While virtual events are certainly not brand new and have been around for quite some time, it’s no secret that the global COVID-19 pandemic has caused the surge of popularity of virtual events.
With various social distancing policies causing the delays and cancellations of in-person events, many event organizers pivoted to virtual events throughout 2020 and 2021. Yet, soon enough, both event organizers and audiences realized the benefits and unique experiences brought by virtual events.
Thus virtual events are no longer solely a complimentary replacement of in-person events, and now, more and more businesses and event organizers are hosting virtual events all over the world.
With that being said, planning and hosting a virtual event have their own challenges and would demand the same (if not more) attention as an in-person event, and in this post, we will cover how.
In this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about virtual events, and by the end of this guide, you’d have learned about:
- What is a virtual event?
- Virtual event VS in-person event: pros and cons
- Different types of virtual events
- How to host a virtual event: actionable tips
- How to prove a virtual event’s success
Without further ado, let us begin right away.
What is a Virtual Event?
A virtual event, simply put, is an event that is hosted 100% online and involves interactions between people in a virtual environment (video conference, an interactive app, inside an online video game, etc.) rather than gathering people in a physical location.
An online-only meeting with the help of video conferencing tools (i.e., Zoom) is a good example of a virtual meeting. Webinars, and even live Yoga classes on Instagram stories, can also be considered virtual events. However, there are also bigger, more complex examples such as virtual concerts and full-scale virtual conferences.
Why Host a Virtual Event?
The popularity of virtual events has rapidly surged, increasing by over 1000% throughout 2020, and they are here to stay.
However, that’s not saying virtual events will completely replace in-person events, as the value of face-to-face interactions still cannot be replaced in any virtual technologies at the moment.
Here are some key benefits of hosting a virtual event over its in-person counterpart:
It’s no secret that hosting an in-person event is expensive. Even for a relatively simple physical event, you’ll need to take transportation/travel and catering costs into account, not to mention venue rental and decoration.
We can eliminate all these costs in a virtual event, so typically, hosting a virtual event is much more affordable. It’s obviously much cheaper to subscribe to a video conferencing solution (Zoom) or a dedicated virtual event platform for a year than renting an event venue that can hold 10,000 attendees one time.
No geographical limitations
Arguably, the biggest advantage of hosting a virtual event over its in-person counterpart is that we can invite attendees and speakers/talents from all over the world without worrying about travel and accommodation costs.
This can offer twofold benefits:
- You can expand your event’s reach and invite attendees from halfway across the world, which can translate to more exposure and, ultimately, revenue.
- You can secure speakers and talents that are otherwise above your available budget. Many talents will charge lower for a virtual event, and you can also save on travel and accommodation costs.
This will also mean more flexibility for prospective attendees to ‘attend’ the event from anywhere and on any device. If the event is recorded, then they can also choose the time of viewing based on their preferences.
A lower level of commitment=fewer obstacles
For most attendees, attending a virtual event is considered a lower commitment level than an in-person event, especially in this uncertain pandemic situation. After all, they wouldn’t need to leave their home to ‘attend’ the event.
Not to mention, tickets for virtual events are typically cheaper than comparable in-person events.
Lower barriers of entry and fewer obstacles will ultimately translate to higher attendance.
Narrower focus and higher value
With the cost-efficiency of hosting a virtual event, event organizers can focus on better content, which ultimately can translate into a better attendance experience for guests.
Also, virtual events offer the opportunity for attendees to access the content at their own pace, and they can spend more time on any session of their choosing. This is because virtual “venues” can allow post-event visits, for example, allowing attendees to access the recording of the event months or even years after the event has ended.
In turn, all of these will translate into a higher value for visitors.
Easier evaluation of performance
In a virtual event, we can set up various analytics and reporting tools to collect more data on attendee behavior and experience: heat maps of visited sessions and content, content consumption metrics, event attendance metrics, and so on.
Advanced analytics will mean it’s easier for event organizers to prove the event’s value to sponsors and partners and can also use the collected data to create better events in the future.
Last but not least, by using less physical resources, hosting a virtual event is more environmentally friendly than the in-person counterpart: less energy consumption, less travel, etc.
Hosting a virtual event can help promote sustainability for your company and ensure a positive environmental impact.
Different Types of Virtual Events
With the versatility of today’s virtual event platforms and technologies, we can now prevent various types of events in a virtual format. However, here are some of the most popular types of virtual events you can host:
- Virtual Conference
With technologies, we can now create a pretty similar experience to that of in-person conferences by including multiple sessions, keynotes, and breakouts while also utilizing virtual engagement tools (live chats, Q&A, live polls, etc.)
While at the moment, virtual conferences are not yet as effective as their in-person counterparts when it comes to face-to-face networking and lead generation, virtual conferences can offer unique values and attendance experiences like allowing attendees to view keynotes at their own pace.
