Virtual conferences have been on the menu for more than a year now — initially seen as something to plug the gap left by in-person conference cancellations, virtual conferences are here to stay, definitely in the short term and most likely much longer than that.
Accessibility, cost savings, environmental footprint, data reporting — for us event planners, virtual events have a lot going for them. Ask your attendees though, and they’re more likely to tell you something different.
Why? Because instead of creating engaging and memorable experiences, which is what virtual conferences are all about, they’re turning mundane.
To set yourself apart from the rest, we’ve come up with 10 virtual conference best practices and ideas that will be sure to earn you rave reviews.
What is a virtual conference?
As you’ll see below, virtual conferences encompass a lot of different formats and aspects of a virtual event. Providing you make the conference experience engaging and adapt it to the confines of the digital world, there’s no set formula.
Given this, virtual conferences are particularly well suited towards shorter sessions that span multiple days. Variety is key, which is why virtual conferences can be made up of anything from the more conventional, such as keynotes and roundtables, through to the more creative, such as virtual concerts and escape rooms.
Like with any event, virtual conferences can be run for a multitude of reasons, covering lead and demand gen, to nurture a community and brand awareness. While virtual conferences lack face-to-face interaction, they provide a great platform to reach attendees from around the world, all while being much cheaper than an in-person event.
Virtual conference best practices
Now we’ve got the basics out of the way it’s time to dive deeper into the best practicas that can be applied directly to your best practices. For the purpose of this article, we’ve broken these ideas down into 4 core areas.
Make it fun
Beyond all of the keynotes, roundtables and content, everyone wants a bit of fun when attending a virtual conference. This is a great way to boost engagement and for attendees to take a much-needed break from all the content. Any type of easy and fun interaction is a good way for your audience to share their ideas and to feel connected with your virtual event.
The first, and most commonly used, is gamification. This can be in the form of quizzes, trivia, or even escape rooms. Prizes can be included to bring out your attendees’ competitive edge. Plus, responses are made in real-time which gives your attendees a voice and a central role to play in the conference.
Additionally, you can think about creating dedicated channels or feeds, where attendees can meet and interact among themselves. Or you could offer a photo booth where attendees take a snap of themselves and customise their selfies with branded animations. Finally, think about using a dedicated hashtag on social media to further build awareness around the cause and get others involved.
Just because your conference has moved online doesn’t mean that it can’t come jampacked with experiential activities. Technology is your friend, so leverage it to its full potential. Think about how you can break down barriers and immerse your attendees in something out of the ordinary.
Whether it’s a yoga session, a cooking class, or even a live music performance, all of these activities offer the chance for your attendees to let their hair down and mingle in a different, less formal setting. Providing that the activities allow your attendees to participate and get involved, then you can really go wild with this.
Networking should be a key part of any event, so it’s vital that you offer this to your audience. It’s a sure-fire way to give your attendees the time to get to know each other on a more personal level. The premise of online networking is actually very simple. Attendees schedule one to one meetings via a video chat, where they can come together to talk about the conference.
To make this as fun as possible for your attendees consider running speed networking. Each attendee gets two to five minutes to chat with each person before their time is up and automatically begins their chat with the next person.
Another option is to use artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to run matchmade networking. These functions analyze collected user data added from profiles and survey results to automatically pair compatible attendees together. This ensures a high quality of meetings and puts attendees in front of who they want to meet.
To find how you can run both of these networking formats on Eventtia check out this informative article.
Focus on production
Having a professional production always goes a long way in engaging your attendees. This applies for all of your content both live and pre-recorded. For the former, and more specifically, any sessions taken from home, be sure that everyone has a good set-up with quality lighting, audio and a stable internet connection.
Then for the latter, really focus on production value, as they are able to be edited or enhanced. This can avoid any hiccups that you’d get with real-time engagement and can greatly improve speakers’ performances because they eliminate the feeling that you’re in a Zoom call.
Finally, if you’re really looking to push the boat out, consider hosting your event from a studio. This adds a highly professional touch and is a great way to jump in and out of sessions. It also contributes to a more well-rounded and engaging attendee experience, that doesn’t give the impression that you’re jumping between different webinars.
Virtual conference ideas
The biggest challenge for any virtual conference is keeping your audience engaged. To overcome this, we’ve drawn up some best practices that can help you enhance the attendee experience.
Get creative with technology
A good virtual conference is one that showcases all the technology you have at your disposal. That doesn’t mean just using Zoom, the opposite. It’s about exploring what options you have and how you can integrate them into an engaging virtual conference.
The glue that binds all of these elements together is your virtual event platform. For example, Eventtia’s virtual stage acts as the centrepiece that combines all the different parts of the online attendee experience into one.
It’s the place where attendees access video content, interact with other participants through a live chat and networking, enter digital experience rooms, take a look at sponsor booths, and generally speaking, access everything to do with the online event.
Run parallel workshops for attendees
Be sure to give participants the option to register for these workshops before, that way they can find and attend the workshops most important to them, and even better, they’ll be doing it with others who share these same interests.
By segmenting your virtual event into parallel workshops, participants will have the chance to meet in a more intimate setting, making it much easier to break down any virtual barriers to communication and interaction.
Moreover, participants can find real value in attending these sessions because they appeal to directly their needs. Naturally, this gives your program some much-needed variety away from the keynotes and panel discussions which can’t offer the same level of attendee interaction and engagement. Just be sure that your event technology offers simultaneous sessions.
Keep it interactive with polling and surveys
Audience engagement is the degree to which attendees are fully participating in and captivated by your event. When you’re able to do this, you’ll find attendees who are satisfied and actively involved with your content (making it much easier for you to achieve your event goals).
Audience engagement software enables event planners to interact with their audiences through polls, surveys, quizzes or Q&As in real-time. By engaging audiences and bringing interactivity, organizers can easily capture the ideas or opinions of attendees, and on the flipside, attendees get the chance to express their thoughts and steer the conversation of the talks.
Generally speaking, audience members respond to the polls and quizzes or submit questions through a second screen which comes in the shape of a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. Importantly, this doesn’t detract away from the attendee experience on the virtual stage and even has the added bonus that attendees won’t be using their phones or tablets for something unproductive.
Create a special green room and offer access to your speakers
Green rooms have always been a fantastic way for attendees to meet and interact with speakers. And you can do the same at your online events by offering a virtual room. This can be offered as a simultaneous session that runs throughout the event.
To get the most out of this, make sure to have your speakers stick around after their talk so that attendees can ask any unanswered questions or spend some valuable time chatting getting to know them.
Given how hard it can be for attendees to connect with speakers, especially at an online event, this is a sure-fire way to give them time with industry leaders and experts. In terms of value, it doesn’t get much better for your attendees, which is why having a virtual green room can be a real differentiator at your online events.
Sparking the initial interest and then maintaining the attention of your audience is always going to be a big ask. But with the right technology, you can make it happen. By using an online events platform, like Eventtia, you can create engaging experiences that’ll wow your attendees, all while attracting larger audiences, keeping costs down, and having greater control of your metrics.