Virtual events are much more than a temporary fix for times when it’s unsafe or impossible for people to gather in person. Since they’re here to stay, it’s worth considering some virtual events best practices as you go forward, to help you get the most out of gatherings and happenings in the virtual space.
Creating and facilitating large gatherings in online spaces is a technological paradigm that’s been in development for decades now, and when done well can provide distinct advantages over in-person meetings. However, all types of virtual events are not alike—they can vary widely in how they leverage technology and how successfully they engage and retain participants. This post is intended to give professionals a strong grasp on the virtual events space, useful types of events, and best practices to keep your events running smoothly and effectively.
What are Virtual Events?
A virtual event is an event that is held primarily online rather than in physical space. But much like physical events, people gather around a topic or activity or organization and exchange information and ideas.
Proceed through the sections below for a more detailed picture of what virtual events are and how to use them to your benefit, virtual events best practices, and the ways virtual events will be transforming our work and social spaces for the foreseeable future. On the topic of best practices, we’ll also conclude by introducing Kaltura’s Virtual Events Platform, which we feel is the best-in-class virtual event solutions available.
- 3 Successful Corporate Virtual Events from the Past Year
- 4 Types of Virtual Events and their Advantages
- Virtual Events Best Practices
- Kaltura Virtual Events Platform
3 Successful Corporate Virtual Events from the Past Year
2020 was a trial by fire for companies to transition to virtual events—luckily, many proved up to the task. As we all carry on in a more virtual world, you can look to these examples for ideas of how to make the virtual event paradigm work best for your organization. If you’re looking for additional inspiration, we have a longer list as well but we’ll keep it to a short recap here.
And make note of the things these events did well, they’re likely to re-appear under the “Virtual Events Best Practices” section further below!
1) Salesforce’s World Tour Sydney Reimagined
Salesforce, well known in the customer relationship space, worked around pandemic social distancing with its World Tour Sidney Reimagined event in March 2020. This is impressive, as they transitioned to a completely virtual event within two weeks, having originally planned it to be in person.
The event attracted 80,000 live stream viewers and more than 1 million views across social channels. Notes to take from this: Salesforce employed excellent audience engagement, including app demonstrations that crossed over to voting for winners on social media. They also made the live streams available as on-demand video after the fact.
2) Google SheetsCon
Another luminary, Google, got into the virtual events space by presenting SheetsCon 2020 as the world’s first, dedicated online conference for Google Sheets users. Google’s organizers reliably showed off their brilliance by innovatively engaging attendees. One engagement strategy was giveaways earned from cross-posting on social media and sponsor pages during SheetsCon, which also effectively promoted the event and its partners. Additionally, participants were greeted by an intro video that walked them through different features and pages of the event—giving less technically savvy participants a leg up on accessibility.
3) SBC Digital Summit
SBC is a company that provides news, media, and events for the gaming industry (by “gaming industry” in this case think more along the lines of casinos and FanDuel, less Overwatch and Fortnite). In a move nearly as bold as the invention of online poker, they held 2020’s SBC Digital Summit in an interactive virtual networking space intended to emulate a physical conference environment. A “Lobby” space served as a central hub for different event areas—guests could enter an auditorium to join live conference sessions or watch on-demand video; a product showcase to learn more about new products, and a networking lounge to chat with other professionals. This provided a familiar and comfortable environment for the attendees that allowed them to concentrate on business as usual, even with the new format.
4 Types of Virtual Events, and Their Advantages
While there are many types of virtual events in many sizes, here are some of the main configurations that everyone should be aware of.
- Virtual Conferences and Webinars
These are really the quintessential “virtual events”. Webinars and virtual conferences were already taking off in popularity before the 2020 pandemic—although they’re a departure from in-person events, they also demonstrate some very significant benefits.
Virtual conferences present attendees with opportunities to be present remotely. Most likely, keynotes, breakouts, panels, and networking events at a virtual conference all happen completely online, although in some cases there may be limited attendance in-person—this also may cross into “Hybrid Event” territory, as detailed below.
Webinars also fall under the umbrella term of “web conferencing”; differentiation with “virtual conferences” and “online training or classes” being more about particulars of how content is presented, how large the group of participants is, and how many times the group will meet. “Webinar” is a portmanteau of “web seminar,” with seminar meaning a particular topic (lecture, demo) being discussed by a leader or instructor and students in (relatively) small groups where all are requested to participate.
Engagement with these events can be relatively passive, such as watching a live keynote with a chat window in the sidebar, or as active and intimate as a video conference room where all participants are able to see each other and communicate 1:1. Usually, a virtual conference will also incorporate more than one event, and quite likely more than one type of event: for example, a tech conference might have a live-broadcast keynote address with limited audience interactivity, but also (for example) breakout rooms for coding or hardware workshops where participants communicate actively with the workshop leader and other attendees.
Webinars are typically a single event/single topic gathering, and generally take the form of a video/video meeting happening in real-time. Interactivity includes participants submitting questions, responding to questions and polls, and talking to each other. Additionally, the webinar leader is likely to incorporate presentations via PowerPoint (or similar), web pages, and other multimedia content.
