Virtual conferences allow brands, organizations, and businesses to connect individuals in unprecedented ways. Virtual conferences are more accessible, allowing more individuals to attend your conference. It can also open up topics of discussion to broader audiences rather than being restricted to a geographical region.
For these reasons, among others, virtual conferences make a lot of sense.
Naturally, hosting an online event takes some effort. It requires a lot of planning, logistics, and organizational skills. And if you’ve never hosted an online conference, you may be unsure how they work and the steps you need to take.
To help you out, this article will address how virtual conferences work, how to get started, and why you should shift to this virtual format.
What is a Virtual Conference?
- Much like a traditional conference, a virtual conference is a conference held online or digital space. This format is structured the same as in-person conferences. The key distinction is that a virtual conference is hosted completely online. Attendees and presenters attend remotely rather than in person.
- Virtual conferences typically have an overall theme, much like traditional in-person ones. They might host various sessions, workshops, breakout sessions, a keynote speaker, coffee chats, social rooms, sponsored or trade show-style kiosks, and networking opportunities.
- A virtual conference can be attended from anywhere. All that is required is an internet connection and a connected device.
For event organizers, the advantages of a virtual conference far outweigh the disadvantages. Virtual conferences are cost-effective. They are also convenient for everyone involved. Keynote speakers, presenters, attendees, and the hosting brand or sponsors are not limited by region. And, you can expand the scope of sessions offered, reach a wider audience, engage sponsors, and potentially generate higher revenues.
How Do Virtual Conferences Work?
Virtual conferences have been on the rise for quite some time. So, how exactly do they work?
When setting up an online event, you must first establish deliverables and key information. These details and how your conference will work depends on the conference theme and your company’s overall goals.
Virtual conferences can be broken down into:
- panel discussions
- breakout sessions
- networking sessions
The only difference is that these components will be hosted online.
The conference may be hosted in a live stream format or with an integrated social media component. Many brands host their event on a virtual event hosting platform that facilitates chat rooms during sessions, pre-recorded sessions, private messaging, social rooms, networking rooms, and more.
Steps For Setting Up Your Virtual Conference
The steps required to set up a virtual conference are similar to those required for a live event. But, with a virtual conference, you will have virtual technology to consider. These include:
Choose your virtual conference platform.
A platform like Accelevents is easy to set up/navigate, and it is perfect for conferences that have multiple registration types and multiple speaker sessions. Do not forget to look for a technical solution that enables and fosters conversation and attendee engagement.
Build and design an event webpage.
It should include your event schedule, detailed information about each session, participating vendors, and event sponsors. This will also be your ticketing site.
Market your event through various channels.
This can include social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin) and industry publications and websites. Get your presenters, vendors, and sponsors in on the marketing as well.
Be sure to have a support team available for the duration of your conference. You will need to have a team of staff or volunteers available to direct traffic, answer questions, and help people navigate the event. Even if attendees are familiar with video conferencing tools, it does not mean that they won’t have questions or difficulty figuring out how to access a particular webinar or virtual meeting.
Anything you can do to make the experience smooth and easy for attendees will improve overall attendee satisfaction.
Let’s take an academic conference for example:
- Academic conferences are usually centered around associations or research areas. An association usually hosts the event and will market it on their website, through academic and social forums, through listservs, word-of-mouth, and more.
- The conference hosts (who may or may not hire an event organizer) will have a Conference Organizing Committee who is responsible for deciding the event theme and deliverables.
- The theme and call for abstracts are sent out through marketing channels. Once abstracts are received and the time period for sending them is closed, the committee gets back to work on the schedule.
- The schedule is usually organized into key themes or areas of study. Each session might have a session title so that attendees will know what it is about, especially if there is more than one presenter in each session.
- The schedule is set up in allotted increments. Usually, sessions are around 30 minutes to 1 hour, and the amount of time each person has to talk will be pre-determined. If there are three presenters, then each presenter will have 10 minutes to talk, with a five-minute Q&A. Sometimes the session might be more extended, but talks are held to tighter time restrictions if speakers go over their time limits.
- Sessions might have moderators to introduce speakers and bring up questions. This is particularly important in the online format since there are additional components to consider (like hand raising).
