With the 2020 global pandemic lingering way longer than any of us would have imagined, it’s pretty much “adapt or die” for many industries. So too for the event industry, which, at its core, is built around bringing people together to interact in the same physical location.
Then something amazing happened over the last 12 months. Rather than merely surviving, we saw many event organizers thriving and taking the format to the next level with innovative ideas. In this article, we take a look at some of the best virtual event examples and ideas we saw this year so that we can all raise the bar in 2021.
What Is a Virtual Event?
In its principle, a virtual event doesn’t differ that much from its physical counterpart. People gather around a topic, consume content, and exchange information and ideas. The main difference is that it happens online, through a virtual event platform like Kaltura Virtual Events.
With the onset of Covid-19, many industries and businesses have seen their major players move their events online. All types of virtual events have popped up: virtual tradeshows, virtual networking events, virtual town halls, virtual job fairs, as well as weekly webinars and on-demand workshops. Colleges and universities also joined the trend with virtual open days. Many of them have done it with so much flair that you’d wonder why it took a pandemic for this format to truly take off.
Pros vs Cons of Virtual Events
It would be a grave mistake to consider virtual conferences a makeshift solution until we get back to the physical venue. With the right execution and the right platform, virtual events can far surpass what you can do in a more traditional, brick-and-mortar setting.
The number of participants is no longer limited by the location and available space of a chosen venue. This enables organizers to significantly increase their reach. Another advantage is that virtual events involve less shlepping for organizers, subcontractors, speakers, and attendees alike. Everyone can tune in from their home and not worry about travel or lodging.
Invitations, event promotion, ticket sales, and production are all done online. The lack of venue costs, hired staff, and other expenses associated with physical conferences, make virtual events significantly cheaper to produce, too.
Virtual events are also highly measurable. You can analyze who your audience is, where they come from, which sessions they liked the most, how they engaged with your event, and so much more. This invaluable information will help you calculate your ROI and optimize your next event.
Some organizers indicated audience engagement and community as being the biggest struggle for virtual events. But there are many tools and techniques available that can turn this struggle into an opportunity if applied creatively.
Let’s have a look at some of the best virtual event ideas for companies in 2020 and hopefully we’ll send you home with inspiration on how to run a great virtual event or virtual conference.
10 Great Virtual Event Examples in 2020
Salesforce’s World Tour Sydney Reimagined
CRM giant Salesforce spearheaded the wave of Covid-19 induced online events with its World Tour Sidney Reimagined event in March 2020. Quite the achievement when you know they decided to make the event virtual just two weeks prior.
The event yielded a sizeable turnout of 80,000 live stream viewers and more than 1 million views across social channels. One thing they did extremely well was audience engagement. Salesforce organized a competition in which participants were given 3 minutes to demonstrate their app. They had to convince the audience to vote for their app. The winner was announced on Twitter the next day, keeping the audience engaged on social until well after the event was over.
Salesforce made the live stream available as on-demand videos, after the event. It’s a great opportunity to repurpose live stream content as marketing collateral.
AWS re:Invent 2020
re:Invent is a learning conference for the global cloud computing community, hosted by Amazon Web Services. Since Amazon is the dominant player in the public cloud market, re:Invent is the most important conference in the industry. The 2020 edition was 100% virtual and took place over the course of three weeks. It featured keynote announcements, product launches, leadership and training sessions, a chat and networking tool for attendees, but also DJ sets, a mystery video game, and more fun activities to take a break from learning.
The first thing to note was that the virtual conference was free. Just last year, a full conference pass set you back $1,799. Accessibility was high on the agenda. Captioning, translations, transcripts, decks, and screen reader compatibility was available for much of the event’s content.
No stone was left unturned to help the participants plan their learning itinerary. AWS re:Invent organized its 500+ sessions into tracks. The broadcasts followed the sun, meaning they were repeated to serve different time zones. The sessions are available on-demand on the platform and a second wave of content followed as well.
SheetsCon 2020 presents itself as the world’s first, dedicated online conference for Google Sheets users. This event entertained its audience with in-depth tutorials and expert talks.
The organizers behind Sheetscon also made brilliant use of engagement through giveaways. The contest required participants to post about the event on social media or visit at least 5 sponsor pages during the event. This initiative did a great job promoting the event and its partners.
Another nice feature was the short intro video shown to participants upon their initial login. This video was a walkthrough of the different features and pages of the event. This made the virtual event highly accessible to less savvy participants.
Adobe’s Digital Experience conference has been an institution for the last ten years. 2020 was the first online edition and turned out a tremendous success with 100,000 registrants and 450,000 views worldwide!
Adobe opted for pre-recorded content over live-streamed content for their 2020 summit. The critique here is that the virtual summit lacked the engagement of a live event and interaction was non-existent. But this allowed for seamless delivery of the 100 sessions, with the added value of video postproduction, and significantly fewer errors. It bridged time restrictions and solved connectivity issues. Adobe has since mentioned on its blog that “given more time, […] live interaction would have offered more engagement and networking for attendees”.
Other notable features of Adobe Summit 2020 were the clean design and the convenient interface with 100+ breakout sessions across six tracks. Good UX is an added factor that’s crucial for the success of virtual events.
SBC Digital Summit
SBC is a news, media, and events company in the betting and gaming industry. They took a whole other route with their SBC Digital Summit. The essence of the event remained to connect with others in the industry and share knowledge. This time, however, in a fully interactive virtual networking space that mimics a physical conference environment.
