By now we have probably all participated in a virtual event. According to The State of Virtual Events 2022 report, 92% of event organizers surveyed hosted virtual events in 2021 and 94% of those surveyed were planning virtual events in 2022.
Of course, we understand why virtual events took off in 2020, but we can hardly overstate the impact the pandemic had on event experiences. Before the pandemic, 45% of survey respondents attended a virtual event. That number jumped to 87% since the start of the pandemic – a 93% increase.
Is this incredible growth a temporary blip bound to crash down to reality? Well, if market size predictions are any indicator, then the virtual events market is expected to grow by a whopping $269.2B by 2025.
Why is that? If virtual events took off out of necessity, then why and how are they able to continue to grow in popularity? Well, as was mentioned above, even before the pandemic, 45% of survey respondents attended virtual events. So, it’s fair to say that the pandemic did not create virtual events. Rather, like for virtual learning, it accelerated already established trends.
Inc. reports on some of the reasons why companies are going all in on virtual events: Greater convenience, improved audience enjoyment, lower costs to produce and attend, and the ability to deliver more engaging content. Virtual events also provide the ability for companies to extend their reach and offer more accessible event experiences unencumbered by space or time.
The ability to transform live events into sources of evergreen content that event attendees can continue to engage with before, during, and after the event is an incredibly unique and powerful feature of virtual events. Rather than hosting a single-day or multi-day event, resetting, then re-engaging audiences for next year’s event, virtual events provide the ability to nurture relationships with attendees on an ongoing basis. And that is perhaps the most important value proposition offered by virtual events.
- Virtual events explained
- Live event vs virtual event vs hybrid events – understand the differences
- 3 common types of virtual events nowadays
- Understand the benefits and challenges of virtual events
- Top 6 virtual events ideas
- Examples of successful virtual events
- A step-by-step guide for planning an online event
- Virtual event marketing – how to attract more attendees?
- Track attendance and engagement at virtual events
- Kaltura platform for online virtual events
- How we believe the future of virtual events will look like
Virtual events explained
Virtual events are events held online that involve participants and attendees interacting over the web rather than in-person. They are different from a simple webinar in that virtual events typically include multiple sessions and agenda items rather than a single 45-minute session. Virtual events include everything from webinars, broadcasts for higher profile main stage sessions or keynotes, simulive video which is prerecorded video that is played at a specific time as if live, and plenty of opportunities for networking, engagement, and interactivity.
Live event vs virtual event vs hybrid events – understand the differences
Just to be sure we’re speaking the same language, it’s always a good idea to level-set on the different terms we use. We are talking about live events and virtual events and hybrid events so let’s quickly unpack what each of those is.
A live event is typically your classic in-person event. These are the events you register for, book a hotel room and flight, then travel to a physical location to attend. Live events have multiple different sessions and often have expo halls where event sponsors give away a lot of swag. Live events are great opportunities to network with co-workers, customers, and industry insiders.
As we mentioned above, virtual events are like live events except they are held online. Instead of booking a hotel and flight to attend in-person, virtual event participants register online and join online. Now, virtual events don’t mean a flat, passive experience. A key ingredient in virtual events is interactivity. Just like in live events, participants want to network and interact, and virtual events provide them plenty of opportunities to do so.
I love virtual events. I can still meet amazing folks in the industry without the hassle of travel. However, I sometimes love the hassle of travel. Hybrid events marry the worlds of live events and virtual events into one amazing package. Hybrid events are live in-person events that also provide virtual event experiences. There’s a lot of flexibility and differences in the implementation of hybrid events. Sometimes, hybrid event organizers just add a virtual event component as an afterthought, while others create incredibly compelling experiences that promote connection and collaboration between all participants – virtual and in-person. We talk more about our experiences in helping customers like Houston Community College bridge those two worlds.
3 common types of virtual events nowadays
Let’s look at three common types of virtual events that companies are already hosting.
1. Internal training and enablement events
Cost savings are a major driver behind the growth of internal training virtual events. Learning & development and large-scale company training are critical to company performance. When training events are scheduled, that has meant bringing hundreds of employees offsite – time away from work, investing in location and logistics, etc. Sales kickoffs (SKOs) and large-scale training have moved to virtual events. Virtual events provide the ability for training global organizations at scale at a fraction of the cost and impact on day-to-day operations. Additionally, virtual events provide opportunities to offer separate tracks for different departments, easily share recordings and VOD resources, as well as provide key sets of data to track and measure learner performance.
