The coronavirus pandemic has made finding innovative solutions to meetings and events more critical than ever. Staying visible isn’t the only challenge: Virtual events should provide the same value that physical events do.
Fortunately, virtual event technology has made tremendous strides, offering high-quality options for streaming live video, managing bandwidth, and creating memorable experiences. The best virtual event platforms continue to evolve and improve, upping their own game. Companies and attendees alike are growing more accustomed to the idea of virtual events like virtual conferences and virtual trade shows, as well as recognizing their value in reaching not just local but also global audiences.
In short: Now is the time for event planners to establish themselves as leaders in the virtual event space.
A virtual event is precisely what it sounds like: a summit, an event, a party, a gathering—you name it—but in the virtual space. It’s much more than logging on for a Zoom call. There are opportunities for interaction, personalization, networking, and beyond. Presentations, virtual drinks sessions, fun competitions and giveaways… Event planners can make it a truly bespoke experience that perfectly highlights your brand’s message.
One unintended positive of the pandemic in the technology space is that industries across the board have either reimagined or at least greatly improved upon the software used to keep the wheels turning. Two years on from (cue Jaws theme) March 2020, virtual event technology is no longer a default or an “in lieu of meeting in person” modality. In fact, pandemic or no pandemic, virtual events in some form are here to stay even as restrictions are lifted.
In a nutshell, virtual platforms provide virtual event organizers with the means to oversee the entire event lifecycle of a virtual event, including registration, marketing, analytics, and post-event feedback. The main purpose is to provide attendees a virtual experience that still conveys the tangible aspects and perks of business and networking at in-person events.
Virtual event platforms and event management software offer similar features, but serve different purposes.
Event management platforms focus on managing in-person events. For example, Eventbrite is a popular choice for event registration and ticketing for events like meetups and concerts. Whova, an award-winning all-in-one platform, helps with event marketing, event website creation, and a mobile conference app for attendee engagement and agenda management.
Virtual event platforms share many of the same features, except for the purpose of digitally simulating in-person event experiences.
Looking for virtual event activities?
Zoom, Google Hangout, and other video-conference tools have been the bread and butter of daily work life these last two years. While they remain an integral and much-appreciated part of our daily work lives, VE platforms are actually more robust in what they can offer for your event purposes. VE platforms now usually enable roundtables, speed chats, live discussions in sessions, group chats, polls, and surveys, all using the same software.
There are myriad and multi-use opportunities to be had by using full-fledged VE platforms for your event. Think:
Utilizing VE platforms ultimately enables you to consolidate your offerings. It also:
How do you organize a successful virtual event? For starters, when looking at virtual event software, make sure platform capabilities include:
For instance, if you’re coordinating a virtual trade show, look for functionalities that replicate the physical experience of a show. These include various event spaces like a lobby and a theater, virtual booths for visiting individual exhibitors, an agenda builder, and of course, high bandwidth.
Hosting a webinar? Interactive content such as Q&As, live polls, and group chats can keep audiences actively engaged and focused throughout the event.
Other potentially useful tools and features include:
What's the first step when you're reading to start hosting a virtual event? Identify which virtual events platforms work best for your event planning needs (do you need screen sharing, polls, surveys, etc) Also identify whether you need high bandwidth to host a large number of event attendees or are working within a budget.
SpotMe: A highly rated platform for its flexibility and range of navigation options. Allows event planners to create fully branded experiences on the web or with native apps on iOS and Android. Must-have tools include:
Accelevents: An economic, all-in-one event platform for creating virtual event experiences to match the impact of traditional events. Deliver high-quality broadcasts and on-demand videos at scale with an enterprise-grade solution. You also get valuable features like:
6Connex: Designed specifically for virtual summits, trade shows, and job fairs. Attendees can “walk” through the showroom floor and “visit” exhibit booths. These booths can be customized to each exhibitor’s branding, including promotional materials and pre-recorded product demos that can be downloaded by visitors.
INXPO: A trusted, longstanding industry leader among video-based digital platforms, INXPO is especially conducive for virtual event planning around talks by keynote speakers and breakout sessions, whether streamed live or watched on demand.
vFairs: Ideal for trade shows and virtual job fairs. Besides rendering 3D models of a physical event with trade show booths, it also makes it easy for attendees to book one-on-one meetings with potential employers at said booths.
Socio: Used by the likes of Google and Microsoft, Socio powers virtual, hybrid, and live events from a single, branded hub. It seamlessly pairs event apps, video streaming, and powerful engagement tools—including its Virtual Event Suite, Mobile Event App, Lead Retrieval, and Live Display solutions.
Zoom: Now a household name thanks to COVID-19, Zoom is the easiest video conferencing platform out there to use. Even non-users who don’t have the program downloaded can join calls within seconds. However, privacy and security concerns have plagued Zoom in recent months, so much so that “Zoombombing” has entered the modern online lexicon.
Google Meet: Google has been offering free access to Google Meet’s premium features until September. They include video calls for 250 participants, livestreaming, and recording. While it doesn’t provide end-to-end encryption for video calls, it does encrypt messages, as well as require external users to be invited by meeting administrators.
Webex: Cisco’s platform has a similar look and feel to Zoom. In response to COVID-19, Webex has expanded the capabilities of free Webex, removed time restrictions on video calls, and offered support for up to 100 participants since March. Webex offers end-to-end encryption for its calls, but it’s not automatic.
Microsoft Teams/Skype: Microsoft offered Teams, its workplace collaboration tool with video meetings, for free, although it’s mostly ideal for existing Office 365 users. As an alternative, Microsoft-owned Skype now offers Meet Now, which lets any user initiate or join a video call as a guest, without having to sign up as a Skype user. The drawbacks: Anyone with a link can access meetings, and links don’t expire.
BlueJeans: Provides the highest security of this category, with calls encrypted by default. But BlueJeans offers no free access, with accounts starting at $9.99.
8th Wall: While not a virtual event platform per se, 8th Wall is worth keeping an eye on if you’re looking to deliver quick and easy AR experiences. The company's one-stop shop authoring platform allows customers to create and ship AR experiences, providing an opportunity to create memorable branded marketing interactions.
The best part? 8th Wall’s WebAR technology works inside mobile browsers. That means users won’t have to download apps or any other software to access AR experiences—all they need is a link or QR code.
Replicating that in-person connection in the virtual space has, and still can be, a challenge–and not just in this ongoing pandemic landscape. Some tips for the host to boost engagement:
You can get creative, too. If it’s a smaller event, send participants a drink set to host a virtual happy hour in breakout room-style. Also, remember in general people are much more comfortable socializing and interacting online in an organic fashion than they were two years ago.
Thanks to these and other virtual event solutions, event planners have become increasingly informed about the unique pros of virtual events, especially in accommodating visitors who are located far away or are mobility impaired.
Not only that, but a wide range of creative online events beyond just corporate meetings, teleconferencing, and remote work collaboration can be supported, including but not limited to:
Even as the pandemic response continues and the world slowly opens back up, expect growth in virtual and even hybrid events, which combine elements of in-person and virtual events.
Take a page from these vendors offering services for virtual events to see how you can take the virtual event platform of your choice and make it work for your event.
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