Virtual Events: A Comprehensive Guide

How can you turn multi-day conferences that are filled with education sessions and networking opportunities into virtual ones?

Keep reading to find out.

Table of Contents

Interacting with people in-person is the preferred way of conducting business for most people. Interacting virtually has also proven itself to be an essential aspect of an event program. How can you turn multi-day conferences that are filled with education sessions and networking opportunities into virtual ones? How can attendee insights be virtualized? How can you go about making sure attendees remain engaged from start to finish of an event

Virtual events warrant the same attention and care as in-person meetings do. Both events require effective promotion, attendee engagement, and the creation of memorable moments. The only things virtual events don’t offer that in-person ones do are on-site attendees and a venue. However, by seeing virtual events as engagement-driven, value-added experiences (as opposed to small, one-time presentations), you can produce effective events that extend past your computer screen.

Virtual Events: What Are They?

Virtual events are a lot like regular events, the difference being that the former takes place on the Internet. Virtual events can take the form of concerts, global conferences, product launches, trade shows, and more. They can be hosted from your office or home. All you need is an online connection and either a mobile device or laptop.

Four Virtual Event Types

Virtual events have the same fundamental components in-person events do. They are capable of covering a variety of topics and producing various outcomes. The method of selecting speakers, timing the event, figuring out how long it’ll last, planning its frequency, and choosing an audience to target can optimize your company’s desired results. Virtual events do not replace all events — rather, they can be used in conjunction with your existing events.

There are a quartet of different virtual events. Although many of them involve usage of the same fundamental components, they are capable of covering a broad scope and producing different results in the process.

Webinars

On average, webinars last between 45 and 80 minutes. Webinars let attendees listen to or watch a speaker present content, no matter where they are situated. Companies usually charge an admission fee for audiences who want to attend a webinar, though many of them are available for free. All webinars involve the use of videoconferencing software, which allows the presenter to hold Q&A sessions, make a presentation live or through taped video, and best of all, the content can be viewed after the event ends on-demand. Webinars can also involve external and internal training sessions. Because their educational nature is usually a one-off, webinars have historically thrived with attendances that are 100% virtual.

Virtual Conferences

As with conferences that take place in-person, virtual conferences involve complex, live agendas. They are usually comprised of breakouts, sessions, keynotes, and more. Some virtual conferences feature content that involves multiple sessions and may utilize tools for community engagement. Although their networking and lead capture effectiveness isn’t on the level of in-person events, virtual conferences let attendees view real-time keynotes, interact with others in attendance, view content on-demand, and build relevant agendas of their own.

Hybrid Events (Internal)

These types of events come in the form of department meetings, training sessions, companywide happenings, sales launches, and town halls. For companies that conduct business internationally, hybrid events like these allow companies to convey messages to their whole organization if staff are dispersed across multiple settings. As inconvenient as flying employees to your company’s headquarters would be, the cost of doing so would be extraordinary, and scheduling conflicts would be a nightmare. The alternative, then, is to hold an event that is partially virtual and partially in-person.

Hybrid Events (External)

These types of events accommodate people outside your company. They may take the form of conferences, industry meetings, or user concerts. External events warrant video production levels of a higher quality so that all attendees experience things the same way. These types of hybrid events let people who can’t physically come to an event learn and participate without leaving their homes. It can be troublesome to offer the same type of value to attendees at these kinds of events, as those actually in attendance can freely network and engage with others better.

