Virtual Events: Introductory Guide to the Future of Conferencing

November 5, 2020
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The online space is the new venue for hosting your event or conference. Virtual events offer you an easy, innovative, and cost-effective way to allow attendees from all over the world to participate in your meeting, conference, trade show, etc.

At this moment, you can attend one of thousands of online events being hosted all throughout the globe, and all you need to attend is a device to access the internet.

Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway held virtual conferences and investor meetings this year, and many more companies are following suit. Even the popular EDM festival Tomorrowland went virtual this year.  

And to add to the stress you might be feeling about transitioning your event to a virtual experience, there are many virtual event platforms arriving on the scene. From award winning, all-in-one software services to helpful management tools, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. You’ll likely be surprised to discover the many robust and easily customizable features available.

Check out our helpful virtual platform comparison guide.

Perhaps you’re in the early stages of thinking you want to host a virtual event for the first time or you’re searching for the tools so you can dig into planning that next big digital experience. We’ve created the last guide you’ll ever need to create the best event experience for your guests and your staff.

What is a Virtual Event?

Virtual, digital, or online events are events in which no one attends in person. They happen in a digital space in which presenters and attendees can network, engage, and conduct business from anywhere in the world via a device connected to the internet.

Instead of meeting in a physical location, like an expo hall or convention center, your guests participate 100% digitally through an online platform or event app. All that is required to attend is an internet connection and a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

You might also be interested in our guide about hybrid events.

Common Types of Virtual Events

Virtual events are becoming increasingly popular. The types of events include: 

  • Expos
  • Job fairs
  • Fairs
  • Trade shows
  • Meetups
  • Seminars
  • Workshops
  • Symposiums
  • Fundraisers 
  • Conferences
  • Corporate events
  • Webinars

Virtual Events Come with Numerous Benefits for both Hosts and Attendees

Benefits of Virtual events for both hosts and attendees

Benefits for Hosts

Cost-Effective

Without the need for a physical location, hosting an online event can be cost effective. It’s no longer necessary to rent out those beautiful conference halls or cater fine dinners and drinks. And you’ll no longer need to pay for vendors’ or speakers’ travel and accommodations. Additionally, renting out chairs, tables, and linen plus the services of the location’s staff are no longer required.

Virtual Events Mean More Access to Data Metrics

Today, hosting a digital conference or event means that you’ll be able to track everything. With a great hosting event platform or event app, you’ll get access to behavior, downloads, attendance, polls, engagements, questions, and any additional survey information you request. 

You’ll no longer need to keep track of all those physical forms or chase people down before they walk out of the room.

Access to Global Event Resources

The online event gives hosts access to software tools and speakers from across the globe. And on top of that, speakers can now attend and share more of their knowledge with people by giving multiple presentations at different events in the same day. 

Companies can also choose event platform apps and services created by companies anywhere in the world. This means that instead of creating an event with only people and spaces you have near you, you can select the best platforms from Sweden, the U.S., France, Germany, or anywhere else you like.

Diversify Virtual Event Prices and Create Fail Safe Logistics with Recorded Videos

Hosts of virtual events can request speakers to record their presentations ahead of time. In combination with live presentations, this allows for event planners to shift a recorded speaker into any unplanned technical issues or speaker illnesses that might happen on the day of an event

Additionally, recording the entire event offers the ability to set different prices for those who only want to attend the live version, and those who wish to attend the live and to have access to all the valuable recordings from your speakers.

Benefits for Virtual Attendees

Spend What You Can Afford, and Attend Events on Your Schedule

As we discussed above, attendees will also appreciate and benefit from recorded virtual event sessions. If they are unable to attend your online conference on Tuesday, perhaps they’ll be able to watch it on the weekend.

Additionally, many virtual events offer a free or drastically reduced price for attendees that only wish to attend the live version of your webcast. Since there is little harm in signing up for something you’re interested in, attendees can now access and sign up to be at more events than ever before.

And let’s not forget that attendees won’t have to spend hard earned dollars for food, travel, and any childcare they might have if they had to fly across the world.

Attend that Event Across the Globe that You’ve Always Wanted To

While they might not be headed to France or Japan, people can now go to that award winning conference with all of your favorite influencers and speakers. We all know the one. The one that happens each year and looks like a giant party specifically for the industry that they work in. Attendees are now engaging with their industries on an international level.

Better for the Planet

As more and more people are enlightened to the oncoming climate crisis, virtual events provide attendees with a way to cut down on their emissions. By reducing travel, consumption, and the demand for physical documentation, there is now a way to soak up knowledge, communicate with your peers, and go green at the same time.

Examples of Large-Scale Virtual Events in 2020

Many of the world’s most influential and innovative companies held large virtual conferences this year with great success. The transition and normalization of such events by huge corporate companies continues to make the virtual event’s popularity rise. And data shows that their popularity will likely increase exponentially in the following years.