Virtual conferences and webinars require coordination, like an in-person event, including inviting speakers, scheduling, setting up sessions and otherwise facilitating communication between participants. Key benefits are that attendance is not limited to the capacity of event spaces and participants, speakers, etc. do not need to spend time and money on travel, lodging, and other physical concerns.
- Hybrid Events
Hybrid events are a combination of live in-person events with virtual components that are either live or recorded. This might be as simple as a live lecture or panel discussion that is being streamed and opened to viewers online who can watch and comment or a live event that remotes in a performer or presenter, or as complex as a combined in-person and virtual event designed to have rich and interactive (if different) experiences for both live and remote participants. Some virtual conferences, as we mentioned, might also function as hybrid events with a small number of in-person participants but the majority of attendees logging in remotely.
- Virtual Meetups/Virtual Networking
These types of virtual events are focused on building professional connections and facilitating gatherings of people who have a common interest. They happen in real-time and are meant to help participants connect and communicate, particularly as a substitute for when in-person meetups are not an option. Privacy is maintained by limiting access to the invited.
- Online Training
This covers a lot of ground—from traditional education or certificate training to one-off workshops, to onboarding new hires. The focus here should always be on learning, so while collaboration between students is certainly important, the goal of this type of event is for the instructor to be able to present information clearly and thoroughly, students to interact with the instructor, and for the students’ mastery of the topic to be able to be evaluated. Other typical features of online training are screen- and content-sharing for demonstration as well as access to group resources (such as content libraries, instructional videos, and exercises).
Virtual Events Best Practices
A lot of check-boxes can fall under this heading, so we’ll just say “measure twice, cut once” as your #1 piece of advice for any event planning, virtual or physical. When we think virtual events best practices, we think of having a solid plan in place, and heading off as many problems as possible.
- Test Your Gear
Before your event goes live, make sure you’ve checked out all of the technology you’re using: webcams, microphones, platforms, software. Do a full rehearsal or dry run if possible. Nothing leaves a worse impression on your attendees than having things not working on the day.
- Have your Plan or Agenda Beforehand
This might seem elementary, but make sure you’ve structured your event in advance and account for keeping your guests engaged. As with an in-person event, make and share an agenda, and communicate clearly with speakers so they know when they’ll go live.
- Start Promoting Early
Get the word out early through as many channels as possible: social media, press releases, an official blog, and any email marketing lists you have.
- Prepare Your Attendees
Similarly to pre-prepping so you’re confident your equipment works, pre-prep your guests as well: give them opportunities to see how features work and how to connect with other participants to get the most out of the event. Don’t assume that everyone will automatically know how your web tools work. Intro videos, walkthroughs, FAQs, and documentation are always helpful!
- Schedule Breaks
For online events longer than an hour, make sure you put some breaks into your schedule beforehand—it will help people stay engaged. Related, make sure your event sections don’t run too long and have a mix of content and engagement; you don’t want to overwhelm your attendees and have them check out of the live feed.
- Recreate an In-Person Experience When Possible
Keep a human touch present in your virtual event. Remember that while in some ways virtual events can be an improvement, in others they remain a substitute for being there in person. Don’t let it feel cold and distant, provide opportunities for attendees to group chat and collaborate.
Engagement is of course the key to any event, live or virtual. This is another big area to cover, but we can narrow down a few main guidelines.
- Provide Value
Remember, a virtual event is not a sales pitch—your event should deliver value on its own, including the content covered, expert speakers and interviews, and opportunities for guests to interact with one another.
Your guest speakers can also be a major attraction in and of themselves. Experts in a field are always popular with an audience. However, take care to select the right speakers—virtual events mean that you can invite them from anywhere in the world. But make sure they’re comfortable speaking to an online audience. Not everyone is great on camera!
Gifts can also resonate with your audience; everyone loves getting free swag. Another way to engage guests is to provide the giveaways as prizes for providing feedback, answering questions, or competitions within the event.
- Facilitate Networking
Your event is not just about content. It’s also important that your attendees feel present and able to communicate with one another. That’s almost as much of a value proposition as the content itself! Do use a platform that allows guests to communicate with each other via chat or webcam.
- Follow up
Reach out to your attendees for feedback and to say thank you for joining the event. It’s also another opportunity to include a gift to show your gratitude. When executed well, this type of personal touch is sure to grow your community.
Choose the Right Platform
Finally, remember that the virtual meeting platform you choose is crucial for making your event work and keeping things according to plan. Find out what platforms successful event organizers are using and be sure to compare and evaluate different virtual event technologies so you can find what will work the best for you.
Kaltura Virtual Events Platform
Kaltura Virtual Events Platform is our advanced virtual event platform solution created with virtual events best practices in mind, and we encourage adopting it for your event success! It’s fully customizable and designed to easily scale while keeping events focused on your brand, your community, and the experience you’re creating. We offer live, real-time, and on-demand video streaming as well as engagement features like chat and networking functions and interactive features. Deep, detailed data and analytics will also give you a clear picture of your event’s performance. Finally, we offer first-class support including white glove production services, moderation, and 24/7 technical support.
Looking to set up your own virtual event? Kaltura can help!