Why Virtual Events Are Worthwhile to Host

In-person events and virtual events transpire for similar reasons: to present your organization’s message of creating lifetime value, building loyalty, driving adoption, boosting revenue, and stimulating leads. Event and meeting planners regularly decide to hold an event either virtually or in-person — or even a hybrid of the two — and do so knowing that each option comes with their own fair share of advantages and disadvantages. Webinars benefit from its virtual aspect, as they are purposely built to deliver training, thought leadership, and other content. Conversely, regional training or user conference programs are purposely built to produce one-on-one interactions. If you are wondering if going virtual is worthwhile for you, think about what you intend to achieve from such an event. Can you achieve those goals virtually, or just in-person?
Reasons hosting virtual of events are worthwhile:

  • Accessibility — although an event still transpires in-person, showcasing it virtually allows out-of-area attendees to see what’s happening, too.
  • Budget — your company might be cutting costs. In such instances, making your events smaller and hosting webinars helps trim expenses. Hybrid or virtual options are helpful when attendees out of a certain area are unable to physically travel to an event.
  • Lack of options — you might have to cancel your event due to acts of God, terrible weather, or travel bans. In such cases, you can the event going by having people attend virtually rather than in-person.

7 Considerations When Deciding on a Space to Host Your Event

1. Size of space

How much space is needed. Make sure you add in the space for on-camera activity, equipment, crew and talent.

2. Lighting

What kind of lighting is already present in the space? How do windows and natural lighting effect the space? What kind of lighting is needed to light your talent, to light the set, and to light the scenic elements?

3.Ambient Noise

How quiet is the space? Are there items that could interfere that could be turned off while streaming? Also, what does the space sound like naturally? Do you need to bring in carpet and drapes to help damper the noise?

4. Internet Bandwidth

Generally, you will need a min of 10Mbs of both upload/download speed to do 1 HD video stream. That’s the absolute bare minimum. Keep in mind that your talent and crew will probably be on the network and using up bandwidth, so factor that in

5. Number of Presenters

This is important to determine the size of the space needed, but you’ll also use this information to determine your technical needs like number of cameras and microphones needed.

6. Overall Look

Does the space lend itself for a nice visual backdrop or will you need to build a set to hide parts of the space?

7. Length of program and # of anticipated viewers

That gives some idea of the needed reach which will help decide which streaming platform to use.

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A virtual event is any event that takes place online, whether it’s a conference, a live stream, or any other type of event you can think of...

Virtual and In-Person Event Fundamentals

Event planning can be broken down to its fundamentals. Whether they are virtual or in-person, every event is an aspect of an overall marketing strategy. Are you considering virtual and in-person events holistically? You should be. Your prospects and customers can attend both events. They work together as part of your company’s marketing strategy, reaching audiences and engaging with them. As such, virtual events should not be dismissed as just a spoke on the wheel. They must be a key element of your event and meeting programs.

Event planning can be broken down to its fundamentals. Whether they are virtual or in-person, every event is an aspect of an overall marketing strategy. Are you considering virtual and in-person events holistically? You should be. Your prospects and customers can attend both events. They work together as part of your company’s marketing strategy, reaching audiences and engaging with them. As such, virtual events should not be dismissed as just a spoke on the wheel. They must be a key element of your event and meeting programs.

The Fundamentals of Event Planning

  • Comprehensive marketing is required for virtual events. Your attendance will suffer without targeted promotion.
  • In virtual settings, content is what people are coming to your event for. Engaging sessions and powerful keynotes that attendees can relate to are crucial.
  • Event success can only be quantified with data. Capturing attendee and engagement data will be necessary to determine what your ROI is for each event, as well as what the cost is of activating each buyer’s journey.

Virtual and In-Person Events are Two Different Things

There are limitations that come with virtual events. In-person events are capable of drawing attendees by giving them an identifiable destination, as well as a platform to network in. Content is what virtual events depend on. Planners and marketers must market content toward segments that leave the greatest response. When it comes to virtual events, a planner needs to determine how content will be provided. Multiple content choices and breakout sessions are held simultaneously during in-person events. Is the virtual event you’re planning offering an assortment of content options at the same time, or will you be providing individual content experiences? This is a decision you will need to make. Using virtual meetings to engage with attendees is a lot harder. This task not only requires creativity, it needs event technology — such as an app — to have any effect.

The fact of the matter is that in-person engagement suffers at virtual events. This is disputable.

Attendees cannot network with one another as viably. Sales meetings need to transpire afterward using data acquired virtually, as opposed to leads that were gathered on-site. Those planning to take their conferences virtual must ask themselves if they will still be able to create one-on-one interactions with sales representatives.

