Virtual events saw a massive surge in popularity over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although in-person events are now possible again, many event organizers and attendees are still opting for virtual or hybrid events due to the advantages they offer. So, maybe you’ve thought to yourself, “What is a virtual event anyway? Have any virtual event examples?”
Virtual events are very similar to in-person ones, except they’re hosted over the internet rather than in a single physical location. Still, people show up at an appointed time, listen to speakers, watch entertainers, network with each other… All the regular, in-person event details, except online through a virtual event management platform or a virtual trade show platform.
Hybrid events, which have more recently been gaining popularity, are a mix of virtual and in-person, and attendees can choose between the two options.
Oftentimes, virtual event content is recorded and made available to audience members after the event concludes. In fact, that’s what we did for Nutshell’s BOUNDLESS 2020 event — you can check out the session recordings on YouTube.
Here’s the thing, in order to host a virtual event, you’ll need a virtual event platform. Let’s dive in:
A virtual event platform is a tool that will allow you to recreate the vibe of an in-person conference or trade expo over the internet.
Users should be able to host multiple speakers in both live-streamed and pre-recorded sessions using this kind of software, as well as enable attendees to interact with event hosts at predetermined times.
This kind of tool is different from a virtual meeting software like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Virtual meeting software, or a virtual event app, is designed for small groups to come together in an intimate, face-to-face way — even when participants happen to be miles away from each other. These solutions generally featured limited permissions and features as well.
Virtual event platforms are different because they provide administrators with a multitude of ways to engage with attendees, including waiting rooms, polls, Q&As, live chat, and more. Where virtual meeting software places every user in one “room,” virtual event software is for presentations between a handful of speakers, and all attendees are “in the audience,” with their webcams and microphones turned off.
You can think of virtual meeting software as bringing users together to sit at one table, whereas virtual event platforms place users in the audience and the presenters are on the stage.
Now that we know what a virtual event platform is, let’s talk about what you can do with it. There are quite a few options, which we’ll cover below:
Of course, it wouldn’t be a virtual event platform if you couldn’t host virtual events on it. The kind of event you host can range from small, exclusive webinars to large get-togethers that include thousands of people from around the world.
Basically, we’re talking about any virtual event that features one or more speakers and an audience that tunes in to listen and learn, but not necessarily speak themselves.
A proper virtual event platform will feature an integrated Q&A system so that attendees can ask speakers and/or moderators questions at specific times during the virtual event.
It doesn’t matter what kind of event you’re hosting, in-person or virtual, audience engagement is key. But gatherings hosted over the internet need to pay special attention to engaging audiences as attendees can easily log off and do something else when they get bored.
A Q&A session is a great way to engage your audience and bring value to them during your virtual event. When selecting a virtual event platform, make sure it has this feature.
You’ll want to choose a virtual event platform that allows attendees to ask speakers questions at appropriate times. But don’t forget about audience chats, too!
Many people attend events to network with their peers. This can be difficult to do in a digital setting — especially if a convenient chat option isn’t provided. Select a virtual event platform that enables attendees to talk with each other, as well as speakers and admins.
Interactive workshops, also known as breakout sessions, are usually small trainings that allow attendees to get “down and dirty” with specific topics, ask questions, and otherwise participate much more than they can during standard keynotes.
During an interactive workshop, attendees should not be muted and encouraged to engage in back-and-forth dialogues with moderators and other viewers. Make sure the virtual event platform you invest in will allow you to host interactive workshops.
Another way to keep your audience engaged during a virtual event is to ask them questions via a digital poll. Most virtual event platforms allow for questionnaires that can be distributed before, during, or after the virtual event in question.
What should you ask your attendees? Anything you want! For example, ask them what session they’re looking forward to most or how to improve your next virtual event.
If you’ve ever been to an in-person event, especially one hosted for business professionals, you know that handouts are abundant. From event schedules to lesson materials, sales pitches, and discount coupons, event attendees always leave with a pile of stuff.
You’ll want to make sure that the virtual event platform you choose makes it easy to hand out these pieces of content as well.
The best virtual event platforms will allow you to host your event on a specific website and stream your sessions to social media and YouTube.
By integrating your event platform with various social networks, you’ll be able to engage more people and expose your company brand to a wider audience. And isn’t that the reason you’re hosting your event in the first place? Select a virtual event platform with this feature.
Presumably, you’re not hosting a virtual event for the heck of it. You’re probably doing it to promote your company brand and reach a targeted audience. Because of this, you’ll want to have attendees register for your event so that you can acquire their contact information.
We suggest working with a virtual event platform that offers custom landing pages for this purpose. That way you can embed forms and widgets of your choosing, and also select colors, images, and logos that reflect your branding.
If you don’t promote your virtual event, no one will attend. Fortunately, many virtual event platforms feature marketing tools you can use to help draw a crowd.
For example, your platform of choice might give you the ability to create email lists based on registration forms and send automated messages to remind them about your upcoming conference, workshop, or seminar. While you probably already have marketing tools at your disposal, ones built into your virtual event platform of choice can be quite handy.
