All businesses – small, medium, large, enterprises use the internet for everything. It has become the primary channel for marketing, communication, sales, and support. But one key activity didn’t fall into this bucket – Events. The value of in-person interaction is never going to go away. ‘Virtual’ events had a futuristic overtone to it, until now. In today’s world we all have attended webinars and events from the comfort of our homes, not many have hosted one.
Going virtual has evolved in the event industry to become a necessity. Any event – in-person, virtual or hybrid events needs a personalised attendee experience. This requires a huge amount of planning, communication, promotion and analysis. Similar to in-person, the virtual experience needs to be impactful beyond event days. This is a challenge to experienced digital marketers, let alone event organisers. Hence, the choice of the best online event platform becomes critical. The virtual event platform should not add to your problems, rather solve them. In this guide, we will cover
- What is a virtual event?
- Types of virtual events?
- Why host a virtual event?
- What is a virtual event platform?
- Key questions to ask about virtual event platforms?
- How to conduct a virtual event ?
What is a virtual event?
A virtual event is an event hosted with an online live video stream exclusively. It does not have an in-person audience. The delivery of content is online over the internet. Other interactions like networking, breakout rooms, exhibitor booths also are restricted to online only. A few virtual events can stream from a studio where speakers and hosts are in-person.
Another version of virtual events are hybrid events. In a hybrid event there is also an in-person audience, besides the remote audience. Here is the hybrid event guide.
Following are the must have virtual event components
- Custom sponsor branding
- Live broadcast or on-demand video
- Hybrid attendee networking
- Mobile app
Nunify also has unique features like speed networking, emoji reactions, video meeting rooms.
Types of Virtual Event
On a board level marketers conduct events for these key benefits
- Lead generation and/or sales
- Boost brand awareness
- Build & strengthen community
- Share knowledge and expertise
The same benefits translate to virtual events with a few enhancements. While virtual events can’t replace hybrid events or in-person events, they can provide a good mix. Below are the four main types of virtual events.
A webinar is a virtual seminar. It usually is a single session with focus on only one topic. Audience strength is around 100-250 people and the duration of webinars are between 30-75 minutes. The webinar is led by one or two speakers who either present or steer discussion along the desired path. Webinars have a 100% virtual audience who typically are highly engaged with the topic. To help boost interaction, webinars have live Q&A, audience polls and session chat. Sometimes webinars are streamed from pre-recorded videos, but speaker-audience interaction happens live. Typical use cases of webinars include training, lead generation, and product demos.
- Virtual Conferences
Virtual conferences are online events which have multiple sessions over several days. To provide flexibility, virtual event platforms need to support differ types of live streaming. A few popular ones in nunify are – web stream, on-demand video, studio stream and pre-recorded videos. Besides livestream, virtual networking is a must-have. They range from text chat, video conference, speed networking and pre-book meetings.
- Online exhibitions & trade shows
Virtual trade shows have virtual exhibitor booths that help businesses connect to their customers. Potential customers filter booths based on interest and visit them online. Typically virtual booths have product images, videos, brochures and other brand collateral. Attendees can book video meetings with exhibitors. Exhibitors can exchange business information and promote sales digitally.
- Hybrid events
Hybrid event refers to a mix of an in-person event to a virtual event. They have both live and remote audiences who interact in a unified event environment. The same attendee moves between the physical and online world seamlessly. Both complement each other to make it an end-to-end experience.
Why host virtual events?
Much before 2020, events were being explored to cater to the Gen Z generation. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of virtual events to kick-start the hybrid event era. In the process a number of new reasons have emerged to make virtual events an integral part of your event strategy. Here are 21 reasons:
- Eliminates physical venue headaches
- Reach a larger audience
- Spread-out sessions
- Travel time vanishes
- Speakers/Exhibitors globally can participate
- Removes visa, language and country barriers
- No hiring onsite extra volunteers
- Reduces energy consumption
- Last minute venue changes
- Richer data collection
- Easily scalable
- Wider adoption
- Better digital content quality
- Flexible agenda
- New revenue channels
- Year-long community
- New age networking
- More sponsorship
- AI-drive smart data
- Happier event team 🙂
How to plan a Virtual Event?
