07 Oct, 2022
The World Of Virtual Conferences
Virtual conferences allow planners and marketers to reach a larger audience, which often leads to higher registration numbers than in-person events because attendees are not burdened by travel and costs. Virtual events have taken over our new normal. 79% of event planners are going virtual, according to a PCMA survey. This event type brings with it a new way of thinking about and planning events. It requires cross-functional teams from planning to marketing to IT to digital, as well as reimagining content that engages attendees from home. So, what is required to organise a virtual conference?
What is virtual conference?
A virtual conference is not the same as a regular virtual meeting. It also takes more time than a webinar. They are frequently multi-day events that are hosted online and may include keynotes, panel discussions, live entertainment, educational sessions, training and certification, sales product demos, solution sessions, industry trends/thought leadership, product training/adoption, and other activities. The goal of virtual conferences is to generate leads and demand, increase adoption and retention, raise brand awareness, and build relationships. A virtual conference is an excellent substitute for, or complement to, an in-person conference.
Why host a virtual conference?
A virtual conference allows organisations to reach a large number of people because virtual conferences often have 8x the number of registrations as traditional in-person conferences. We've witnessed it first-hand. In 2019, our flagship in-person event, Cvent CONNECT, drew 4,500+ attendees, but Cvent CONNECT Virtual, a virtual version of the same event, drew 40,000+ registrants. Of course, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction, but a virtual conference is a viable option when the key demographic is dispersed around the world or when travel is prohibitively expensive. While many virtual conferences have recently been free, as this event type becomes more established, there is a shift toward some form of charge. Virtual conferences can significantly boost brand awareness, networking opportunities, lead generation, and other benefits.
How do you create a virtual conference strategy?
A virtual conference is not the same as an in-person conference. It is entirely online and requires attendees to focus on a screen for hours at a time. As a result, content must be the driving force behind your virtual conference strategy, as it is what will pique the interest of attendees and secure sought-after registrations. Examine your entire event programme to develop a virtual conference strategy. Is there a void in your programme that could be filled by a virtual conference? Do you have the resources and funds to hold a virtual conference? Do you have the means to organise a virtual conference? All of these are questions to consider when determining whether or not a virtual conference is appropriate for your organisation. If your annual in-person conference is unable to take place this year, or if you have another large event that generates revenue, a virtual conference is worth considering.
What are some goals or KPIs of a virtual conference?
As with any event, you'll need to set goals and identify key performance indicators (KPIs) before the event in order to assess event success at each stage and compare event performance across all events in your event programme. Succinctness is important when planning goals for a virtual conference. It is more difficult to achieve multiple, segmented goals when you are virtual. Create a single goal that drives the virtual conference's mission. When developing goals, two streams must be considered: business goals and attendee goals. Understand your objectives for each.
Prospective business objectives
Lead generation or brand awareness
Immediate revenue and lifetime value
Customer gratitude or loyalty
Increase in membership
Potential attendee goals
- Learning or training
- Entertainment or celebration
How do you execute a virtual conference?
Virtual conferences aren't all that different from in-person conferences. In fact, much of the planning is the same - from website creation to registration to email marketing - the fundamentals are all in place. However, with virtual conferences, a greater emphasis must be placed on technology. When viewed solely from a financial standpoint, the emphasis is clear. In-person events have 25% tech expenses and 75% non-tech expenses, whereas virtual events have 75% tech expenses and 25% non-tech expenses. There is little to no food and lodging, but there are livestreams and virtual booths, as well as, in many cases, production costs.
How do you build cross-functional teams?
When you decide to go virtual, be prepared for your planning team to change. A cross-functional team is required to ensure the success of a technically complex digital marketing programme. Marketing, who has experience running successful webinar programmes, can help with content, promotion, and overall strategy. Marketers who are also involved in vetting technology for tech stacks play an important role in securing the right virtual conference software. IT and digital, which typically have a much lighter lift at in-person events, will transform into your rock stars, ensuring that streaming, connectivity, and other features are operational throughout the virtual conference. A video production team may be required to assist in creating the highest quality content possible. Your team may look a little different than usual, but drawing on expertise from across your organisation will only improve your virtual event. Consider some virtual team building activities to get the team working together.
How do you choose the right virtual event technology?
Taking your event virtual frequently necessitates the incorporation of new technologies. Most event planners' first thought is, "How will attendees’ access, consume, and interact with your event's content...and each other?" What does that feel like? How interactive is it going to be?
There are numerous types of solutions and providers available, and sorting through them all can be difficult. Finally, the answer lies in the experience you wish to provide. How important is high manufacturing quality? Is it more important to have one-to-many "broadcast" capability or interactivity? Do you need trained professionals for complex transitions or "virtual run of shows," or will a simple, self-service platform suffice? There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but we've put together this quick guide to help you understand your options and ask the right questions.
What tech do you need to host a virtual conference?
Virtual conferences, one of the most complicated event types, rely on technology to make their mark. Of course, the best option is a virtual event platform that does everything and integrates with your marketing tech stack and CRM systems, from virtual conferencing to webinars.
A virtual conference will require the following types of event technology:
- Abstract management
- Mobile event app
- Onsite engagement
- Attendee tracking
- Video Platform
How do you plan the content experience for a virtual conference?
Content is still king, according to Forbes. However, an attendee's attention span has shifted. The virtual conference must be structured in such a way that attendees remain focused while not rushing back to work at the first sign of an email or messenger notification.
