The value of face-to-face interaction will never go away, but there are times, unprecedented times such as these we live in, when going virtual is a necessary part of your event program. But how do you turn a fundraising gala, or a live auction, or a multi-day conference, filled with networking opportunities and educational sessions into virtual events? And once you do, how do you ensure attendees are engaged throughout the event?
Planning and hosting a virtual event requires the same care and attention as an in-person event. With both events, you need to first and foremost, effectively promote the event, create memorable content and moments for attendees, engage your attendees and keep them engaged, and prove event success. The only thing that’s really missing is the venue, and the attendees on site. By not thinking of virtual events as small one-off presentations, but as value-added, engagement-driven experiences, you can create an impactful event that extends well-beyond a computer screen.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions compiled when it comes to virtual events.
What is a Virtual Event?
A virtual event is any organized event that takes place online rather than in a physical location and where individuals experience the event and its content in a virtual environment, rather than in an in-person gathering. These events can range from small question-and-answer sessions to fundraising live auctions or large-scale conferences with thousands of attendees.
What are the main types of Virtual Events?
Although many online events help presenters and speakers connect with audiences, there are a few different types of virtual events with some key differences:
Webinars: a web-based seminar (web + seminar = webinar) where attendees from around the world can join in and listen to one or more speakers who present their content live or via pre-recorded materials and it can happen live or on-demand, as a pre or post-recording. The defining feature of webinars is their interactivity and audience engagement, as they are all about two-way communication and allow for audience contribution via polls, Q&A and more.
Webcasts: a live video stream of an event or conference and is designed to reach large audiences of thousands with a TV/studio-like quality to it and it allow you to bring a psychical event to life, providing a one-way flow of information.
Live Fundraising Auctions: an online bidding ‘silent’ auction campaign with a live element where participants are able to join, watch the live bidding, participate and donate towards the fundraising goal. It can include a program, a live benefit auctioneer, several auction packages to be auctioned live, a special appeal either live or via video and an ask.
Virtual Conferences: built around a live, complex agenda that includes keynotes, sessions, and breakouts, and can include multi-session content and community engagement tools, allowing attendees to view keynotes in real-time, build their own agenda from relevant, on-demand content, and interact with other attendees.
Internal Hybrid Events: town halls, sales kick-offs, company-wide events, training events, department meetings, and more, for organizations that span countries, even continents where employees are not all gathered in the same place.
External Hybrid Events: large user conferences or industry-based conferences with high levels of video productions so the virtual attendees are provided with the same value and a similar event quality and experience as the in-person ones.
How do you host a Virtual Event?
Much like any event, running a virtual event involves a lot of planning and preparation. Regardless of whether you’re running a virtual conference or a virtual fundraiser, you can follow these simple steps to ensure the success of your virtual event:
- Start by understanding your audience and the why behind your virtual event
- Define your format and interactive content e.g. live webcast, webinar, Q&A, discussion, etc.
- Select your team i.e. presenters, speakers, guests, moderators, benefit auctioneer, and more
- Choose your theme/topic and create engaging content that captivates an on-line audience
- Find an AV partner to support all of your technical needs and execute your virtual event flawlessly
- Select the best day and time to host your virtual event for maximum attendance (for pivots to virtual, the same day and time that the in-person event would have taken place is most ideal)
- Select the online streaming platform for hosting your virtual event on e.g. Vimeo, Youtube Live, Facebook Live, Periscope etc.
- Promote your online event via social media, email marketing, landing pages, websites and more
- Gather all the admin access and login credentials for your platform of choice or the IT professional on call
- Gather all the event content in one place (slides, videos, logos, overlays, backgrounds, titles, etc.)
- Practice, practice, practice – complete several dry runs until you and your speakers are prepared
- Run a test stream (if you’re streaming live) to test your internet and audio levels before going live
- Follow up with your attendees by sending a thank you email and a link to any downloadable content post-event
What are some of the limitations of Virtual Events?
Virtual Events are built around content, attendee engagement and data. While video production quality and connectivity are very important, as well as the site that houses the agenda and content, virtual events also have limitations that in-person events don’t. Where in-person events can draw attendees with either a unique destination and the promise of networking, virtual events must rely heavily on content. And, for virtual events, planners must decide how to provide that content. Not only that, but another reality is that, with virtual events, face-to-face engagement suffers. There’s no way around it. Attendee to attendee networking is not as viable and after the event, post-event follow-up needs to happen more quickly. Data is critical and follow-up has to be fast and on-point. Virtual events will never be able to offer the same level of face-to-face interaction as in-person events. That being said, there are ways to make virtual events successful, but it takes careful planning, great data, and agility.
What are some of the technical recommendations for Virtual Events?
- First and foremost, you will need a fast and reliable dedicated hardwired internet line and a way to access the Ethernet access point. The internet line must have no upload restrictions or firewall issues and you will need at least 1.5x as much uplink bandwidth as your stream’s bitrate.
- You will need a central video control location for your stream with audio monitoring in a separate room for keeping accurate sound levels and tonal quality throughout the stream.
- You will need your AV partner to provide a sound system package that includes Lavalier/Headset handheld microphones for your Speaker, Presenter, MC, Benefit Auctioneer etc. and a few audience boom microphones
- You will also need a live video streaming production system package tested, re-tested and ready to go (HD cameras, video encoder, video switcher, preview video monitors, in-room sound and audio monitors for live stream sound monitoring, stage lighting, backdrop, speaker teleprompter, speaker timer, etc.)
- A video streaming solutions software such as Wirecast Pro along with an external hardware encoder (unless you have a very strong computer with high CPU that is capable and able to encode your live stream). An encoder takes your final audio and video stream and turns it into a language that the internet will understand and display as live video.
- The professional technical team ready to run and execute your Virtual Event smoothly (Technical Producer, Live Stream Tech Support, Video Technician, Sound Engineer, Lighting Technician, Stage Manager and Camera Operators that understand the narrative of the event in order to capture and produce the right shots). Also, have an IT professional on call to answer any login technical issues that might occur before or during the webcast.
What are some important elements of Virtual Events to consider?
Virtual events rely heavily on technology. Attendance wouldn’t be possible without the use of computers and mobile devices. But there’s more to virtual event technology than video conferencing tools. Below are the most important pieces of event tech to use when executing your virtual event:
- The Event Website: it is your key promotional tool to interest potential attendees and entice them to register for the event. Your event website should communicate the value of your virtual event, contain the event schedule, showcase speakers, include FAQs, and point potential attendees to registration.
- Registration: a robust online registration tool is critical for your event and allows attendees to register easily and provides planners and marketers with the data they need to plan a great event and prove event success.
- Email: is the best way to communicate with your registered attendees at all stages of the event by keeping them informed before the event and creating engagement leading up to the virtual event, and also for feedback surveys.
- Event Feedback: is crucial for virtual events when planners don’t have the ability to gauge reactions by the expressions or verbal feedback from attendees onsite. Collect feedback using post-event surveys that can be used to prove event success and also as a tool to qualify virtual leads and drive them to sales.
- Integrations: ensure that vital registration and attendee data is shared between your event technology system and your virtual event platform, as well as your marketing automation, and CRM systems. Event apps such as offered by Cvent not only provide the integration needed but also another level of attendee engagement.
While we know that virtual events do not hold the same power as in-person events do, unforeseen circumstances may necessitate going virtual, sometimes on very short notice. Having a plan, an Event Producer that understands Virtual Events and a great AV partner providing the necessary technology will mean a successful pivot to virtual and it can be the alternative you can have full confidence in, one you can trust to deliver the engaging experiences to attendees that you worked so hard to make happen.