With the forced acceleration of virtual events in 2020, learning cycles were reduced. Today, almost every event professional has hosted a virtual event. Yet, very few become a huge success. Why? Lack of strategy or not asking the right questions are usually at the core of it. Planning can get overwhelming with so many moving parts. But where do you start? To help you, we’ve put together some tips, best practices and questions to ask.
Every event’s strategy comes down to the fundamentals. First ensure you have them covered
Content : Content is the key. Powerful content can turn any boring virtual event into a show-stealer. It is critical for content to be relevant and simple to consume. Make your attendees listen to you. Make your attendees interact. Capitalize on a wider digital content – video stream, podcasts, on-demand video. You would need a checklist to deliver content that can engage and inspire your audience.
Marketing and Promotion : Promotion is the key to your success, and your sponsors. A well promoted event is the rocket fuel to leverage the virtual advantage of limitless reach. The key is to identify the right channel based on your audience. Don’t limit yourself to traditional marketing, rather explore unique ideas based on your target audience.
Measurement: The sheer volume of data you collect in a virtual event can be 20 times more than all your events. Grab this opportunity to uncover what sets your event apart. Leverage it to improve every edition.
Top Questions when planning your virtual event.
Treat your virtual event as an in-person event. The same questions apply. To add to it, keep in mind that online attendees can’t remain seated in front of their screen for hours. Fortunately for you, here is a curated list of questions to answer before you start.
- What’s the goal behind the event? Get specific – Is it to generate leads, brand building, networking or employee engagement
- What time and duration ? Remember your audience is remote and at times global. So choose the right time for your event.
- Agenda and speaker management ? The internet inherently has enough inbuilt distractions. Do not keep your audience waiting for too long or unclear on next session’s stream
- Is your virtual event platform robust? This is the deal-breaker. This is your venue. This is where you need to invest your time the most. Test. Test. Test.
- Online user experience? Your event will be compared to mainstream apps/platforms your audience uses. It needs to be focused and minimalist.
- What is your sponsor & exhibitor strategy? Your event stakeholders would need specifics like traffic statistics, click thru, downloads.
- Volunteers and moderators? Unlike a live event the amount of user-generated content is immense. Remember: Not everyone is as cordial as in-person!
- Audience engagement? Your audience isn’t captive to a physical space. The host and sessions would need to be more interactive.
- Tech Support and troubleshooting? Ensure you have clear instructions to your speakers, audience and exhibitors beforehand and run rehearsals.
- What are event success metrics? By now you can see how much we value analytics and metrics.
Where to host my virtual event ?
The heart of every virtual event is the underlying event technology. From online-classes, virtual conferences, webinars, live-streamed concerts, a robust platform is the key to success. Today event organisers have numerous platforms to choose from. It’s like entering a candy store: it’s very hard to make a purchasing decision. Except this one has larger implications.
First and foremost it is important to be aware of a must-have event tools for success:
Event website : Your website is the first impression your attendees have about your event. It provides a ‘home base’ for your event. It’s your primary promotional tool. Keep it easy to navigate and impactful High-quality videos and images, event schedules, FAQs, speakers are a must on any virtual event website.
Registration : Often overlooked but critical tool for data collection. A registration page with no technical errors, fast registration, and quicker response time gives credibility. Integrated to other tools this becomes powerful to collect data.
Emailers : Email marketing is the oldest, yet effective digital marketing channel. No matter how boring it may seem, people read emails for their own compulsion. Keep your followers updated through newsletters, emails, feedback surveys, etc. A smarter approach would be to use automated emails to save time.
