With in-person events temporarily postponed due to health concerns, virtual event platforms took center-stage in 2020.
If you’ve been online at all this past year, you’ve seen an advertisement promoting a virtual event. It makes sense. After all, in-person events are a no-go right now because of COVID-19. But maybe you’ve thought to yourself, “What is a virtual event anyway?”
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.
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:
What is a virtual event platform?
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 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.
What can you do with a virtual event platform?
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 some kind of 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.
Custom landing pages
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.
Event marketing options
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.
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The top 5 virtual event platforms of 2020
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: $79 – $299+ a month
- Microsites and Landing Pages
- Live, Interactive Video
- Social Media Streaming
- Embedded Surveys
- Audience Handouts
- Email Marketing
Summary: Whether you’re looking to host a small webinar training session or a massive online conference for 1,000 people, you can do it with BigMarker.
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)
- Webinar Templates
- Custom Branding
- Polls and Surveys
- Event Recording
- Detailed Analytics
Summary: Despite its name, GoToWebinar 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 a variety of engagement tools such as screen sharing, audience polls and handouts; automated email marketing capabilities; custom branding options; and more.
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: $29 – $291 a month (paid annually)
- Landing Page Builder
- Live and Prerecorded Sessions
- Self-Service Speaker Dashboards
- Detailed Event Analytics
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: $99/user/month and up
- Webinar sessions with chat and polls
- Interactive “expo areas”
- Customizable, brandable
- Simple and flexible event schedule tool
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 with attendees.
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 serieses 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: $400 to $26,700 a month
- Simple and digestible user interface
- Add-ons available to assist with various production aspects
- Create and broadcast events with incredible flexibility
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: The price goes even higher. The “Advanced” package is $60,000 per year, and the tiers above it don’t even list their prices publicly. Users also report that administration can be difficult, like “learning how to code a program.”
Why host a virtual event?
Virtual events have become quite popular, which isn’t surprising. They allow companies to reach their audiences while maintaining safe social distancing best practices. They also make it easy to build brand awareness and authority on a massive scale.
Thinking about hosting your own virtual event? Now you know what to look for in a virtual event platform! Let us know in the comments if you’ve used any of the tools mentioned above, or if there’s any specific platform we missed.
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