As we all know, events across the nation are being canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis and resulting travel bans and social distancing. Suddenly, face-to-face events aren’t on the cards. Of course, the value of live interaction will never go away, but there are times when going virtual is a necessary part of your event program. It requires a quick, flexible reaction to get your messages out there, find those leads, train your staff, and communicate with your intended audience.
Many marketers are developing a business case for turning their planned live event into a virtual one. Some companies that would have never thought to put on online events now see it as their only viable option. Is this something you are considering too? Then, you must know that with this comes a lot of new territories that not many of us have experienced before. Are you trying to navigate through a whole new virtual space almost overnight? Here are the most important things you need to know about the future of virtual events.
What is a virtual event?
Are you stuck at home wondering what a virtual event is? A virtual event is also known as an online event, virtual conference, or Livestream experience. So, in their simplest definition, these are events held online. They involve people interacting in an online environment on the web, rather than meeting in a physical location. Attendees can view or participate from anywhere in the world. Virtual events typically consist of an agenda with single or multiple-track presentation sessions and/or collaborative sessions which are all streamed online.
Remember, hosting a virtual event requires the same care and attention as an in-person event. With both events, you have to effectively promote the event, engage your attendees, create memorable moments for attendees, and prove event success. The only thing that’s missing is the venue and the attendees on-site. We don't recommend you to think of virtual events as small one-off presentations. Think of them as value-added, engagement-driven experiences instead. This way you will manage to create an impactful event that extends well beyond a computer screen.
Why are virtual events important?
As mentioned before, the current global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people and businesses across the world. Therefore new ways of work and communication are vitally important. The pandemic is predicted to last and seems likely to fundamentally change the way that businesses operate forever. Virtual events create new opportunities that might not have been possible in person. You can record events to easily reference later. The wide array of tools available for virtual events can also increase productivity and help gatherings run smoothly. Lastly, meeting remotely can save up to 40 minutes of commute time. These extra minutes mean more time for new ideas, problem-solving, and task completion.
Key benefits of virtual events
There are apparent benefits to this sudden pivot. Here are the reasons why making virtual events a standard in your association makes sense:
Virtual events are convenient. Meeting virtually means that your members can connect anywhere, at any time (as long as they have wifi). For sure, your members will appreciate the flexibility that virtual meetings offer. But most importantly, you might even see an increase in attendance because it’s much easier for members to log on than commute.
Virtual events are more productive and efficient because they tend to be shorter. What's more, you might spend less time catching up with the small talk, you can get down to business more quickly. This way, you truly maximize your time during events.
Attendance at association events might have been limited in the past - by each member’s ability to travel, pay for accommodations, or take time off work. Virtual events will help you to have greater geographical, financial, and social diversity. This is very important because more diversity ensures a wider variety of ideas. Everyone brings something different to the table.
Save time & money with logistics
Virtual events are about 75% less expensive than in-person experiences. That's because planners typically save money on staff, venue, setup and takedown, accommodations, meals, travel costs, and more. So, the only thing planners have to worry about paying for is the cost of their virtual meeting platform. Virtual events will also save you a lot of time on logistics when hosting a virtual event compared to a live experience. Remember, even though virtual events do require some setup time (e.g. event website, registration, event marketing, and promotion, etc.) and some extra coordinating with presenters, it’s tremendously less than that of an in-person event. That's why virtual events are a great option for organizations facing budgetary constraints or that need a quick turnaround time.
Different types of Virtual Events
Virtual events take place digitally by making use of features such as webinars, video calling, and online gaming. They aim to deliver a holistic event experience without requiring attendees to leave their rooms. Here we will list down the most common virtual events that have been providing customers and their audiences with enormous value in these times.
Business - focused events
1- Virtual conferences & summits
Put simply, a virtual conference is a conference held in a virtual space. Remote participants can access live and interact through their computers, no matter where they are located. It is hosted entirely through the internet. Therefore, there is no need for travel, hotels or catering. All you have to do is log on through the virtual conference portal, hit enter, and are good to go. Therefore, a virtual conference causes minimum disruption to a working day or week.
With no extensive travel time required or overnight stays, attendees need only be away from their work for as long as the conference is actually live. As soon as the conference is complete, you can simply return to work, or to your home life, without further impact on your valuable time. Virtual conferences, when done correctly, can be as engaging and fulfilling as face-to-face ones, making use of virtual networking, live panelists/speakers, and live Q&A.
2- Virtual trade shows
They have been a common practice for large businesses for years. Virtual trade shows allow companies to launch a product and stream it across multiple venues without requiring attendees to travel for attendance. This event helps businesses and people from various industries connect, network, and get live feedback from customers. It also helps more people attend what would have otherwise been a difficult trip.
3- Hybrid events
A hybrid event is a tradeshow, conference, unconference, seminar, workshop, or another meeting that combines a "live" in-person event with a "virtual" online component. Quite simply, it is a mix of live and virtual events. Take your live event, complete with an audience, content, and more, and you add a virtual component to it so your audience can participate and engage with your event, no matter where they are.
