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In this guide, we’ll explore everything planners need to know about virtual events or adding a virtual component to your in-person event. Discover how making the investment to go virtual can help you achieve your goals, enhance engagement and discover another powerful tool to add to your event planning toolkit.
If there’s anything meeting and event planners today know to be true, it’s that making connections in-person is a powerful thing. But for a variety of reasons, it’s not always easy or achievable to bring people together in the same space. It’s why virtual meetings and events have become increasing popular in recent years, and for good reason.
Virtual events not only help planners expand their audience and promote inclusivity, but they can be an effective way to increase revenue and track key data about your audience. Despite these positives, however, there’s still a lot of planners that don’t know about hosting events online or adding virtual components to their in-person events.
In this guide, we’ll explore everything planners need to know about virtual events, from why they should consider hosting a virtual event, to what a virtual experience is actually like and how to make it a success.
Virtual events, in its simplest definition, are events held online. Virtual events use web-based platforms to connect dozens to thousands of attendees from across the globe and often include interactive engagement features such as polling, Q&A, chat boxes, and surveys.
Virtual events, like in-person events, can cover anything, but typically there are four types of virtual events: virtual conferences, webinars, internal hybrid events, and external hybrid events.
At Aventri, we strongly believe that, although virtual events are insanely popular right now, the events industry will ultimately move towards hybrid events. A hybrid event is essentially an in-person event that also includes virtual components. Hybrid events combine the power of face-to-face meetings with the massive audience reach that comes with a virtual component. For these reasons, we believe it will be the future of meetings and events.
In light of the current global pandemic, going virtual has become an increasingly more popular option as it helps organizations save time & money with logistics while also expanding their audience & inclusivity. To help event professionals navigate through this challenging time and keep their events alive we’ll take you on a journey through what a virtual event experience looks like through the eyes of a both planner and attendee.
Modern platforms integrate with event registration systems to capture event information automatically.
Registrants go directly to the virtual event page to get all the essentials, including the agenda, sessions, and exhibitor and sponsor directories. They can easily create their itinerary and click to attend a session. This brings them to the live-stream or recorded webcast.
Flexible platforms enable you to tailor each virtual event to fit your audience, business goals and budget. Here are a few examples:
These customizable panels put everything at attendees’ fingertips. While listening to the speaker, for instance, attendees might check the information panel to read the speaker bio, grab a membership application and download spec sheets supporting product demos. On the engagement panel, capabilities like chat, question submission, surveys and session evaluations create an immersive virtual event experience.
Organizers get the attendees’ view plus much more. Co-managed backend management platforms enable event professionals to manage the event themselves or leave that to their provider. Flexible platforms handle everything, from abstracts, sessions, continuing education (CE) credits, digital library, event website, microsites, groups, forums, gamification, reports and more.
Virtual events generate a goldmine of data. With everything online, usage data is easy to capture and curate via powerful analytics platforms. You can measure event performance with up-to-the-minute data on unique visitors, views, questions, downloads, posts and shares. What’s more, you can create custom reports for stakeholders in a couple of clicks.
Drill down to glean insights on the most engaged attendees and companies. Uncover the top-performing sessions by combined attendee evaluations and content usage. As you’ll see later on in this guide, savvy organizers leverage this business intelligence to optimize marketing programs and future events.
Making the shift from a physical event to a virtual experience may sound like a big undertaking, but if you're concerned about attendees' safety given the current global crisis, having a virtual contingency plan for your events in the coming weeks and months may be a great idea. Whether your next virtual event is for 10 people or thousands of people, check out these tips to make the online experience more engaging, fun, and, most importantly, successful.
Especially if you're transitioning your in-person event to a virtual or hybrid event, the number one thing you can do for it to be successful is to communicate, communicate, communicate. If you make this big change, tell your attendees, speakers, exhibitors and other stakeholders the reasons why, address their concerns and use email marketing, social media and other tactics to maintain excitement despite the format change.
Per MeetingsNet, there are some key items to cross off your list if you're switching your in-person event to a virtual or hybrid event. This includes researching virtual event companies as soon as you realize your meeting or event is threatened, talking to your speakers and educators and double checking their contracts to ensure they can/are willing to participate in a change of event format, and reaching out to key exhibitors to put together a virtual exhibition floor.
No matter what platform you use to broadcast your virtual event, make sure you research and utilize all the features that come with it that can help keep people engaged. Tools such as chat boxes, Q&A, screen sharing, polls, annotation, and more are popular. Bonus if it also includes tracks participation data to see how effective it is for your team or attendees.
This is a good tip for any meeting or event, virtual or not, but it's a top one nonetheless. Consider creating an agenda or talking points for your virtual meeting and send it out beforehand (or include it in the calendar invite). If it's a new meeting platform you're using, test it out for any connectivity issues. Be considerate of attendees' different time zones. It's the little things, but by taking these extra steps, people will be more prepared.
