This is a guest post by Aditi Biswas and was originally published on the Airmeet blog.
What are online events, how are they different, how to organize a summit, how to promote them & most importantly, how to engage the attendees at your event? Read this ultimate guide for all the answers.
Virtual conferences are the latest trend in business. They allow creatives to host intimate, interactive discussions with people worldwide, all while staying at home. Events traditionally hosted for local attendees can now reach a global audience and cut down on expensive venue costs by hosting online events instead of physical ones; this is just one example of how virtual conferences change our lives forever.
At first, the instant bandwidth of virtual events in the 2020s was a major issue for people. As virtual attendees, you couldn’t interact with anyone else online and prevented you from networking opportunities. This issue has resembled virtual events as podcasts, which was frustratingly disappointing to some who expected much better quality from such productions.
The reason was simple – lack of tech and innovation. The global shift happened so quickly that the online events platform, virtual venues, and video conferencing apps became necessary almost overnight.
But with the increasing number of online events, how would you survive or stand apart from the crowd? How would you generate an audience for your virtual conference when “video fatigue” is a thing? And most importantly, how would you make a virtual event feel like a proper physical conference?
While businesses are now facing many new challenges, this technological breakthrough also offers a valuable opportunity. It aims to understand the engineering of virtual events a bit more deeply so that you can create a virtual events strategy that’s integrated with your overall marketing plan now and for the future.
In this ultimate guide for virtual events and conferences, we will go through the nitty-gritty of hosting, promoting, and tools required for organizing a successful event online.
Table of Contents
What is a virtual event?
A virtual event replicates a ‘physical’ location-based event, but online. It allows you to host a global conference, on-demand workout class, product launch, trade shows, or recruitment fair from the comfort of your home or office, using only a laptop or mobile and an internet connection.
Virtual events these days have the same essence as in-person events, such as interaction with the speakers, networking, talking to the sponsors – thanks to the aid of tech-savvy platforms. Most of them are free to attend, but the major physical conferences and trade shows that moved online are still paid.
Why host a virtual event?
According to MarketWatch, EdTech’s spending is expected to reach $252 billion by 2020.
And this indicates:
- People have a strong desire to learn from experts and connect with like-minded people.
- People are more and more willing to pay online to update their knowledge and skills.
Another survey conducted by Marketing Profs revealed that Facebook users validate the live videos ten times more with their comments than regular videos on other social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
Also, many social media channels have announced that they will soon be launching the ‘Happening Now’ feature on their platforms. It would help if marketers promote some virtual corporate events on the company’s social media platforms and create a buzz when the event is ongoing.
These changes have led many companies to start organizing virtual events ideas for remote audiences. A large audience gets attracted to virtual events because they are easily accessible and are also budget-friendly. It’s a win-win!
Elements of a virtual event
Content is king. But in a virtual setting, content is your event. Since a virtual event depends on content, engagement, and data, it is imperative to have a high video production quality and a keynote speaker who talks about great content. These two factors can either make or break an online event.
If you are looking to host a virtual event, here are a few factors that you should remember.
While some elements are common to online and offline events, the key features mentioned in the list above are typical of a virtual event.
In addition to these, tech-heavy video conferencing platforms like Airmeet offer the possibility of virtual one-on-one chat and interactions. Such functionalities like “Social Lounge” and “Backstage” meetup make the virtual event experience as close to a physical event as possible.
Types of virtual events
Although virtual events have similar components, yet when they are arranged strategically, they yield varied outcomes. Below are the seven main types of virtual events.
1. Virtual events and conferences
Virtual events and conferences are the closest things to their physical counterparts. It gives you a complete experience of in-person conferences as these virtual experiences are created considering the plan that incorporates sessions, keynotes, breakouts, and much more. Virtual conferences comprise multi-session content as well as community engagement tools.
While the event is not as effective for lead capturing and networking as an offline event, virtual conferences give attendees access to view keynotes in real-time. It lets them build plans and create their schedule using the relevant and trending content and interact with other attendees as much as they want.
If you’ve never organized an online event before, it is easy to get intimidated by the whole idea of it. But, good planning and strategic allocation of resources should be good enough to help you plan and organize a large-scale virtual event.
Webinars and podcasts have been on the rise for a couple of years now, and rightfully so. The amount of information you can gain from such events is massive. On top of that, the time commitment is way less than a virtual conference.
Organizing webinars allow you to invite attendees from across the globe to sign up and join the event. It usually has one or more speakers who present the content.
The webinars are offered for free, or companies can charge the attendees using online payment methods. To host webinars, you can use a webinar platform like Airmeet that enables you to conduct Q&A sessions or have the potential to present live or pre-recorded clips.
