Virtual events are not new; they were already on the rise when they exploded in popularity in 2020. During the pandemic, virtual events and interactions became one of the only ways we could connect with each other — and a primary way for brands to stay in touch with their followers.
The events of 2020 truly thrust virtual events into the spotlight, but given that they were becoming more common anyway, we can confidently say that virtual events won’t be going anywhere after the pandemic ends.
How do we know virtual events are here to stay? Just look at the stats:
- 93% of event marketers will keep investing in virtual events moving forward.
- 87% of event marketers said they canceled events and 66% said they postponed because of COVID-19.
- 53% of corporate live streamers said their event attendance went up after going virtual.
- 87% of marketers consider the opportunities generated by virtual events as a success factor.
- 84% of organizations that ran virtual events reported they spent less on virtual events than in-person ones.
Now are you feeling inspired to start running virtual events? But if you’ve never done one before, how do you get started? In our full guide to virtual events, you’ll learn everything you need to know about planning, running, and promoting your first virtual event. Let’s get started!
What is a virtual event?
Virtual events are gatherings of groups of people over the internet. They’re like in-person events, but instead of meeting with other event attendees in person, you meet with them online. Also like in-person events, virtual events can take many forms, such as board meetings, large conferences, webinars, concerts, workshops, and more.
Virtual events can take place on any number of online platforms, such as video conferencing software (Zoom, HeySummit, etc.), social media, or specialized online event platforms.
An event that combines in-person and virtual elements is a hybrid event. Hybrid events may gather a small contingency of the event participants in one physical space while broadcasting to virtual attendees. An example would be gathering panelists together to speak and streaming them live for virtual viewers.
What types of virtual events can you host?
You can cater an online event format to your specific needs. Their flexibility is what makes virtual events so popular. Starting out, you might have the most success sticking to one of the more common virtual event formats:
- Webinar: As the most popular type of virtual event, webinars are also the easiest to pull off. They can be a presentation, lecture, panel discussion, or educational seminar. They typically last about an hour.
- Conference: A conference is like a series of webinars, but over several hours, one day, or multiple days. Virtual conferences have multiple speakers and presentations, and they may include virtual breakout sessions for participants to have discussions.
- Networking events: In-person networking events are a great way for industry professionals to get together and make contacts. Virtual networking events are no different. You can ask attendees to play interactive online games together, sit at “round table” discussions, and more.
- Social gatherings: Virtual social hours are a great way to promote your local bar or restaurant, especially if you’ve had to close down because of the pandemic. Social hours can also be a bit more informal; ask attendees to sip a drink of their choice, then curate discussions or fun games.
- Workshops: A workshop is an educational event where you teach participants a skill or how to use a product. A virtual workshop is a great way to introduce your product or carve out some space as an authority in your industry.
- Concerts and festivals: Although it’s hard to recreate the energy of an in-person concert or festival online, that didn’t stop countless musicians from hosting virtual performances throughout the pandemic. People still love listening to live music, even if it is online.
- Sales launches: A virtual sales launch lets you show off a new product or service, usually with giveaways or contests for your viewers.
- Trade shows: Online trade shows allow exhibitors from across your industry to interact directly with attendees. Like an in-person exhibition, guests can “wander” through an online platform and choose various presenters and exhibitors to chat with.
The advantages of hosting a virtual event
Virtual events have several perks that in-person events do not. When done right, a virtual event can even produce more value than a traditional event. What makes virtual events so great?
The biggest draw for virtual events is their accessibility. When you do your conference or trade show online, anyone from anywhere in the world can join you. Virtual events are more likely to have global attendees because people don’t have to travel to participate. They’re also great networking opportunities for those who are more introverted or don’t do well in crowds.
✅ Cost reduction
Virtual events are significantly less expensive than in-person events. You don’t have to rent space, hire a caterer, pay for décor, or book entertainment. The costs of the hardware and virtual infrastructure you’ll need for an online event are so low that you can spend more money on programming or booking great speakers for your event.