When switching to a virtual event, encourage your speakers to spruce up their presentations to make them more interactive. It's easy to add animations and graphics, or you can take it a step further by incorporating video or something like Prezi to keep people engaged and focused throughout a presentation. If they're comfortable on camera, have your speakers turn their webcams on to connect better with your audience.
For most planners, going virtual is still a foreign concept. After all, if bringing people together in-person is the preferred option, why should planners even consider organizing an event that takes place online? Many planners are also wondering if they can reach the same level of engagement or reach their revenue goals as they would with a traditional event. The truth is there are several benefits to going virtual that may not be well-known throughout the industry.
Meeting and event planners are always looking to save money, with shrinking budgets. Thanks to virtual events, the overall cost of putting on your event will be greatly reduced, 75 percent less expensive to be specific. Planners will save on staff, venue, setup and takedown, attendee’s hotels, meals, travel costs, and so much more. The only thing planners have to worry about paying is the costs of the virtual meeting platform.
Because your event is virtual, you’ll also save yourself, your staff, and your attendees so much time. Although virtual events do require some setup time (e.g. event website, registration, event marketing, and promotion, etc.) it’s tremendously less than that of an in-person event. They also require no travel time! So, your employees and attendees can use that time to work on all the other important things that need their attention.
Because virtual events take place online, you have a lot of flexibility in how you broadcast your event. Whether you’re hosting a thought leadership conference, a virtual town hall, a sales kickoff, or another type of event, you can choose to make the sessions interactive, offer different language options, invite guest speakers, and more.
Planners are always trying to increase their event’s reach to engage more people. With virtual events, that’s easy! You can easily promote your event by sharing the link to your website and social media channels. People from across the world can join instantly without thinking about travel. Hosting a virtual event allows planners to grow their audience and get everyone to participate, no matter where they live.
Like in-person events, feedback is crucial for virtual events. But unlike in-person events, attendees are constantly online at virtual events, which means they can easily answer real-time polls or surveys in sessions. Not only will this real-time feedback help presenters gauge how their session is going (which is especially valuable since these presenters cannot see attendees’ faces during some virtual events), but it will also be useful to measure the overall success of your virtual event.
Because virtual events tend to be faster-paced since attendees don’t have to move from session to session or booth to booth, it can be easier to make connections with other attendees and speakers than an in-person event. And since everything is online, attendees can easily record important information, like people’s names, titles, etc., right on their tablet or computer.
Although the data that virtual events produce varies depending on what platform and event management software you use, it should be easier to gather certain data on your event and attendees during your virtual event than an in-person event. Why? Because everything is done online, so it can be easily tracked. For instance, you can know when your attendees logged on, from where, the number of people attending, how they engaged they are, and so much more.
It’s important to remember that a successful virtual event isn’t as easy as clicking that button to go live and having speakers take turns presenting. There are a few steps planners should take throughout the virtual event planning process to ensure you achieve your goals and desired outcomes.
According to Event Marketer, the most important step in taking your event digital is "communication and a smart marketing message." Using Facebook's F8 event as an example, Event Marketer highlighted the company's clear, but powerful messaging that explained to attendees why the large in-person international event would switch to a mixed event (one with smaller local events, video and live streamed content), while putting health and safety at the forefront of their decision.
As the virtual version event comes together, use email marketing to keep attendees updated and to build anticipation about your format change, whether it's announcing one of your keynotes is willing to do a live stream or that you and your team will set up a virtual exhibit hall (more on that later).
Just like in-person events, not all virtual events are created equal, which means not every tech provider will be right for you. Some things to think about is the size of your event, how many sessions you want to host, what engagement features you want and the costs before signing on with a provider.
Even if they're stuck at home, people may not want to sit through an entire conference day. To give people options, include a mix of live streamed and pre-recorded content, all of which should be available on-demand afterward so attendees can access your sessions on their time. For example, you could have some of your session speakers pre-record their presentations, while your high-profile keynotes host a live stream each day. The latter helps drive excitement and engagement and keeps people coming back.
If you go the live stream route for some or all of your sessions, try your best to amp it up a bit such as using a high-quality camera and/or microphone. If you can, encourage your speakers to create a more engaging setting whether it's them being filmed sitting on a couch/chair or standing in front of a podium in a non-distracting area. Any difference in the standard laptop webcam set up will create a more professional and engaging experience.
If you had an exhibit hall at your in-person event, you can take that aspect of your event virtual as well! Take your exhibit hall map and make it engaging and interactive. If an attendee hovers over an exhibitor for example, have a pop-up showcase that company's information, description, and link out to a separate page where the exhibitor can link to content such as fact sheets, case studies and any special offers they have for your attendees. Also consider asking your exhibitors to be available for individual virtual meetings or calls with your attendees in case they still want to keep their previously scheduled onsite meetings or spontaneously want to learn more about their company during your virtual event.
