As in-person events return to business as usual, virtual events show no sign of lessening importance, confirming that they are here to stay. Event technology has adapted to this demand, with virtual platforms and engagement tools helping to increase reach and extend the event life cycle.
In this insight we will highlight what it takes to plan, create, and host a memorable and productive virtual conference, and why we’ll be seeing this developing platform continue to evolve.
A virtual conference is a multi-featured digital event, giving the participants the chance to engage and explore a digital space in ways an in-person event cannot. The gaming and betting industry utilised this well in the SBC Summit perfectly conveying a conference venue on a digital platform.
With virtual networking areas, breakout sessions, workshops, keynote speakers and online trade shows - it allows organisations to reach more of a broader audience than traditional in-person conferences would allow.
Statista conducted a 2021 survey with 8,227 marketers worldwide, predicting that 40 percent of events will be virtual in 2022. To stand out from the digital crowd you will need to strategise your conference.
Unlike in-person conferences, attendees are required to focus for long periods of time remotely, content needs to flow to facilitate engagement. You need to make sure your schedule is packed - no gaps. It is also vital that you have the resources and the budget to correctly host a virtual conference.
If you didn't plan where you are going, don’t be upset about where you ended up - you need to realise what outcomes you want from the virtual conference in order to make a success of the overall event.
To do this you must first find a few key performance indicators (KPIs) before setting your desired outcome and compare event performance to previous events. Also, it is important to keep your desired outcomes simple, streamline your goals to maximise efficiency.
Keeping things simple at the start will help you add complexity later, creating yourself a production timeline for your virtual event, will also save you a lot of trouble down the line.
Once defining the date of your virtual conference, set out your timeline targets for things like securing speakers, sponsors, choosing your virtual conference platform, designing promotional materials, and of course sending out invitations.
One thing to keep in mind when producing your virtual conference is to define or recruit different areas of expertise in your organisation, to optimise the virtual event. You never know you may have a few virtual conference prodigies, and they need to know how to communicate with each other.
A good way to do this would be to organise some virtual team building activities and mock conference. It can be great way for the team to get to know each other, see who is better suited in different areas, and spot any potential issues before the event goes live.
First and foremost, attendees look for powerful video conferencing and webinar tools, this can be bolstered by having attendee engagement features like Q&A, polls and surveys.
Another important factor is having a breakout room capability for your workshops and lectures, as well as networking functions like a visible attendee directory and integrated discussion forums to help extend the event life cycle.
While you are organising, your virtual conference remember that there are many opportunities to create lead generation. If put into place early, it can produce great returns.
One example is setting up a feedback request email to the attendee after the virtual conference. This gives the attendee another chance to sign up to the newsletter mailing list or any other lead generation platforms.
We’ve all been to those events that are a bit stuffy, awkward and in need of warming up. One way to break the ice is a digital corporate party. Depending on the subject matter this is a great way to keep people interested and engaged.
There are a few ways to do this - fun contests with a quiz master, a DJ playing suggested music or even a ‘guess whose pet this is’ segment. Above all make sure your systems facilitate the engagement and of course be confident that it matches the mood of the event.
Another way to keep things fresh and help improve engagement is the virtual photo booth, this is useful during and after the event. If you have a busy schedule in your virtual conference, then this is the perfect way to keep your attendees focused during breaks.
Using your conference theme, create a predefined template that encourages attendees to take pictures, and then post them to social media with your conference hashtag. This can encourage engagement across social media between attendees, improving brand awareness.
When you start to plan a virtual conference compared to in-person, much of the primary functions are the same - from email marketing to website creation for registration and information.
From that point the greater emphasis needs to focus on technology. With a lack of venue, hotel, food and beverage costs, your value for money investments needs to focus on virtual conference platforms, technology specialists and virtual audience engagement.
Virtual conferences are notoriously one of the most complicated events on the digital calendar, essentially you need to make sure whichever platform you choose integrates seamlessly with your pre-determined theme and content.
As with determining your desired outcomes, choosing the right platform will depend on how you wish to engage with your audience. If you want to invest in a high production value conference, with complex transitions, then hiring a technology specialist might be wise. If not, a more simplistic self-service platform is for you.
If you are thinking about virtual conferences to lower cost, increase reach, develop digital engagement, or hit your sustainability goals, the same rule applies - define outcome and strategise integration.
The right platform and combination of digital themes will determine the success, reputation and potential success of future virtual events. Ultimately, it’s about finding out what your desired attendees want, how you intend to deliver that need, and being consistent with it.