2. Marketing and industry events
Dynamic virtual events are opportunities to share product announcements, connect with customers, build pipelines, and position your company as industry experts. Virtual events provide companies with opportunities to stand out from the generic pool of webinars and one-off broadcasts to offer customized, branded, and unique and unforgettable experiences. Companies can use virtual events to showcase their technology, elevate their employees and customers, and highlight strategic partnerships. They bring everyone together to build excitement through meaningful engagement. Virtual events provide spaces to share both live and VOD content and the ever-important session recordings are available automatically after the live session. Another critical component is data. Companies can measure engagement and set rules for relevant follow-up.
3. Tradeshows and exhibitions
Expos remain a major component of live events. Now, companies are starting to host virtual trade shows and exhibitions as standalone virtual events. Each brand or customer has its own virtual booth or page that provides content such as video and PDFs as well as additional information on the exhibitor. They even include an interactive room such as an integrated video conferencing platform to be able to host live presentations and Q&A within the context of the event. This provides great opportunities for lead generation and personalized demos. Some virtual events include these types of activities within a larger virtual event where exhibitors pay like they would in live events, for the opportunity to sponsor and participate in the event.
Understand the benefits and challenges of virtual events
Virtual events offer a lot of benefits and challenges. It’s important to consider the pros and cons of virtual events to ensure your success.
Benefits of virtual events
- Extended reach – reach more people and offer a larger scale without the need to get a bigger event space. The scale is unlimited.
- Lower cost – It’s cheaper for all involved. Attendees save on travel expenses while organizers save on production.
- More accessible – provides opportunities for participants to join regardless of budget, time, and other abilities.
- Failsafe – Things happen – weather events, health events, travel bans. Such happenings can absolutely ruin live events.
- Flexibility – Virtual events are not restricted by time meaning global audiences or busy participants will be able to join either live or for VOD.
- Data – Virtual events provide organizers with more data and streamline workflows. They simplify data collection, aggregation, and reporting.
Challenges of virtual events
- Technology – Technology has made virtual events possible, but sometimes technology fails us. You need to make sure your event platform is up to the challenge with redundancy, scalability, and usability.
- Networking – Face-to-face is king for networking. It’s possible to have impactful networking through text and video chat – even speed dating like networking – but you must plan for it and drive it.
- Cookie cutter – Each live event tends to be super unique. Many virtual events lack branding and individuality. From content to experience, you must invest in making the experience unforgettable.
- More affordable, but still not cheap – Too many companies think that just because the event is virtual, it is cheap. However, there is still a lot of investment so be ready for it. Content must be produced, equipment secured, event platform customized, and regular old event management is still needed.
Top 6 virtual event ideas
Your virtual events can offer a lot of fun activities and capabilities. Let’s review some ideas on how to make them top-notch.
3 ideas for your employees
- Interactive rooms for f2f connection – Especially if employees are remote, they don’t get a lot of opportunities for face-to-face interaction with their coworkers. Provide breakout rooms or networking rooms with preset activities that employees can perform to increase collaboration. I’ve even seen and participated in virtual escape rooms within virtual events.
- Open chat – Many virtual events limit the ability to chat and connect with others. This is typically done to maintain a safe environment for all. However, internal events provide opportunities for employees to text chat around the sessions.
- Video Q&A – Company town halls typically include a one-way stream. Company leadership broadcasts to all employees and all employees just sit there and watch. Instead, provide opportunities for employees to raise their hands and ask a question, not just through chat, but with their voice through video.
3 ideas for marketing purposes
- CTAs – Virtual events have a lot going on. One thing is for sure, you’re getting a lot of attention. Use schedule CTAs to drive traffic to specific sessions or external webpages.
- Open Demos – Strike while it’s hot. While hosting amazing speakers, don’t forget to provide plenty of room to demo your products and services or meet with customers. Create open rooms staffed by employees to help customers strike up a conversation.
- Polls and Surveys – Who doesn’t love feedback? Provide plenty of opportunities for participants to react, answer polls, and fill out surveys. This data will be associated with their user and will help you craft relevant follow-up for continued engagement.
Examples of successful virtual events
Sometimes it’s just easier to learn from the best. There are plenty of amazing examples of successful virtual events. Check out our list of the Top 10 Virtual Event Examples for 2022 which includes leading brands like Salesforce, AWS, Google, Adobe, and the NBA.
