If you have had your event plans disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and are looking for the best options available to save your efforts from going down the drain, hosting a virtual event might just be the right option. Many organizations are pivoting from previously planned live events to virtual means, and those contemplating new events are also going virtual.
Whether you are planning your event from scratch or you want to pivot a previously planned in-person event to the virtual sphere, here’s a complete guide to what you need to know to make a virtual event happen successfully. We will cover the following topics:
Continue reading to learn more.
What is a Virtual Event
A virtual event is a technology-driven event where content and activities are delivered and administered to an online audience. It is a viable alternative to hosting an in-person event.
To gain a deeper understanding of how you can translate your events to a digital space, please join us for a daily demo webinar.
Why Should I Consider Virtual Events
There had been a significant level of digital transformation in the events industry prior to COVID-19. This is evident in the proliferation of mobile event apps and virtual conferencing platforms that made it possible to host hybrid events. Organizers were able to reach more people who were unable to attend their event in-person by live-streaming event sessions to the audience who participate via event apps.
A fully-virtual event holds greater benefits; it is more convenient for both organizers and attendees and it saves a tremendous amount of time and financial overhead. Explore additional reasons to consider hosting a virtual event below:
Virtual events are more economically feasible
At a time when event budgets are shrinking, any option that can deliver great value and yet save cost is worth embracing. Virtual events can reduce your overhead by about 75% since you won’t be incurring cost on venue, staffing, rentals, accommodation, travel, etc. Your budget is only reserved for marketing, the event technology platform, and event content production. Hence much of your event plans would be economically feasible and you can achieve more with less.
Virtual events are more easily accessible to a wider audience
The reach of virtual events is unprecedented. There may be several people who are interested in attending your live events but are limited by the constraint of travel, budget, busy schedules, and other factors. When you make your event virtual, you will be able to extend your marketing reach and attract more people to attend your event.
Virtual events offer powerful ways to build meaningful human connection
One of the key values events provide is opportunities to connect with other professionals or like-minds. A virtual event environment creates more and not less of this, with powerful tools that can enhance and sustain networking, even beyond the event.
Virtual events can offer more targeted opportunities for exhibitors and sponsors
Virtual events offer multiple opportunities for exhibitors and sponsors to create brand awareness and connect directly to their targets. Virtual events provide avenues such as video showcase, home screen display, push notifications, virtual booths, live polling, gamification, and incentivization. User interaction with all of these features can be tracked and used further in email marketing and future targeting.
Virtual events offer access to content and community beyond the dates of the event
While in-person events are often one-off shows, a virtual event offers much more. Your event content can outlast the occasion of your event.
For example, you can strategically pre-record content and store it in your event library for future access to your current or new audience. Live-streamed sessions can be recorded for participants to view later.
It is also easier to create a community with a virtual event than it is with a live event. People gather and disperse at live events, but you can use a mobile event app to keep people engaged after your virtual event thereby creating a community.
How to Pivot to a Virtual Event
Canceling your event can lead to an unprecedented loss of budget and audience but pivoting to virtual can help minimize this loss. You can make the most of your pivot to a virtual event by considering the following suggestions.
Create a new Event Task Team
The first step is to create a new task team that will oversee the pivoting process. This team should contain key stakeholders in your event production including:
- Event Production and Marketing Team
- Exhibitors and Sponsors
- Speakers & Thought Leaders
This steering committee will look into key aspects of your initial event and decide what to cancel or retain for your virtual event. Most event content can be converted to digital. Even the breakout sessions, networking, sponsorship, and exhibition parts of an event can all be featured in a virtual platform. What will need adjustment is the duration of the sessions and activities to suit the online audience setting.
Your team will also need to decide on which virtual event platform to use. Once you’ve made a choice of your platform provider, your committee should work with the platform to determine virtual components your event requires.
Re-Create Event Content With Key Stakeholders
The next thing to do is to begin to re-create content for your event. You will need input from speakers and thought leaders as well as sponsors and exhibitors.
Get your speakers to pre-record high-quality videos of their presentation to make available on your platform during the event. You can also plan a live recording at a venue to live-stream during your event.
