According to recent research, people worldwide spend almost half their waking time online. Unsurprisingly, companies increasingly turn to the internet to catch their audience’s attention. One of the most powerful ways to drive brand awareness, leads, and conversions online is through virtual events and hybrid events.
Marketers know this. 94% have planned virtual events in 2022. 48% are even increasing the number of virtual events they’ll host this year. If you’re lookinvig to set up a healthy virtual event strategy to put your brand in the spotlight and snatch up leads on the way, then this comprehensive guide to virtual events in 2023 is a perfect place to start.
- What is a virtual event?
- Advantages and disadvantages of virtual events
- 3 major types of virtual events
- Hybrid vs. virtual events
- A quick guide to creating a virtual event from scratch
- 7 virtual event ideas and examples that will inspire you
- How to choose a virtual event platform?
- More about Kaltura Virtual Events
- The future of virtual events – where do we go from here?
What is a virtual event?
A virtual event is a video-based online event that attendees join remotely to consume content and interact with peers about a shared topic.
Virtual events are streamed live or on-demand via a dedicated virtual event platform, like Kaltura Virtual Events, that is built for interaction and a smooth viewing experience. The attendee-facing side of the platform is a webpage that typically contains an agenda of scheduled sessions and access to on-demand content. Most virtual events also offer opportunities to connect with the host, partners, sponsors, and peers via multiple chat functionalities, Q&A sessions, or 101 video conferencing sessions.
Advantages and disadvantages of virtual events
Virtual events became popular as a means to overcome the social restrictions that were imposed during the CoVID-19 pandemic. But the benefits of virtual events far exceed this use case.
Virtual events are far more convenient to organize than physical events.
In-person events are notoriously challenging to organize. You need to sort out the venue, catering, staff, security, etc. And everything and everyone needs to be available on the day and at the location of the event. Virtual events don’t require the same logistics and don’t suffer the same limitations as physical events. Everything happens online and speakers and attendees join in from wherever they are. They’re not even limited by time. Speakers can pre-record their presentations and attendees can consume the content on-demand if they can’t make the event’s date.
Virtual events can be very cost-effective
No venue, catering, or staff also means much lower budgets. I chose the words in the subtitle carefully. You can make your virtual event as expensive and lavish as you wish, with a star-studded lineup, celebrity appearances and shows, a highly designed interactive user interface, home-delivered swag, gifts, and prizes, … you name it! But in most cases, a barebones virtual event will be infinitely cheaper than its physical counterpart, no matter the scale. But who wants to do barebones? The point is, you can invest the budget you save on logistics into delivering an unforgettable brand experience to your audience.
Virtual events reach your entire audience, anywhere
There can be many reasons why people would pass on a physical event, even if they’re interested in the topic. They might not be able to travel to the event location, they can’t make the date, the admission price is too steep, or maybe a disability might prevent them from participating in person.
People can tune into a virtual event from anywhere in the world. Travel is no longer a blocker. Thanks to the low cost of virtual events, most organizers now bank on expanding their audience by making their events admission-free.
“But, if my virtual event is live-streamed, how can I reach a global audience across multiple time zones?” Excellent question. Live-streamed global events “follow the sun”. They repeat and adapt their virtual event schedule from APAC to EMEA to the Americas. Some live sessions may be repeated while others might be replaced by local speakers. Most content will be delivered on-demand or as Simulive (pre-recorded content that is scheduled and presented as live, and includes the ability to interact through chat, Q&A, and emojis).
Virtual Events are digital
Virtual events are internet-based, meaning any attendee data or action can be collected, measured, and analyzed. Beyond the usual objectives of brand awareness and community building, virtual events are real goldmines of information about your audience. Personal information, preferences, and behavior on your virtual event pages are all collected in the background and ready to be used for follow-up and lead generation by you and your partners.
This data will also help you calculate event ROI and performance, which you will need for your event report and your follow-up with stakeholders.
Virtual events bring a level of flexibility, scalability, and accountability that just can’t be reached by physical events. But not all is peaches and cream with virtual events, but I would speak of attention points rather than disadvantages.