On top of including popular virtual event engagement features such as Q&As, polling, chat boxes, quizzes, note taking, etc., schedule your event in such as way that keeps attendees attentive, focused and, most importantly, feeling included. Encourage your speakers to regularly check in with your attendees and take breaks every 15-20 minutes or so to do a poll, take questions or complete an exercise. Endless Events also recommends having someone moderate any Q&As you have to ensure the questions actually get answered.
A mobile event app isn't just useful at an in-personevent. Event organizers can have remote attendees participate in real time using a mobile event app that allows them to engage via polling and attendee messaging, which enables them to have the same interactive experience as those attending the event live. On top of email marketing, event organizers can also send push notifications via their app to remind attendees that a live stream is starting soon or that an exhibitor has a special offer.
According to Event Manager Blog, a successful virtual event also "incorporates elements that attendees look for at live events, such as networking opportunities." This can be done via your mobile event app with in-app chat and matchmaking functionalities or with dedicated WhatsApp or Slack groups on different topics or networking goals.
Making the change to the virtual is easier said than done, and showing appreciation for the speakers, VIPs or even all of your attendees for sticking with you during such a dramatic format change can have a lasting effect. Whether it's some special company swag, a sweet treat, or a "work from home" care package (like these great examples shared on BizBash), taking the time or making the investment to say thank you can brighten someone's day during this difficult time while making a lasting impression.
Although the particular metrics produced by virtual events can vary depending on what virtual platform and event management software planners use, it tends to be easier to gather certain data on your event and attendees during your virtual event than an in-person event. Why? Because everything is done online, so it can be easily tracked. You can know the exact number of people attending, when your attendees logged on, from where, their dwelling time, how they are paying, and so much more.
When choosing your virtual events platform, analytic and reporting features are a must, as these features will help you prove your virtual event ROI and learn how you can make improvements for your next event. To help you evaluate virtual event platforms, we’ve curated a list of questions to ask yourself about your current platform or a platform you are considering:
The data from these questions will provide you with valuable insights into your event, your attendees, and will increase the success of your future events and campaigns.
Like any event, proving virtual event success lies in capturing the correct data metrics. But what metrics and KPIs are the most important to capture for virtual events? We’ve outlined the top one’s planners should gather at their virtual events:
How effective a presenter is at hosting their session, particularly for a virtual event, can make or break an attendee’s experience. With so many meeting and event professionals switching to virtual events, your presenters must be prepped and prepared with the best practices around every aspect of the process. As long as you’re prepared, and you follow these presenter tips for virtual meetings and events, we’re sure you’ll nail the big day.
Although this may seem obvious, presenters will want to eliminate every and all distractions before the big day so their session can go off without a hitch. Because most attendees will be listening through headphones and watching closely, we’ve outlined a few tips to remove distractions for presenters and attendees:
Because today’s cameras are so clear and accurate, certain colors and patterns on clothing can look weird or distracting on camera. To help you dress to impress, we’ve collected the top dress code tips for filming:
Whether your virtual presentation is audio-only or will feature video too, your audio must be clear so your attendees can understand you. Some events will mail presenters microphones to use before their presentations. If your event doesn’t, we’ve created a list of the most powerful and popular microphones for virtual events:
Just like you would at events, presenters should use tactics to ensure their attendees remain engaged throughout the entire presentation. But how can you do this virtually? Check with the event organizer as every event will be different, but ask whether they'd prefer you to leverage features via their virtual event platform or their mobile event app. Here are some popular engagement options to consider:
Another key point, especially if you do choose to incorporate a couple polls or Q&A sessions, is to remember to space them out throughout your presentation (such as every 10-15 minutes or so depending on your presentation length) for optimal effectiveness. Whether you utilize these features or not, simply acknowledging the audience throughout your presentation can also be very effective, i.e. asking them hypothetical questions, references some of the challenges they may be facing, etc.
Just because your event is virtual, don’t wait till the last minute to prepare and rehearse your presentation. Presenters follow a best practice checklist to ensure they are ready for the big day.
Virtual events can be scary for first-time presenters. But one important thing to remember: don’t forget to have fun! Attendees can tell when you’re nervous, and if you’re not having fun, chances are they aren’t either. So, relax, smile, laugh, use props, hold contests, and get creative!
As a whole, virtual events are playing a bigger role in the meeting and event industry. But they only seem to rise to prominence during the worst of times, like during 2020’s coronavirus outbreak. The reality is, this is something that planners and marketers should consider including in their traditional events strategy, whether it’s creating a virtual event from scratch, creating a hybrid event or simply live streaming some in-person event highlights. And even if you’re not ready to go virtual quite yet, another lesson learned from recent events is to educate yourself and your team so that virtualizing your event as a plan b won’t feel so daunting.
Find answers to frequently asked questions about Aventri’s fully integrated virtual and hybrid event platform.
Virtual events or adding a virtual component to your in-person event is an effective strategy that can expand your audience and bring more people together. Making the investment to go virtual can help you achieve your goals, enhance engagement and discover another powerful tool to add to your event planning toolkit.