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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 and hybrid events have become increasingly 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 their simplest definition, are events held online. Virtual events are events that are completely hosted and run online with the potential for attendees to 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. These sessions are all streamed online.
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 a combination of a virtual and an in-person event where attendees can either attend the event in-person or attend the event virtually and/or online from around the world.
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. Below are five benefits of hosting virtual and hybrid conferences:
A common misconception about virtual events is that they take away from an organization’s audience from in-person events. But in fact, virtual events have the opposite effect. From financial and budgetary issues to health reasons and disabilities, attending in-person events can be difficult for many. Having a virtual event pass to your in-person event, for example, allows people with personal or logistical challenges to be included, adding an element of inclusivity to your strategy. Especially if the issue for not attending an event is financial, allowing people to attend virtually for the first time may also be the selling point to get them to make a larger investment in your event in the future.
Virtual events can be a great option for meeting and event planners dealing with shrinking budgets. In fact, virtual events are about 75% less expensive than in-person experiences, as planners typically save money on staff, venue, setup and takedown, accommodations, meals, travel costs, and more. At a minimum, the only thing planners have to worry about paying for is the cost of their virtual meeting platform. Planners also typically save a lot of time on logistics when hosting a virtual event compared to a live experience. Although 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. Overall, virtual events are a great option for organizations facing budgetary constraints or that need a quick turnaround time.
Have you considered the flexibility in not having your event grounded to one singular physical venue? What if it was possible to have a fully branded, multi-use event space that is accessible 365 days a year, at any time, from any location worldwide? With virtual events, this is the reality. 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. Providing you with the ultimate event flexibility, not only as the event host but also for your attendees.
Collecting and measuring feedback and engagement is crucial for all types of events. But a challenge for in-person events is getting people to participate and to actually use tools to help track such key KPIs, such as mobile event apps, surveys, etc. This is where virtual events have an advantage, as all attendees have to do is use your online platform and all of its engagement tools in order to participate; plus it’s done entirely in real-time for all participants. 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 a virtual event. 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. For instance, you can know when your attendees logged on, from where, the number of people attending, how they are paying, and so much more.
The future of virtual events will become a common aspect of any meeting or event. With event turn-around times as low as two days, virtual events will be in every event planner’s back pocket for when an event must be unexpectedly canceled, postponed, or have a large reduction in attendance. Including virtual components or having a partner at the ready to help your in-person event transition into virtual, is a must and maybe the key to saving your event.
When researching and choosing your virtual events platform, there are many things to think about and consider. But if you need to choose your virtual events platform quickly, because of something like the coronavirus, and convert your in-person event to an online one, you’ll need a list of the top key features to evaluate when selecting your virtual event platform and vendors with.
Like an event management software platform, planners should look for a virtual events platform that offers customization features, like:
If attendees log onto your virtual event’s registration page and see the virtual platform’s logo, they may be confused and decide not to register for your event. Being able to integrate your company branding and messaging throughout the virtual event’s platform, will help create a consistent experience for attendees. So be sure to ask your virtual event platform:
Just like in-person events, being able to communicate with your attendees at all stages of the event lifecycle and keep them engaged during your virtual sessions is essential. So be sure you ask virtual event platforms these questions:
Automation is a must-have feature for any event planner in 2020. Why? Because automation makes meeting and event planning easier, as well as helps planners save time and money! Especially if you need to create virtual events quickly, automation is key. Like your event management software, your virtual event platform must have automation features. When evaluating virtual event platforms, ask the vendors:
Even though your event is online, you still need the essentials to efficiently plan for, market and manage your event. That’s where an event management software integration or partnership with your virtual events platform is crucial. When used together, an event management software and a virtual events platform can save you time and money by storing your data in one place and taking care of everything from your event website to your email marketing to your mobile event app.