When choosing a virtual event platform for your next showcase, start by exploring the features they offer and how they can help accomplish your goals for the event. For most brands, there are five essential features that can make any online event a success — streaming quality, interactivity, accessibility, security, and customization.
In today’s high-tech world, people have no patience for poor streaming quality. They expect to see everything that’s in the frame clearly and hear every word as if they were in the room with the speaker. When you explore your options for virtual event platforms, take note of which ones offer the highest streaming quality and which are most compatible with the technology you’re using to capture everything, including cameras and microphones to have the most efficient video conferencing.
Enabling guests to engage with event hosts and other attendees helps them get more value from the event and helps keep them interested throughout your event.
Engagement features available in virtual event software include:
Your virtual event platform should make sure invitees can access your event anywhere, from any platform — and only your invitees. Accessibility requires your platform to optimize the view of your presentation based on whether individual viewers are using a phone, computer, tablet, or another device to tune in. Security may mean your event requires a password or prior event registration to get the most from chat and customization functions.
To keep your event safe and accessible, your virtual event platform should have both accessibility and security measures, as well as a protocol for when these measures are breached.
The ability to customize your platform can go a long way in making your event feel unique and memorable. Custom features may let you change the color scheme to fit your brand, add branded messages from sponsors, and insert custom advertisements to increase engagement and the user experience.
If you have questions when setting up your event or if you run into technical issues during your event, you’ll want to have tech support available. When choosing an online event platform, make sure you check what support options they offer.
After your event is over, you’ll want to evaluate its performance to see if you hit your goals and assess the event’s impact on your business. To do this, you’ll need data on things like number of attendees, engagement, and leads generated.
Virtual event software that provides built-in reporting on these kinds of metrics can save you time and make it easier to evaluate and improve upon your event’s success.
Having all these new ways to customize and enhance your events is exciting — but are virtual event platforms actually helpful to your bottom line? Aside from all the incredible features available, these programs provide new ways for you to use your resources more efficiently.
When you’re hosting an in-person event, there are many costs associated with simply having a place to host it. You have to schedule a venue and pay for it. Then, you must secure seating, catering, and travel arrangements. Plus, many people expect events like this to offer swag bags with fun mementos to commemorate the occasion.
With online events, all these costs fall away. You can focus your money on investing in good speakers, paying your staff, and finding the best software to run your events.
In many cases, in-person events naturally limit your audience’s availability. For example, if your event is in Los Angeles, CA, most of your guests will be LA natives. A few guests will be able to afford to travel from the East Coast or elsewhere, but many people who are out of town will have to wait to hear about the event after the fact.
Online events improve accessibility. People around the world can tune in anywhere with an internet connection and a device to view the events through. You open up the opportunity to reach your biggest fans everywhere and gain new viewership, increasing the impact of your event.
Think about the in-person events you’ve attended in the past. How much did you get to engage with the speakers and event coordinators? If you’re lucky, perhaps you got to ask a question or two during Q&A sessions. Otherwise, you were just another observer throughout the chain of events.
By using a virtual event platform, you can cater your customization options and polling functions to foster a sense of community among attendees. They have more opportunities to engage with one another and your guest speakers.
|BigMarker||Microsites and Landing Pages; Live, Interactive Video; Social Media Streaming; Embedded Surveys; Audience Handouts; Email Marketing||$79 – $299+ a month|
|GoToWebinar||Webinar Templates; Custom Branding; Polls and Surveys; Event Recording; Detailed Analytics||$49 – $399 a month (paid annually)|
|HeySummit||Landing Page Builder; Live and Prerecorded Sessions; Self-Service Speaker Dashboards; Detailed Event Analytics||$29 – $291 a month (paid annually)|
|Hopin||Webinar sessions with chat and polls; Interactive “expo areas”; Customizable, brandable; Simple and flexible event schedule tool||$99/user/month and up|
|SpotMe||Simple and digestible user interface; Add-ons available to assist with various production aspects; Create and broadcast events with incredible flexibility||$400 to $26,700 a month|
|vFairs||3D virtually immersive environment; 1:1 and group networking features; Video and document hosting; Gamification options; In-depth reporting both during and after the event; Personalized landing page and email marketing campaigns||Custom quote|
BigMarker is considered by many to be “the #1 video platform for webinars, summits, and virtual conferences” because of its easy-to-use features and popular integrations. Major brands like Google, McDonalds, and Panasonic use BigMarker.
Price: Custom quote
Summary: Whether you’re looking to host a small webinar training session or a massive virtual conference for 1,000 people, you can do it with BigMarker software.
You’ll get access to standard engagement features like screen sharing, polls and surveys, and session recording. Attendees can also interact (with the event host’s permission) via chat and audio/visual communication. Additionally, you’ll be able to stream your virtual event to Facebook or YouTube, which can definitely come in handy, as we mentioned above.
For companies looking to increase brand awareness, BigMarker allows users to add logos and company colors to their digital gatherings. It also comes with built-in email marketing functionality so that you can easily contact new leads about your upcoming event.
