The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led many businesses to shift to the virtual format for organizing events, including conferences. Aside from the lockdown situation, businesses that want to save money, time, and resources can also organize and host engaging virtual conferences. In other words, they can connect with their target audience online, virtually anytime and it can be good for business..
The good news is that you don’t have to figure it out on your own. There are tried-and-tested tips that can help you get comfortable with organizing virtual conferences, connect with your target audience, and boost attendee satisfaction.
In this guide, we’ll go over some useful tips for event organizers to plan, manage, and organize successful virtual conferences. We’ll also cover some event metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) you should be tracking and recommend tools that you can use to get started with a step in the right direction.
But first, let’s take a look at what virtual conferences are and how they differ from other kinds of events.
What are virtual conferences?
Virtual events are online events that help event organizers, attendees, speakers, and sponsors interact together in a virtual environment over the internet. People have been attending virtual events using webinar and virtual conferencing applications for some time now. However, there have been advancements in tools and strategies for hosting virtual events that have made them more effective than in-person events.
There are four common types of virtual events namely conferences or summits, keynotes, networking events, and classes.
Conferences enable event marketers to connect with their customers and help them learn from industry experts. There are plenty of ways you can benefit from taking your conferences online.
For instance, virtual conferences help you save on costs associated with renting out a physical location for your venue, racking up travel and accommodation expenses for speakers, and procuring event equipment. Similarly, virtual conferences can be attended by a much larger audience as compared to in-person events.
Modern technology also makes it easier to launch engaging virtual events. Event organizers can conduct Q&As, live chats, interactive polls, and offer networking capabilities to their attendees. Virtual conferences can be delivered in multiple sessions and sponsors and exhibitors can share their messages through pre-recorded presentations.
With virtual conferences, you can easily switch between sessions, record sessions, and enable participants to attend multiple sessions taking place at the same time. Moreover, virtual events are a cost-effective way to reach a larger audience.
Due to the on-going pandemic situation, event organizers are focusing on keeping their attendees, sponsors, teams, and customers safe. This is why many companies around the world are learning how to take their events online.
In this scenario, virtual conferences are a great alternative to in-person conferences.
For instance, Salesforce decided to shift its Sydney World Tour 2020 in-person event into a virtual event. Organizers came up with an innovative way to broadcast virtual content that includes a number of elements of a regular in-person events such as panels, live speakers, live product demos, and virtual consultation rooms.
Most companies are following the same strategy to successfully deliver targeted content to their customers.
Event professionals, companies, and customers are withdrawing from in-person events due to COVID-19 concerns and social distancing norms that are likely to stay with us for the long haul. As the situation starts to improve, a combination of both virtual and in-person may become a suitable option for companies looking to organize conferences.
Why you should organize virtual conferences
Let’s look at a couple of the reasons why you should shift to virtual conferences:
Reason #1: Choose your own experience
Virtual conferences are a great way to connect with your audience. They enable online event organizers to share rich multimedia content including videos, web pages, and presentation slides.
Unlike webinars where participants are supposed to attend a single session, virtual conferences can be designed to last a single session or span across hours or days. Virtual conferences give attendees more flexibility to curate their own experience based on their preferences and register for sessions that suit them best.
When event attendees are able to curate their own experiences and are no longer restricted to a single session, they can benefit from customized event experiences, depending on what they’re interested in. This also helps event organizers create and deliver unique event experiences to their attendees by analyzing their specific needs.
Event organizers can gather audience feedback to learn what they expect from the conference, create personalized content targeted to the individual needs of attendees, and, as a result, bring more value to their customers.
Reason #2: A sense of community
Virtual conferences give businesses an opportunity to gather feedback from their attendees using tools such as polls, Q&As, and surveys. People attending virtual conferences are able to communicate with each other as well as with event speakers and sponsors. This enables them to share ideas, build business connections, and find new opportunities.
5 tips for creating a more engaging virtual conference
Here are some useful tips for event organizers to plan, manage, and organize successful virtual conferences.
#1: Identify the needs and expectations of attendees
Learning about what attendees want from your virtual conference can help you plan successful virtual conferences. This information can also be used to measure attendee satisfaction levels and identify areas that have room for improvement.