You need to foster audience engagement
Some organizers indicated that it can be a challenge to keep your audience engaged and focused. Attendees are sitting behind their computer screens. It’s easy to feel disconnected. There are many distractions, and the internet browser or tab can easily disappear to the background while attendees multitask.
Keep that in mind as you create your virtual event. Your content should be engaging and on point at all times. Give your attendees ample opportunities to interact with the content. Diversify your content with workshops, gamification, entertainment acts, fun activities, polls, etc. Think of creative ways to keep your audience at the edge of their seats. These Top 10 Virtual Event Examples for 2022 might inspire you.
Don’t forget the human factor and networking needs of your attendees
The main reason why people attend in-person events is to connect with others about a common topic. Because of the nature of virtual events, the top goal here is to learn about the company or product and for general education purposes (72%). But building new relationships is still the second biggest draw for virtual events. In fact, when asked about their top desired virtual event features, 91% chose in-session text chat, and 85% suggested searchable profiles.
This data, and most of the data used in this article, are pulled from Kaltura’s survey, The State of Virtual Events 2022. The survey contains a wealth of information and data that could prove invaluable to your virtual event strategy for the coming year. And it’s free. So, go ahead and click the link to download a copy for free.
Professional-grade virtual event platforms offer a wide range of communication tools and networking features such as text chat, personal meetings, and breakout rooms. Again, you can infuse a little human touch and fun with gamification, social media integration, home-delivered tangibles, etc.
3 major types of virtual events
I discussed this in an earlier blog post about the essential types of virtual events but I will give you the gist of that article right here. There are many more types of virtual events, such as virtual networking events, virtual weddings and speed dating events (usually the other way around), online concerts, happy hours, etc. That’s why you will probably find very different lists in similar articles. So, I decided to limit my list to the three most common virtual events in business: virtual conferences, town halls and live webcasts, and webinars. Each of these can be streamed live, on-demand, simulive, or a combination of these.
Virtual conferences are also often referred to as virtual summits, online trade shows, virtual fairs, et cetera. Virtual conferences are usually multi-day, multi-track events. This means that, rather than a single stream, attendees can access all sorts of content and activities, from keynotes to breakout sessions, panel discussions, networking and chat areas, entertainment acts, and so forth.
Some sessions offer limited audience interaction, while others enable two-way communication with the host and other attendees. Virtual conferences can be big productions that require intensive coordination with many contributors and factors. Virtual conferences are a perfect fit for large-scale annual summits or flagship events intended for brand awareness, community building, and lead generation.
Town Halls and Live Webcasts
Webcasts are point-to-many live streams over the web, consisting of a single session or track. Audience interaction is usually non-existent or limited to a Q&A session, text chat, emoji reactions, and participation in polls. Webcasts are a great format for sales kick-offs, company-wide events, and customer or partner events. A very popular type of company-wide event that uses webcasting as a format is town halls. Town halls are a great way to maintain effective corporate communications in hybrid and remote offices. They help nurture company culture and keep staff aligned about workflows and recent developments. Town halls and other webcasts are usually delivered in real-time (live) to create a sense of urgency and a feeling of community among the audience.
Ah, the webinar. The most ubiquitous virtual event on the web, today. Everybody and their mother have attended at least one webinar in the past year or so. And for good reason. Webinars are perfect for product presentations, tutorials, or panel discussions about your industry’s hot topics. They were a great way to stay in touch with your customer base or audience during times of social distancing. But the convenience and cost-effectiveness of setting up webinars have made it a marketing favorite that will last well beyond the pandemic.
Webinars are usually streamed in real-time to relatively small audiences, with limited input from the attendees (Q&A, text chat, and participation in polls). You could potentially stream a webinar on-demand, but that will limit audience participation even further. Most organizers live-stream their webinars and then repurpose that content to on-demand, so it could live on as public website content or marketing collateral.
Hybrid vs. virtual events
Hybrid events are in-person events combined with a virtual component, delivering an optimal experience to both audiences. While fully virtual events were the go-to format at the beginning of the pandemic, companies seem to favor a hybrid approach in their 2022 strategy, with 67% producing a blend of in-person, virtual, or hybrid events. Streaming a global virtual event from a local in-person event brings the best of both worlds.