Internal hybrid events
Internal events are held to benefit your company’s internal stakeholders such as employees, leadership, staff, etc. For a lot of companies, it is nearly impossible to gather all your internal stakeholders in the same room for a meeting. Here's where hybrid events come into play. Start by picking a venue for your event, like your company's headquarters, and then live stream the meeting to the rest of your company. Here are some examples of common internal hybrid events:
- Sales kickoffs
- Global town halls
- Larger team meetings
- Company spirit weeks
External hybrid events
External events are targeted toward your customers, prospects, clients, etc. Transitioning your live external event to a hybrid setting will help you draw in more attendees and lower your carbon footprint. External events that can be made hybrid include the following:
- Conferences and trade shows
- Customer conferences
- Product demonstrations
How to determine your business needs?
As we all know, different businesses have different sets of requirements. Are you looking to run a virtual event like virtual conferences and trade shows? Keep in mind that these are where your business is at the forefront, where people connect, and where you can conduct business deals.
To determine which event type suits your business, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the purpose of this virtual event? (For example, you might want to launch and sell a product. Maybe it is a company annual gathering or celebration of achieving targets, networking event, a get-together for businesses…etc)
- Think about who your target audience is?
- Are you going to need sponsors and booths? (Did you know that there are virtual booths? They are cool!)
- It's very important to engage attendees or customers. How are you going to do that? (You can get support from Cre8 for that)
- How to determine that this event will be a success for you?
- Do you want a virtual event only or a hybrid event?
The answers to these questions will help you to visualize the purpose of your event and what the target is.
How to up your virtual events game
Virtual events are held for the same reasons as in-person events. They help to deliver your company’s message to drive leads and revenue, drive adoption, and build loyalty lifetime value. Are you deciding whether or not to make your event virtual? Consider what you hope to gain from the event and how well those goals can be reached virtually versus in person.
You need to decide what you want to achieve by creating this event. Do you want to engage with your audience or educate them? Will the event be accessible to everyone, or paid-for and exclusive?
Choose a format & speakers
Instagram is great for Q&A sessions. Podcasts require more planning but come across as casual. Webinars are more formal and require the most planning. Choose well-spoken speakers who have experience with the format.
The more casual the format, the less expensive the equipment. A smartphone is fine for live streams, but a high-quality microphone and camera are necessary for podcasts, webinars, and conferences. Test the equipment beforehand.
Now you have to get your audience excited to partake in the event. Send out emails and track CTR and sign up rates. Post about it on your social media profiles. Run ad campaigns if you have the budget.
Communicate with attendees
Before the event, ask your attendees if they have any highly anticipated questions for you. At the event, feel free to start a discussion and encourage your audience to participate.
Ask your attendees for feedback on how you can improve. Send emails with surveys or ask for feedback on social media. Your audience will appreciate the gesture as long as you show them how you will implement the changes.
Analyze your performance
This is the only way you can definitively say whether your event was a hit or a miss. Use tools such as Google Analytics, Sotrender, and format-specific analytics to analyze reach, engagement, and attendance.
Event planning fundamentals
- Virtual events, same as in-person events, need good marketing. Without targeted, effective promotion, your attendance will suffer.
- Don't forget that content is king. In a virtual setting, your content is your event. You need powerful keynotes and engaging sessions tailored to your attendees. They are critical.
- Remember, alone doesn’t have to mean lonely. Try to keep your virtual attendees engaged. Offer options that are relevant to each attendee type and try to utilize online event guides for virtual events.
- Lastly, data is the only way to prove event success. Try to measure engagement and capture attendee data as the only way to prove event ROI and activate the buyer’s journey.
In-person or virtual - The fundamental matter
Are you thinking about your in-person and virtual events holistically? Your customers and prospects will attend both your in-person events and your virtual ones. Remember, they all work together with the rest of your marketing mix to reach and engage your audiences and give you the full picture of interest. Therefore, virtual events should never be siloed away from the rest of your events. We always recommend integrating them into your meetings and events programs.
Make events interactive
You can significantly increase your audience’s engagement by adding interactive elements to your virtual events. This way your audience will feel like they are contributing to your event or have more of a say in discussions.
Some interactive elements you could incorporate into your virtual events include:
- Breakout rooms: Put members into smaller discussion groups to encourage deeper conversation and more active speakers. Some members might feel intimidated to share their ideas in a large group. Therefore intimate breakout rooms can help to get the conversation flowing.
- Chat function: Encourage members to share their thoughts through your virtual conferencing platform’s chat function. This is a great way to stimulate conversation and allow for a continuous flow of ideas.
- Acknowledgment of specific members: In smaller member meetings, the discussion leader can call on specific members. It’s likely that they have something on their minds. Calling on a member demonstrates that you value their input.