Short of “web seminar,” a webinar is a seminar that’s delivered online via a virtual platform. Typically only includes one session and one speaker, lasts under 90 minutes in duration, and is delivered over video conferencing tools with interactive features (live polls, Q&A, etc.)
- Virtual Concerts
Virtual concerts allow global fans to experience live concerts from their favorite musicians from their homes. Event organizers can also turn traditional, in-person concerts into hybrid concerts by live-streaming the concert to virtual attendees. This allows the event organizer to maximize attendance and generate more revenue.
- Online Expos and Trade Shows
There are now virtual event platforms and dedicated virtual expo solutions allowing event organizers to host an interactive expo online to engage prospective customers all around the world. Various interactive tools can be utilized to engage and educate attendees, including webinars and live chats.
- Internal Virtual Events
Company-wide events like town halls, training, onboarding new employees, campaign kick-offs, and more can be hosted virtually. This can be especially useful if the company involves remote workers, so the organization can share its messages even when the employees aren’t gathered in a single physical venue.
How To Host a Virtual Event: Key Principles
A common misconception is to think that virtual events are much simpler to plan and host when compared to their in-person counterparts.
While it’s true that in virtual events, we don’t have to deal with things like venue rental, decoration, and catering, among other typically complicated physical elements, planning and hosting a virtual event comes with its own challenges.
With that being said, there are several key principles to take into account when planning a virtual event:
- Content should be the heart of your virtual event: your speakers/talents, their presentations, how you’ll facilitate interaction, etc., will literally make or break your virtual event’s success. You can’t rely on great catering or attractive decoration in a virtual event, among other “gimmicks,” to attract attendees. You literally only have your event to rely upon.
- Marketing is king. No matter how well you’ve planned and hosted the virtual event: the best platform, the best talents, the best content, and so on, it’s doomed as a failure if you can’t attract enough attendees.
- One of the key advantages of a virtual event over an in-person event is the fact that we can establish various advanced analytics tools to measure performance. Make sure to leverage these analytics tools to capture attendee data so you can prove event success to partners and sponsors.
- Facilitate engagements and interactions as much as you can. If you fail to keep your attendees engaged, they may leave your event, which can lower both attendance experience and conversion rate. Leverage tools and technologies and offer various options for attendees to engage with your event.
How To Host a Virtual Event: Key Challenges
As we’ve mentioned, hosting a virtual event comes with its own challenges, and here are some of the most prominent ones, along with the solutions:
- Lack of face-to-face interactions
Networking opportunities remain the top reason people attend events, along with good catering. Obviously, we can’t offer these benefits in a virtual event, and that’s why keeping attendees engaged is often the biggest challenge in hosting a virtual event.
How to tackle this: it’s important to design the virtual event with the focus of creating a more engaging and interactive experience. This includes Q&As, surveys, live chats, and interactive polls. Also, it would help to keep events small, so networking between attendees will be more effective. Facilitate networking as much as you can, for example, by allowing one-to-one interactions between attendees with similar interests.
- Data security and attendee privacy
Virtual events naturally involve a lot of data transactions online, and if you don’t put adequate security protections on your event, it will be a vulnerable target for cybercriminals.
How to tackle this: it’s the event organizer’s responsibility to protect their and their attendees’ sensitive/confidential data. It’s crucial to choose the right virtual event technology solutions with built-in security features and implement cybersecurity best practices throughout the event planning and execution.
- Technical hiccups
In order to ensure an interactive and engaging event, you may need to incorporate many different technology solutions: a virtual event platform, attendee tracking, registration software, live chat, live poll/survey tool, and so on.
Yet, the more technology you incorporate, the more technical expertise you’ll also need on your team and the more potential problems you’ll face along the way.
How to tackle this: only use credible and reliable technology solutions. Make sure the service provider you choose also offers dependable customer support, preferably 24/7 technical support.
- Leveraging reporting and analytics
While one of the core advantages of a virtual event is the ability to collect valuable data from various aspects of the event, leveraging this data into actionable insights can be easier said than done.
How to tackle this: it’s crucial to consolidate different data sources to prevent information silos. Make sure to choose the right event management platform that can integrate with your CRM.
- Monetization and sponsorship
Converting virtual attendees to actually make a purchase is more challenging than in an in-person event. This can be a crucial issue for businesses that rely on physical events as a major source of revenue.
Also, convincing prospective sponsors to finance a virtual event is not always easy.
How to tackle this: it’s crucial to leverage analytics and reporting tools to find monetization opportunities and to prove the event’s value to potential sponsors.
How To Host a Virtual Event: Actionable Tips
Identifying Your Purpose and Objectives
What is the purpose of hosting this virtual event in the first place? How will your business benefit from it? What would define success?
It’s important to answer these questions first before you start planning your virtual event, or else you might not go in the right direction.
Be as specific as possible when defining your event’s objectives. Instead of saying “increasing brand awareness.”, you should say “generate 1,000 new signups within three months after the event.”