The focus of hybrid events should be on delivering an equally strong experience to all attendees, whether they attend in-person or virtually. This also means that in-person attendees can use the virtual experience to watch on-demand recordings of sessions they missed or want to watch again. Or they can access the virtual experience via their mobile phone to consult the schedule of the event or read up about speakers. In the same way, virtual attendees will have a better experience seeing the live stream with a real audience. They should also be able to enjoy networking opportunities with other attendees, virtual and in-person.
The strategy choice is not only a matter of removing all disadvantages of virtual vs in-person events by opting for a hybrid event. It’s also heavily dependent on capacity and resources. A hybrid event involves more work than either a purely virtual or physical event. But if it’s within your capacities, hybrid events are the way to go in 2022 and beyond. Of course, Kaltura has you covered with top tips for planning a hybrid event.
A quick guide to creating a virtual event from scratch
We recently published a virtual event planning checklist, covering all the steps to a successful event. I highly recommend you download your free copy to make sure you tick off all the boxes and don’t skip any important steps. We’ll cover the essentials here to give you a proper idea of the scope of virtual event planning:
Kick-off your hybrid or virtual event planning
You’ll want to kick off your virtual event organization 1 to 2 months in advance for small events and at least 2 months for larger events. But before you get to kick anything off with anyone, you should have a clear idea of what kind of event you want to create, and why. Your event and its content need to be relevant to your audience. At this point, you should set a target date that is feasible for your organization and would make sense to your audience (take time zones, holidays, and other major events into account). You should also set high-level goals for your event, so you’ll have KPIs to measure your event success.
Next, you will want to gather your team. You’ll need content creators, graphic designers, marketers, tech people, a film crew, et cetera. Organize a kick-off meeting to align your team on the “what”, “why”, and “when”, and assign tasks and responsibilities. At the end of the meeting, everyone should understand their role and tasks and regularly report back to you about their progress. This meeting should also give you a clearer vision of the cost and help you set a budget.
Use the aforementioned virtual event planning checklist and create a progress sheet with all the tasks and deadlines pertaining to marketing, tech, speakers, social media, graphics, etc. This will help you avoid dropping the ball on any task.
Before the event
- Good content is paramount, so you’ll want to start working on an event content plan, as soon as possible. Aim for the wow factor, with plenty of interactivity, engagement opportunities, gamification, and fun, on top of valuable content and answers to the attendees’ questions.
- Based on your content plan, you’ll also be able to reach out to expert speakers, hosts, and entertainment acts.
- The design team can also start working on a fitting theme and visuals.
- Book you’re A/V team and start planning the shooting.
- Choose your virtual event platform and make sure it has all the features you need (Kaltura Virtual Events is your safest bet, in our humble opinion). Get your tech team to develop the virtual event registration page. Make sure your virtual event is geared for interactivity and engagement, with emoji reactions, plenty of communication options, polls, gamification, etc.
- Start reaching out to sponsors with sponsor packages.
- Once you have the registration page, designs, and copy ready, you can start promoting your event with a “Save the Date” announcement and social media teasers. Promote regularly with email blasts, social media posts, content and banners on your website, and guest posts on partner-, sponsor-, and industry websites.
Organizing a virtual event is not a linear process. You’ll be starting many tasks simultaneously and revisiting previous tasks. So, check in regularly with your team, your speakers, your contractors, and your audience. Make sure all parties are updated and informed about the progress of your event preparations. Again, our Virtual Event Planning checklist will be a great resource to help you keep on top of things.
During the event
Test and dry run everything. Have plan-B’s and fail-safes ready. Make sure everyone is stand-by. Have team members monitor the stream at all times, manage moderation, and handle disruptions. Collect data about session performance and audience engagement, via Google Analytics or a similar platform. If you’re running your event on Kaltura Virtual Events, then you are golden. Kaltura’s advanced analytics suite will automatically gather all data for you.
After the event
Don’t go on your beach holiday just yet. Follow up with all your stakeholders: your attendees, your partners and sponsors, and your management. Send your attendees a thank you mail with the next steps (could be a survey to fill out, signup for a newsletter, or a discounted subscription). Send out swag or prizes, if relevant. Forward leads to your sales team. Your partners and sponsors also deserve a thank you mail. Make sure you include some relevant performance data (maybe in the form of a post-event report) that will illustrate your event success and hopefully put a foot in the door for next year’s edition. Of course, your executives will want to see some form of accountability, with performance stats and KPIs.