A step-by-step guide for planning an online event
The success of any event – in-person or virtual – is largely based on the preparation and planning that goes into it. In fact, many of the steps you take to prepare an in-person event are the same as you would take with a virtual event. However, virtual events do have their challenges and unique requirements. For example, virtual events require speakers to connect from remote locations on their own devices. In this section, we’re going to cover some of the unique steps that you should take into consideration when preparing for your upcoming virtual event.
Step 1: Variety is the spice of virtual events
When building out your virtual event agenda, it is important to think about the participant’s experience. They are going to connect from home while sitting at their desk. Regardless of how impressive your speakers are and fascinating your content is, do we really want to plan a 4-hour broadcast with limited variety and engagement? In a world where folks can barely sit through a 2-hour movie without looking at their phone, how do we expect to hold their attention? One way is to ensure your event agenda offers a variety of different experiences. Offer parallel sessions that provide participants with the ability to have personalized experiences. Start the keynote off with a broadcast, then break out into smaller interactive rooms, reconvene for a simulive high-produced video, link out to expo rooms, etc. Variety is not just the content we offer, but also the format.
Step 2: Networking is actually king
But I thought content was king? For sure, if you don’t have great content, then your virtual event may not be the best. If you don’t offer the ability for participants to network though, then your virtual event is going to feel flat. For in-person events, we plan out networking opportunities through mixers and socials. A lot of networking happens by chance of being around folks in the same space. When planning virtual events, we must be more mindful of creating opportunities for networking. Plan out sessions that are just for networking, and that provide opportunities for open conversation and connection. Some virtual events even offer “speed dating” type networking options which can be fun. Provide tools such as chat to allow folks to chat or video conferencing rooms for group conversations. Providing virtual space in the event is great, but also bake that into the agenda and encourage folks throughout to participate.
Step 3: Schedule dry runs
Unlike in-person events where speakers just show up for the event and technical walkthroughs can often happen without them, virtual events require speakers to connect ahead of time. Remember, speakers, connect remotely from their own devices and personal networks. Dry runs should be scheduled well in advance and ensure that speakers are connecting from the devices and networks they plan to connect from during the actual event. It is not helpful to test out devices and networks that won’t be used during the virtual event. Additionally, connecting ahead of time will give opportunities for speakers to familiarize themselves with the virtual event platform and to iron out production such as framing, lighting, and sound quality. The quality of your speakers’ connections and setup will largely define the quality of your virtual event. Leave enough time between the dry run and the virtual event for changes to be made. If networks cannot be improved, then consider prerecording their session and broadcasting it as a simulive video.
Step 4: Use notifications and CTAs
In-person events include lots of signage that help participants find where to go and what sessions are important for them. Incorporate digital signage and calls-to-action to act as virtual wayfinding for your participants in their virtual event. Remember, there’s a lot going on. Not only does your virtual event have different sessions and activities, but participants are connected from their computers. They are on the internet with infinite distractions to lure them away. Schedule notifications that link out to key sessions to help them keep on track. Add digital ads to the agenda to highlight key sessions. Provide correspondence throughout the virtual event such as chat and emails to remind participants about sessions that are relevant to them.
Step 5: Plan for your event report
What is the goal of your virtual event and what data and information do you need to collect to measure the success of your event? An event report is the post-event summary that includes the virtual event data that helps you measure the success of your virtual event. For your event report to be helpful, you need to plan out what data you need: Registration data, session attendance, demographics, polling results, social reach, etc. If certain information is critical to understanding the success of your event, then be sure you are set up to collect it and review it for your event report.
Virtual event marketing – how to attract more attendees?
The messaging of your virtual event may be different from that of in-person events, but many of the techniques you use to drum up excitement will be the same:
- Targeted promotion using digital ads
- Email distribution list of current customers with an email sequence of at least 5 emails
- Leverage company social channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter
- Create email templates for employees to use for personal outreach (make it easy for them to invite their network)
- Draft template social posts for employees to use on their channels
- Enable early access with incentives such as gated content and extra networking opportunities
- Host mini-events or webinars to build excitement
- Create email signature banners and ask employees to include them in their emails that link out to event registration
- Edit prerecorded video clips and share them as content throughout your marketing channels
Track attendance and engagement at virtual events
A key benefit of virtual events is that it is far easier and streamlined to collect attendance and engagement data. Virtual event engagement data can be easily delivered from the virtual event platform to your marketing automation tech stack to segment virtual event participants and put them in the correct flows for follow-up engagement. Typical data sets include:
- Demographic information collected through the customized registration form.
