The COVID-19 outbreak has turned just about every element of daily life on its head. While we struggle to make sense of our new socially distanced routines, you may be wondering what all of this means for that live event you have been planning.
Many event planners and conference organizers are finding a way around the current restrictions on gathering in numbers by hosting online events and virtual conferences.
But how does a virtual conference really work? Is it truly a viable alternative to in-person, face-to-face, events?
Virtual conferences are more than just a temporary solution in the face of a global pandemic, they are quickly becoming an accessible go-to for all sorts of audiences. As remote work and online socializing grow, so too do the benefits of virtual conferences.
Here’s everything you need to know about how virtual conferences work and some reasons why you might want to make the shift from live events to virtual events.
What is a Virtual Conference?
At the end of the day, a virtual conference is not really that different from an in-person conference.
Like a more traditional conference format, virtual events still have an overall theme, workshops, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities. The biggest difference is that instead of gathering in a physical space or venue, registered participants will gather and join in online. A virtual conference can be attended from anywhere. All that is required is an internet connection and a connected device.
For conference organizers, the advantages of a virtual conference can far outweigh the disadvantages.
Virtual conferences are cost-effective. They are also convenient for speakers/presenters and attendees and can enable you to expand the scope of sessions offered, reach a wider audience, engage sponsors, and potentially generate higher revenues.
But, of course, virtual conferences are not without their drawbacks.
How Do Virtual Conferences Work?
The popularity of virtual conferences is on the rise (even before the pandemic) so how exactly do they work?
The details of the conference will depend on your conference theme or your company’s overall goals. However, generally speaking, virtual conferences work much like a physical conference.
In essence, a virtual event should be broken down into talks, panel discussions, presentations, exhibitions, meetings, breakout sessions, and networking sessions in the same way you ordinarily would.
The only difference is that these components will be hosted online. It is a good idea to work in a live stream or a social media component but, again, how you do this will depend on your theme, target industry, and target audience.
Basically, a virtual conference works like an in-person conference, with a similar set of steps. Once you have decided on your theme and identified your speakers and vendors you will have to:
- choose your virtual conference platform. A platform like Accelevents is not only easy to set up/navigate, but it is perfect for conferences that have multiple registration types and multiple speaker sessions. You can check out this list for other established virtual conference platforms. Do not forget to look for a technical solution that enables and fosters conversation and attendee engagement.
- build and design an event webpage that includes 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) as well as 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. In-person, you’d 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.
Pros and Cons of Virtual Conferences
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:
- Reduced Overhead: 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.
There are a few downsides associated with virtual conferences. Here’s a look at some of the primary cons:
- Experience Gap: 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 and experience 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.
Reasons to Host a Virtual Conference
There are lots of good reasons to host a virtual conference.
Yes, you will be able to generate more revenue but you will also be able to reach a much larger audience and facilitate education and networking in a way that would be impossible at a physical event.
Networking is one of the greatest benefits of attending a conference and if you take care in the planning process, you can use video conferencing and chat capabilities to connect attendees with each other and with speakers/vendors. This is a great benefit to both parties.
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.
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 use and 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.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed the social landscape. It is hard to say when life will return the familiar. But virtual events may be a way to offer a little bit of normalcy during a very abnormal time. Instead of canceling or postponing your event, make the shift to a virtual conference. All participants will get to reap the educational, social and networking benefits of your conference while staying safe and comfortable at home.
In all likelihood, virtual and hybrid conferences are the way of the future. Trends toward online and virtual experiences already exist, even before the coronavirus, so large scale virtual events are a true natural progression.
To capitalize on this trend and begin planning your own virtual conference, reach out to Accelevents for the tools you need to properly market, manage, and execute your virtual event!