Throughout your event, always keep your eyes on the prize. Anything you do should ultimately contribute to one or more of the following:
- Your audience wants to be informed and entertained with high-quality content, and they want to connect with like-minded people.
- Your company wants to raise brand awareness and generate leads.
- Your partners and sponsors also want to put their brand in the spotlight and collect leads.
- You want to attract as many relevant participants as you can and deliver a smooth and high-quality experience with maximum convenience.
7 virtual event ideas and examples that will inspire you
In the previous section, we covered all the basics to help you set up your virtual event. In this section, we’ll add some flavor to your event to make it the talk of the town. We’ll present 7 ideas to wow your audience, along with a few examples of how other companies created an unforgettable experience for their audience.
Infuse some fun with virtual performances
Musical acts, magic shows, improv, or stand-up comedy fit the virtual event format perfectly. If you have the budget, you can invite a popular artist. But you can also keep things a bit more low-profile and just as much fun with a local band or a DJ. Another option is to source talent internally with a company band or open mic. Or you can dream big like Dreamforce to You who streamed a performance by heavy metal band Metallica and pop star Lenny Kravitz during their 2020 edition.
Send your audience some swag
You can make your event a little more tangible with home-delivered swag. This can be a thank you bag with branded gifts. But you can take things a step further and send gifts ahead of the event that attendees can use during one of the sessions. Quintessa Estate winery in Napa Valley was able to take their tasting sessions online during the pandemic by delivering a tasting kit with two bottles to the participants’ homes. The participants could then enjoy a virtual guided tasting experience from the comfort of their own homes. The point is to include other senses than just the ears and eyes to create a more complete experience. Food and drinks always win people’s hearts!
Add an element of competition
Gamification is a great way to make your event more engaging. Quizzes, timed contests, runs, and challenges can all add an element of thrill. Especially if there are prizes involved, like free admissions to future events, swag, et cetera. Cybersecurity expert Check Point gamified the 2022 edition of their CPX 360 event with on-theme activities like a Cyber Escape Room, a Cyber Range where participants can shoot down hackers, and a Phishing Challenge. Another great idea is to use social media in your challenges. Having participants complete challenges on social will do wonders for your media coverage and reach.
Mimic a physical conference environment
We often say that you shouldn’t simply throw your physical event online, without adapting it to the environment and taking full advantage of digital. And that’s very true. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your virtual space look and act like a physical conference, complete with lobby, auditorium, networking lounges, and workshop rooms.
News, media, and events company SBC did exactly that with their SBC Digital Summit. Mimicking a physical event is especially a good idea with less tech-savvy audiences.
Keep things fresh with physical activities
Most virtual event sessions require the audience to passively watch and listen. You can mix things up a little with fun activities that require the participants to do something and that offer a break from the main event topic. This can be yoga classes, meditation sessions, mixology workshops, and cooking classes. MarTech Alliances got raving feedback about the workout and meditation sessions during their MarTechFest Dial Up 2020 event.
Be creative with technology
Take full advantage of the technological possibilities of hosting your event online. We witnessed some amazing technology-based virtual event ideas over the past few years. The 2020 NBA season simulated the thrilling experience of a live ball game online by projecting the webcam feeds of selected fans on boards on the sidelines around the court. Tomorrowland Around The World created a mind-blowing virtual island with virtual stages, fireworks, laser shows, and so much more, to host their online techno music festival. Expo 2020 Dubai did something very similar, recreating a virtual version of the physical experience.
Invite a celebrity speaker
A great way to drive registrations and keep your audience engaged is by inviting a celebrity speaker. Celebrities can take on the role of emcee, give an opening or closing speech, deliver an inspiring keynote, or be part of a panel if they have an affinity with the topic of the event. AdvertisingWeek New York 2021 featured celebrity speakers of the caliber of Matthew McConaughey and Barry Sonnenfeld, while James Corden delivered the introduction for Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2020.
… more virtual event ideas:
There are so many ways to add a touch of fun to your event. We’ll list a few more here. Some are competitive and can be combined with a (sponsored) giveaway, while others are geared towards forging connections between participants or simply for a good laugh.
