By Nicole Olsen
Because of the pandemic there have been radical changes to how events are hosted.
While event goals remain the same – bringing people together to meet a common objective – how we now run these events has changed. Like almost every other thing we do, events are now run almost exclusively virtually.
In the initial days of the pandemic many events were simply canceled, as many event organizers were frightened at the prospect of hosting a virtual event. What if no one shows up? What if we can’t replicate an in-person experience? What if the technology we choose fails us? Other event organizers, like those at Salesforce or Cvent, pivoted into an entirely virtual setting for their events.
Skeptics may wonder why attendees would sign up for an event requiring more screen time at a time when many of us are experiencing Zoom-fatigue, but virtual events today are much more than just a live-stream of content. When executed intelligently they provide an interactive experience, complete with a lobby area, networking lounges, and access to a virtual exhibition hall where attendees can meet with exhibitors and view products. In the case of Cvent, they were able to draw an audience of 42,000 registrants—a dramatic increase from the 4500 people who attended their 2019 event in Las Vegas. The virtual event went down as the largest gathering of event and hospitality professionals in history.
While virtual events may appear to be a band-aid solution to a short-term pandemic-related problem, event organizers are not exactly rushing to return to the way things were before. So, if you have delayed hosting an event virtually out of uncertainty, you might want to rethink your 2021 event strategy.
What is a virtual event?
A virtual event is an online gathering that enables people to communicate, learn, exchange ideas, and enjoy a shared experience. The only difference between physical events and virtual events is that virtual events occur online, rather than in-person. A virtual event could include a large-scale conference, but it could also be a training session, a town hall meeting, a behind-the-scenes tour, or a TED-talk-style event.
What are the benefits?
Like physical meetings, many of the benefits of virtual events are quite similar; interaction with like-minded people, learning opportunities, and a chance to see new products or services. However, there are also distinct advantages a virtual event has over a physical one. Virtual events allow organizations to eliminate travel costs, while still enabling attendees to benefit from the event content. The absence of travel also means organizers can attract a more global audience, with geographical distance no longer a factor.
Further, virtual events also enable attendees to digest content and vendor information at a more manageable pace. For anyone who has ever visited a crowded exhibit hall, you’ve probably experienced first-hand the frustration of trying to engage with a popular vendor.
And interestingly, many event organizers are reporting an increased ROI in hosting virtual events compared to their previous in-person events.
What’s involved to make it successful?
Virtual events may feel futuristic or something for the TikTok generation, but they’ve actually been happening since the mid 90’s, thanks in part to the evolution of video technology. Successful organizations are providing superior virtual experiences by taking event creativity to a whole new level. Real-life designs, 3D avatars, and virtual city views allow organizers to amp the ‘wow’ factor.
Today’s video technology allows for the ability to live-stream to hundreds of thousands of attendees with exceptionally high video quality, while at the same time finding ways to engage with viewers through sentiment voting icons, polls, chat, and surveys. And for those responsible for the overall success of the event, current video technology provides detailed information on who joined and when, the quality of their viewing experience, their opinions of the material presented, and how they engaged with interactive elements.
With many event organizers recognizing the power, ROI, and 360-degree audience experience possible with well-executed virtual events, they will remain an important part of the marketing mix and a complement to in-person events. Look for continued innovation and advances in virtual event technologies, and the use of premium live video to drive urgency, registration, and attendance.