Virtual events can be challenging. They require a different mindset, strategy, and logistics. Discover the most popular formats of virtual events, their benefits, and best practices and let us guide you through the ins and outs of organizing and hosting virtual events, starting with the different types of events. We like to say that humanity takes centerstage at virtual events. It’s important to know what those stages can look like.
What Are Virtual Events?
Gone are the days when we define a virtual event as the online version of a physical event. Now we are on track to seeing physical versions of virtual events. Indeed virtual has a life and culture of its own. From a planning perspective, there are many intuitive differences between in-person and virtual events. Only one has a travel & lodging budget, for example.
But two areas where planners invest most in virtual events are technology (often in the form of an all-in-one event platform) and production (the quality of produced video & other storytelling media; connectivity & seamlessness). Virtual experiences don’t have to mirror in-person ones to be memorable. They must only make sense within the world that they inhabit. Of course, most of us want to do more than just make sense. We want to excel, to be best-in-class. Any conversation about what that looks like will include production and platform/technology, very prominently.
True, physical events have aspects that cannot be replicated with all the production and technology in the world. But virtual events tune in to a medium that society has already internalized. The digital space is one with social habits, patterns, wearable devices, behaviors and norms. Virtual events evolved in this microcosm.
The COVID pandemic was a catalyst for virtual events. In-person events were put on ice. But virtual events blossomed in a perfect storm with innovation and chance. Technology advanced. Creativity flourished. Movements were born and history was made.
Humanity inhabits two spaces. The physical and virtual. Why keep your sights on one just as the other takes flight? It’s not about Zoom fatigue. It’s about shared experiences from different parts of the world. Uniquely experienced. It’s about feeling the dignity, humor and purpose of a moment. And it’s worth it.
Types of Virtual Events
IIDA NC’s Pioneers in Design: Liz Ogbu (2021)
Webinars are among the most popular virtual event types. They are applicable for every industry. Webinars are typically held as presentations or as virtual team meetings in real-time.
To encourage attendee engagement, webinar hosts typically use Q&A sessions or polls. This and other audience data like view times, chat engagements and activity participation make webinars highly valuable resources for community engagement. In fact, many organizations have learned things about their donors, supporters and customers from webinars alone.
Webinars are also cheap and easy to self-produce. But the more that people discover the marketing potential of recorded webinar content, the more likely they are to increase their investment on production.
NARAL Activist Summit (2020)
Virtual conferences aim to replicate the multi-dimensional format of in-person conferences, so hosts need a virtual event platform that can handle sessions in various formats as well as increased interactivity. Like a physical conference, an online conference also features main stages, simultaneous break-out rooms, networking opportunities, vendor areas, and contests. Real-time functionality (text/video chat; social activities) has greater importance in conferences, as attendees go there to network as much as anything.
LAEP’s Transform Education for Black Lives: Turning Knowledge into Action from Diapers to Diploma (2021)
Compared to online conferences, virtual summits typically feature a single host or moderator who’s responsible for guiding conversations between interviewees, guest speakers, keynote speakers, and panelists. The focus of summits is a singular message and a call to action. Having this focused goal means that it’s best to use a virtual platform with fewer interactive features than the one typically used for virtual conferences.
A well-financed virtual summit might invest a greater portion of its budget in video production — pre-recorded and live stream. These video assets become invaluable in keeping audiences engaged after the event.
Buffalo Urban League’s Gala (2021)
Virtual Fundraisers & Galas
Virtual fundraising events & galas have already carved out a distinct role in virtual events. Throwing a formal party for a good cause is a great excuse for attendees to dress up, even if they’re not leaving the house. They provide a welcome break from the monotony of yoga pants and hoodies known all too well under quarantine.
Since galas usually coincide with year-end holidays, they beg the opportunity for virtual swag like gourmet chocolates or a bottle of wine, or even something they interact with during the event. They can enjoy these gifts during the virtual gala, helping them feel that they are a part of something special.
Other fundraising activities that you can host online include virtual auctions, raffles, and exclusive film screenings, to name a few. The great thing about hosting these in the virtual space is that there is no limit to the number of events you can host. When you’re engaging with your supporters and donors more continuously in this way, you can hone and test creative calls to action. You will learn what moves your audience, and know when to ask vs. avoid donor fatigue.
Virtual Expos & Trade Shows
Virtual iterations of expos and trade shows shine a spotlight on the businesses and investors who participate in these events. They also create ecosystems to engage with consumers, exhibit their innovations and gain exposure to media. With the right platform, virtual attendees can connect with the exhibitors and companies, which achieves the event’s goal.