Event App: Event apps are the cornerstone for your virtual events. In today’s mobile world, people access information only over mobile. A good event app fosters networking, sustains interest and boost engagement
Live-streaming: Video conference and live stream are often confused to be the same. They’re similar, but the difference is what makes it a virtual event. In a nutshell video conference is for meetings, while live stream is for broadcast to a huge audience.
Event Feedback: Virtual events give you lots of passive & intercepted metrics. But there is no argument on getting direct feedback from speakers, attendees, exhibitors. Don’t forget to integrate feedback and select the right event survey questions
All of the above tools should be mandated for your virtual event platform.
What is a virtual event platform?
Similar to live events, besides virtual venue other activities are equally important. A virtual event platform is a one-stop solution for event management. It includes promotion, emailers, registrations, ticketing and the virtual event itself. Advanced platforms like nunify also provide event apps, gamification and year-long engagement.
Virtual event platforms allow you to manage the complete event lifecycle from a CMS. It provides unified analytics with excel dumps. Dashboards allow you to zoom in and out of specific phases of the event. They also allow you to moderate user content and manage people. Another key aspect is integrations to CRM and marketing automation. Overall a virtual event platform ensures your data is in one place and secure. Here is an itemized list of virtual event modules
- Event website
- Event registration
- Event app
- Live broadcast, one-way audio/video
- Question and answer
- Interactive video conferencing
- Recorded sessions
- Live Polls
- Live presentation content
- Feedback surveys
- Virtual booths
- Video networking
- Analytics and dashboard
Key questions to ask about virtual event platforms?
There are many questions before you host your virtual event. The pivotal amongst them is your choice of virtual event platform. Unfortunately, most organisers lack the experience of asking the right questions about event tech. Here are the critical questions to answer that determine a virtual event’s success.
- Does the platform have the virtual event basics? First and foremost, ensure covers three critical aspects – registration, live streaming and branding. All these three should be unified for you and attendees. Registration forms should be customisable to meet your requirements. They should be unique URLs and provide campaign tracking. An added bonus is branded emailers.
- What degree of custom branding is allowed? Gone are the days of bland monotone colors that aren’t our event brand. It’s your event, your brand! The virtual venue needs to reflect your brand’s identity to your audience. Ensure there are easy-to-access tools to update branding and aren’t restricted to only button colors.
- Is it native livestream or 3rd party integrations? Integrated live streams are cumbersome to manage and susceptible to tech issues. They allow you to easily manage speakers and hosts in one place. Another paramount aspect to consider is the ability to scale with attendees and duration. There shouldn’t be any lag.
- How flexible is it for different event types? We have already seen above the various types of events. Your platform should adapt to all your event needs. Your platform should also be able to support hybrid events and power event apps.
- What marketing automation or CRM integrations are available ? Your platform should integrate with key CRM/Marketing softwares. Make sure you check if it is paid or FREE. Integration can be done thru 3rd party iPaaS or native API’s
- What analytics are provided? This is the essential value of a virtual event platform. The ultimate deal breaker if deep insights and raw data isn’t provided. Different goals will require various metrics. By going virtual there is so much data to be mined, which improves your event every year.
- What support and managed services? Ensure you are clear with your support and service expectations. Go over their service level agreements, especially if they aren’t in the same country as you.
- What is the cost ? Needless to say your budget will have the final say.
Importance of virtual event audience engagement
In this section we focus on three primary areas of event engagement
Networking and Connections
One of the primary reasons people attend events is to network and connect. And the ability for virtual events to bolster it is astounding. Yet it is surprising how overlooked networking is during virtual event planning. Unlike in-person, your audience is already comfortable with online networking platforms like Linkedin, Facebook etc., No virtual event can shine without connections. Interaction metrics should become a key metric for you to track. Your virtual event platform should facilitate it with popular tools and easy to use UX. Some of them include 1:1 meeting rooms, audio/video/text chat, Pre-book appointments, auto-match making, speed video networking and group chat rooms. You can additionally provide a boost by gamifying it. Encourage FOMO. The first to reach 100 connections. Extra badge to complete your profile. Most liked conversations. Don’t forget moderation – unfortunately things escalate quickly online.