Below are a few examples of successful, large scale virtual events held this year:

  1. Apple WWDC: Apple hosted its 31st annual Worldwide Developers Conference virtually this summer. This event gave the opportunity for over 23 million registered Apple developers to attend the conference this year.
  2. IBM Think Digital Event: IBM’s event hosted in May broke a company record for most attendance ever, with over three times the amount of attendees than their past traditional in-person events.
  3. Google Launch Night In: Google announced the arrival of its next flagship phone, the Pixel 5, during their very first Launch Night In event held in September this year. This is the first time Google has held a virtual product launch. 
  4. Google SheetsCon: Independent administrative professionals held their first online conference for Google Sheets users. This two-day event featured in-depth tutorials, networking possibilities, and meeting virtually with vendors. To drive up engagement before the event, organizers sent free swag bags to users who posted the event’s hashtag on social media.
  5. Adobe Summit: Adobe’s digital experience conference went fully digital this year, offering 100 breakout sessions across six featured topics. The best part? You can still view this content well after the event has ended.

How Does a Virtual Conference Work? 

Virtual conferences put all of the speakers, content, and videos at users’ fingertips, with one social media-inspired platform that’s extremely simple to navigate. Some of the most important virtual components include:  

Attendee Networking

A virtual event creates an online experience that allows users to create profiles. Navigating this platform is as intuitive as using Facebook or LinkedIn, which similarly feature a news feed allowing users to post content, like, and comment.

These platforms are an invaluable tool that allows attendees to search and connect with other users. Forgot somebody’s name? No problem, just search through the profile pictures of attendees on the platform to find them and send them a message.   

Dynamic Presentations

Virtual conferences feature keynote speakers who can either be live-streamed or pre-recorded. We suggest featuring a blend of live speakers and pre-recorded on-demand content for your attendees to browse through, keeping the content dynamic. You can record live presentations and save pre-recorded ones so that they can be viewed after the event as well.

Attendee Engagement

Breakout sessions are another important part of live events. These sessions give attendees a chance to engage in smaller focused discussions on the specific topic at hand. 

Poll your attendees and match people in groups by their specific interests to ensure greater compatibility within your breakout sessions.

Engagement is important. The attendees must feel free to participate, making the following features ideal in an online platform:

  • Live Q&As
  • One-on-one video chatting
  • Engagement buttons such as clapping or liking
  • Allowing comments

And better yet, these engagements are easy to track for data analysis, in a simple and innovative way that wasn’t possible to this extent in other formats.   

How Do You Prepare for a Virtual Event?

The keys to preparing for virtual events

Preparing for a virtual event starts with a great event plan, including finding presenters, setting an agenda, creating a purpose, and a plan for marketing virtual events. But rather than selecting a physical venue, you’ll choose an online platform to host your event.

Find and Feature Sponsors

You’ll then want to find sponsors who can help offset the costs of hosting the event. Once you find them, give them the recognition they deserve. Our platform, for example, gives sponsors their own profile page with the ability to upload their logos, post sponsored content, and read user engagement metrics for their content. 

Event Marketing

Once you’ve secured all of your presenters and set up your agenda, you will need to heavily promote your event to drive registration and attendance. This includes email marketing with a simple CTA linked to a registration page and following up with email reminders to make sure your attendees don’t forget the date and benefits of attending. Many platforms offer integration with CRMs like SalesForce, Hubspot, Nutshell or MailChimp to keep these pieces organized. 

Create a specific hashtag for your event and begin using it leading up to your event. Come up with creative ways to have your audience use this hashtag, like promoting a photo contest or rewarding early registrations.

Encourage Early Login to Your Event

Your guest speakers and attendees should login to the platform two to three days before the event starts. This way they will have a chance to set up their profiles, get a feel for the platform, and connect with other attendees before the event starts.

Get Help from a Virtual Event Planner

Not sure where to start, or need help building your online event? A virtual event planner can help you dig in by providing their expertise with setting up the platform and guiding you through the process of optimizing your event.

Execution During the Event 

Check in individually with your guest speakers before going live. Ease their nerves, give them encouragement and do one last round of microphone, audio, and internet connection tests. The more relaxed and prepared your speakers are, the smoother your event will be.

Continue promoting your event’s hashtag during your event, and try to include thoughtful content or quotes from your event in real time. This will encourage more engagement and attract more attendees.

Choose a platform that offers 24/7 phone, email, and web chat options for technical support to give you the backup you need and extra confidence to host your live event.

What to Do After the Event

Once your virtual event has ended, send out a thank you message or email to all of your attendees and guest speakers. Be sure to send a more personalized message to your guest speakers for taking the time to speak at your event. Ask your audience for feedback to see what topics they want covered for your next event. Take this opportunity to include a call-to-action for attendees to further engage with you and your presenters.

Next comes the time for you to sit down with your planning team to debrief your event. Your virtual event will provide you with tons of useful metrics for your marketing and sales teams to analyze. This data collected can be used to determine interest in your products or services and prove how successful your event was.

Collecting qualified sales and marketing leads is often a primary goal for virtual events, and there are many other kinds of useful data such as registration count, location of attendees, email click-through rates, and overall engagement with the platform. 

Now that you’ve received feedback and engagement data from your event, you can use that information to plan and improve your next annual bash!

Start Planning Your Virtual Event Now

With this guide, you’re ready to start planning your next event — virtually. Learn about how 2020’s Unforeseen MVP is the Virtual Event Planner.

Read more to learn how to optimize fun and engagement for your virtual events in our article: 8 Fun Virtual Event Ideas.

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