You should use webinars to build your brand and produce some high-level top-of-the-funnel content. These are a great way to gain traction online as they are sought after due to their value proposition.
3. Online workshops
There are many institutions out there that offer courses online for overseas students. It is one of the most popular types of virtual events wherein participants learn a new skill. In this online workshop event, the trainer can solve the queries via live Q&A sessions, present the content via the share screen feature, and have one-on-one sessions with the students.
In such an event, students can also attend online classes that offer course material in videos, exercises, and practice mock tests. It grants students the option to personalize their dashboard and increase their online experiences.
4. Virtual community meetups
If you’re willing to find your tribe and build real connections, virtual meetups are the types of events you can host or attend. Just like social media communities, virtual community meetups are the best way to connect with like-minded people but in real-time.
5. Virtual music concerts
Are you a music lover and miss the opportunities of attending amazing music concerts because of the geographical location? Well, you would love this type of virtual event then. You can participate in live music concerts while sitting back in your home.
Yes, you can organize/attend music concerts virtually. Artists have an option of live-streaming the event either from the comfort of their homes or from a studio.
6. Ask Me Anything (AMAs)
Ask Me Anything are the sessions conducted with industry experts or guest speakers. The sessions are conducted in a unique interview form wherein the guest takes questions from the online audience during the live session or answers the questions taken before the event.
7. Virtual trade shows
Hosting virtual trade shows can bring many perks to the companies launching new products to grab audiences from across the globe. Such an event allows networking with industry partners and organizers to get a bonus garnering LIVE feedback from the attendees.
Line of difference between offline and virtual events
Here are some of the differences between an in-person or an offline and online event.
Events have always been a great source of networking. Since the inception of the ideology of virtual events has emerged, it has phenomenally changed the events industry’s future.
If you’re imagining and comparing virtual events with long webinars that almost have zero interaction, then you’re going all wrong! Because nowadays, virtual events have gained immense popularity as they offer you no less than what you get in an in-person event without flying from one corner to another.
But our point here is to determine how virtual events and offline events lack resemblance to each other. While we’re talking about the differentiation between in-person and virtual events, there are several factors that we can base their differentiation on.
We can kick it off with the most basic and common one. Offline events can attract more attendees with their bright-eyed and bushy-tailed destinations and ensure networking on broad terms. In contrast, virtual events woo their audience with the content and intuitive virtual event software that they’re hosting the event on.
If we generalize the concept of networking, it is believed that offline events have a wide scope of networking. Still, seeing that virtual events offer you to expand your network on a wider scale, this statement may be contradicting, but if you contextualize it in terms of virtual networking, it sounds true.
However, offline events offer you multiple content options, but virtual events keep it organized and offer concurrent multiple content options; cool, no?
You bust a gut to have engaging sessions at virtual events, but once you achieve it, then you can blow your own trumpet. Feels good, right? It takes creativity, a unique virtual event idea, and a high-tech platform to create an extraordinary impact like Airmeet.
Now it’s time to purge the old cliché that virtual events will never be able to provide attendees with the same level of face-to-face interaction. Virtual events can give the perfect experience of visualizing networking and real-life-like interaction. Not just the impeccable technology but also careful planning and massive data and agility contribute their bit.
Important tips for hosting virtual events: the ultimate checklist
Have a checklist for successful virtual event planning and hosting.
Planning and organizing a virtual event is not easy, especially if you’re starting or have no experience in the online event space. Physical events shifting their conferences to virtual platforms still have the experience of organizing large-scale events.
Indeed, the number of virtual conferences and podcasts has been on the rise since 2020. So, if you want to leverage virtual events for your brand, this is the only checklist you would need. The following list mentions all the pre-event activities that you must do.
1. Define your why & set clear goals
You should have a strong WHY for creating your event. It means that whether your event is big or small, you should have a solid strategy in place beforehand. It’s always easier when you start with a key goal and concept. The rest gets taken care of as you proceed.
If you do your planning properly, it’ll be much easier to put things in place during the actual event. By planning your event, you can create and offer an immersive experience for everyone.
It is also extremely crucial to set clear goals and objectives for your virtual event. How will you measure success? Break down the main goal into small measurable goals and assign them to your team members. Your entire team should have their KRAs and KPIs to determine how successful the event was.
2. Plan a budget for your virtual event
Planning a budget for anything is a complex task and is crucial, but the story turns out to be different for virtual events. Shifting from hosting in-person events to virtual events showcases the learning curve of the event organizers.
When you transform from hosting offline events to virtual events, you will lose many things that you were used to, and you’ll come across many new things that you’ll probably get used to quickly.
