe all of types of virtual events. I find this gets confusing particularly when a virtual event is highly produced like a multi-day conference.

Some of the formats included are best as a single speaker virtual event but many of them incorporate multiple speakers.

A single speaker virtual event is what most folks think of related to webinars, masterclasses, and workshops. As a coach and if your focus is lead generation, you will be the single speaker of the event. However, a single speaker event can have an invited guest instead of you speaking or presenting.

A multiple speaker virtual event is exactly as it states. The event includes at least two speakers and often more. The length of the event often determines the number of speakers. For instance, a full day or multi-day event can have anywhere from 5-15 speakers.

When considering an outside speaker or speakers, it is important to explore their expertise level and determine if they are a good speaker. You want your participants to get value from the event. Someone who isn’t a good speaker and/or too novice in the topic won’t provide the level of impact you want for your community.

Best Virtual Event Formats for Lead Generation or Brand Awareness

1. Webinar

Despite the generic use of the term webinar, this format is unique and has a specific purpose. It is best for creating awareness of your brand and programming or services. They are short ranging from 30-60 minutes with most averaging about 45 minutes. They are usually a lecture-style presentation touching on broad concepts, with limited audience interaction. When poorly executed they often have too much information causing information overload or are just one long sales pitch without much value.

2. Masterclass

These are longer sessions that focus on educating the participants by going more in-depth on a topic. It allows you to lean into your expertise and provide more value than what can be done in a shorter session. This format enables you to build your authority, trustworthiness, and credibility much better. It allows for more audience participation and engagement. Those attending want to take a deeper dive into a topic, making them high quality leads.

3. Top Trend(s)

This is a great format if your industry or niche is continually changing and evolving such as the financial sector, real estate, home design, etc. But it can also be a good format when a big disrupter comes along, like AI, that impacts almost every industry or niche. This format can establish your brand and highlight you as a leader in your industry or niche.

4. Interview

This format, while common in podcasts, works quite well in for a virtual event. It involves two people, the host or interviewer (typically you) and a guest. This format benefits both you and the guest. It connects you with thought leaders or influencers in your industry thus expanding your network. And the guest, continues to establish their authority and potentially promote their products and services. For a quality event, on your part, it requires upfront prep and excellent communication with the guest.

5. Q&A (also called Ask Me Anything)

While similar to the interview format, the questions come from the audience instead of prepared list from the guest or you. The person answering the questions could be you or a guest. This is more informal and conversational, yet highly engaging for participants. You will need to decide how you will take questions. Questions can be pre-submitted only, a combination of submitted and live during the event, or only live during the event. If you are the one answering questions, you will want a moderator, if you are taking questions live from the audience.

6. Fireside Chat

Another variation of the interview and Q&A, a fireside chat is the most informal of all of them. This involves you and a guest having a conversation about different topics and issues related to your industry or niche. Typically, there aren’t any prepare questions but often an overarching theme. For more engagement, you can invite the audience to ask questions. For this format to work well both you and the guest need to be well versed in the theme and excellent conversationalists. As a side note: the term and format of fireside chat was popularized by President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II when he did his radio broadcasts.

7. Panel Discussion or Expert Debate

This is a group of experts discussing a specific topic or issue that is multi-layered and complex. The best experience for participants is when the panelists bring different perspectives (i.e., expert debate). Allowing participants to ask questions and participate in the discussion increases engagement along with highlighting a variety viewpoints and perspectives.

8. Influencer Collaboration

In this format, you’ve partnered with an influencer in your niche or industry to facilitate a virtual event where you are the guest. The purpose is essentially to present your programming, services, etc. to their audience. The format can vary such as an interview or you are presenting. The positive of this approach is you are leveraging the large audience of the influencer to gain awareness and leads. It does require due diligence on your part to make sure the influencer’s audience aligns with your ideal customer. The influencer also needs to be open to working with you to make sure the event is well managed and provides opportunity for audience engagement.