When the event is complete, a follow-up meeting will need to take place a lot faster. The associated data is important, and as such, follow-up meetings need to be on-point and conducted quickly. Virtual events simply do not provide interpersonal interactions on the level that in-person events do. Having said that, there are approaches that can improve the success of virtual events, but they require meticulous planning, agility, and data.

The Elements of Virtual Events

Virtual events are centered around attendee engagement, data, and content. Although virtual events do not need F&B, they involve most of the elements that other types of events have. Connectivity and the quality of video productions will be a key factor, as will the website displaying the content. The following items are what virtual elements are made up of:

  • Event website
  • Event registration
  • Live presentation content
  • Live, one-way audio/video
  • Question and answer
  • Live polling
  • Note-taking/favorite slides
  • Recorded content
  • Interactive video conferencing
  • Feedback surveys

Technology Required for Hosting Virtual Events

Technology is what virtual events depend on. Attendance would not be feasible if devices and computers were not involved. However, event technology involves a lot more than conferencing tools.

Visual events involve an entire platform that allows you to market, execute, and run an event. Here are some vital event technology components that can help you execute your next virtual event.

Event Website

A website will be used to promote your event, whether it is in-person or virtual. Your website is the central promotional tool used to entice potential attendees into signing up for your event. The website should articulate the value your event has, display its schedule, reveal presenters, include frequently asked questions, and guide potential attendees through the registration process.

Registration

This is the first tool you will use to collect data, and it is an important component of your event. You can let attendees register for a virtual event, have them submit preferences, enter personal info, and — if required — provide payment using registration tools. A robust program like this lets attendees register without a hassle while giving marketers and planners data they can use to coordinate a successful event.

Email

Event demand and registration increases can be stimulated through email marketing. Attendees can be kept informed about an event before it happens. Emails can be utilized to interact with attendees on the road to the event. 

Feedback surveys can also be done through email marketing. In fact, email happens to be the most optimal approach to engaging with attendees, no matter what event stage you’re at. Tools for email marketing can be used to send out personalized, branded messages, automate which ones are sent (as well as determine who they are sent to), and offer metrics for click-throughs and open rates.

Online Event Guide & Mobile Event App

Event guides and apps are the cornerstones for events. Mobile apps for events are vital for virtual events, just like they are for in-person ones, believe it or not. Tools like this can function on all sorts of website browsers and mobile devices.

For attendees, they are the central information hub. Agendas with session links puts content right at the fingertips of an attendee. Event guides and apps allow attendees to select which sessions they want to go to, allowing planners to collect data about attendee engagement and session popularity. Such tools connect attendees with one another and offer messaging tools, allowing attendees to foster connections and network virtually.

Event Feedback

Event input is vital when it comes to virtual events. Event input tools can be used to gather feedback using surveys — post-event — which can determine the success of it. Such input can be utilized to filter leads and navigate them towards sales.

Integrations

Attendee and registration data can be shared between the platform of your virtual event and the system for whatever event technology you are using. Integrations make data shareable between CRM systems and marketing automation. 

Integration tools keep attendee data contained in a single place so that you can respond to leads faster, as well as evaluate event insights, including session engagement and attendance.

The Basics: How to Host a Virtual Event

If you are planning on hosting some type of virtual event, you should know how to go about doing it. The process of planning a virtual event isn’t very different from the work that goes into planning any other type of event. 

You will need to see things from an attendee’s perspective when coordinating in-person events. The same thing should be applied to virtual events. Attendees wouldn’t be left sitting for over two hours straight, and virtual event attendees shouldn’t be expected to, either. 

When coordinating your virtual event, use standard planning tricks and tips to produce and execute an optimized event. As different as virtual events might feel, they should be treated like an actual in-person event.

When Coordinating Virtual Events, What Questions Should You Ask?