The Lobby served as a central hub to access the different areas of the event. From there, guests could enter the Auditorium to join live conference sessions or watch on-demand videos of previous sessions. They could learn more about new products and interact with exhibitors in the Product Showcase. The Networking Lounge encouraged connection with other professionals through a chat window.
SBC gave their patrons a familiar and comfortable environment. Attendees could concentrate on the topic and products without getting distracted by the format.
Marketing technology company MarTech Alliance made online events its main activity. One of these events is the annual MarTechFest Dial Up, the virtual version of their MarTechFest Global conference in London.
The event hosted 30 speakers over 30 days, along with fireside chats, Q&A sessions, masterclasses, and more. Sessions were available live and on-demand.
MarTechFest boosted audience engagement with reward points. These could be used to access future events, win swag, and more. Attendees could also partake in workout and meditation sessions to keep things fresh. This proved a great initiative in times when people lack exercise.
The 2020 NBA Season took such a winning approach to what seemed a lost cause, that we just had to include it in our list of best virtual events. Not only did the NBA succeed in recreating the energy and thrill of a live game, but they also harnessed the possibilities of digital to enrich the experience beyond the limitations of a traditional game.
In compliance with Covid-19 restrictions, no fans were allowed to attend the games in the league’s arena in Orlando. Instead, the game was live-streamed in a video conference call set up. The webcam feeds of selected fans were projected on boards in the sidelines around the court, to recreate the feeling of a crowd inside the arena.
But the NBA didn’t leave it at that and sought ways to improve the experience even further. Cameras were placed in vantage points around the court that weren’t achievable in a traditional setup. Microphones captured the ambient sounds of the game to create a more immersive audio experience. Fans could cheer for their team through the use of hashtags. These cheers were then displayed on screens around the court to express fan engagement.
The Virtual Estate Experience
Organizing tours and tastings are an important part of many vineyards’ livelihood. To continue their tastings in compliance with 2020 health and safety guidelines, Quintessa Estate in Napa Valley made their experience a virtual one.
Prior to the Quintessa Virtual Estate Tasting Duo online experience, the participants get their tasting kit with two bottles delivered at their doorstep. While Quintessa’s event is the odd one out in this list of virtual event examples, we found it worthy of mention for its elegant solution.
The takeaway here is that a little out-of-the-box thinking can help you overcome the limitations of virtual events, for instance by keeping parts of them within the physical realm. Thinking of ways to include other senses than just the eyes and ears, for instance by sending swag or edible samples to the participants, can make your virtual event much more tangible.
Tomorrowland Around the World
Even with big names like David Guetta and Steve Aoki, it’s hard to imagine a music festival delivering a successful online version. But Belgian techno music festival Tomorrowland pulled it off. They wrote history drawing more than 1 million participants from around the globe.
The result was a mind-blowing and immersive two-day festival experience with 8 virtual stages, 60 artists, workshops, games, fireworks, laser shows, and more. Of course, festival visitors were able to communicate and interact with each other.
The organizers collaborated with high-level partners in the film and gaming industry to develop an unequaled music experience. The virtual format allowed them to scale it at a global level, which allowed them to keep the admission price affordable. Weekend passes cost 20 euros, compared to 250 euros in 2019.
Dreamforce to You 2020
Last but not least on our list is another Salesforce event, Dreamforce to You. This major tech conference takes over San Francisco for 4 days every year but swapped the bay for the net in 2020.
Salesforce didn’t miss an opportunity to woo the audience, with appearances by celebrities such as James Corden and a performance by Metallica. Salesforce announced the acquisition of messaging and collaboration tool Slack. Sharing a major scoop with your audience creates a sense of belonging and privilege that will definitely leave a positive mark.
The main purpose of Dreamforce is of course to learn, connect, and have fun. Participants enjoyed countless demos and sessions of DreamTX, unlimited networking opportunities, and the Dreamfest party. Dreamforce also helped participants prepare for their certification exam and earn globally recognized Salesforce credentials. How many virtual events enable their participants to grow their resumes and hone their skills?
Virtual Event Tools
All these successful virtual event examples have one thing in common. They rely on an advanced and robust virtual event platform such as Kaltura Virtual Events Platform.
Kaltura Virtual Events is fully customizable and designed to support unique experiences at scale. It’s all about your brand, your community, and your experience. The platform offers building blocks such as live, real-time and on-demand video streaming, chat and networking functionality, audience segmentation, and interactive features. The in-depth data and analytics features will give you the full lowdown on the performance of your event.
You can also entrust the technical side of your event to the care of professionals. Kaltura’s white-glove production service lets you focus on your content and your audience.
The Future of Virtual Events
With the early adopters achieving major success, more and more companies and organizations will try to emulate these virtual event ideas and score similar results. SXSW might have had to cancel their 2020 edition, but they’re already among the many virtual events planned for 2021, such as CES and SAP Concur Fusion.
And rightfully so. In sheer contrast with their physical counterpart, virtual events are measurable, space and time-independent, offer higher ROI, and are less of a hassle to organize. And those are just a few of the benefits of virtual events. It’s safe to say virtual events aren’t a symptom of Covid-19 that will dissipate together with the pandemic. The coronavirus merely served as a catalyst for evolution within the event industry.
Physical and virtual events offer different sets of possibilities and advantages. The best events will take elements of both to bridge limitations and disadvantages. Enter the hybrid event, that strategically combines physical and virtual elements for participants. When you can get the best of both worlds, the sky is the limit … there lies the future for the event industry.
Planning a Virtual Event? Kaltura is here to help!