Ensure that content from sponsors and exhibitors such as video ads, video product showcases, push notification messages, and other brand awareness content is reproduced to fit into a virtual event context.
In summary, the content for a virtual event should include:
- Pre-recorded educational sessions from speakers
- Video Ads from sponsors
- Video Product showcase from exhibitors
- Content for Live Polling
- Content for Q&A Sessions
- Content for engagement (gamification, trivia, etc.)
Apart from the content, event schedules should also be adjusted. Now that people are not attending in-person, choose a schedule that would be convenient for people to participate with from wherever they are. As a rule of thumb, the key parts of the event shouldn’t be scheduled for a time too early in the morning or too late into the evening for anyone.
Communicate with your audience
When planning an event, you should have an event communication plan to stay in touch with your audience at any stage of your event. If you already have this in place, communicating with your audience at this time of pivot would be easy.
Nevertheless, there are two categories of people you should communicate your new plans to— your registered audience and new target audience.
Communicating with the registered audience
You need to get the word out to delegates in an appropriate way that you are pivoting to virtual and will still offer them the same event value that you promised to deliver when planning your in-person event.
You may provide an opt-out option for those that may not be interested in participating. However, if you handled your communication properly, you may be surprised that more people retain their slot to experience your virtual event.
Communicating to a new target audience
One of the ways to maximize the opportunities of a virtual event is to reach out to new audiences to register for your event. Your marketing team should take advantage of this and get the message out to prospects around the world.
Prepare for Data Migration/Integration
Another thing you need to do is to plan for data migration, integration, and updates. The extent of this will depend on the event registration platform you used initially and the virtual event platform you are now planning to use. Some event platforms have data integration features with popular event registration platforms.
Your virtual event will probably require more attendee data than you have previously collected. You might need to ask attendees to update their profiles before you carry out data migration or integration.
Create Engagement & Networking Channels
The next thing to do is to create multi-level engagement and networking channels for your virtual event. Work with your virtual event platform and mobile event app provider to make those features available. Custom features can also be created to suit your specific event needs. Below are some important features to include on your platform.
- Comments feature
- Live Chats
- Face-to-face meetings
- “Birds of a Feather” Breakout rooms
- Q&A features
- Live Polling
All these will ensure that the audience is not missing a bit of the connection and networking activities that can be experienced at live events.
Create An Online Sponsor & Exhibitor Corner
As with live events, create a section for your sponsors and exhibitors to showcase their products and services and meet directly with attendees. This can be achieved by creating virtual booths, downloadable resources, video product showcases, etc.
Virtual booths are used for 1:1 meeting between sponsors and leads. Attendees can select which sponsors to meet by booking a slot. Create meeting slots and appointment schedulers within your platform so that attendees can schedule meetings with sponsors. Further, sponsors should also be able to prospect leads from your pool of attendees using the information available on the mobile app.
For exhibitors, create a showcase e-room, where attendees can click and watch pre-recorded product showcase videos. Include CTAs to take them to an external product page or initiate a direct conversation with sales representatives.
Test Run Your Platform
When you have uploaded all your event content on the platform, create a checklist to ensure that everything is intact. Then, test run every aspect. You can use some volunteers or people in your team to serve as the audience, and get some of your speakers to use the platform to do a short test presentation.. Make sure to fix any technical bugs before the actual event.
Prepare Attendee for Your Virtual Event
Now that all is set, you still have to prepare attendees for the event experience by showing them how to use your platform. You can record a voice-over tour of how to use the platform and send them to your attendees ahead of time. There can also be a screen display of this guide just before the event begins.
You don’t have to wait for another crisis to develop contingency plans for your events. Sign up for an on-demand webinar on how to future-proof your event strategy beyond the global health crisis.
How To Plan A Virtual Event
Planning a virtual event is not complicated, especially when you have the right technology tools.
Consider the following when planning a virtual event from the bottom up.
Set an Agenda for your Virtual Event
Gather your team to brainstorm ideas on focus areas for your event and what the sessions should look like. You should also decide on your keynote speakers and thought leaders, and create a timeline for submission of PowerPoint presentations and other event contents.