  • Will be content be on-demand, live, or a hybrid of both?
  • Have you put together an attendee guide ahead that explains ways to join a keynote, attend a session, and operate messaging tools?
  • Will the event be free, or will you charge an access fee?
  • What are the event’s KPIs? Although you might focus on acquired leads a lot less, you can establish goals based on feedback and session registration surveys.
  • How will you handle connectivity issues?
  • How fast will people be able to access the event on-demand after it’s over?
  • What is the length of each session?
  • What tools that attendees will need to use to schedule appointments and network?

Virtual Event Attendee Preparation

A user error is inevitable whenever technology happens to be involved. Each virtual event is unique. 

There are various types of tools for videoconferencing available, in addition to an assortment of event technology choices. Do not assume your attendees are tech-savvy. A guide should be created for attendees ahead of the event that explains how sessions can be accessed, ways to participate in them, and other relevant details. 

Give attendees an opportunity to send messages or practice accessing a session before the start of an event. This will alleviate the stress of attendees, as well as minimize the number of questions asked on the first day. 

A better overall experience will be had by the attendee. Your guide does not need to be boring. Is some type of host going to be at your event? Think about having them film an intro video that can educate attendees in a manner that lightens the tone, perhaps with a touch of humor.

Virtual Event Attendee Engagement

Engagement is what in-person events revolve around. Whether people interact during a live Q&A or network at happy hour, in-person events engage attendees, as opposed to having them remain seated for hours on end, expecting them to hear everything you say. 

Virtual events offer other opportunities for engagement, though. Although keynotes are watched individually, attendees can engage with the content via live polling. Q&A sessions will still transpire. 

Engagement tools that are offered with event technology remain available. Mobile apps have messaging capabilities, attendees have the ability to virtually interact with one another, and meetups can be arranged. 

Social media continues to be an effective engagement tool that can be leveraged. Ask attendees to share photos of their favorite parts about the day and get them to use a customized event hashtag. Attendees can be made to feel as if they were part of an actual community.

Virtual Event Connecting and Networking

At virtual events, networking opportunities are still abound. Event apps, either accessed on a smartphone or website browser, can unite attendees and offer them a system to message one another. 

After attendees are connected on the event app, they will be able to book in-person appointments with one another, their sponsors, or their exhibitors. Think about offering dedicated time for networking to stimulate the meetup of attendees. 

Registration data can be used to connect attendees that share interests. You can show them how to have breakouts and group chats set up. Networking can be facilitated through chat groups, appointments, and video calls.

Virtual Sponsorship Ideas

Bring Sponsors Into Your Event App

Event apps haven’t lost a bit of popularity over the years, and with the rise of virtual events, we’re also seeing a rise in the use of event apps again.

With attendees not being present, engagement is crucial, and that’s where the event app comes in.

Event apps call also help you promote your sponsors, which will encourage their participation. 

Most event apps give you total control ofyour branding, so be sure to incorporate branded backgrounds and include your logo where possible. You can also use your sponsor’s brand colors and graphics to tie it all together. 

Event apps also allow for push notifications, which are great for reminding your attendees about sponsored events or talks.

Incorporate the Power of Digital Ad Space

Without a physical space, you’re now faced with new ways to promote your sponsors. Digital ad space has become one of the most popular marketing tools in the modern world, something you can definitely use for your advantage.

You will have new ways to monetize your virtual event, and selling digital advertising space will play a big role for you.

All the standard digital ad types would work here – pop-ups, banner ads, etc. But be mindful of the number of ads you are running. No one likes to be bombarded with ads, and they could make people leave your event.

In addition to selling ad space to sponsors, you can also run ads to a specific page on your website to help generate leads!

Integrating Virtual Events Into Your Event and Meeting Program

To conclude, the addition of virtual events to your event and meeting program is worthwhile. Although virtual events aren’t as effective as in-person engagement, certain circumstances warrant the transition to virtual, oftentimes on very little notice. 

The right technology and plan will allow you to transition to digital and use it as a secondary platform. Virtual events can help you deliver informative and engaging experiences to any audience.

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