The concept of virtual event has been around for a while now. But with the latest technological advancements, planning a virtual event in 2019 is light years away from what it meant, let’s say, in 2012. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably considering organizing such an event and want to know how to do it right. So read on and discover our tips for planning a virtual event that is bound to success.
What events work best as virtual events
In theory, all types of events can take place in a virtual format. With just an internet connection and a computer or mobile device, anyone could connect to a link and experience the event while it’s broadcast live. And with the help of a virtual reality device, the experience would be even more immersive. Some virtual events (think webinars as the virtual/online version of seminars) don’t even need to be live, and participating in them can be as simple as playing a pre-recorded video made available at an URL that can be accessed after having paid a participation fee.
However, certain types of events are more suitable than others to be organized as virtual events. Conferences, seminars, workshops, lectures, training courses, presentations, round-tables, are the first that come to mind. On the other hand, other events such as concerts, which would normally function at their best in their “in-person” form, can have a virtual component added to them. In this scenario, by accessing a link made available after the purchase of the ticket, long-distance attendees can experience the concert from unique angles as if they were right there in front of the stage.
For the sake of consistency though, in the following paragraphs we are going to talk about organizing an event that is entirely virtual.
Planning a virtual event – when is the best time?
Since your attendees don’t have to physically travel to be present at your event, there is more flexibility when setting the date(s) and time(s). However, after you established your event objective and target audience, do your research regarding your audience’s habits. A professional, scientific, or educational event would have less chance of selling out if it takes place when everyone is on holiday.
As for the time, the same rule applies as for events to which attendees participate in-person. Anything that has to do with professional development or business can be held during the day weekdays. Any event that has to do with entertainment and hobbies has better chances of success if it’s scheduled for late afternoon or weekends, when potential attendees are off from work. If your event aims to have an international reach, consider the various time zones in the countries or regions where your desired audiences are, and make sure your chosen times are also suitable for your audiences abroad.
When it comes to how early you should start planning, while the logistics of a virtual event are much simplified compared to an in-person event, the most time-sensitive aspect become the booking of speakers and promoting the event. If you seek to have sought-after personalities in your field as your speakers, make sure to contact them at least one year in advance. Other than that, 6 months should be enough time for promotion from the moment you have your speakers confirmed.
Best venues for virtual events
Choosing a venue for an all-virtual event may seem to not require that much effort. This is because you don’t have all the space necessities that an event with an in-person attendance would normally require. However, as tempting as it might be to just host a conference in your office, you need to find a proper venue. A crammed office space would not give a professional feel to your event and it would all look improvised. A conference room is a much better idea, and, if your event involves a large panel of speakers, even consider a venue that can accommodate a stage. Consider that the camera will be zooming in and out, so a well thought, harmonious background is also a must.
Choosing a platform for your virtual event
There are several platforms that you can use for broadcasting your event. Your choice of platform will depend on the complexity of the event, the level of interaction that needs to be established with attendees, and your budget. Let’s see some solutions below, from the more simple to the more complex.
Facebook Live appears like the most simple solution when it comes to video live streaming. It has no setup costs and its commenting feature is perfect for Q&A sessions so guests can interact with speakers in real time. If your virtual event is designed for free attendance, you can host the live streaming on a Facebook profile or on a Facebook page.
What if you want to sell tickets to your event and only let people who paid for the ticket attend your event? The solution appears as simple: create a closed Facebook group and host the live broadcast within the group. You can invite your attendees to the group once they purchased the tickets. To collect payments, you can set up an event page on an event management platform. For example, if you create the event page on Metooo, you have the option to set it up as a virtual event and provide the link to the private group instead of an event venue. Keep in mind though, that no matter how much effort you put into making sure only those who paid are watching the event, there will always be someone who will get around the system and watch it for free.
This is why hosting your live streamed virtual event on Facebook Live is a great solution for free events, and to be used with a grain of salt for paid events.
Hugely talked-about in 2015 as the first app to allow live streaming, Periscope has significantly decreased in popularity as of 2018. The advent of live streaming on other more affirmed social media like Facebook and YouTube, the platform’s lack of communication with its users, content issues, and the lack of improvements to the service, are the main reasons for its decline. Periscope is still around though, and as far as live streaming is concerned, it does its job. Like for Facebook live, interactivity is ensured by the possibility to post comments in real time during the stream.