Create a draft schedule for your event and allocate the duration for each activity. Bear in mind that the attention span of an online audience is short. Therefore, each session should be an hour (or less!) and there should be breaks and activities to engage the audience.
Determine the most suitable event format
The format of your event will be determined by the type of event you are organizing. Is it an association event, business event, sales kick-off, trade show, e-concert, or something else? The format will also determine the mode of content delivery and interactive elements.
Pre-recording or Live-streaming
For most virtual events, content can be delivered in two ways: pre-recorded content or live-streamed content. To give your audience a complete event experience, you should have both pre-recorded and live-streamed content. Therefore, you will have to decide on which content will be pre-recorded and which will be live-streamed. As a guide, the event’s keynotes should be live-streamed while other sessions can be pre-recorded.
When featuring pre-recorded content, a moderator should be available to moderate the Q&A session or task the audience with activity while the content is being played. Some pre-recorded content can also be made available on-demand or for a fee.
Where to record
You have to decide where and how you want your recordings to be done. This applies to both pre-recorded content and live-streamed content. If your keynote speakers are around you, you may rent a venue and use the stage for your recording with your event signage in the background. If keynote speakers are far away, you can send them a list of items to use for their audio-visual recording for optimum audio and video quality.
Since your virtual event relies mainly on technology, you have to carefully choose a technology platform for your event. Choose a platform that can offer basic event features like webinars as well as complex event features that are suitable for multi-track events. You don’t have to keep changing platforms each time you want to host an event so avoid loss of important data.
Plan for Multiple Channels of Engagement
Online audiences are easily distracted, so you should plan for multiple ways to engage the audience during the event.
You can ask speakers to include live polls, Q&A sessions, trivia, or other audience engagement activities while developing their content. You can also have a separate team create all that for the event. During the event, the host or moderator can interact with the speaker, help draw the audience into the conversation, and initiate Q&A sessions.
Create Opportunities for Connection
Just because attendees are not physically present at the event does not mean that they cannot network and build connections. Your virtual events should offer multiple opportunities for attendees to bond and create lasting connections and this should happen at different levels including between:
- Attendees and Speakers/Experts
- Attendees, Sponsors, and Exhibitors
These can be implemented in the form of 1:1 meetings, live chats, etc. Integrate your event platform with third-party communication apps so that such connections can be taken beyond the platform.
Provide Maximum Brand Awareness for Sponsors & Exhibitors
Your plan should include featuring information, ads, and content from exhibitors and sponsors in strategic places on your event platform and during the event. Such content you will need from your partners includes:
- Brand images, logos, etc.
- Brand messages for push notifications
- Video ads
- Video Product Showcase
- Downloads, etc.
Sponsors and exhibitors should also have their representatives profiled for the virtual booths or have standby agents that will follow up with leads. Giving maximum opportunities for brand awareness during your virtual event can help you grow your sponsors into partners.
Plan for Event Marketing
Getting your target audience to attend your event requires having a strategic event marketing plan. Your event team should put together a robust plan in order to reach a wider audience and get the event registration numbers high. Depending on the size of your event, you can use third-party agencies to market your event.
5 Virtual Events Platforms for Planning and Management
You need a couple of services to plan and manage your virtual event successfully. First, you need the main platform for your event production and streaming then you also need other platforms to handle event marketing, registration, data management, etc. Below are some platforms you can consider for your events:
Pathable Virtual Events Platform
Pathable, as a major event technology platform and mobile event app provider, offers the most effective solutions for piloting and delivering your virtual events; no matter the type, size, or structure. Pathable's solution guarantees that your event delivers value that extends beyond the dates of your event, helping you to create a sustainable community around your events.
Pathable’s events solutions include a web portal that can host up to 3000+ attendees, webinar-style simultaneous presentations, small group video chat rooms, 1:1 private appointment video chat rooms, virtual tradeshow with in-booth video "exhibit hours", white-label iOS/Android mobile apps, integration with events registration services, and real-time user behavioral analytics.