- Polls: A lot of virtual conferencing tools have poll capabilities. Therefore you can quickly vote on a decision. Send out a poll as a fun and easy way for members to contribute and settle on decisions quickly.
Incorporating these interactive elements will be helpful if you’re organizing a large, multi-day event such as a virtual conference.
The best way to ensure a seamless virtual experience is through ample planning and organization. Staying organized can help events of all sizes run more smoothly. We know that with virtual events, it can be harder for members to get a sense of how the event will go or what exactly they should expect. Therefore we recommend you set clear expectations before an event to help your members go into it feeling prepared and excited.
Some tips for keeping your virtual events organized:
- Start by creating an agenda. Try to outline how the event will go, what you plan to cover, and what sort of activities you have in store for your members. Send out this agenda before the event begins so that members have a chance to review it.
- It's very important to test any technology in advance. Are you going to add interactive elements to your event? Then it’s a good idea to do a test run before the actual event. This way, you will not have to troubleshoot while your audience waits.
- We also recommend you send relevant information ahead of time. You should attach any relevant materials you’ll be referencing so your members can adequately prepare.
Create independent opportunities for Virtual Events
Consider creating independent opportunities for virtual events if you want to encourage more participation among your members. Do you have a large association? Then it might be less feasible for you to meet regularly. Give your members the opportunity to keep in touch with your association. Your members might prefer independent events so that they can engage on their own time and to the extent that they wish.
Here are some examples:
- Give your members access to relevant e-learning courses to supplement future events.
- Offer to send recordings of Webinars or meetings to your members. This way they can watch even if they couldn’t make it to the live event.
- Have your members suggest podcasts or books that might be of interest to others.
- Try to encourage your members to involve their personal networks with your association, whether it’s through applying to your organization, joining a volunteer program, or simply spreading the word.
Virtual Event Elements
As mentioned before, a virtual event is built around content, attendee engagement, and data. Remember, video production quality and connectivity will be important, as well as the site that houses the agenda and content. It is important for a virtual event to contain a mix of live and pre-recorded content. Here we are mentioning the elements that make up a virtual event:
- 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
What platforms facilitate Virtual Events?
Virtual events are becoming more commonplace and because of this, there is more software being developed to meet this need all the time. At Cre8, we have had some experience with a few platforms that we have found work brilliantly.
Remo is a remote working platform. It is great at facilitating a live, virtual event and networking space, using an all-in-one platform with broadcasting capabilities for real-time, face-to-face engagement. It allows you to host up to 1000 attendees! Remo enables live Q&A sessions to maximize attendee engagement and hosts an in-app chat function that allows participants to ask questions or vote in real-time, during speaker presentations. This way presenters on the platform can engage with their attendees immediately. Furthermore, attendees can interact with one another in real-time. To do so they must join one of the many tables in the virtual conference space which even features sofa areas to facilitate more informal conversations. This platform creates an authentic, fun experience with all the benefits of a face-to-face conference at a fraction of the cost, financial, or timewise.
GoToWebinar is also one of the best-ranked virtual event platforms. It makes it easy to launch and host your event while delivering video and audio sessions to your participants. This platform allows hosts to share recordings, send automated emails to their attendees, share files and conduct live chats with members of the audience during the event. This way, attendees can also join in with the discussion, asking real-time questions and contributing to polls during the presentations. GoToWebinar offers a function for attendees to join the conference by default. However, if you subscribe to a higher paid plan, you will unlock the ability to broadcast conferences that will run directly from your web browser.
You are going to love Zoom. It is a huge, straightforward video conferencing and messaging platform that works across almost any device. Zoom offers easy, widespread usability, enabling quick adoption, start-up, joining and collaboration for everyone. This platform can be used for a myriad of things, including 1:1 meetings, team collaboration, and virtual training. It also offers a package called video webinars. Zoom allows up to 100 interactive video panelists, with plans ranging from 100 to 10,000 view-only participants. You will be able to host controls including muting and unmuting panelists, presentation sharing, and recording capabilities. Lastly, Zoom also enables live Q&A, polling, reporting, and a live streaming function, allowing you to reach unlimited audiences on Facebook Live and YouTube.
Cisco WebEx is still one of the most popular virtual event platforms. It is reliable, offering integrated video, audio, and easy content sharing. The host will be able to record their virtual conference, share files with attendees, mute or unmute participants, and present by sharing their screen. Joining is very easy; participants can smoothly join the offered conference with no need to sort through endless login codes or passwords. This platform also comes with built-in artificial intelligence to detect and minimize background noise, such as passing vehicles or barking dogs.
There are many types of virtual events out there. But which of them does your business need? More importantly, how can you organize your annual company event gathering or host a virtual trade show? Fret not! Cre8 has you covered here. We have already helped host various virtual events. So whether you’re looking to create an all-virtual event or a hybrid event, we can support you with both the virtual and the live side.
Do you want to create an event for your business? Get in touch with Cre8.