- Virtual trivia night
- Latte art workshop
- Online murder mystery
- Virtual photo booths
- Virtual tarot reading
- Social media challenge
- Virtual escape room
- Virtual fundraiser casino or gala
- Speed networking
- Virtual game show
- Virtual happy hour
- Virtual watercolor class
- Virtual origami class
- Virtual cheese and wine
How to choose a virtual event platform
The surge in the success of virtual events these last few years, for obvious reasons, has also sparked the growth of the virtual event platform market. While attendees might be fooled by the convenience and simplicity of the user interface, professional-grade virtual event platforms are comprehensive A-to-Z solutions. They typically handle registrations, promotion, integrations, video creation and enrichment, streaming, engagement and communication, and data collection.
The right virtual event platform for you is the one that enables everything you want to do in an all-in-one format that is reliable, scalable, customizable, and secure. That’s why it’s important to first develop your content plan and have a rough idea of all the features and activities you want to offer your audience, your partners, your sponsors, and ultimately your business. Then you can choose a platform that checks all those boxes and more (like great customer support or white-glove production services).
More about Kaltura Virtual Events
It’s not always easy to have a long-term vision regarding virtual event strategy. So most companies will choose a virtual event platform based on the needs of their first virtual event. Inevitably, this will set heavy limitations on future events. When choosing a long-term virtual event solution, it’s important to factor in the flexibility and scalability needed to create any event you want, at any size. And that is exactly what Kaltura Virtual Events is all about: making any event big time, every time.
With Kaltura Virtual Events you can realize any virtual event from ideation to execution on a single platform. No need to start from scratch. You can use our customizable templates and start from there. After that, everything is possible. Live, simulive, or on-demand. A small single-track watch-and-listen webinar or a big hyper-personalized and interactive multi-track global conference. You choose.
Kaltura Virtual Events can take on any virtual event at any scale. No matter where they are or on what device they tune in, your audience will enjoy a seamless high-quality 4K broadcast, thanks to ABR technology and eCDN delivery. Security, privacy, and accessibility are guaranteed at all times, thanks to Kaltura’s compliance with industry regulations and standards, such as GDPR, ISO, DPA, and VPAT, and the integration of industry-grade protection measures like SSO and DRM.
Features to cover your every need
Though it’s easy and intuitive to use, Kaltura Virtual Events boasts an extensive set of features that will help you turn each stage of your event production into a success:
- Full video creation and enrichment suite
- Interoperability with other platforms and tools
- Sponsor and VIP features
- Hyper-personalization for all stakeholders
- Extensive chat and networking features
- Registration module built for personalization and scale
- Gamification, interactivity, and engagement features
- Social media integration
- Advanced search tools
- Powerful analytics and data collection features
- Accessibility and localization
- And so much more!
A true partner for your virtual events
Producing virtual events is both a thrill and a challenge. Kaltura makes the challenge much lighter with its reliable and easy-to-use virtual event solution. But we’re still here for you if you need anything. At Kaltura, our customers are also our partners. We got your back with 24/7 support, a dedicated customer success manager, regional user groups, a developer portal, community forums, and other online resources.
But we can also take the full load off your shoulders with our tailored production support and white-glove services. Our expert virtual event management team will help you deliver the right experience for your brand and your audience with planning and design services, as well as operations support during the event.
We can wax lyrical about the capabilities and performance of Kaltura Virtual Events, but a demo speaks a thousand words, so book your personal tour of our virtual event platform today!
The Future of Virtual Events – Where Do We Go from Here?
It’s a good thing that live in-person events are carefully making their way back as we emerge from the CoVID crisis. There’s some magic to brick-and-mortar events that even the most advanced tech won’t be able to reproduce in a virtual environment, at this moment. But virtual events have solved so many issues companies regularly face with in-person events. We predict that fully virtual events will remain a valid option for many companies, especially businesses with limited resources and enterprises that serve a global workforce or audience.
We can also safely predict that most events will be hybrid from here on out, serving an in-person audience and a remote one simultaneously or augmenting the experience of an in-person audience with virtual elements. Either way, Kaltura has you covered.