Why are virtual conferences becoming popular?
Virtual events are becoming increasingly popular, and not just because of COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, companies and organizations were beginning to realize that online events could be a great way to bring people together. After all, virtual conferences have a lot of advantages.
For one thing, they are more inclusive. Even if a conference host charges the same amount for a virtual event, attendees don’t have to worry about airfare and hotels; this can increase and diversify your event’s attendance and is also a significant benefit for companies looking to go green and be more sensitive to the climate impact of air travel.
Virtual conferences, when done right, are also a boon for accessibility. To begin with, participants of differing abilities can attend from the environment that works best for them. Automatic captioning tools can help to support attendees who are hard of hearing or Deaf. For attendees working outside of their first languages, captions can also help improve understanding and translation options can also be more readily available.
Another huge benefit of virtual events is the way they create collateral for the host organization. That all sessions are automatically recorded creates a valuable record of the proceedings, much of which can be monetized after the fact.
What are the main concerns people have about how to run a virtual event?
Despite these many benefits, some organizations have historically been hesitant to hold virtual conferences. These concerns have varied, but can generally be grouped into three categories:
- The logistical challenge of putting on a new type of conference
- Uncertainty about what type of technology to use and whether it’s really reliable
- Concerns about whether virtual conferences are actually exciting and engaging to attendees
While these concerns are real, they are all easily addressed. After all, conferences of all types involve logistical challenges, technology concerns, and the need to drum up excitement. But with the right team, commitment, and tech… and the ten tips below, your organization is absolutely capable of putting on a great virtual event.
1. Virtual events take just as much advance planning as a traditional conference
You don’t have to secure a conference venue, book a hotel, or manage flights… surely you can throw together an online eventquickly and with a lot less planning, right? Wrong. Virtual conferences take just as much planning and thought as traditional in-person conferences. While getting everyone to the same location is no longer an issue, you still have to develop programming, coordinate schedules, recruit speakers, market the event, reach out to the press, and keep in touch with attendees.
And while virtual conferences can be easier for your program participants to attend, it’s also easier for them to get swamped with other commitments when the event rolls around. To make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there, confirming and reconfirming schedules can be even more important for a virtual event than a traditional one.
2. Time zones still matter – make sure participants aren’t shut out by being in the wrong time zone
Online events mean your participants may be spread out all over the world, and that means a conference event at 9am in New York City is happening at 6am in Los Angeles or 10pm in Tokyo. Time zones, which usually don’t have much impact on face-to-face gatherings other than jet lag, can be a huge factor in virtual conferences.
There are several ways to navigate this, including providing around the clock activities, running programs more than once, running different virtual events for different regions, or providing ‘simulive’ sessions that combine both recorded material and live interaction. If you serve a global community, some combination of all these options may be necessary to make sure no one at your virtual event feels left out.
3. Provide both synchronous and asynchronous content during the virtual event
When thinking about how to run your virtual event, you’ll want to be sure to provide both synchronous and asynchronous content. A synchronous content is when all participants are interacting live at the same time – such as in a video chat. Asynchronous content refers to content that isn’t happening at the same time – such as a message board where people leave posts and come back later to check for responses.
Sometimes, attendees will want to attend an online event and interact with other conference goers as that event is happening. But sometimes, they’ll want to participate in a discussion over a more extended, less concentrated time. Providing synchronous and asynchronous content allows all attendees to get the experiences they need and integrate the virtual conference with their other commitments. It’s also a great way to address that time zone issue.
4. Facilitate virtual networking
One of the big draws of attending conferences isn’t the programming, but the participants. Networking is where some of the biggest opportunities for personal and career development happen. But finding ways to reproduce networking at virtual events can be challenging.
Challenging, however, doesn’t mean impossible. It’s important to make it easy for your conference participants to reach out to each other. You can help do that by providing attendees with chat rooms centered around certain themes and allowing participants to book ten-minute virtual meetings with speakers are two great ways to bring networking to virtual events.
Ideally, you’ll design your virtual conference so that you can pick and choose which collaboration and interactivity tools work best for each segment of your event.
