Introduction

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.

virtual conference

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. Finally, we’ll look ahead to the future to see how virtual events will play a bigger role in the event industry as a whole.

before you cancel or postpone your event, go virtual


What is a Virtual Event?

at home virtual event

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 a both planner and attendee, as well as what popular features are typically included throughout.

Virtual Event Journey

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.

Through the Attendees Eyes

Flexible platforms enable you to tailor each virtual event to fit your audience, business goals and budget. Here are a few examples:

  • For simple events, attendees can view a speaker webcast or slides with audio only. They can also visit a digital library for supporting content like presentation slides, blog posts and white papers.
  • With more robust events, attendees can view a live stream of the speaker along with information and engagement panels, all on one screen.

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.

Through the Event Professional's Eyes

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.

Engagement Features

virtual engagement

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:

  1. What’s the main purpose of the event – for example, education, networking, product launch, monetization?
  2. Has this event ever been virtual before?
  3. How much experience do attendees have with virtual events in general?
  4. What content will they value most?

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 top features for increasing engagement:

  • Interactive Sessions: 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.
  • Networking: 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.
  • Gamification: 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.
  • Attention Checkers: 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.

Monetization

virtual monetization

Virtual event platforms offer plenty of capabilities to help ensure your event meets its financial goals. Choose from these key features and best practices:

  • Virtual Exhibit Halls: 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.
  • Digital Libraries and CE Stores: 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. 
  • Sponsorships: Virtual 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.
  • The Longer Tail: 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.

Advantages of Going Virtual

online meeting

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.

Expanding Your Audience & Inclusivity

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 make a larger investment in your event in the future.

Save Time & Money With Logistics

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 minimum, the only thing planners have to worry about paying for s 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.

Collect Powerful Data

Collecting and measuring feedback and engagement are 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 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.

Have a Back-up Plan

From natural disasters and bad weather, to acts of terrorism and widespread health concerns, events like these are unpreventable and unexpected as they relate to events. Although their occurrence in the scheme of the things are rare, event planners today need to have a backup plan in case their event is at risk of being canceled, postponed or have a large reduction in attendance. Including virtual components or having a partner at the ready to help you in-person event transition into virtual, is a must and may be the key to saving your event.


How to Make Your Virtual Event a Success

virtual event success

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.

Prioritize Your Goals to Find the Right Virtual Events Partner

Virtual or not, no two events are the same, therefore not every virtual event provider will be right for you and your audience. Before searching for a platform, take the time to meet with your stakeholders to discuss your main objectives for your event, as note some key logistical factors such as event size, time, budget, etc. Keeping all of these factors and your goals in mind will be critical to securing the right virtual event platform. For example, if audience engagement is important to you, finding a platform with robust features on the attendee interface will be essential; and if having live content is the main focus of your event, one with high video quality will be the most significant.

Utilize Event Management Software

If your event is virtual, you still need some of the essentials to efficiently plan for it such as a dedicated event website and a registration process, as well as email marketing. When used together in one event management software platform, you'll save valuable time and money by having all your data and tools in one place.

  • Event Registration: Having a professional registration set up is critical to increasing attendance and learning more about your virtual event audience. For example, you could include questions related to their interests or even their virtual event experience to promote the right event content to the right people, as well as better understand their comfort/knowledge level when it comes to attending virtual events.
  • Event Website: Especially if your audience is new to virtual events, your website acts as an important medium to explain how the event will work, answer FAQs, and to post your on-demand content post-event. If your virtual event is a little last minute, with event management software, you can build a new professional looking website add website pages in minutes.
  • Email Marketing: Just like registration and an event website, email marketing is perhaps event more crucial to a virtual event than an in-person one. When an event is online, attendees can more easily forget about it or be unsure of the details. That's why an email marketing strategy is critical to keep your attendees update to date and enthusiastic about attending your virtual event. Send email reminders in the days and weeks leading up to your event, and use it announce new sessions or speakers.

Use Your Mobile Event App

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. Here are some examples.

  • 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.
  • Monetization: Planners can also use a mobile event app to convert live event sponsorships into digital ones with various in-app sponsorship options including sponsored posts, push notification, premium listings, product brochures, ad banners and logos placed throughout other modules. Sponsors can also choose to sponsor a session or activity by adding an image or logo to it within the app.

Communicate With Your Presenters

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:

  • Eliminate Distractions: 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. Suggest that your speakers use a plain or simple backdrop, to be conscious of how their lighting looks on camera, and to take care of any preventable noises like phone/email pings.
  • Implement a Dress Code: Besides dressing professionally and appropriately, encourage your speakers to stick with solid colors and avoid any busy patterns, writing or logos. Also ask them to me mindful of any noisy, shiny or distracting jewelry.
  • Prioritize Engagement: Just like you would at in-person events, presenters should use tactics to ensure their attendees remain engaged throughout the entire presentation. Go over your virtual event platform’s features, like polls or Q&As, and ask that they include some of those elements in their presentation and have them space out each element accordingly to keep attendees engaged throughout.
  • Consider Their Equipment: Whether your virtual presentation is audio-only or will feature video too, your audio and video must be clear so your attendees can understand you. Discuss with your presenters to see what external cameras or microphones they can utilize. If you plan on hosting many virtual events in the future, invest in some of this equipment to send to speakers if they don’t have any on hand.
  • Practice Makes Perfect: Most presenters will of course practice on their own time, but especially if you’re new to hosting virtual events, consider having a rehearsal with your speakers so they can test their equipment and get familiar with your virtual event platform.

