Last Updated: November 2020
2020 was a lot of things. One of them being the rise to prominence of Virtual Events. If we have learned anything over the past several months, it is that Virtual and Hybrid Events are here to stay.
Although the world was forced into an abrupt transition, many organizations and individuals who quickly adapted saw the value in convening audiences and delivering content in a virtual way.
The rest of the world has been warming up to the idea that Virtual and Hybrid Events just might be a permanent part of the future.
In this Ultimate Guide, we will cover everything that you need to know about Virtual Events: from key stakeholders to industry-wide trends to checklists for producing your own Virtual Event and combatting things like "zoom-fatigue."
If you understand these trends and master these tips, you will be well on your way towards being an expert in all things Virtual Events.
Questions answered in this guide:
Why do a Virtual Event?
How did Virtual Events Impact 2020?
What are the Virtual Event Trends that matter in 2021?
How Do I Choose the Right Virtual Event Platform for my Organization?
What Should I Know About my Virtual Event Platform?
How Do I Produce a Virtual Event?
How Do I Add Value To a Virtual Event?
What are some Virtual Event Presenter Best Practices?
How Do I Keep My Audience Engaged During a Virtual Event?
So... Why Do A Virtual Event?
At the beginning of 2020, this question might have a less obvious answer. But as COVID-19 dictated how our world operates, socially-deprived professionals and academics warmed up to non-conventional methods of convening large audiences, sharing ideas and promoting commerce.
Although COVID-19 forced our industries to an abrupt transition, many organizations realized the cost-saving opportunities and value-add of utilizing Virtual Events.
Virtual Events can be produced at a fraction of the cost, often increases ROI, reduces carbon footprint, connects more attendees and are often as well-received by audiences.
Marketers and thought-leaders can extend their reach through Virtual Events. Global scalability is available at minimal additional cost. Diverse audiences can convene for a few hours at a virtual event in an economical and accessible way like never before.
The Revenue Forecast for the Virtual Events industry is expected to exceed $404.45 billion by 2027, according to Grand View Research.
One of the most prominent advantages of producing Virtual Events is data collection. Marketers can have access to event attendee data and the interests and patterns they exhibited.
Gone are the days where you hope to come home with a handful of business cards. Now, marketers can have access to names, emails and engagement patterns of all event attendees. They are able to audit and analyze the content they delivered and generate leads through attendee engagement.
As Chief Marketer stated, "Virtual Events offer true marketing intelligence, as there is web-based reporting that tells you everything an attendee did. You know which conference sessions they attended, how long they attended and what questions they asked. You know what booth they visited, the collateral they downloaded and demos or other assets they viewed. You even have transcripts of conversations the attendee had with your reps. It is incredibly rich marketing data."
The ROI for Virtual Events is exponential that of physical, in-person events. There are free tools, like Happily, that can help an Event Producer calculate ROI of a Virtual Event.
Mitigating costs for venues, catering and travel allows money in the budget to:
In an interview Forbes did with Tiki Barber, a retired NFL star turned business entertainment entrepreneur, said, "We had a couple of clients who would say the ROI of these Virtual Events outpace anything that they have done before. They are asking us to find ways to do more of them. On some days we'll do five bespoke custom events for clients. We see the need for sure."
We are expecting to see reluctance from individuals to pay for expensive event tickets and hesitation from organizations to spend time and money now that the cost-benefit of Virtual Events has been uncovered.
84% of organizations report that they spend less on Virtual Events than they do in-person events.
With events that do return to in-person, we are expecting to see hybrid components for extended engagement. Event planning teams are recognizing they might be great at putting on live events and perhaps DIY Virtual Events, but seamlessly stitching both together is where the help of expert teams and innovative software is needed.
How Did Virtual Events Impact 2020?
The Events Industry suffered in 2020. Cancelling business travel not only affects organizations and event sponsors, but also the airline, hospitality and restaurant industries that support it. Supply-chain disruption and travel restrictions caused widespread economic crises.