Here are a few questions to ask your virtual events platforms when evaluating them:
Instead of just having the option of placing a sponsor’s logo on a sheet with a group of other logos, a great way to attract sponsors is to offer a logo placement opportunity on the welcome page of the event. Here, high-level sponsors can place standard logos or video messages geared toward the attendees. You can also offer customized pages within the virtual event, in which sponsors can post live product demonstrations, eye-catching video footage, and more. Other ways in which sponsors can be showcased include:
Because a variety of sponsorship opportunities are vital to putting together an unforgettable virtual conference that attracts sponsors and ultimately enhances their overall event experience, it’s important to ask your virtual event platforms about their sponsorship types. For instance, you can ask them:
Although virtual platforms cannot replicate face-to-face gatherings, they can allow one-to-one networking. Virtual event booths are analogous to the stands you see at in-person events like trade shows and festivals, and they make it easier for sponsors, organizers, and attendees to connect.
A virtual event booth with integrated live video conferencing and reporting lets you convert event leads into qualified opportunities. If you know of a promising prospect at your event, it should be easy to instantly invite them to a video chat. Be sure to ask virtual event providers these questions:
Having the ability to live broadcast your keynote speakers and hosts during a virtual event is critical. Live broadcasting not only creates a sense of urgency amongst viewers but also helps engage attendees via live polling, Q&A, etc. In addition, to live broadcasting, some virtual event platforms feature multi-speaker sessions, which allow multiple people to present at the same time. If you’re thinking of hosting a virtual tradeshow, exhibitor event, or conference, be sure to ask virtual platform providers these questions:
Although many virtual events are live to maximize attendee engagement and the attendee experience, having the option to upload pre-recorded content of sessions or speakers is important (e.g. think if a keynote speaker cannot attend and speak live the day of an event, but can record exclusive content ahead of time for your audience). When elevating a few virtual event platforms, be sure to ask them:
Social media can play a big part in keeping your attendees engaged and connected throughout your virtual event. During your online event, attendees may want to share quotes, screenshots, or general event takeaways with their social media audience. So being able to let them share content directly from your virtual platform to their social networks is very important and will help you generate more buzz around your event. When speaking to your virtual event provider, be sure to ask:
Ensuring that your virtual events platform captures and records your event content is key. Not only can you use this content to market future events, but you can also allow past attendees to access your event content anytime, so they can continue to engage with you and your brand long after the event is over. So be sure to ask your virtual event providers:
Planners are always thinking of new ways to monetize their events, and with virtual events, the monetization options for planners are tenfold. With the right virtual events platform, planners can:
To ensure you can maximize your virtual monetization opportunity, be sure to ask providers these questions:
No matter how prepared you are for your virtual event, like in-person events, the chance of errors is possible. Since everything is done online, for virtual events, the chances of technical errors are much higher than at an in-person event (e.g. your presenter’s microphone input stops working or your keynote speaker or attendees' signal dwindles, etc.). That’s why ensuring that your virtual events provider offers live troubleshooting is a must. Ask virtual event providers:
Analytics and reporting are important to any type of event. Why? Because this data helps planners determine their event’s success and make improvements for their future events. So, what analytic and reporting features should a virtual events platform have? We’ve outlined a few questions to ask virtual events platforms when evaluating them:
Does the virtual event platform provide you with insights into all aspects of your event?
Does it let you capture a multi-dimensional view of your attendees, their interests, their touchpoints, and their interactivity?
Does your virtual event platform provide you a real-time metrics dashboard, so you can track your event’s ROI before and during the big day?
Does the virtual event platform provide you with the insights that are important to you, your company, your investors, and your sponsors?
Just because you need your virtual event platform in the here and now, doesn’t mean you won’t need or can’t use the platform in the future. So, although it’s important to think about how the platform fits into your company’s immediate goals, it’s also important to weigh your organization’s long-term goals. For instance, ask yourself:
Now that you understand all of the key features that make up the best virtual event platforms, it’s time to speak to a few vendors, ask your questions, and evaluate their platforms. All of these features contribute to the reliability of the platform, perhaps the most important feature of a virtual events platform. Because if your virtual event platform isn’t reliable, how can you trust them to host your virtual events?
While the name speaks for itself, many planners are finding that they’re not entirely sure what a virtual event actually is. Is it like a webinar or a large online meeting you may have every day at work? What additional steps are involved to make it seem more like a traditional in-person event or conference?