The length of a virtual conference differs from that of an in-person event. Consider shorter, more succinct, and more on-demand content that attendees can watch on their own time. Don't be afraid to make use of your content. The virtual conference brings with it a much greater emphasis on production value. The better the audio and video quality, the more engaged the audience.
And speaking of quality, the name of the game in virtual isn't quantity - it's quality. Only design sessions that are well-produced, engaging, and beneficial to attendees. Don't be afraid to reduce the number of sessions for a virtual conference - where an in-person conference might have more than a hundred sessions, it's not uncommon to reduce that to 20 when going virtual.
Questions to ask about each virtual session:
Session Length: No more than two hours per session, but consider shorter sessions with varying content.
Panel, webinar, keynote, news-style broadcast, executive presentation, TED-style talk, video, late-night show, etc.
Audience Interaction: Will the audience be able to be seen on video, ask questions verbally, or ask questions via chat?
Content Types: Thought leadership, research-based, client insight, product or service training
Live vs. pre-recorded: A live session is more likely to go wrong, but it provides a sense of community and increased engagement.
Streaming vs. On-demand: On-demand is a great option for smaller sessions and provides a break for attendees because they can choose their own watch schedule.
What is the best viewing format for the content? Consider the advantages of visual aids based on the type of content.
Audio vs. Visual: Sessions don't have to be the same; you could do an audio-only podcast-style discussion or a visual-only presentation.
One-way versus interactive Communication: While you probably don't want the audience to be able to interact with the speaker during a keynote, interaction can engage attendees in smaller sessions.
How do you facilitate networking at virtual conferences?
Connection building comes after great content. Because of the physical proximity of in-person events, attendees can form their own community for the duration of the event. How do you make those virtual connections? Because you aren't sitting across the table from an attendee or speaking to them at a physical booth, you can still use your virtual event to make that connection. When creating a community experience for your virtual conference, there are three different types of connections to consider.
Sales networking with attendees:
You've been holding virtual one-on-one meetings for years, and especially in the last few months because onsite visits aren't feasible. Use the same guidelines for your virtual event. Sales can use appointment scheduling tools to set up meetings with attendees prior to the event, securing a valuable spot on their agenda early on.
Attendees networking with attendees:
Consider attendees networking with other attendees. These connections will rely heavily on your mobile event app. Attendees can connect with other attendees by using messaging tools and the event feed. You can encourage networking even more by planning happy hours, breakout sessions, and one-on-one meetings.
Sponsors or exhibitors networking with attendees:
You must allow sponsors and exhibitors to network with attendees. Exhibitors, other attendees, and even your sales team can review the virtual event registration list and schedule appointments the old-fashioned way, by sending an email with a Zoom link. If you make it simple and seamless to schedule an appointment from within the virtual experience, you'll likely get more and better engagement.
What does sponsorship look like for virtual conferences?
Many of the same sponsorship options are available at virtual conferences as they are at in-person events. There are video advertisements at the beginning of sessions, sponsored sessions, virtual trade show booths, appointments, prominence on the event's trade show page or website, and much more. Sponsorship can help defray event costs while also connecting attendees with fantastic organisations. Make clear sponsorship levels, broken down by cost and what sponsors get for their money. And don't be afraid to bargain for in-kind services if you're offering something of value. The best way to secure a sponsor is to entice them with data, whether it's projected event numbers or data from previous events.
How does one go about organising a trade show at a virtual conference?
A virtual trade show can be a big draw at a virtual conference, but it takes the right virtual event technology to make it happen. Make it simple for attendees to use whether you use a tool that creates a 3D trade show or one that uses company logos and walk-in or prescheduled appointments. Include time on the event agenda to remind attendees to visit the virtual trade show.
How do you use data and analytics from your virtual meeting?
Virtual events, like in-person events, can deliver a wealth of valuable data with the right engagement strategy. Virtual attendees provide data that can help you drive revenue when they register, attend sessions, participate in live Q&A and polling, attend appointments, or provide feedback. You'll also want to know how attendees interacted with sponsors.
As you plan your virtual event, think carefully about your data capture strategy and the technology that will power it. This is the most important step in determining your event's success and maximising its value.
Three types of data to capture at virtual events
1. Event Data: This is basic information about the event. Event data includes things like event type, cost, date, location, registration counts, and so on. Capturing event data for your virtual events allows you to compare the performance of the virtual event to that of other virtual events as well as its in-person counterparts.
2. Profile Data: Attendee-level firmographic and demographic data that describes the attendee and his/her organisation is referred to as profile data. Profile data includes things like a person's name, address, email, title, organisation name, and even the number of employees. Profile data, which is typically collected during the registration process, can assist in the creation of new prospect profiles or the completion of existing ones. In any case, you'll get to know your attendees a lot better as a result.
3. Engagement Data: Engagement data is constantly changing. It is gleaned from attendee interactions with and responses to the event's sessions, other content, sponsors and exhibitors, and even other attendees. Engagement data includes session registration, attendance and duration, appointments scheduled, and feedback submitted. Engagement data is especially useful in assisting your sales and marketing teams in better understanding attendee interests and following up more effectively.
Don't be afraid to go virtual. It is currently the only option available to many organisations for engaging, inspiring, and fostering connections. According to McKinsey, "we have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks." The world is changing quickly, and so are events. Take advantage of virtual events and experiences as you rebuild your event programmes and plan for the future. A virtual conference can have a big impact. And, more than ever, there are excellent resources available to help you learn more about hosting virtual events. Cvent provides free virtual event training as well as webinars that delve into the planning and marketing aspects of a virtual event.