If your event is designed with free attendance in mind, you can set up the live stream as public and benefit from the ability to share it on Twitter, for a wider reach. On the other hand, if you want to sell tickets to your virtual event on Periscope, you need to set the live stream as private, and, in order to be able to watch it and interact, users not only need to have the link to the Periscope profile of the entity organizing the event but also they need to be following each other. Like in case of Facebook Live, on Periscope too there still might be people who will find a way to watch the event for free even if they’re not supposed to. So be aware of this and look at another platform if you want to be absolutely sure that everyone pays.
Definitely our favorite if you’re on a limited budget, YouTube might just be everything you need for your virtual event! Beyond just the simple live streaming, YouTube has specifically developed features for live events. To name just a few:
- you can set up your event as either public, private or unlisted
- ads can be inserted both at the beginning and throughout the event. This is great news for sponsors!
- the duration of the event can be unlimited
- analytics and stream health can be monitored from the Live Dashboard or the Live Control Room
- you can create multi-cam events and a 360 degree live stream
- live chat can be used to interact with the audience, and you can assign moderators to manage the chat
Moreover, what we love about it is that you can actually embed the YouTube live stream video into your event website on Metooo! This way your attendees don’t have to go to different links and platforms to attend the event and you’ll keep everything in one place.
Like in the case of Facebook Live and Periscope, setting up the live stream on YouTube as private does not absolutely guarantee that people who didn’t pay will not have access to view the event. So in conclusion, YouTube is awesome for a free live streamed virtual event, but if your revenue exclusively depends on ticket sales, you might look for your ideal platform elsewhere.
On24 was designed particularly for webinars. It is an integrated platform that does much more than live video streaming:
- it analyzes the behavior of your audience
- features an intuitive presenter console that makes it simple to produce professional webinars
- offers data integration with CRM and marketing automation platforms
- makes several formats available: live, simu-live, and on demand
- includes multi-presenter video and screen sharing
- pricing options for organizers are customized based on the features you need
Livestream & Vimeo
Livestream used to be a standalone live event broadcast platform and it was acquired by Vimeo, YouTube’s largest competitor when it comes to video content sharing, at the end of 2017. Offering both a cloud platform for live video and some powerful video production features, Livestream is a complex tool. Interestingly enough, even if Livestream now belongs to Vimeo, you can actually broadcast live video from Livestream to Facebook Live and YouTube as well, which is perfect if you want to reach an audience as large as possible. Livestream can be as cheap or as expensive to use as you let it be. The basic plan comes at $70 per month, while the Enterprise plan comes at a custom price based on the needed features and includes video production features.
The great news is that Livestream & Vimeo come with a paywall, which makes this combination one of the ideal platforms for paid live streamed virtual events. Ticket payment is done directly on the platform, and only after payment, the content becomes available to that specific viewer.
An interesting feature: when the live event ends, the organizer can use Vimeo to sell the video as a rental, purchase or subscription. This way you get the most out of the content that was shared during the event and create a revenue stream that lasts long after the event ends.
6Connex is a web platform entirely dedicated to virtual events. It allows users to create custom virtual environments to better engage with their audiences and generate leads. On this platform, virtual events take place within a highly interactive online environment with rich content, multiple locations, live chat rooms, and webcast sessions. It also offers real time reporting and analytics, as well as an open API for easy integration with your marketing tools. Virtual environments on 6Connex can be populated with a wide array of content, like: documents, presentations, embedded videos, video uploads and links to existing web pages.
Aside from your usual conference or seminar, on 6Connex you can also organize more complex events such as virtual trade shows and even virtual career fairs.
Of course, we cannot talk about virtual events without mentioning virtual reality! In 2019, this is a technology that is here to stay. However, virtual reality platforms for events are still in their early stage, with few options currently available. The most notable we need to mention are:
- the Oculus Venues app, that was developed to house live sporting events, comedy shows and concerts shot in VR.
- Facebook Spaces, a virtual hangout where users can interact with a digital avatar.