Your hardwork to build up your virtual event can come crashing down with poor engagement. It is natural for audiences online to lose interest, especially for hours in front of a screen. Here are the best practices.
- Give a 10 minute break every 2 hours
- Be active on text chat as a host
- Convince your speaker to take audience questions every 15-20 minutes
- Address any queries immediately using volunteers
- Allow audiences to react with emojis
- Integrate audience polls
- Be polite and courteous to pushy individuals
- Provide a gamification zone with virtual gifts
- Have trivia, puzzles, treasure hunts
- Encourage sponsors to be part of engagement
Your sponsors are the lifeline of your event. With virtual events a new generation of event sponsorship is underway. Most organisers today are aware of digital marketing, but have never experienced it in an event. Your sponsors need to be vital to boost participation. Reduce the learning curve and make your virtual options clear. A good virtual sponsorship package needs to include digital promotion, push notifications and integration to the virtual venue. Don’t just provide static booths. Your virtual booths need to have rich content capabilities like video, brochures, CTA etc., Allow your sponsors to customize it to meet their needs. A bonus is meeting rooms within the booth. A few popular virtual event sponsorship offerings are
- Co-branded Email marketing
- Dedicated page and logos on event website
- Sponsored livestream and webcast sessions
- Branding on registration, checkin, login screen
- Session backgrounds
- Display banner ads
- Push notifications
- Virtual gifts
- Sponsored polls & surveys
- Dedicated virtual booths
We have more sponsorship ideas to deep dive for you to explore.
How to evaluate the success of your Virtual Event?
You were able to host a virtual event without any obstacles. Now what? Just as you evaluate the success of an in-person event by determining certain factors of marketing, you’ve to measure the virtual event success using certain metrics. For organisations to improvise on their methods of conducting an event, engagement approach, tools, budget, and investments; it’s necessary to obtain event data and analyze for a better strategy to put in place next time.
Determining the success of a virtual event needs reviewing data post-event. It’s important to identify key performance indicators. Based on your metric analyze the benefits like revenue generated, sales made, brand equity, and knowledge exchanged, attendees registered, and many more. Here’s a list of data you need to keep an eye on:
- Number of Registrations
- Email Open and click-through Rates
- Engagement Rate
- Session Rating
- Post and Pre-Event Survey Results
- Social Media Engagement and Reach
- Usage of #Hashtags
- Lead Generated
- Attendee Count
Technology tips for your Virtual Event
To run a wildly successful virtual event it’s crucial to keep a number of things in mind while planning out an event online. This handy checklist will help you create a successful virtual event.
- Apart from using the best camera and audio recording devices and ensuring high-quality visual presentation, there are a number of other things to consider for an impactful virtual experience.
- It’s recommended to select an appropriate virtual event platform that makes your work easy in terms of collecting post-event data like feedback, engagement, and ROI. Your top priority should be to go for the best technology provider that offers the desired integration and cybersecurity.
- Leverage the technology and virtual event platforms to the fullest extent to ensure creativity in your work. Modify your presentation decks to include polls, videos, GIFs, animations and drive home the point which seems to be a little impossible via a digital medium.
- Always stay connected to your attendees via emails or messages. Update the event website and communicate with them the changes, if any. Make sure your website is optimized so that it doesn’t take much of your attendees’ time to register.
- Give your attendees a hands-on idea about working virtually. A guide on how to attend the event virtually, how to engage and chat with others, must always be on the checklist of a host. It’s recommended to have a short Q&A session just like the one after an in-person event.
- Takeaways work like a cherry-on-top of a cake and nobody would mind a small technical glitch in the middle of your presentation if you compensate for it with a free or discount voucher.