But this raises the question: how would you plan and calculate numbers for virtual events? If you’re messy about planning a budget for your virtual event, you must follow a defined process to determine that the planning you’re on doesn’t seem to be unrealistic.
3. Decide on an event format, theme, and the concept
Once you have decided on the virtual event you’ll be hosting; you are ready with your plan, goals, and budget. The next step is to finalize the event format.
The event format is the “type of event” you are looking to host. As already discussed, here are a few types of events that you can consider:
- Virtual Events
- Online Conference
Also, do decide on a theme and concept as well. Your theme can encompass everything related to the design, whereas the idea will be all about the virtual components such as timings, speaker engagement, et cetera.
4. Start talking to speakers
Getting speakers for your online conference would be the next biggest task. Ideally, you should start by dumping all speaker ideas on a spreadsheet and ask your team members to send 3-5 speaker ideas each. Once you zero in on the speakers you want for the event, start reaching out to them.
Indeed, it’s not at all easy to get speakers if you’re starting; you will face rejections, time constraints, no replies – but keep at it. Try to get speakers with at least a considerable following on LinkedIn, if not the “LinkedIn influencers.”
If you’re organizing a webinar, then it’ll be much less hectic as you’d be good to go with 1 or 2 speakers. But for a virtual event, it’d be a tad bit difficult. There’s a possibility a lot of speakers would ask for monetary compensation in return for their time. In comparison, some speakers might be happy with the user registration data.
It is something that you have to figure out – which ones you would want to go after. All we can say is, use your budget wisely!
5. Find a virtual event platform that suits your needs
If you want to replicate the experience of a physical event to your virtual conference or event, choosing the right platform is critical. Most people don’t think about this until the very end. Especially for people hosting an event for the first time, knowing about your platform is very important.
How do you know if a platform is right for the kind of event you’re organizing? It will be answered by the event format you have fixed upon. If you want to host a virtual event that feels exactly like a physical event, consider getting a platform like Airmeet.
An Airmeet event is the next best thing besides a physical event.
You have the option of multiple stages, one on one networking sessions during breaks, social lounge, raising hands for Q&A, and much more. Consider getting an online event platform that has all these functionalities.
6. Know your target audience and fix a date and time likewise
This point might seem very basic and vague, but you need to put some thinking behind fixing a date and time. Firstly, know your target audience.
Is this a B2B or a B2C event? Is this for techies or marketers? Can anybody join the event and learn something from it, or do you need to have a certain degree of knowledge before joining?
Once you have answers to all these, you’ll know who your target audience is. So the next question is, why do you need to fix a date and time keeping your target audience in mind, right?
Let’s take an example. Suppose you’re organizing a virtual conference for sales professionals/directors. You would want to select a date that is before the middle of the month. As salespeople have targets to meet and have a huge rush during the last ten days of their sales cycles, you wouldn’t get many audiences.
Similarly, think about the time and day of the week. If you’re expecting an audience from multiple countries with a huge difference in time zones, consider splitting your event into two sections.
7. Promote your virtual event or conference
This point is a no-brainer. You can’t expect people to pour in unless you promote your virtual event. The biggest mistake that most organizers make is they hope the speakers or “influencers” will bring their audience with them. However, in reality, that number is very less.
No matter what, you have to allocate enough resources and time to promote your event. The way you promote your event depends on your event strategy, goals, and business KPIs.
Make use of events aggregator platforms like Eventbrite to list your event. You can also run social media ads for your social events via Eventbrite to better optimize your campaigns.
Use social media extensively to promote your event. Be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, create some thumb-stopping content around your event. Social media will give you a great boost in registrations.
If it’s a paid event or if you’re expecting a lot of demos/product sales post events, you can also run Ads to get registrations. Design a stunning landing page for your virtual conference, fill it up with relevant details, clickbait titles, proper CTAs, and drive traffic to that page.
For a B2B event, consider getting at least one sales rep/outreach specialist/lead gen to run outreach campaigns. These campaigns work wonders if you’re looking to generate business leads/ schedule demos from the event.
Email marketing works great for virtual conferences as well. You can also use small event banners as your email signature so that people can click on your signature to register for the event.
8. Get sponsors, if you can
Is it difficult to get sponsorships for a new event? Yes. Is it impossible to gain sponsorship, though? Not really.
If you are smart with the way you present your upcoming event and leverage your brand, getting sponsors won’t be a huge deal. Sponsorships will help bear the cost of the event, especially if you’re getting a guest speaker who charges a bomb.
Create a nice and sleek presentation deck that mainly answers the “why your event should be sponsored” and treat it like you would treat a pitch deck. It can be of many kinds, though.