How to finance your virtual event
There are two main ways to finance your virtual event and you can use one or both of them in various combinations. The most obvious one is to charge a fee for an admission ticket that will give people access to the event. In this case the event will be private, so it will have an audience limited to those who purchased tickets. There is good news though: due to lower operational and logistical costs, you can charge a lower price for a virtual event than what you would charge for the exact same type of event with in-person attendance. The event will be more affordable to attend, more people will be able to attend it, and you might also have a higher profit margin.
Sponsorship is the other way to finance or help finance your virtual event. If the available space at the venue allows it, you can offer sponsors branding in the background of the videos. Plus, you can incorporate ads in-between live sessions. And, just like you would do product placement in a TV show, you can create some of the live content (presentations, discussions) around a certain product of a brand sponsoring the event.
Moreover, the event naming can include the brand name of the main sponsor, which means that the sponsor brand name will get exposure every time the event itself is communicated across every advertising channel. Another thing you will do is mention the sponsors on the event website. For example, if you set up your event website on Metooo, you can personalize the page to include sponsors. And last but not least, you can mention sponsors in the email invitation you send to potential attendees and in all email communications leading to the event.
Just like with events with in-person attendance, events with a larger audience are more prone to getting substantial sponsorship. This makes sponsorship the ideal solution for entirely financing a free virtual event. In this case your objective will be to maximize your audience in every possible way. Consider hosting it on one or, even better, all the major platforms at the same time (Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, and even portions of it on Instagram Live where the maximum length of a live streamed video is 1 hour).
Virtual event logistics
We’ve just seen that getting a proper venue is easier when planning a virtual event than for an event with in-person attendance. What about logistics though? Here are the most important elements to keep in mind:
- audio/video and lighting equipment. In case of a virtual event, attendee experience mostly depends on the quality of the image and sound. Since they are not present in person, how well the event “gets” to them translates through how well what happens at the venue is seen and heard. So, make sure you book the best available sound, video and lighting. It is best to work with an event production company that has experience with live event streaming. If your event features speakers connecting from various locations, make sure each location benefits from good quality audiovisual equipment.
- wi-fi connection. This is not an issue with pre-recorded events, but it becomes one with events that are live streamed. Check that the venue has a reliable, high-speed internet connection, or set one up. There is no use to have the best video quality if all that gets to your long-distance attendees is a transmission that keeps interrupting or provides fuzzy or pixelated images.
- support materials. Speakers will most likely have support materials like presentations, images, screen recordings or videos to include in their interventions. Make sure you collect them all in advance and insert them in the schedule accordingly.
Marketing a virtual event
Most rules of event marketing apply to virtual events just like they do to in-person events. You still need to set up event goals and create product, price, distribution and promotion strategies. How exactly you do it mostly depends of the event type (conference, seminar, workshop, course etc.) and of your target audience (professionals, businessmen, students, hobbyists etc.). To make sure you don’t miss any detail of a well drafted marketing plan, you can use our complete event marketing checklist, downloadable for free and explained here.
Virtual Event Promotion
A few considerations about promotion, though. People who are more likely to attend virtual events are also more likely to spend a good amount of their time online. So web marketing should be what you mostly need to concentrate your efforts on. Social media, niche websites and blogs will be the focus of your promotional strategy. On social media, use LinkedIn and Facebook for professional, business and educational events, and focus on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for events that speak more to the entertainment or creative fields.
Partner with your speakers to promote your virtual event. If they are influential in their fields, they will most likely have a platform of followers of their own, so it’s a must that they share the participation at your event with their social media followers. This would already offer you a wide pool of potential attendees who would be interested in the event.
As for the type of ads most suitable for promoting your virtual event, video ads featuring your speakers are the best choice. Work with them to produce ads that would give the potential attendees a taste of the type of content that will be provided at the event. This includes mini-lectures, presentations, FAQs, and demonstrations. The ads can also be snippets of contributions of your speakers to a previous edition of the event, if there was any. Also, during the event, make sure that all sessions are recorded, so you can use the video content to promote the next edition.
Planning a virtual event can seem like a dive into the unknown. It may present a certain amount of technological challenges. But it is the very usage of technology that makes a virtual event a flexible, cost effective option, and if you do it right, it can give you access to an audience that would otherwise not even be reachable if you planned the same event in an in-person version. We hope that our tips inspired you to tackle your next virtual event planning project with ease and to make the best out of this experience!