Among the most popular expos and trade shows in the past year include the SBC Digital Summit. The event generated a lot of excitement because they featured an advanced digital platform which allowed them to create an immersive experience for over 10,000 attendees. Guests were able to explore the virtual venue which came complete with a 3D auditorium, breakout rooms, lobby, networking lounge, and exhibition booths.
Soul Talk with Wura’s Rephidim: The Lord is My Banner (2020)
Podcasts & Internet Radio
Podcasts and internet radio are not always lumped in with virtual events, but they’re not unlikely cousins. Radio program production spans so many of the same areas as its virtual event counterpart. It involves mixing audio sources, switching, connection bandwidth & speed, to name a few parallels. Organizations with a history in radio program production are usually a stride ahead of their competitors on honing their message. Working in radio forces you to look at your message and listen to yourself daily. For these reasons, people with radio production experience can adapt to virtual event production very quickly.
Radio production is also friendly to novices with a willingness & luxury to learn. It allows producers to experiment with different formats without the entanglement of most design processes.
Some podcasts already have a huge following as the format allows for on-demand listening to a wide range of audio content. If you have an existing webcast or webinar, you can repurpose the audio on those formats and make it available to your target audience as a podcast that they can download and listen to at a convenient time.
IAHV’s To India With Love: Help India Breathe Again (2021)
Virtual Music Festivals & Concerts
Music festivals and concerts are known for their electrifying energy. Virtual alternatives to live music experiences may never fully compare. But some aspects happen to succeed in the virtual space, and festivals around the world are adapting to these. This is not just because virtual implies an “endless venue.” Festival planners around the world are now focusing on the community-building potential of virtual festivals and concerts. Workshops, break-out sessions, virtual craft kiosks, mini courses in hula hooping or banjo picking. It’s almost as if the industry has decided to have more fun with the things that used to be periphery distractions.
An example is Tomorrowland 2020, the ultimate music festival for lovers of techno and electronica. While previous in-person iterations of the event garnered a hundred thousand attendees, the virtual version attracted over a million music lovers. This smashing success is proof that there is a viable future for virtual music festivals and concerts.
Virtual Fitness Classes
To say that the pandemic forced gyms into extinction and fitness lovers back to their Richard Simmons tapes would be untrue, mostly. Virtual fitness classes and clubs thrived and evolved in recent years. They were well on their way in that direction well before the pandemic. Wearable fitness technology and in-home systems like the Peloton were developing their own community niches. Social media influencers had well-established audiences in their lifestyle, nutritional and activity/athletic specialties.
Many people are attracted to virtual fitness classes because they offer an energy that one cannot experience alone. It gives a sense of community, even if only through a screen. From yoga, to spinning, to cross-training, as long as you have access to a good video chat platform, virtual fitness classes can be just as engaging—and a lot less self-conscious—as working out in fitness studios.
Speed networking is a structured engagement that allows participants to meet as many people as possible in a short amount of time. These concise, structured meetings happen one-on-one to allow individuals to briefly exchange information and reactions. After the session, participants can decide with whom they want to follow up. Given what it is, speed networking serves as a tactic or segment within a larger event, like a conference. They are usually scheduled to help diversify the event’s agenda of heavier or more substantial topics. It’s a great way to meet potential business contacts, clients, jobs, or leads without enduring the awkwardness typical at in-person networking events.
GitLab’s Virtual Commit (2021)
Masterclasses, Workshops & Remote Learning
The spectrum of event types that falls within the remote learning category is a broad one. For some, “remote learning” and “online classes” conjures the image of a faceless, impersonal experience. Something created as a means to an end. Compare this with Chef Gordon Ramsay, in a pristine, chromey studio kitchen teaching people how to break down a whole chicken in his “Cooking 1” session on MasterClass.com. The class includes a biographical mini-documentary about Ramsay’s journey to becoming a chef.
It might be an overkill for a community college to invest this level of production on one of its adjunct faculty. Not everyone is Gordon Ramsay. But the point is that production value goes a long way.
What Are Some Virtual Event Ideas?
With these event types defined, here are some ideas and tips that will help your event stand out:
Understand your audience
Virtual swag or gift bags are an eco-friendly way to brighten each event attendees’ day. This is your chance to increase awareness of your brand, organization, or cause without adding to the clutter in event participants’ homes.
Depending on your goal for the event, you can put together a free ebook, coupons, vouchers, or access to a free trial of software. You can send these to each of the attendees via email before, during, or after the event.
Build an immersive virtual environment
One of the best things about attending an in-person event is experiencing the event’s ambiance. You can adapt that experience to your virtual event by building an immersive virtual venue. There are a wide range of event platform functionalities that can be built around and added to that venue.