Virtual Events Metrics & Reporting

virtual event data

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.

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.

Important Data Collected at Virtual Events

  • Number of Registrations: The total number of people who have registered for your virtual event. This number is commonly used as the most immediate way to determine your event’s success.
  • Number Session Registration: The total number of people who registered for a particular session at your virtual event. From this information, you can determine which speakers you should invite back next year or which topics to include at your next virtual event.
  • Demographic Attendee Information: Because attendees will be attending your virtual event from around the world this particular metric is key in understanding your audience. Attendee demographic information like gender, age, and location, can be used to better target your future advertising campaigns and identify similar demographics where your event or products may also be successful.
  • Email Open Rate: An email open rate is the percentage of email recipients who open the email you sent them. For conferences and professional events, the average open rate is only 23 percent, and for general events, the average open rate is 26 percent. An easy way to improve your email open rate is to make the subject lines more personal (e.g. include their name in the subject line).
  • Email Click-through Rate: Your click-through email rate (also known as the CTR) is the percentage of email recipients who click a link (e.g. a registration link to your virtual event) in your email. The average event click through email rate is only 4.95 percent. A good way to improve your CTR is to use your demographic attendee information to create more targeted email lists and content.
  • Speaker Engagement via Mobile App: To see how engaging attendees found your event speaker, you can look at the number of profile views the speaker received within your mobile event app. Because how effective a presenter is at hosting this virtual event session can make or break an attendee’s experience and engagement levels, make sure your speakers are prepped and prepared with virtual presenting best practices.
  • Speaker & Session Engagement Via Live Polling: Because speakers or planners cannot see how engaging attendees are finding a particular session based on their body language, whispers, and facial reactions during a virtual event, a mobile event app with live polling is a must. You can look at the response rate for in-event, live polling to determine how engaged attendees were during specific sessions and to see who the most engaging speaker was. This is also an easy way to collect valuable feedback on what content is resonating the most with your audience.
  • Session Feedback & Ratings via Mobile Event App: If you use a mobile event app for your virtual event, you can easily collect attendee session feedback and ratings during and after the session. This can be a measure of attendee satisfaction, attendee session engagement, content resonation, speaker performance, and more.
  • Social Media Engagement: This number is the total reactions your social media audience had to your posts related to your event (e.g. likes, shares, retweets, etc.). Generally, this number is used to understand how your virtual event content is resonating with your audience.
  • Social Media Mentions: The number of social media mentions is defined as the direct social media mentions (hashtag or handle name) your virtual event received. This number will allow you to determine how social media-friendly your virtual event was in addition to how engaged attendees were.
  • Qualified Sales Leads: The number of qualified sales leads generally reflects the number of prospective customers your virtual event generated. This metric is important since one of the jobs of any event (whether online or in-person) is to generate leads.
  • Connections: This data metric is the total number of people that exchanged contact information at networking events. This metric helps show how engaged attendees were at 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. So, this number may be higher for your virtual events than your in-person events.
  • Attendee Satisfaction Surveys: An attendee satisfaction survey is a planners’ opportunity to ask their guests specific questions about their virtual event. To ensure that you can utilize this data to understand and improve future online events, be sure to ask specific questions that can be answered by selecting a numeric option.
  • Mobile App Insights: If you’re using a mobile event app for your virtual event, it is filled with event success metrics. For instance, you can learn the number of attendees who downloaded the app, the number of attendees who used the app to scheduled appointments with speakers or sponsors, message colleagues, and so much more.
  • Sponsorship Page Engagement: To prove to your sponsorships that attendees engaged with their brands virtually and to solidify a partnership with them in the future, the sponsorship page engagement metric is essential. This metric shows the number or level of engagement (e.g. views, likes, actions) attendees had with sponsorship pages.
  • Net Promoter Score: This metric is very important for first-time virtual events. The net promoter score, also known as NPS, reflects attendees’ answers to the question “On a scale of 1-10, how likely is it that you would recommend this event to friends?” The score is reflected in the percentage of promoters (people who scored your virtual event 9-10) and the percentage of detractors (people who scored your virtual event 0-6).

The Future of Virtual Events

covid-19 webcam video

The COVID–19 pandemic that caused a loss of $1.1 Billion to the events industry was a motivating force for companies to start thinking about and integrating virtual events into their meeting and events strategy. Regardless of the potential for future natural or biological disasters that cause significant company losses, the future of virtual events will become a common aspect to 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 cancelled. In the near future, more companies will invest in hybrid meetings and events to reach a greater audience at a lower cost. Companies are quickly realizing that hybrid meetings and events provide a host of benefits include:

  • Lower costs per lead
  • Reduced costs with higher revenues
  • Ability to reach attendees around the globe
  • Provides better brand reach
  • Connects more people with your content, speakers, and sessions

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 office 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 that allow them to connect with more people, gain more qualified leads, and decrease expenses while witnessing increased revenues.


Conclusion

virtual event conference

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.


The key takeaway: 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.

before you cancel or postpone your event, go virtual


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