Conference organizers need to be prepared with a virtual event format that works with their group. They also need to establish rules, chosen vendors, and sponsors.
During the conference, event organizers need to be prepared with the following:
- Tutorials or walkthrough videos, so attendees know how to navigate the virtual event platform
- Technical and customer support in case there are issues with the platform or attendees are unsure of processes
- Preparation for follow-up engagement ideas
Why Should You Host a Virtual Conference?
There are lots of good reasons to host a virtual conference.
Virtual conferences can lead to a greater ROI or profit margin, as long as the pricing tiers are established correctly.
Reach a Wider Audience
Since you can reach a much larger audience and are not tied to a geographical region, you can bring in more attendees in general compared to an in-person conference.
Networking is one of the greatest benefits of attending a conference. Networking is notoriously difficult to achieve in online forums. But if you take steps to plan this ahead of time and go with the right platform, you can successfully use video conferencing and chat capabilities to connect attendees with each other and with speakers/vendors. This is a great benefit to both parties and a major selling point of your online conference.
Authentic Attendee Experience
When setting up a virtual conference, attendees will have a more authentic experience connecting with other industry professionals, while vendors will experience more robust lead capturing capabilities than that of a live event.
A Cache of Pre-recorded Media
Another great reason to host a virtual conference is for pre-recorded media. Hosting virtual events inevitably leads to a library of valuable and useful content. This content can be made available to your team and attendees for future reference. The bigger this library becomes, the more options you have for marketing future events, educating your audience, and capturing leads.
Don’t let the content just sit there, use it to build your brand and create awareness around future conferences or related sessions. Use the library to make your virtual conference the go-to in the industry.
Advantages of Running a Virtual Conference
Taking your event online can be a real benefit to you and conference participants. Here’s a look at some of the major pros associated with virtual conferences:
Virtual events save money on overhead expenses like venue, catering, staffing, and per diems for speakers, presenters, or exhibitors. Attendees will experience savings as well, avoiding transportation, accommodation, and meal costs.
Possible Lower Entry Free
Because organizers are saving on overhead costs, the savings can be passed on to conference participants. A lower entry fee can mean the event is more accessible to more people, greatly increasing reach and possible revenues.
More Attractive to Attendees
Travel and hotel costs can be a real obstacle to people who may be interested in your conference. Without having to book flights or a place to stay for multiple nights, a virtual experience can be far more attractive to a far larger number of people.
Possibility to Create a Content Library
Online events mean you can keep a library of sessions to be accessed at a later date. This means you can provide more value to conference attendees but assuring them that they will never miss a session, meeting, or keynote address. It helps to smooth out any conflicts that can arise in the scheduling process.
Increased Sponsorship Potential
Sponsorship requests may suddenly become much more appealing! With a larger target audience, sponsorship opportunities increase. And, because there is a greater opportunity to gather data from attendees, sponsorship opportunities become more informative and lucrative.
Here are some tips and best practices for hosting your own successful virtual conferences.
Managing the Downsides of Running a Virtual Conference
There are a few downsides associated with virtual conferences, but conference organizers can usually mitigate them.
Here’s a look at some of the primary cons:
Completely online, virtual events are a brand new territory for a large number of event planners and organizers. In fact, according to EventMB, only 11.1% of event planners say they have plenty of experience planning virtual events, and a whopping 64.3% say they have no experience at all. This means that organizers may need to spend more time educating themselves on best practices. It may take some trial and error before getting things perfectly right.
Must Choose a Provider
When hosting an in-person conference, the presentation of sessions is in the control of the organizer. But, when moving online, it is important to find the right technology platform to ensure that technology is not an obstacle for you or your attendees. Finding the correct fit can feel overwhelming. To help narrow down your options, check out our guide on 14 of the top virtual conference platforms.
Virtual events and hybrid conferences are the way of the future. Trends toward online and virtual experiences have been evolving in the last decade, and experts suggest that large-scale virtual events are here to stay. To capitalize on this trend and begin planning your own virtual conference, reach out to Accelevents! We have the tools you need to properly market, manage, and execute your virtual conference!