You can either have Silver, Gold & Diamond sponsorship packages. Or you can have Title sponsors, keynote sponsors, etc. You can also do a barter collaboration where you can display their name as sponsors, and they promote your event in return. There are a lot of options when it comes to getting sponsorships, so you do.
9. Plan your content beforehand
By planning your content from beforehand, we mean plan everything from beforehand. Be it your speaker introductions, in-event product demos, Live polls – you should have everything planned and jotted down.
Bonus Tip: You should always keep a set of Q&A questions ready with you. Gather questions from social media as well as from your registered attendees. If you don’t see much engagement during the event, you can ask these questions to the speaker.
10. Do a test run before the actual event
Ideally, you should do a test run before any event that you host. Running a mock or virtual meeting before the actual event helps you check if there’s any discrepancy or not. Check the camera positioning, lighting, voice quality, internet stability, everything during your mock run.
Bonus Tip: You can do a meet and greet session with the speakers via Airmeet before the event. It helps break the ice, and you get familiar with the people you’ll be hosting. Discuss all technical details during this meet and greet session.
Activities during and after the virtual event
These activities during and after the event will help in increasing engagement.
Now that we have covered the pre-event activity checklist, it’s fair to discuss the kind of activities you can expect to be done during the actual live event. Keeping these tips in mind will help you avoid hiccups during your virtual event.
1. Make sure the necessary accesses are assigned
While you go live with the event, make sure you have proper access to anyone managing or speaking at the event. If you have moderators manning the Q&As, live polls, or sponsors doing live sessions, make sure everyone has the necessary access. The speakers should have a seamless experience while getting added as the presenter.
2. Make sure the sponsors’ booths are set
If you have sponsors for your virtual conference, make sure they know what to do and when to do it. Many online platforms have a separate section where an attendee can virtually “visit” a sponsor and take a demo of their product during the event. Some platforms also have functionality that allows sponsors to do live sessions.
Either way, make sure your sponsorship partners know what to do and especially when to do it.
3. Encourage engagement
Don’t expect that your event attendees will start engaging by themselves without a little pull/push. That is an ideal situation, and if it happens – very good. But, you should have some tricks up your sleeve to boost audience participation and interactive experience during the virtual event.
There are a bunch of ways by which you can encourage attendees to engage during the event
- Encourage people to post their questions in the Q&A or chat section of your online event platform.
- Allow 1-2 attendees per session to raise their hand and ask questions live during the event.
- Add polling features to make the most of the audience engagement.
- Encourage live tweeting during the show.
- Get people to network during the event breaks.
- When the event commences, you can start by asking people to post where they are from.
- Send a feedback form at the end of the show.
4. Product demos
This activity is optional. If you have a larger audience, you can consider giving a short demonstration of your product between one of the breaks. The idea is simple: you have a focused audience in front of you, so why not make the most of it? A lot of companies have seen a good number of one-on-one demos scheduled after that in-event product demo.
5. Keep the audience entertained.
What is worse than an audience which doesn’t engage? An audience who is bored.
Keeping the audience entertained and engaged should be on the top of your priority list at all times. You don’t know how the speakers are going to present, right?
There will be some speakers who’ll bring in the maximum energy, whereas some speakers won’t be able to match up to that sort of energy. You cannot risk your audience getting bored. The moment your audience starts getting bored, you will notice drop-offs.
6. Arrange for an after-party, if your budget permits
After parties are a great way to end any event, more so because it gives you a feel of an actual physical event, albeit virtually. Search Engine Journal hosted a smashing after-party to their online event – the SEJ e-summit; it was a blast. Everyone loved a DJ session to end a 10-hour long virtual event.
See if you can allocate some budget; an after-party is a great way to end your online event or conference.
7. Stay connected
After pouring in your time and effort into creating that perfect virtual event, ensure to stay connected with your virtual audience and follow up for feedback. It will ensure that you learn from your mistakes (if any), remove any loopholes that may arise in the future, and curate the data. The following action steps will help you with this:
- Create a Facebook group: Make use of this space to monitor any questions around the presented content. Be sure also to encourage your speakers and community moderators to engage with the attendees.
- Send a post-event mail: It is a good practice to incorporate the recorded video of the event in this follow-up email, photos, and infographics. Attendees could reap some benefits from highlights of the events, details about your next event, and a short survey for attendees to share their experience and suggestions (if any) for your following events.
- Collect the data: How many people joined the session? What are the most important insights from your survey results? What anecdotal stories came out of this experience? Use this data to improve and build out your next event.
Tools and technology to host your virtual event
Virtual events can be hosted on Airmeet.