The team at Pathable can provide custom development that suits your specific events needs. Request a demo for your virtual event to see how Pathable’s solution can work for your organization.
RegFox is one of the most affordable event registration platforms out there. It gives users total branding control, conditional logic, event analytics, social media integration, and other features that can suit your event needs.
The site guarantees top data security and privacy and offers lower rates than its competitors. It integrates with over 700 business and CRM tools, and marketing automation software such as Salesforce, Pipedrive, Hubspot, ActiveCampaign, ClickFunnels, etc.
Eventbrite is a popular event listing site where you can list and promote your event, sell tickets, accept payment, and manage and track your sales. It has real-time reporting and analytics features that can be accessed from any device.
Listing your event on a site like Eventbrite can help you attract organic traffic and generate leads from the Google search engine. The site can also help you to extend your reach and find more audience members on social media such as Facebook and Instagram.
Hubb Event Content Management Solution
Automate your speaker and content selection process with Hubb’s event content management solution. This solution can help you crowdsource an expert community for session proposals or request original session ideas and call for papers.
You can also use the platform to gather speakers’ bios and profile and review submissions with limited human involvement. Using Hubb can help you accept and manage your event’s keynotes electronically.
Cvent offers event technologies that can help you drive attendance, process registration, and capture actionable insights from your event registration. As a leading service provider in the events industry, you can also use the Cvent platform to find venue options for recording and live-streaming to your audience.
Examples of Virtual Events
Virtual events can take different formats and shapes, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that there is no limit to the events that can be held virtually. But for illustration purposes, below are some virtual event examples:
Virtual Conferences or Conventions
Virtual conferences are events where a group of people with similar interests e.g. associations converge on a virtual platform to interact and learn from one another.
The events usually consist of keynotes, multi-session content, breakouts, and community building, all of which are made possible with an event platform’s content management tools and interactive engagement tools.
Are you an association leader? Learn how technology is changing the way work is accomplished in associations and how this can help or hinder your association.
Virtual conventions are gatherings that are based on industry, profession, or fandom. It could be about any activity of interest such as gaming, books, TV shows, programming, etc. These events feature important keynotes and discussion groups. They also incorporate some activity elements and product exhibitions.
Networking and Happy Hours
A networking and happy hour event is a formal or informal business hangout where people come together to meet, discuss, and connect with new friends, partners, and associates, over a meal or drink. Organizers of virtual networking and happy hour events usually encourage participants to have their favorite drink or meal while they hang out with others on a virtual platform. Such platforms usually have features such as 1:1 video chats, group video chats, and discussion groups.
A virtual summit is a collaborative online conference where a host interviews a panel of experts on a given topic. It is broadcast live to an online audience to watch and learn. The summit can also include keynote presentations from speakers and breakout sessions. Participants can earn continuing education (CE) units through educational summits.
Virtual summits are less expensive to organize and participate in so they attract larger attendance. They can also be a great business marketing tool where you can potentially capture thousands of prospective customers.
From the event, you can grow your online community membership, develop influencer relationships, increase your visibility in your niche, grow your email list, and generate revenue.
6 Awesome Virtual Event Ideas
When you are contemplating hosting a virtual event, there is no limit to what you can do as long as you have a suitable event technology platform. The following are some great virtual event ideas to build community, market your business, and generate leads.
Office Bonding Event
Teams can be more productive when they relate freely with one another. A team bonding event will help to enhance social relations within a team and boost team performance. If your organization works with remote teams or your employees are currently working remotely, you can create opportunities for bonding by organizing a virtual event.
Team bonding activities ideas include virtual games, jigsaw puzzles, office trivia, karaoke, picture sharing, discussion groups, etc. You can start with an icebreaker such as the sharing of old pictures that are not connected to work. Then you can introduce some games.
Later you can have breakouts groups where your team can form a random team of two to four, depending on your size, to carry out some fun activities. It could be about sharing some interesting information about themselves such as what they'll like to experience in their lifetime e.g. what their perfect vacation looks like. The groups can choose whatever topics resonate with them.
