Recent news of the spread of coronavirus, may well be leaving you anxious if you’re planning your own event. Although the majority of events are going ahead as planned, if the uncertainties on how this proposed pandemic will develop has you preparing for a plan B, you may want to learn about some innovative alternative ways of delivering large-scale events.
While gathering everyone under one physical roof is hard to beat when it comes to creating shared moments and delivering your message with impact, virtual events can offer some great options not only in preventing the spread of coronavirus but also in reducing the carbon footprint of an event.
Are virtual events the future?
With the technology already at their fingertips, Google took the recent health warnings as an opportunity to change the structure of its upcoming annual Google Cloud Next conference scheduled for 6th-8th April. The tech giant will instead be offering a virtual version of the conference, with online events and webinars.
Likewise, security management company Okta is turning its late March conference in San Francisco into a virtual event, in a bid to "safely engage with [their] whole community."
In light of recent global travel concerns, could virtual conferences become more common in the future? Done well, a virtual event could offer the same valuable content, speakers, and connection opportunities as conventional conferences whilst also providing a creative and convenient platform.
But what about the benefits of in-person events?
Of course, in-person events still hold major advantages over virtual ones. The immersion and focus granted by a physical environment may be greater in comparison to virtual spaces. Trust built from face-to-face connections, and a better understanding of topics created by speaker body language may too favour in-person events.
Even without the concerns surrounding coronavirus, with advances in virtual reality, worries of the carbon footprint of large events and remote working becoming more popular - going virtual could keep you ahead of the game.
Why consider a virtual conference?
Virtual conferences allow for an online alternative to in-person conference events, even delivering the same sessions, workshops, panel discussions, and interactive experiences.
As more and more companies are becoming tech-savvy, hosting a virtual conference or including more virtual content in your event could be an ideal solution to restrictions on travel or other unforeseen issues.
Benefits of hosting a virtual conference event include:
1. Saving money
Without the need to book conference spaces, accommodation, transportation or larger-scale set-ups, a virtual conference can provide big cost savings. The leftover budget could be used to increase the quality of your virtual experiences, event promotion, or project collaboration.
2. Expanding your audience
The convenience of joining a virtual event from anywhere in the world can allow you to draw in a wider audience globally depending on your goals. Plus, the potential affordability and ability to watch recorded sessions at any time is a great incentive to attract more attendees.
3. Networking made easier
As well as providing a space for synchronised interactions in sessions, virtual events can give attendees immediate access to other contacts and meeting opportunities. No need to walk from one end of a conference hall to the other to find your contacts!
4. Improving efficiency and productivity
Coordinating your event online can save your team time organising the schedule, and give everyone a flexible working and project management solution. Analysing an online event can also be a lot more efficient than measuring offline activities, with attendee details, demographics and engagement trackable through online analytics.
5. Championing the environment-friendly
With less need to travel and fewer resources used to host a virtual conference, the carbon footprint of your event could be massively reduced. Waste from physical attendance, air pollution from travel, and energy used to power a large event space can all be reduced or eliminated by hosting a conference virtually.
How to create a virtual conference
Don’t be fooled - a virtual conference can take as much or even more know-how to plan successfully. Around 10% of people may not even be able to sign up to the event due to technical issues, so having a dedicated team to remove these barriers to entry can help you focus on getting your required results.
Other steps like sourcing the right hosting software, integrating your other event systems, and coordinating with speakers and sponsors could hinder the performance of your event if not planned out carefully.
That’s why enlisting the help of an event agency to manage your virtual conference can save you a lot of hassle if you’re new to virtual events.
If you’re planning it yourself, there will be a similar process for planning an in-person one. Firstly, it will be useful to look at what performance metrics you want your event to target - i.e. registration numbers, session numbers, overall revenue from sponsors.
With your event targets in mind you can consider the format of your virtual conference. Will it mix recorded learning sessions with live Q&As? Will it offer a series of sessions across a longer period of time? Will it run across different platforms?
A live online event would save speakers having to pre-record content and could create a more natural environment. However, having recorded elements, or pre-recording your whole event, could limit any technical issues and give speakers the chance to spend more time interacting with attendees.
Either way, ensure that your speakers and team are comfortable with the technology you’ll be using and that they have practiced presenting their content for online audiences.
Creating virtual event content
Creating a cohesive event experience can be more difficult in a virtual conference, as attendees may not see all available sessions and the impact of the event could be diluted.
It’s important to carefully plan the themes, topics, and content that you’ll be creating and curating, to maximise learning and engagement for your audiences.
You may want to offer a lower registration rate than you would for an in-person event, however you could still provide tiered levels of access at different rates.
A good conference hosting platform is essential for the smooth set-up and running of your virtual event. Consider a platform that is easily integratable with your event website and registration processes, as well as email management.
Learn more about live streaming and webcasting for events in our Event Technology blog.
Online advertising channels are ideal for targeting a virtual audience across varied locations and industries. When pitching to potential attendees, drive home the convenience that signing up to a virtual event would offer, and showcase exciting previews of the content they can expect.
Things to consider
Again, planning a virtual conference may take up as much staff time as a physical one. Anyone involved in the process will need to become comfortable with the technology, so it’s best to anticipate training for all involved in plenty of time.
It’s all about bandwidth! A smooth virtual event experience will need a consistent, dedicated internet connection, ideally on its own network. Upload speed should also be tested before going live, as this will indicate the quality of your stream.
There could be technical issues that arise for attendees or your team throughout the event, from incorrect login details, to local bandwidth and browser issues. It’s important to check whether your conference hosting provider will be able to provide direct support. Creating an event support email and phone line will also show attendees that you are ready to support them and this can help maintain trust if a technical issue does occur.
Consider time zones that your target audiences or speakers are in - how will you accommodate them?
Also, consider splitting up your virtual sessions with small breaks, as some attendees may want to join in for the length of the event and may appreciate a pause from the screen.
- Attendees may not know how to interact within sessions, or they may be reluctant to initially chat. Increase interaction by seeing that speakers and presenters prompt the attendees to participate in live sessions. Consider forming smaller sessions so people can feel more involved.
Though physical events are an extremely effective means to promote your company and engage your audiences, virtual conferences can provide a convenient alternative for delivering your key event messages.
If you’d like to know more about hosting a virtual event, you can speak to one of our experienced Event Managers who will be able to help you with your requirements.