To help answer these questions, take a journey through what a virtual event experience looks like through the eyes of both planner and attendee, as well as what popular features are typically included throughout.
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.
Modern virtual event platforms provide a proven way to deliver immersive experiences that drive value for constituents.
No doubt you can choose all the bells and whistles. But it’s best to tailor the technology to your attendees’ ability to consume it. To find the right engagement features, start by answering these four questions:
Your answers will help define the structure of your event. Virtual platforms can scale up to showcase dozens of concurrent sessions reaching thousands of people worldwide. But remember attendees like a clean, straightforward, high-quality experience. If this is their first virtual event, it’s best to start with a simple format and build from there. Here are the top features for increasing virtual event engagement:
Polling, chat boxes, quizzes, Q&A’s, surveys, and note taking bring presentations to life and make remote attendees feel like they’re part of the conversation.
One vital capability is question submissions. With the right platform, you enable two-way video interactions between a presenter and attendee that all other attendees can see in real-time.
Surveys are another tried-and-true feature. At virtual events, attendees are constantly online, so it’s easy for them to answer polls and surveys during sessions. Using real-time feedback, presenters can gauge how their session is going. Plus, organizers gain useful business intelligence to measure the overall success of their event.
Of course, networking is a key driver of event success. Networking lounges create virtual social spaces, where attendees, exhibitors, and speakers can come together. No need for attendees to miss out just because they’re not meeting face-to-face. By listing specific interests and event goals, they can find opportunities to connect with like-minded participants.
The purpose of a virtual event booth is to deliver a comparable attendee experience to that which they might have if they walked up to a booth at an in-person event. This allows, for example, exhibitors and sponsors at trade fairs and other events to set up virtual landing pages where attendees can engage with brands via video-conferencing and other methods. For event organizers, facilitating virtual event booths makes it possible to take large-scale events online or maintain a hybrid environment. These hybrid events will be especially important in the years ahead for attracting attendees who are unable or do not wish to travel – thus they will remain every bit as relevant in the future as they are today.
Mobile event apps are not just for in-person events; virtual experiences can utilize them as well to increase engagement, support networking opportunities, communicate with attendees, and much more.
Engagement: Q&As features allow attendees to ask real-time questions to speakers without any face-to-face interaction, while activity feeds can emulate the onsite experience as attendees can funnel conversation topics using different groups and channels. Gamification can also be supported via a mobile app, allowing attendees to earn points and awards throughout a virtual event, by checking in to certain sessions, participating in online events, or completing digital “scavenger hunts.”
Networking: Mobile networking features such as in-app messaging and one-on-one matchmaking create a social space for attendees, exhibitors, and speakers to come together and interact. Attendees can list specific interests and find others who share them via this module while attending an event virtually.
Communication: Communication options have never been more important than in a virtual event setting. By sending push notifications via a mobile event app, event organizers can communicate important information and updates with attendees effortlessly, regardless of their physical location.
Along with facilitating networking through your event app, successful virtual events make the most of social channels. Social media is a valuable marketing and networking tool for almost any business. Even when in-person events make a comeback, social media provides an excellent way to keep in touch with your attendees before and long after the online networking events.
As with in-person events, attendees earn points and awards by interacting with your platform throughout the event. They make their way up the leaderboard by checking into sessions and networking lounges, asking questions, filling out surveys and evaluations, downloading content, participating in digital scavenger hunts, and more.
Are attendees engaged throughout your virtual event? Or, did they open a session and take off to do something else? Alertness checks measure continued engagement, especially important for attendees earning accreditations. Using this feature, a pop-up box comes onto the screen. Attendees have a few seconds to click and show they’re participating.
Virtual event platforms offer plenty of capabilities to help ensure your event meets its financial goals. Below are all the ways you can monetize virtual events. Even if not all the strategies work for your industry, remember that it will only take a few to improve engagement and drive significant revenue.