✅ Better feedback
By engaging with your event attendees online via an event platform or social media, you can get their immediate impressions of the event. Virtual events are also much easier to track metrics for. Event platforms can show you how many people showed up, how long they stayed, key moments during your event, and other stats to help you plan your next virtual event. Restream Analytics tracks these metrics for you every time you go live with Restream.
What are the essential elements of a virtual event?
The following “must” list applies to every virtual event:
- Event website: Interested participants need a way to learn more about your event before agreeing to sign up. A killer landing page, speaker bios, and registration info should be the minimum for your event website.
- Event registration: Your attendees need a way to sign up for your event! Even if your virtual event is free, requiring registration is helpful, as some video conferencing platforms only allow a certain number of guests. Registration also helps you stay organized.
- Live content: A virtual event wouldn’t be an event if you didn’t have live content. Not everything has to be live, but at least a few speakers or presentations should be. If your event features attendee participation or networking, then you’ll definitely need to plan live content.
- Recorded content: Record or create some of your content beforehand, like introductions or transitions. You’ll need clips or videos to put on the screen when you’re coordinating things behind the scenes.
- Feedback surveys: Give your attendees a chance to weigh in on the event by using survey and feedback tools. You can use feedback to see how you did and what to improve on.
- Live polling: Live polling, Q&As, AMAs (Ask Me Anythings), or contests are vital to keeping your audience engaged during your event. Many events and social media platforms allow you to run live polls or ask questions.
- Interactive video conferencing: For events focused on attendee participation and discussion, such as networking events, you will need a video conferencing solution that allows them to join the event and chat directly with others.
How to host a successful virtual event
To pull off a great virtual event, you need a solid strategy and a way to promote the event. Audience engagement is also a must, as are tracking your event metrics and choosing the right virtual event tools.
1. Create a strategy
You wouldn’t do an in-person event without any preparation, so why would you tackle a virtual event without a strategy? First figure out the format of your event, whether you need speakers, how you’ll keep attendees engaged, etc. Once you have a plan for your event, you can get more into the details.
2. Promote the event
Advertise your event across all your channels — website, social media, Discord — and drum up as much excitement as you can. Create small teaser videos to let people know what to expect, send out a lineup of speakers/activities, or post footage from a previous year’s event. Read our guide to online event promotion to learn more!
3. Engage your audience
One of the biggest challenges of virtual events is keeping your audience hooked. Look for creative ways to break up the monotony of an event with interactive discussions, games, giveaways, or widely varied forms of content. Viewer participation is an ideal way to keep people engaged, but if your event format is minimal on participation, try to break your content up into manageable chunks.
4. Provide feedback opportunities
It’s hard to gauge reactions at a virtual event, where you can’t watch the audience's faces like you could at an in-person event. To know what people think, ask them directly. Provide clear and actionable feedback surveys so attendees can share what they love about your event. You may even be able to post some of the most glowing praise as a testimonial on social media or your website.
5. Track event metrics
Tracking metrics for virtual events is so easy there’s no reason not to do it. Keep an eye on how people registered for the event (via a landing page, through social media, etc.) and track your total guests. Pinpoint moments during your event when you had the most viewers and figure out why so you can repeat that strategy.
6. Choose the right tool
You can’t host a successful virtual event without the right platform. Each tool will have different capabilities that may or may not be suited to your event. If you plan to have attendees speak with each other live, then you’ll need a videoconferencing feature. If you want to take advantage of your huge Facebook presence, then hosting the event on Facebook Live might be your best bet. If you want to broadcast an event to multiple channels at once, then Restream is a good choice.
With Restream, you can broadcast a live event on multiple platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Twitch, and more at the same time. Restream Chat allows you to see, respond to, and facilitate questions from viewers across each platform, and Restream Analytics gives you valuable metrics on your viewers. If you don’t know much about live streaming events and want a simple solution for your virtual event, you can also use Restream Studio, which lets you start streaming directly from your browser. You can also easily add up to ten speakers to your live event and chat with viewers on Restream Studio.
Let’s wrap up
Planning a virtual event can be a big task, but with everything happening online these days, your brand can’t afford to miss out. If you stick to the tips in this ultimate guide, then planning your first virtual event will be a breeze.