Behavioral Science: The Secret Sauce for Marketers Planning Virtual Events


Layla Mazdyasni & Shirin Oreizy


2020 has flipped our world upside down. Everything we knew or thought we knew, has been challenged and reinvented. With so much evident change happening on a global level, we grew curious as to how this was affecting things on an individual level. Specifically, human decision making. 

At Next Step, we understand that people aren’t always rational, and aren’t always decision optimizers. We recognize that emotional, social, and environmental factors heavily influence decisions. It’s all about the context. This study of how humans really make decisions is called Behavioral Science. 

Ready to start running great events? Download the workbook, How to Run an Event That Isn't Terrible.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the context changed. The entire event experience needed to shift radically, and many of our clients needed to quickly transition from in-person, physical events to virtual events. This is where Behavioral Science came into play. 

In approaching events and event marketing, we think through 6 pieces of the ideal event puzzle and optimize each step with Behavioral Science. With events going virtual, our 6 core pieces remained the same. The 6 steps are:

  1. Event Pitch
  2. Pricing
  3. Top of Funnel Prospecting
  4. Registration
  5. Engagement
  6. Follow-up

Event Pitch

When thinking through an event pitch, either in-person or virtual, we first need to identify our target audience. One silver lining of shifting to virtual is we have the opportunity to expand our reach. Considerations like geographic boundaries and cost are no longer parameters. With an expanded audience, we then ask key questions - what makes this event compelling? Why would anyone want to attend? What’s in it for the attendee? We can create hypotheses around these questions, but we know our hypotheses can only go so far. Our next step?

Getting outside of the bubble and doing research. We first conduct qualitative research - talking to the audience to verify (or debunk) our hypotheses. Then comes quantitative research - designing tests through channels like email or paid social media to verify at scale. Watch our webinar for a specific example of how we did this for a formerly in-person, now virtual event, and revamped their event pitch to make it compelling to their digital audience.


With an established event pitch and vision, it’s next important to price the experience appropriately. This is much more straightforward for in-person events. Hard costs plus a margin, usually. In theory, this should also hold true for virtual events. However, at the start of the pandemic, many companies began offering free events to keep their audiences engaged. This precedent devalued virtual events, making it increasingly difficult to put a dollar value on virtual events. We knew in order to charge for a virtual event, we needed to get clever and show value.   

Using Behavioral Science, we anchored people to the original in-person price and compared it to virtual event price with all the benefits explicitly outlined. As humans, we tend to rely on the first piece of information given when making a decision. This is the concept of Anchoring. As humans, we also have difficulty making decisions in a vacuum. In this case, the in-person price is the first piece of information potential attendees are given. Now, when they look at the virtual price, it automatically becomes more appealing because it’s cheaper. Not necessarily free, just cheaper relative to in-person. Watching our webinar will show you this concept, in action.

Top of Funnel Prospecting

Pitch, check. Pricing, check. Now, how do we attract the right kind of people, and where do we find them? The key here is to understand the channels our target audience frequents to optimize for the strongest conversion rates and get in front of them in multiple ways. Banzai does a great job at optimizing this piece of the puzzle. By having a deep understanding of our target audience and their behaviors, we can use messaging that appropriately resonates, in a context and on a platform that is familiar. 


Our personal favorite Behavioral Science concept - reducing friction. (Spoiler alert, it’s also important in the engagement piece.) To reduce friction, reduce as many barriers as possible at every step along the way. Make it easy and intuitive for people to register, eliminate any unnecessary fields and clearly indicate what is required, and give them examples for harder to find information pieces. Once they’ve completed the registration process, provide process transparency. Give them a confirmation indicator, and outline what will happen next. Will they receive a swag bag in the mail? Will they need to choose their event schedule? Let your newly registered attendees know what to expect.


Once you have attendees at the event, how do we keep them engaged? As humans, we value meaningful human interaction. We’ve heard across the board that the biggest draw for in-person events is networking. Going virtual makes this challenging, but not impossible as online platforms have vast capabilities. Use this basic feature to your advantage - Q/A Session. Give your audience a heads up that a Q/A will be included so they can prepare themselves to ask questions. The Behavioral Science concept of Social Proof reminds us that we look to others to guide our decisions. To get the conversation started, introduce 1-2 planted questions. This gets the ball rolling, and allows others to feel more willing to voice their own curiosities. 

Pro tip: Break up your event with multiple Q/A sessions of different lengths. Adult human attention span is about 20 minutes. Have a 60-minute session? Try this:

  • 20-minute presentation or discussion
  • 5-minute mini Q/A + break
  • 20-minute presentation or discussion
  • 10-minute Q/A
  • 5-minute closing

For your closing, make sure you’re considering the Peak-End Rule. We remember the peaks of events and the end of events. Leave your audience with a positive impression of your event, so they’re sure to come back next time.

In our full webinar, we include another valuable example of increasing engagement. Make sure to tune in on-demand to learn how we increased engagement by 81% with this unique tactic.


This is the often forgotten piece, leaving the puzzle unfinished. Many times, we’re hosting an event, in-person or virtual, for a specific reason - generating sales leads, increasing brand awareness, registering for a demo.

Identify the behavior you want the attendee to do, and make it easy for them to do so. At the event, attendees are in what we call a “hot state,” meaning they’re emotionally excited and ready to act. Want them to schedule a sales demo? Give them 5 minutes in the middle of your session to do so. Additionally, give your attendees a reminder on how to achieve said behavior if they didn’t already at the event. Send them a post-event email sequence, including any links or collateral pieces they may need to easily convert. 

Even though the human brain evolved for in-person interactions, you can still connect with people if you design your virtual events with key Behavioral Science concepts in mind. This won’t be the last time our emotional, social, or environmental factors evolve, but if you use Behavioral Science correctly, you can stay highly relevant to your audiences.

Link to the workbook, How to Run an Event That Isn't Terrible.

About Layla and Shirin

Layla Mazdyasni

Layla Mazdyasni is a Junior Digital Project Manager at Next Step. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Cognitive Science, with an emphasis on society, culture and cognition. When not working with Next Step clients, she teaches yoga.

Shirin Oreizy

Shirin Oreizy is the Founder and CEO of Next Step. She has a degree in Engineering & Computer Science from UC Berkeley and holds accreditations from Duke University and UC Berkeley on Behavioral Science and Positive psychology. Her work applying Behavioral Science in marketing & growth is regularly featured on Forbes, INC. & the Huffington Post. 

About Next Step

Next Step is a Behavioral Marketing agency that leverages the latest research in Behavioral Science, the study of how humans really make decisions, to design better outcomes for businesses in their marketing and growth initiatives.

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