Many, like Travel Agent Central, claim that 4.6 million travel-related jobs are affected by these drastic changes to our economy and will inflict an $809 billion loss.
The $1.5 trillion global business event industry has been majorly affected with events being postponed, made virtual, hybrid or cancelled entirely.
This awesome infographic, put out by Data Connectors, reveals some of the most drastic statistics unveiled by our quickly changing economy.
The unprecedented hits to our global economy have forced innovators to put their heads together and come up with creative solutions to these pressing issues. While some industries suffered, others have grown and will continue to grow.
Event Producers have partnered with Virtual Event platforms to promote their services. SWAG companies have utilized drop-shipping to distribute company-branded loungewear and WFH gear. Software companies have gone into double-time to build technology that is concurrent with relevant trends.
The Global Virtual Event market is witnessing exceptional growth. The use of Virtual Events nearly doubled in 2020 and will continue to do so as more organizations get acclimated to this growing market.
What are the Virtual Event Trends that Matter in 2021?
Let us break it down for you: Virtual and Hybrid Events are here to stay. Once many organizations understand both the monetary and experiential value, many will continue to include virtual aspects to every event.
Many in the industry predict that all events will at least have a virtual component... In come Hybrid Events.
A Hybrid Event is any in-person conference, trade-show, celebration, presentation, workshop or lecture that has an added virtual component. Hybrid events utilize webcasts and webinars with added virtual components like breakout sessions, chatrooms, live polling, sponsorship and networking opportunities, custom websites and virtual technical support staff to ensure a seamless integrative event.
According to IMPACT:
Some attendees even find Virtual Events a more enjoyable experience. A virtual attendee of the JPS Virtual Trauma Symposium, produced by BeaconLive, said "This virtual platform is fabulous! Makes it so much more accessible! Hoping they keep this as an option, even post-covid."
The best an organization can do in this rapidly evolving event landscape is embrace the changes and embrace virtual.
How Do I Choose the Right Virtual Event Platform for my Organization?
One of the biggest hesitations towards taking events virtual is deciding on the right platform. Just like in-person events and venues, virtual event platforms are not all made the same. The internet has become littered with ads, promotions and even phishing when it comes to enticing customers towards choosing the right platform.
Below, we've outlined some critical questions you should be sure to ask of your Virtual Event Provider:
Is Your Virtual Event platform DIY or a Fully-Managed System?
Smaller-scale Virtual Events will often go for a Zoom or a Webex platform. These platforms offer a monthly fee in exchange for a do-it-yourself platform where the presenter is expected to moderate the call and monitor all technical difficulties, including coaching members through mute buttons and screen sharing as well as breaking up attendees into their respective networking & breakout sessions.
These platforms are great for individuals and thought-leaders who are looking to get their message out in one-off webinar presentations or smaller organizations who need an efficient collaboration tool.
Fully-Managed systems are designed to help organizations scale to tens of thousands of attendees, offer in-house professional moderators and technical support staff and customize event solutions for their clients. A fully-managed event should have white-label capabilities and branding opportunities for sponsors and exhibitors of the event.
Any enterprise that is marketing a "fully-managed" Virtual Event should work closely with their clients to ensure a perfectly produced event, from start to finish. BeaconLive is a great example of a fully-managed, professional Virtual Event platform.
Although many Virtual Event platforms fall somewhere in the middle, it is good to ask your provider: who will be expected to manage all components of a high profile event, like: registrations, webcam setup, moderating attendees, browser compatibility and downloads, interactive features, tech runs, data analytics and reports.
Can I integrate with APIs?
Large Organizations often use existing APIs to manage and monitor their data. When it comes to attendee tracking, it is important to know how the platform you choose will integrate with existing software and analytics programs. Marketers will benefit from API integration to prove ROI of events and sales reps will benefit by targeting the most engaged attendees.
What are the Networking Opportunities and Interactive Features?