Best Virtual Event Formats for Nurturing Existing Clients

9. Client/Customer Onboarding

When signup a new client or customer, whether it is for group or one on one coaching, providing a short onboarding session allows you to cover all of the need to know content, like accessing resources or the meeting schedule, for the client(s) to get the most out of your program. It also provides them the opportunity to ask any lingering questions about the process or program. Lastly, it initiates deeper relationship building between you and the client(s). For group programs, it sets the stage for fostering a sense of community.

10. Workshops

The purpose of a workshop is to give participants the opportunity to have live hands-on training for a particular aspect of your program such as creating an annual budget or creating a month-long meal plan. If you work mostly with one-on-one clients, this could be a unique virtual event to invite all of your clients together for a shared learning experience. For group programs, workshops are a must to help folks accomplish quick wins and successfully complete the program.

11. Case Studies

When planning an upsell to existing clients or to encourage a renewal or extension of services, consider a virtual event focused exclusively on case studies about past customers. Highlighting the success of others is an excellent way to establish social proof and expertise. It is important to make sure the event is structured as a discussion about results. Making it just a presentation of past customers’ successes will come across as long winded sales pitch. Ultimately, defeating the purpose of the virtual event.

12. Town hall

Town hall meetings are most commonly associated with politicians connecting with their constituents or with a larger corporation having an “all hands-on deck” meeting. At it’s core, a town hall event provides an opportunity to share updates and open the floor for participants to ask questions. Similar to the Q&A (or ask me anything), those attending are already part of your community and paying customers. This is a good format if you need to announce significant changes within your business such as membership pricing changes, staffing changes (e.g., you are taking a 2-month sabbatical), or a shifting of priorities in programming and services.

13. Round Tables

Similar to a panel discussion, round tables bring together a group of folks to discuss a specific topic or issue. Round tables are more informal and the conversation more organic with the focus typically on how specific strategies, techniques, or processes have impact and encourage forward momentum or growth. As part of the client nurturing process, this is often a group of clients discussing how they applied specific aspects of your programming or used your products which helped them be successful or achieve their goals.

14. Networking

If you are doing group coaching or have a membership, building community is a key aspect to ensure longevity and continued renewals and growth. The type of virtual event takes the focus off of you and removes the pressure to provide new, engaging content. A successful networking event is highly interactive with spaces for speed networking and more in-depth discussions. It helps to have some prompt questions to get conversations started. Keeping the attendance to a smaller group of folks makes it easier for everyone to connect and gain value.

How to Choose a Format

The format you choose is directly tied goal and purpose of the event. Think about where in the customer journey or sales funnel this type of event is best suited. Are you creating awareness of your brand and services or nurturing existing clients for an upsell or providing value to a membership community?

When your clear on the goal and purpose of the virtual event, it makes it easier to identify the format. However, you also need to consider your time and the amount of work needed to plan the event. When working with invited speakers, you need more time plan the session; sometimes as far out as 6-12 months.

Other key factors include level of participant interaction and engagement, the topic’s complexity, and whether the event will have a single speaker (typically you) or multiple speakers. A basic webinar makes it difficult to explore into a complex topic and include more than one speaker. On the other hand, if you intend to have a deep dive into a topic or issue, it helps to have more than one speaker to provide multiple perspectives.

In the comments, share if you’ve used any of these formats or which you would like to incorporate into your coaching business.

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Jennifer Sharkey is known as the Virtual Presentation Specialist. Being passionate about seeing people shine and be heard, she leans into her 20+ years of public speaking experience and uses what she has learned from presenting, both in-person and virtually, to small groups all the way up to 5000 people. Jennifer draws from her experience as an associate professor, academic librarian, and coach to help holistic coaches master virtual presentations to grow their business. Her unique immersive program provides practical strategies and methods to build confidence, engage audiences, and generate authenticity and authority.

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