As we know that virtual events rely entirely on technology, the platform renders the virtual events with perks. It helps the organizers in terms of promotion, execution, and management of the event. Remember, there are various virtual event types, so it’s important to know what feature best suits your event.
Below are some essential elements of the event technology that you must use while you intend to organize your virtual event.
The event website is one such element with the utmost importance as it is used to promote your event. Regardless of the fact – whether the event is offline or virtual, it serves the same purpose. Your event website is the key to the promotion of your event, and with the help of your website, you can attract attendees and make them register for your event.
Therefore, it’s essential to build a website that conveys the value of your event to the audience, composes the schedule of the entire event, must introduce the speakers, have the best possible FAQs, and has an easy registration process.
Event registration is one such element that contributes to your data collection. What does registration do? It allows the user to register for the event, collect preferences and personal information, and take the user to the payment gateway.
An online registration tool enables the attendees to easily register for an event as it has a simplified process. It also provides planners and marketers with massive data to help them plan an ideal virtual event and make it successful.
Email marketing can help generate awareness about the event, gain a good number of attendees, and constantly keep them informed about the event. It will later increase engagement and help create feedback surveys.
Emails are undoubtedly the best possible way to communicate with the attendees. If you use an email marketing tool, it will deliver personalized and branded emails also. You can automate the emails to a particular date, time, and recipient address as per the attendee data and render click-through metrics and open rates.
Mobile Event App
The mobile event app is another significant event tech as it contains an online event guide. Mobile event apps are the tools that work on mobile phones and web browsers and become the knowledge hub for attendees.
This element allows the attendees to handpick the sessions to add to their schedule, and planners collect data on session prominence and participant engagement. With the help of these tools, attendees can connect and get active networking virtually.
How would you get to know if your event was a success or not? Feedbacks, always. It is the feedback that brings you the reactions of the audience or attendees.
To conduct-post event surveys, you must use event feedback tools to help you know what scale your event has been rated on. You can also use event feedback as a tool to gain virtual leads and convert them to sales.
Got numerous attendee data? Now it’s time you share that data with your event tech system and the virtual platform. Secure integration also allows the data to be shared with the marketing automation and CRM system.
Using integration tools, you can keep your attendee data in one place and thus generate more leads in an organized and easy-peasy manner and analyze key insights from the event.
KPIs to measure virtual event success
You should always have some goals attached to Anything that you do in a company. Treat online events as just another marketing campaign as far as your business KPIs are concerned. Here are a few KPIs that we think should be common for any event organizer:
Brand awareness/Brand building
Brand building is the most common KPI people have with online events. How do you measure if you were successful in brand awareness? Look for media mentions, people talking about it on social media, referrals, and repetitive attendees for future events.
Generating leads from events is imperative for B2B events. If you are not generating leads for your product, there’s no point in hosting a massive event. Measure success with the number of leads generated and the number of product demos scheduled.
If you’re an event company, then your KPI should be the revenue generated by your sponsors and partners and the revenue generated by you thus.
Getting in front of more speakers/influencers
Another great way to measure virtual event success is when speakers want to collaborate with you on their own. We’ve seen so many successful events have speakers flocking to them for future events. It is an instant measure of success.
With all these KPIs in place, it is required to mention that you won’t achieve all your KPIs with your first event. You need two to three events to build that brand, get the best speaker portfolios, get that gold sponsor, and get thousands of registrations and attendees.
Building your community is just a step away.
You’ve made it! You’ve gone through the basics of virtual events, but we know it’s not that easy. That’s why Airmeet has made it easy for you to help connect you with your communities. It also allows you to interact within your virtual background as well as around the world.
It is a new world, and we are just a click away from facing it together as a community.
Host a virtual event on Airmeet
Are you planning to host a virtual event? To provide an in-person event experience at the virtual event to your attendees, host it on the Airmeet platform, and get an excellent knowledge of hosting a virtual event.
You might also like The Future of Events 2021 Insights From Jennifer Kauf. This article is part of our new Future of Events 2021 Series, which will interview a mix of event organizers, consultants, thought leaders, and other event professionals responsible for overseeing events put on by their organization. Here, Jennifer Kauf, SVP, Creative Strategy & Brand Marketing, FIRST, shares her thoughts.
Maximizing your virtual outcomes is essential if you want to get the best ROI. The Airmeet virtual event platform offers several features that help deliver an engaging experience to your participants. This guide takes an in-depth look at each of these features to help you understand them.
If you would like to find out more about Airmeet then check out their site and their excellent blog.
This post was originally written by Aditi Biswas and appears here as a guest post with permission.