At the end of the day, the most important goal for an in-person or Virtual Event, is to connect audiences together. You should be well aware of all networking and interactive features offered on your platform.
Ask your provider if they offer breakout sessions? If attendees and exhibitors will have the opportunity to connect and exchange contact information? Will there be live polling, questionnaires, downloads, chatrooms, Q&A? Ask your provider who is expected to create implement these features. Will your provider be monitoring chatrooms and technical questions?
These questions are essential for knowing how to plan your event and deliver your content.
Does the Platform Require any Downloads or is it Browser-Based?
Knowing how your platform will perform on certain Operating Systems is crucial to ensuring a seamless event. If the platform requires downloads, extensions or plug-ins, you will need to ensure your attendees have compatible Operating Systems and appropriate IT policies.
This can become a problem when trying to scale your event. People in different industries or countries will often use different systems that may face compatibility issues. Your safest bet is to find a platform that is browser-based and can work on any OS.
What Does the Pre-Event Technical Planning Process Look Like?
Will your provider be expecting you to implement all the interactive features beforehand or will you be given an in-house technical support staff? Will your provider work with you to do a tech run before the event? Will you get any formal training on how to use the software? Did you come up with a game plan should anything go wrong?
What are the Opportunities for Future Monetization of Event Content?
Does the ROI stop when your event stops? It shouldn't. Find out if your platform is able to host your content in an On-Demand Content Hub for future monetization. Does your provider incorporate Continuing Education and Certification opportunities?
Since you have already put in so much time and effort to curate speakers and deliver optimal content, will you be able to record it for later use and distribution? How will the recording of your event continue to spark an ongoing conversation surrounding your brand and your value propositions?
Will you be Able to Deliver Live, SimuLive and On-Demand Content?
Not all content is built the same. You may want to pre-record promotional videos to play during a live streaming session. You might want your keynote speakers to pre-record their presentations so that they can monitor live Q&A. You might want to host all of the content in an On-Demand Content Catalog and have attendees watch speeches and presentations at their own pace.
You should make sure to ask your provider if you will be able to integrate Live, SimuLive and OnDemand content all in the same event.
Utilizing different components of Live, SimuLive and On-Demand content is what makes a virtual event so dynamic. You can really design the agenda of your event to play to the power and strength of each format.
Does Your Platform offer Closed Captioning?
It is critical that your virtual experience is accessible to all audiences. Including CC can help with language barriers, offer extra assistance to those with hearing impairments and even boost SEO. Read our blog about the 5 Reasons You Should Include Closed Captioning in Virtual Events to learn more.
Does Your Platform Integrate Continuing Education and Certification?
If you are looking for ways to further monetize your content and increase attendee engagement, adding value through Continuing Education and Certifications is a great option. Attendees can gain a unique value-add by engaging with your brand.
Learn how the Pharmaceutical, BioTech & Medical Device Sales companies are adding value to their engagement process through the use of CE and Certifications.
Will There be Opportunities for Exhibitor and Sponsor Branding and Recognition?
For many, selling branding opportunities for exhibitors and sponsors of events is critical towards affording production costs. Make sure your chosen Virtual Event platform hosts opportunities for those key stakeholders to promote their brand and their content during the show.
What is the Extent of User Tracking & Analytics?
Your event is only as good as the data it produces. This is how you will prove ROI to your C-Suite, how you will be able to follow up with leads, and how you can assess behavior patterns of attendees to optimize future event experiences. Ensure that your provider is able to give you detailed reporting of attendee information and engagement.
As VP Operations at GES, Jeff Youngs, wrote: "It’s possible to collect data – from registration, pre-event activity, user visits, engagement interactions and drop off trends during your event and post-event activities. In addition, post-event survey feedback offers qualitative, in-depth opportunities to measure your attendees’ feedback and mindset. This allows you to measure overall event effectiveness and develop improvement strategies and tactics on very specific elements of your event."
How Do I Produce A Virtual Event?