Lastly, we should mention that BigMarker is browser-based, which means you won’t have to download any software to use it — unlike other virtual event platforms on the market.
Watch out for: BigMarker has a lot to offer, but there are drawbacks as well. For example, some users have complained about poor audio and video quality.
Source: Webinar Software
GoToWebinar is another popular virtual event platform that will allow you to successfully plan, promote, and host an engaging digital gathering. Well-known companies like Unbounce, Mention, and Gainsight choose GoToWebinar.
Price: $49 – $399 a month (paid annually)
Summary: Despite its name, GoToWebinar software will allow you to host full-blown virtual conferences and summits for up to 2,000 people, not just small webinar events.
You’ll also get access to:
For those looking to supercharge their virtual event promotion events, there’s GoToStage, which is a GoToWebinar feed that promotes webinars to an audience of millions. If your event gets picked to be on the front page, you could drive an amazing amount of traffic!
Once your virtual event is complete, you’ll get the chance to view a detailed analytics dashboard to learn more about your audience.
Watch out for: While GoToWebinar packs a serious punch, it’s not quite as user-friendly as other virtual event platforms on the market.
Source: Ignite Leadership
HeySummit is the perfect virtual event platform for tech-averse professionals. It’s super easy to use and has a few notable capabilities, which we’ll discuss below. That being said, HeySummit isn’t as feature-rich as other options.
Price: $37 – $262 a month (paid annually)
Summary: The HeySummit experience starts with the landing page. Users can build dynamic pages with the click of a button; then empower attendees to easily choose the sessions that interest them most during the registration phase.
HeySummit is just as simple to use for event planners, too, thanks to the speaker dashboard. Invite speakers to add their own bios, headshots, and social media links to their event profiles and save yourself countless hours of busy work.
Once your virtual summit concludes, you can take a look at the metrics to see how it performed. Learn how many registrants actually attended, average watch time, how attendees discovered your event, and more.
Watch out for: In order to host live talks, you must integrate HeySummit with Zoom or BigMarker. This will be a drawback for some users who would prefer the ability to host live event sessions without needing to integrate multiple systems.
Source: Software Reviews
Hopin is a virtual event software platform that offers the streaming of webinars and events, but it shines in its numerous tactical approaches to engaging with attendees in reception, stage, sessions, networking, and expo areas.
Price: Free for small events, $67/user/month and up (paid annually)
Summary: Hopin is an all-in-one, live events platform that allows users to create, host, and manage live events and webinars for up to 100,000 attendees.
The reception, stage, sessions, networking, and expo areas each deliver a unique and personal interaction to the attendee experience.
Hopin offers the basics, like chat, polls, and customizable, branded events, but what sets it apart from the other platforms is the simplicity of its event schedule tool.
The event schedule tool is a quick and powerful way of planning conferences and series of events from a top-down perspective.
Watch out for: Hopin’s events span for a maximum of 72 hours, meaning any testing and rehearsals done prior to the main event are considered new events with their own registrations and additional costs.
SpotMe is an engagement platform that offers its users the ability to create both live and on-demand events. Like many other platforms, SpotMe features breakout sessions, personalized agendas, and two-way communication between event staff and attendees.
Price: Custom quote
Summary: SpotMe functions as a high-end, all-in-one virtual event platform that allows users to create and broadcast events, webinars, training sessions, polls, and numerous other engagement methods.
SpotMe provides services to assist its users at all stages of the virtual event lifecycle, including speaker orientation, live video production, live interpretation, and even assistance designing and building campaigns. Users find their support to be extremely helpful.
The engagement platform itself also features a very user-friendly interface that doesn’t require users and administrators to learn a complicated tool just to get broadcast a virtual event.
Watch out for: Pricing for the higher tiers is more expensive than some other options. Users have also reported that learning how to use the software can be challenging.
vFairs is a global leader in virtual events, offering all-in-one virtual event solutions for audiences across industries and geographies. With a user-friendly platform that delivers an immersive online experience, a range of powerful features, and an acclaimed team of experts, vFairs provides a value-driven alternative to traditional in-person events.
Price: Custom quote
Summary: The vFairs platform boasts one of the most immersive virtual events experiences you’ll ever come across. The event spaces feel realistic and are completely customizable. They also make use of animated avatars so attendees feel like they’re actually at the on-site event. Organizations can use rooms of their choice, personalize them as per their brand and preferences, and offer partners plenty of room to market their brands.
vFairs also offers several networking options. Attendees can initiate 1:1 or group conversations over text, audio, or video, whatever they’re comfortable with. These interactions can be initiated on the spot or scheduled in advance. The reporting module offers in-depth insights both during and after the event. The software also has tonnes of different add-ons and integrations so you can build an event that fits your requirements like a glove.
Virtual events have become quite popular and, even after in-person events became possible again, have maintained some of their popularity due to their ease of attendance, cost savings, and other benefits.
Now that you know what to look for in a virtual event platform and have learned about some of the best event platforms available, you’re one step closer to hosting your own event!
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