5. Provide opportunities for collaboration
Similarly, your virtual event should provide opportunities for collaboration. Just because your participants can’t sketch out their next great idea on the back of a napkin at the hotel coffee shop, doesn’t mean work can’t get done in the virtual conference environment. Providing breakout rooms at virtual meetings for both facilitated and impromptu collaboration is now possible with the right technology. And if your participants need to take a break from virtual brainstorming, that’s no problem. Their notes, virtual white boards, and other work can remain available, ready for their return.
6. Make it fun with quizzes and competitions!
Scavenger hunts, quizzes, and fun competitions belong at a virtual conference just as much as at a traditional one. They’re also a great way to make sure attendees get to know each other and see the range of virtual content they’ll have access to during your event. Interactive video features like quizzing, hot spots, and choose-you-own-adventure video paths, can be part of how you make your event fun.
7. Don’t forget about vendors
Vendors have always been a huge part of conferences, and not just for the swag. Vendor presence at conferences benefits everyone: The vendors can make sales. The hosting organization can have some of its costs defrayed. And attendees get access to a range of relevant products and services all in one place. It’s an opportunity to see what’s on the cutting edge and get a sense of the marketplace without having to do a lot of research. Vendors are absolutely interested in virtual events for all the same reasons everyone else is, and the benefits for them are similar. Your vendors won’t be shipping bulky hall displays to your virtual conference event, but you still will want to set them up with branded virtual sales areas that allow them to showcase their products and interact with customers.
Make sure you create an easy-to-navigate, well-placed virtual exhibit hall so that attendees can easily browse some of the cool products on offer. Logos alone aren’t going to be enough to entice them—make sure there’s a short description and maybe even a highlight reel available to lure them into each vendor’s area, the same way that a well-designed booth gives browsers an idea of whether or not they want to talk to the rep. Then once they’re in the booth, make sure there’s a way for them to easily talk to a rep and explore the products a bit. You want attendees to have as good an experience here as anywhere else!
8. Make use of analytics to adjust as you go… and to plan for next time
What’s working and what isn’t? Use analytics to get a handle on how your online event is going in real time. Do you notice a drop off in panel attendance after an hour? Consider shortening some events. Is every session on certain topics absolutely packed? Maybe you can add a bonus session into your schedule.
Analytics aren’t just great for managing your virtual conference in real time, they can also help you plan for the next one and communicate more effectively with attendees about what they are looking for from your organization going forward.
9. Make records of event content available to attendees afterwards
All your public conference content has value – to your organization, to your attendees, and to people who weren’t able to attend the event. From using video of virtual event panels as collateral to promote next year’s conference to providing recordings of virtual keynotes to your attendees, your virtual conference content doesn’t disappear when it’s all over. This fact can be a significant selling point for your event. After all, with a virtual conference, attendees aren’t just paying for a one-time event. They’re signing up for lifetime access to great content and incredible resources. This vital institutional knowledge can even be monetized by selling access to virtual event recordings to those unable to attend.
10. Choose the right virtual event platform
Just like with a traditional conference, the key to having a great virtual conference is hosting it in the right place, and that means choosing the right technology. You’ll want to choose a virtual event platform that can accommodate the type of content you want to provide and the number of participants you’re expecting. You’ll also want to make sure that virtual event platform works with existing technology in your organization, so that your IT department won’t need to reinvent the wheel. What type of support is available for your virtual conference solution is also a key factor to consider.
You’ll also want to look for tools that are modular, allowing you to implement the features that make sense for your event and your audience, without being forced to add features that don’t make sense for your needs.
Since virtual conferences require post-event evaluation and follow-up just like traditional conferences, you’ll also want to choose a virtual conference platform that can provide you with the insights you need, grow with you as your event grows, and provide a backbone for other
Virtual conferences are here to stay. Even in a post COVID-19 world, virtual events will still provide opportunities and benefits that will continue to improve and transform the way we do business. Giving some thought ahead of time to how to run your virtual event and which virtual event platform is right for you will make the difference between a lively, memorable online event and a dud. With the right technology, support, and planning, successful virtual events are absolutely within reach.
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