Now that you have all the tools to choose a platform that works for your event, you can begin the planning process. Producing a Virtual Event is not for the faint of heart, especially if you want to pull off kick-ass presentations, high attendee engagement and make an impact in your industry.
Although your goals for a Virtual Event might have been the same as your goals for an in-person event, your content delivery should be a little different. As GES stated, "Focusing content and delivering it in shorter, quicker formats with higher production value is a must."
The rest of this guide will give you a glimpse into a tried-and-true Virtual Event Planning Timeline and CheckList, as well as some Presenter Best Practices.
Virtual Event Planning TimeLine and Checklist
8 Weeks Prior to Event
7 Weeks Prior to Event
6 Weeks Prior to Event
2 Weeks Prior
1 Week Prior
Day of Event
1 Day After
2 Days After
Post-Event Analytics are as important as Pre-Event Planning. Make sure you have a plan to track and analyze attendee data to keep the conversation going far after your event has ended.
Virtual Event Presenter Best Practices
Eliminate Technical Difficulties
Prepare Your Space
Prepare Your Materials
Speaker Best Practices
How Do I Add Value To My Virtual Event?
As the Virtual Event industry grows, we will have to innovate new ways to stay relevant, capture attention and add value to our attendees' experiences. As you begin to plan and produce Virtual Events you will consider different platforms, different types of events and integrating different interactive features. But the value-add should not stop there.
Incorporating Continuing Education Credits and Certifications to your Virtual Event can draw a larger audience, increase attendee engagement and provide tangible value to the attendees' experience.
There are many great platforms in the industry who are able to provide live polling, chatrooms, and the suite of interactive features. Why not take your event to the next level?
Monetize your content through certifications and CE credits. Create Live and OnDemand modules that keep your audience coming back for more. Track users' progress and build up an audience. Integrate your Virtual Events with an end-to-end Learning Management Solution that is tailored specifically to your organization.
Consider working with BeaconLive, a platform that seamlessly integrates Continuing Education and Certifications to any Live, SimuLive or On-Demand Virtual Event.
How Do I Keep My Attendees Engaged During a Virtual Event?
As Cvent stated, the biggest challenge for Virtual Events is keeping attendees engaged. As attendees experience "zoom-fatigue," the effectiveness of your event will dangerously decrease. Ensuring attendee engagement is arguably the most important part of delivering a Virtual Event.
At BeaconLive, we have found that "humanizing" Virtual Events has lead to higher presenter satisfaction and attendee engagement, creating a more natural and captivating experience for all.
Read our full blog post on Humanizing your Virtual Events for more information.
1. Free Stuff: SWAG Bags & Experience Boxes
SWAG builds brand awareness and reminds attendees about what they learned, who they met and the value they gained far after the event has ended. Curate experience boxes and have attendees open up certain items at specific times of the event. Read our full list of ideas here.
2. Spark Conversation Through Networking & Breakout Sessions
Don't sell yourself short when allotting time for smaller breakout sessions and on-to-one conversations.
3. Take Advantage of Interactive Features and SimuLive Presentations
Presenters should consider pre-recording their speeches so that they can be available for real-time Q&A. Incorporate Chatrooms, Live Polling and Quizzes to make sure you are continuously sparking engagement.
4. Utilize the Power of Social Media
Social Media is FREE - use it wisely! Create an event hashtage or entice your audience to interact with your social media channels with special offers and giveaways.
5. Surprise Your Audience!
Surprises can lighten the mood of your event and make it overall more fun. Increase anticipation with countdowns or email teasers to guest speakers or product launches.
6. Keep it Fun with Live Entertainment
Live entertainment will make your event far more enjoyable. Audience members will appreciate this attention to detail and will feel more comfortable and relaxed, which will allow for more natural and casual conversations throughout the event.
This guide should give you all the tools you need to produce a beautifully curated and captivating Virtual Event! Contact BeaconLive for any other questions and subscribe to our blog to get the latest insights & best practices in all things Virtual Events.