For example, when the International Foundation for Electoral Systems held its Virtual US Election Program 2020, the event lobby linked out to a separate online platform that powered a photo and video contest. At the AFL-CIO’s MLK Human Rights Conference in 2021, attendees were able to exit the main stage and engage in one-on-one or group chat with fellow union members. These are just two of many examples, but the possibilities are endless.
Invest in speaker & moderator talent
The venue and vibe of a virtual event is worth nothing if it cannot deliver on its message and content. Your hosts, moderators, and speakers need to be able to deliver their message clearly and be as engaging as possible. This ensures that you have your attendees’ attention in an environment where it’s so easy to get distracted. When looking for talent, you need to look for people who can own the virtual room and connect through the screen. For example, a nonprofit organization that tackles political issues might consider hiring a like-minded network news political commentator who shares that organization’s political beliefs.
Feature well-produced, on-demand content
People usually think of pre-recorded video as a component of a virtual event’s day-of production. It’s a convenient way of integrating speakers whose schedules conflict with the live stream sessions. Pre-recorded video can also be used for promotion and made available to select individuals, like early registrants, donors or repeat customers. Furthermore, pre-recording ensures that you don’t have to deal with technical difficulties, such as connectivity issues.
Why Should You Host Virtual Events Now?
The COVID pandemic disrupted many industries and services, but society never lost cause or purpose. It took on new forms and found new pathways thanks in no small part to virtual events.
Virtual events are also quickly becoming an integral element of an organization’s marketing arsenal. For businesses and nonprofits that have been able to scale their production, virtual events have earned a place alongside social media and email marketing. It’s one of the best ways to help your organization or brand achieve its goals without incurring high financial or logistical burdens.
In a post-pandemic world, in-person events or hybrid events may resume. However, virtual events are more accessible to more people. Brands and organizations will continue to rely on virtual events to address future concerns, ranging from reach to accessibility and budget constraints.
Best Practices for Hosting a Virtual Event
In 2020 alone, popular ticketing platform Eventbrite reported hosting over one million online events. This means that curating a unique experience that’s perfect for your target audience is vital. Below, we outline some tips and best practices that can help you elevate your next virtual event.
Hosting a virtual event that doesn’t capture your target audience is a waste of time and resources. You must, first and foremost, create an event that grabs your target audience’s attention. The best way to do this is by ensuring that you deliver useful content for your potential as well as existing customers/supporters. Every decision that is made along the production timeline, from logo design to platform add-ons, should be in the service of your target audience.
Choose the right platform
Your virtual event platform is the vessel that delivers your content. Not only should it be equipped with the design and functionality that your audience needs, but it should be a right-sized solution to the occasion. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to overinvest in video production than in platform. With the former, you at least have a reusable marketing asset (the video). Conduct whatever research you may, but know that production partners like ourselves have a deep knowledge base on platforms.
The right ticket price
Although online events have fewer overhead costs than in-person events, don’t undervalue the experience you’re providing. Ticket prices for online events vary depending on the industry, so looking at how others in your field price their tickets is a good strategy. If you’re hosting a virtual fundraiser, you can opt for sliding scale or donation-based pricing so that more people can attend and you can hit your goal faster.
Employ targeted marketing tactics
The beauty of doing events online is that you can refine your marketing strategy to reach more of the right people. You can install tracking pixels in your website so you can offer information to tailor-fit to a potential customer or target virtual event attendees. Make sure to include boosted social media or online marketing at least a week before your event. This taps into the scarcity mindset that pushes most people to purchase things.
Surround yourself with the right people
An excellent plan alone does not mean that your virtual event will be successful. You also need help from the right team. At We & Goliath, we combine smart strategy with innovative technology to create memorable virtual experiences. We have a team of expert consultants that can help you realize your dream virtual event.
Keep the conversation going even after the event
Planning for ways to keep your event, organization, or brand at the top of your target audience’s mind is equally important. You can keep the virtual conversation going by repurposing content from your online event. You can upload highlight clips to your social media pages and create new content based on that event. The possibilities are endless.
How do You Make a Virtual Event Fun?
Making a virtual event fun is not simply about including certain activities, although that helps when done in a way that is thoughtful to your audience. Hosting a fun virtual event is all about keeping all the elements in balance, such as content for virtual events, type of virtual event, platform choice, contingency plan for technical issues, getting the right talents, and employing a targeted digital marketing strategy, among others.
If you’re ready to host a fun and memorable virtual event, schedule a free consultation with us today.