They can then come back to a general session where a representative from each group gives a summary of what was discussed.
Activities can be incentivized to encourage active participation and there should be a moderator to ensure that all activities are carried out within their scheduled time limits.
Virtual Concert / Movie Premier
Whether you run an event entertainment company or you are an artist, hosting a virtual concert is an effective way of staying in touch with your fan-base, especially when large gatherings are prohibited.
You can host a virtual concert as a pre-recorded or live-streamed performance. A combination of the two would have greater effects. You will need an event platform to upload your content and also live-stream your performance.
Your platform should be one that allows the artist to receive audience feedback. It should also have features that allow the audience to use different emotions to mimic that of a live audience to react when the concert is ongoing.
For movie premiers, all you need is to upload your content on the platform and a host to moderate the event. There should also be feedback and interactive features for the audience.
You have to ensure that the event platform has data security features so as to restrict some access such as downloading or recording.
Product Demo / Release
A product demo event can help you build anticipation and establish momentum to generate sales for your new product. The best virtual product demo ideas are those that combine learning and networking opportunities while expertly promoting the product at the same time.
You can partner with some amazing speakers and present keynotes sessions that your target audience will find educational and informative. While the event is ongoing, take your audience by surprise and present your new product. Companies like Apple have used this method to record marketing success.
Another idea is to allow attendees to try out your product during your event, especially if your solution can be accessed online.
You can create a social media frenzy around your product launch. This can be achieved by creating a branded hashtag as well as colorful graphics that go with them and encourage your attendees to share them on social media.
Creatives Meet-ups and Workshops
Organize a virtual creatives meetup where you bring artists together to showcase their creative artworks and tell the stories around their work to the admiration of an online audience.
Artists can be asked to create real-time illustrations while the audience watches. There can also be discussions around a collection of works, industry trends, and new opportunities.
Besides the talking and showcase of artworks, there can also be sponsored competitive presentations where a winner is rewarded with a prize or a creative deal.
With a 3-D virtual platform, exhibitor booths, video showcase, galleries, and downloadable content, a virtual career fair will afford participants the opportunity to enjoy a realistic career event experience.
A virtual career fair is a cheaper and convenient way of hosting career events. Both exhibitors and attendees are free from the burden of expensive travel and organizations can access a global pool of talent since geographical barriers have been removed.
Recruiters can also scan through resumes with integrated resume search tools and shortlist talent easily. Before the event, participants can register, build their profile, and upload their resume through an integrated event registration platform. During the event, they can navigate around exhibitor booths, explore job boards, apply for positions, and network.
The good thing about virtual career fairs is that they can be kept operational for as long as the host wants. The main content can be on the platform for participants to access and the interactive aspects such as live chat, networking, and webinar can be scheduled for specific dates.
Industry Networking / Meet-ups
A networking event is a place where professional friends are made, business ideas are exchanged, partnerships are formed and sometimes, deals are closed. All these activities can be experienced in a virtual event environment too.
The meetup event can take different formats or a combination of formats. For example, you can have an interactive educational session where a speaker presents for some minutes, followed by a live Q&A session.
Another idea is a “Round Robin” format where participants get on a video call and each person is given the opportunity to contribute on a given topic. This discussion is usually anchored by a moderator.
You can also have "birds of a feather" breakout rooms where participants discuss a topic of interest. Apart from organized breakout rooms, participants should also be able to form their own "breakout rooms" where two or more attendees can have private group discussions.
Conclusion: The Future of Virtual Events
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the rapid adoption of virtual events as a viable alternative to in-person events, and the benefits are quite obvious: cost savings, increase in ROI, ease of data gathering, simpler logistics, increased accessibility, wider audience, content storage, and a host of others.
These numerous benefits are a testament that virtual events will be a viable option long beyond the global health crisis. Post COVID-19, many organizations and event attendees will still prefer the virtual event option for a good number of their events, especially when event budgets are low.
Furthermore, while virtual events will never be able to completely replace in-person events, it will be an important component of most in-person events. Therefore, much of what will be seen in the future are hybrid events.