- Number of attendees and registrants
- Viewership data such as impressions, time viewed, and number of views
- Time joined and time left
- Duration of attendance in live sessions
- Quiz, poll, and survey responses
- Number of times content was rewatched
- Popular times to join
- Frequented questions
- Most popular topics and speakers
- Sponsorship engagement – viewed content, leads, etc
- CTA interaction
- Content downloads
All the above information and more can be easily tracked and measured through most virtual event platforms. This data is invaluable in helping marketers profile event participants and define relevant outreach.
Let’s go over some of the frequently asked questions about hosting virtual events.
How do Virtual Events Work?
Magic! Well, to many of us it is magic, but really they work and come together just like in-person events. Virtual events work through the internet. They rely on technology such as webcasting, webinars, and video-on-demand to provide a customized experience for participants.
Why is it Important to Use Online Event Platforms for Hosting?
Online event platforms make it easier for you to create an awesome experience without requiring you to build the event space yourself. They take into account what makes a great virtual event and package it in a platform that allows you to focus on developing the content and look & feel rather than development. Virtual event platforms are more powerful than a simple webinar solution and offer a lot more to the overall experience: Branding and customization, variety of formats (broadcast, real-time, simulive), networking, and more.
What are the budget ranges for building a virtual event?
Virtual events can cost hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Like with anything, it depends on what you want to invest in. I’ve participated in virtual events that cost millions of dollars – custom development, branding, marketing, content creation, speaker fees, etc. However, bigger budgets don’t mean better virtual events. Focus on creating great content and providing networking opportunities and you’ll have a great virtual event. Using a virtual event platform will save your budget.
How to select a virtual event?
When looking at the different virtual event platforms available, you’ll want to make sure you can really accomplish what we have discussed throughout this guide. It’s also important to select a virtual event platform that will help you accomplish your immediate virtual event goals and grow and develop those goals over time.
Customization – The virtual event platform needs to provide you the ability to customize the look & feel for you to be able to create a branded, unique experience that stands out from the rest. How much customization is needed? Generally, I prefer working within a template that provides me with the ability to customize a lot of things without the need to bring in a whole team of developers.
Supports different formats – You also want to make sure you can deliver a variety of formats. Remember, the beauty of virtual events is that they are not limited by time or space so you should capitalize on that. Your virtual event platform should let you deliver everything from real time and live to video on demand. You want your virtual event platform to help you create lasting experiences that keep participants returning over time.
Team collaboration – Virtual events often require team collaboration to make things happen. Virtual events platforms should allow you to add team members and to delegate different tasks. You’ll need to delegate responsibilities from session moderation to event setup and your event platform should support those workflows.
Networking and engagement – Not negotiable! Your virtual event needs to provide plenty of opportunities for participants to engage with each other. They should be able to connect face to face in video chats, network in group or 1:1 text chats, and participate in polls and quizzes. If your event platform doesn’t provide that, then you are missing out on the most important driver of virtual event participant satisfaction.
Kaltura Platform for Online Virtual Events
Kaltura Events Platform is a powerful virtual event platform that lets marketers and event organizers run unforgettable events again and again. Event teams can create, organize and measure their events to deliver extraordinary events that get better each time. With the Kaltura Events Platform, event planners can customize the look and feel of their virtual events so that each event is unique. Support any event of any size with flawless streaming technology for live, real time, or on-demand. There are plenty of networking tools from chat and collaborate, interactive rooms, and more.
How we believe the future of virtual events will look like
Virtual events will continue to grow in popularity. Every in-person event will include virtual components and we’re going to see a lot more investment in delivering truly hybrid event experiences. Event organizers and marketers will continue to invest in virtual events as sources of evergreen content, delivering exciting live experiences that live on and engage participants months later. We will see more VR experiences, but the jury is still out on whether VR will enter the mainstream or remain niche. One thing is for sure, great content and opportunities to network and engage in meaningful ways will always be in high demand. How we consume and interact will continue to evolve, but the ability for virtual events to extend our reach means that any in-person event that fails to offer virtual or hybrid experiences will be missing out on incredible opportunities.
Necessity creates opportunity for or accelerates innovation and that’s really what’s fueled virtual events over the last couple of years. Though they have been trending for some time, there was always trepidation to go all in on virtual events. When we had to though, we were at a good place technologically speaking. We have found that not only can we host events online, but these virtual events can be incredibly effective and even surpass in-person events in size, engagement, and success. Virtual events will not replace in-person events completely. Virtual events will outnumber in-person