By defining specific objectives, you can also define which metrics and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to track. For example, if your objective is brand awareness, then you can track metrics such as:
- Event content engagement (social shares, likes, etc.)
- Session attendance rate
- Attendee feedback from polls and surveys
Identify Your Target Attendees
Now that you’ve defined the purpose and objective of your virtual event, the next step is to define the ideal audience that can help you achieve these objectives.
You’d want to know:
- Demographic data of your target audience: age, geographic location (which will affect time zone), education/occupation/income level, gender, ethnicity, and so on.
- Their possible goals for attending (networking, professional development, entertainment, etc.)
- What may attract them to attend the event?
- Their online and social media activities.
- Past events they’ve attended.
The better you understand your target audience, the more likely you’ll be able to attract them to attend your event. So, don’t skip your market research homework.
Virtual Event Planning: Key Elements and Considerations
While a virtual event won’t need you to rent a physical venue or arrange F&B, you’ll still need to consider various other elements, and here are some basic elements to consider that make up a virtual event:
- Virtual event platform
- Event website
- Online registration functionality
- Live interactive keynote/presentation content
- Live one-way audio/video content
- Live Q&A
- live polls
- Pre-recorded content
- Post-event feedback surveys
- Note-taking functionality
And when planning a virtual event, you should consider the following:
- The KPIs for the event and key metrics to track
- Will the event’s content be pre-recorded or live (or a mixture of the two)?
- Creating a manual/guidelines or video tutorial for attendees that explains how they can attend sessions, join keynotes, use live chat tools, leave their feedback, and other important activities during the event.
- Will this event be free? Or else, how much will you charge for the event?
- Your backup plan(s) if you have connectivity and power issues
- The total duration of the event and how long each session will be
- How long will on-demand sessions be available after the event has ended
- The steps required for an attendee to convert (i.e., make a purchase). Make it as streamlined as possible.
- How will you facilitate networking between attendees?
Virtual Event: Technology Preparation
At the core of any virtual event is technology, but preparing the technology aspect of a virtual event isn’t as simple as just setting up video conferencing and a virtual event platform. You’ll need to take a more holistic approach and consider the tools you’ll need to plan, execute, manage, and promote your event.
At the very least, you should prepare the following technology solutions before launching your virtual events;
A well-designed and functional website
Even in this age of social media, your event website will be a very important promotional tool for your event and also a central hub of information for your target audience. It’s quite possible your website will be the first impression to your target audience: if it’s well designed and intuitive, it may attract them to attend, and vice versa, a poorly designed website may discourage prospective attendees.
Fortunately, building a professional and functional website is now easier and more affordable than ever. There are platforms like Wix or Squarespace that allow us to easily create a well-designed website with just a drag-and-drop visual builder. If you want more versatility with a bit of programming know-how, there’s also the free and handy WordPress.
Your event website should contain all the important information related to your event: date/time, schedule, speakers/talents showcase, FAQs, and clear steps attendees should take to register. Also, make sure the website is designed with your virtual event’s value and core message in mind.
Easy and intuitive registration
Attracting prospective attendees is already challenging enough, so you wouldn’t want them to back off from registering for your event just because the required steps are too complex/not clear.
Make sure it’s as easy as possible for prospective attendees to register for virtual events, submit their personal details, and provide online payment if needed.
There are also virtual event platforms like Eventtia that offer built-in online registration functions so you can streamline the whole registration process.
Email marketing tool
Even with all the newer marketing tools and technologies, email marketing is still very effective in generating leads and increasing the number of registrations for your virtual event.
Invest in the right email marketing (and automation) tool so you can easily send branded, personalized emails. The key is to send the right message to the right people at the right time, so personalization and automation are the keys to success.
Depending on the type of your virtual event, you can leverage mobile apps for various purposes: as a center of information for attendees, to facilitate interactivity (i.e., with built-in messaging tools), and so on. You can, for example, let attendees pick what sessions to attend on a mobile device.
For event organizers, you can also use the mobile app to collect data, for example, on engagement and session popularity.
How To Prove Virtual Event Success
We can consider a virtual event a success if it aligns well with the event’s objectives and the business’s overall goals. Ultimately, proving the virtual event’s ROI should involve weighing data gathered during the virtual event to weigh the generated value against the expenses spent to host the event.
Here are some of the most important data to gather at virtual events to prove their ROI:
- Number of registrations
- Attendance rate
- Demographic information of attendees
- Session popularity
- Session feedback
- Email open/click-through rates
- Post-event feedback results
- Number of generated leads (i.e., signups)
- Social media engagement
While planning and hosting a virtual event can certainly be challenging, in the end, success is determined by how well you understand your target attendees’ pain points and needs and whether your virtual event can be a valuable answer for these pain points.
Having a comprehensive plan and leveraging the right technology solutions can help you in designing engaging, informative experiences for your attendees to maximize attendance and ROI.