You can deliver an immersive showroom experience complete with live chat lobbies, demos, and meetings. Attendees simply click on exhibitors for personalized demos and conversations with suppliers.
These proven tools consolidate content and maximize return on investment. As curated one-stop shops, digital libraries make product purchases easy for users. You can offer live and on-demand access for target audiences to view for professional development and accreditations.
Just like in-person events, virtual and hybrid events are rich with sponsorship opportunities. There are sponsored directories, premium listings, sessions, networking activities, product brochures, demos, chat lobbies, posts, logo placements, pages, spaces, banners, and more.
When planning your virtual sponsorship package think about what you would offer sponsors at an in-person event some of those options might still apply for your virtual events.
Virtual event content is already online, meaning it’s easy to repurpose and share. Savvy organizers find compelling speaker content is a great way to expand their global footprint and extend the life of their event.
How effective a presenter is at hosting their session, particularly for a virtual event, can make or break an attendee’s experience. Your presenters must be prepped and prepared with the best practices around every aspect of the process. Whether they’re new to presenting virtually or are a veteran, communicate your expectations and provide them with a few tips to help them be the most prepared. Here are some top suggestions to share:
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!
While things may look a lot different at a virtual event than at an in-person one, many of the same principles apply when attempting to attract sponsors. The bottom line is that sponsors are still looking for value in an event. They want to make sure that it is worth their time and money. Read our tips below on how to put together an unforgettable virtual conference that attracts sponsors.
Q&A sessions are an excellent way for sponsors to reach event attendees. Having a virtual platform in which they can outline their content and services in real-time via video and text chat is an easy way to encourage engagement. For best practices, arrange for someone besides the speaker to moderate Q&As and ensure all questions get answered.
As with in-person events, virtual sponsors can host sessions and roundtables led by experts and influencers. Sessions are promoted through multiple channels, including emails, text messages, and push notifications to attendees who expressed interest in the topic. These efforts can create opportunities for deeper connections, as well. During the speaking session, for instance, exhibitors can invite attendees to participate in follow-up, small-group video chats, and one-on-one meetings with experts.
In today’s economy, many exhibitors will not have budgets for speaking sessions. One way to overcome this obstacle is to create tiered sponsorship options. For example, a sponsor may kick off education sessions with five-minute speaking slots. Smaller sponsors can share brand videos and invite attendees to visit their virtual booths. At the other end of the spectrum, let major sponsors follow up their speaking sessions with intimate ask-the-expert sessions. This option will encourage meaningful dialogue between buyers and sellers, as the problems in communication with large groups will be overcome in this scenario.
Notifications can be sent out to every attendee notifying them when a session or an overview of a new product will begin. This practice enables event organizers to create and monetize very simple packages that they can then offer to their sponsors. For example, organizers can offer event level or session-level sponsorship or both allowing them to easily give sponsors value and show the value of the event to the sponsors. These options can incentivize the sponsor to put more funds toward their marketing efforts at the virtual event.
If it works for your event, consider having a sponsor organize an exclusive VIP session or gathering either before or after your main event — the same way you would for a physical event. Whether it's a special happy hour networking opportunity or a bonus session, work with your sponsor to plan a special meeting or activity that only VIP ticket holders will be able to access.
If you’re still wondering how to get sponsors for a virtual conference and having trouble thinking of sponsorship package examples, think about what YOU would look for as a potential sponsor. If you wouldn’t opt for something being promoted at your virtual event, your sponsors wouldn’t either. So, get creative, get in the mind of a sponsor, and refer to the tips up above when planning your next event. The world may have changed, but that doesn’t have to stop you from organizing a successful event!
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:
As a whole, virtual events are playing a bigger role in the meeting and events industry. Companies are quickly realizing that virtual & hybrid meetings and events provide a host of benefits include:
Image an event where your attendees will be able to view a live stream of your event and chat in with speakers, or a meeting where your offices across the world will be able to fully participate in without the barriers of travel expenses and language. This is all possible with the integration of virtual event technology at your next event.
COVID-19 changed the event industry but will prove to help companies and planners make more strategic decisions around using virtual event technology. 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.