Successful event organizers know that delivering a great experience at your virtual conference events starts with learning about what the attendees need. To understand what they expect from your events, you should start by documenting the purpose of the virtual conference.
Ask questions that help you improve upcoming events:
- Which discussion format would be most effective for your virtual conference?
- What are the key points you want your attendee to walk away with?
- What is the most valuable content for your audience?
- How can your virtual conference be a success for your attendees?
Answering these questions will enable you to identify the key areas you need to focus on when producing content, inviting speakers, finding sponsorships, and procuring technology for your virtual conference.
You can use different tools and strategies to learn about the needs and preferences of your attendees.
- A great way to boost audience engagement from the get-go is by letting them share ideas about the theme of your virtual conference.
- Surveys can be used to gather information directly from event attendees. For instance, you can send out a pre-event survey to your mailing list asking them for suggestions. This information will also help you create targeted content for your attendees.
- A post-event feedback form can help you gauge attendee satisfaction and ask questions about how you can improve future virtual conferences. You may ask: What changes would you like us to make in our future online conferences?
- Emails are also useful for collecting attendee feedback after a virtual conference ends. For example, you can ask attendees Were you able to network with other people during the virtual conference? or Did the virtual conference meet your expectations?
- Notice how well your audience networks and connects with one another. You can ask what meaningful relationships were made during the event and if there is anything you can do to facilitate more networking opportunities.
After your virtual conference ends, you can analyze audience feedback, comments, and emails to identify the key areas you should improve when planning your next virtual conference.
#2: Personalize the conference experience
If you want to keep attendees engaged during your virtual conference, you need to think about offering content that connects with them in a personal way. People attending your virtual conference differ from each other in many ways. They think differently, they learn differently, and they respond differently.
To deliver memorable events, you’ll need to offer tailor-made content that caters to the particular interests of individual attendees. This means instead of creating a generic conference session for 500 unique participants, you should focus on delivering 500 powerful, tailor-made experiences.
Virtual conferences are easier to personalize as compared to in-person events. You can cater to a wider or narrower audience depending on your event goals.
Using surveys in your email marketing strategy can help you personalize your virtual conferences. You can use feedback data collected from registrants to figure out what each attendee prefers. This way, you’ll be able to create targeted content and experiences for each person.
For example, if you know which industry or job role an attendee is in, you’ll be able to recommend sessions they would be most interested in.
Another way to deliver customized experiences is by letting attendees register for different sessions of the same presentation. This way people will be able to choose a time slot that suits them, enhancing the online registration experience of the attendees.
Personalizing virtual conference experiences enables you to boost your event registrations. If you’ve created multiple-tiered tickets for your online events, for example, a Standard Ticket and VIP Ticket, you can bundle different options with each tier.
For instance, the Standard Ticket gives attendees access to a restricted content hub on your website which may offer video and audio recordings of presentations and training sessions from the conference. Similarly, the VIP Ticket would entitle them to a 15-minute one-on-one session with the conference speaker along with the features on offer with the Standard Ticket.
#3: Set up interactive elements
Virtual conferences are one of the most interactive ways for people to communicate with each other, connect with like-minded people, and find new ways to learn more about industry topics. Virtual conference engagement can be further increased by adding a personalized touch to the entire experience.
Here are some ideas:
- Help attendees learn more about the speakers and topics by enabling them to ask questions before, during, and after the virtual conference.
- Make your event app available to attendees to allow them to participate in Q&A sessions and live polls and give them access to the FAQs section.
- Use software to boost interactivity by facilitating group chats so that attendees can communicate with each other during the event. This gives you an accessible platform to monitor attendee sentiments about your virtual conference and resolve issues effectively.
- Enable event attendees to send in questions for the speakers before the conference begins.
- Allow speakers and participants to talk to each other and have discussions around the session’s topic.
- Interactive polling can be used to gather feedback from attendees.
You can utilize attendee engagement tools like surveys and questionnaires to get this information. These tools collect instant feedback based on specific moments in time during a virtual conference session. However, make sure that you don’t ask too many questions which could keep them busy for too long. Rather, choose your moments, for example, during coffee breaks or lunch time.
#4: Create networking opportunities
One of the issues with most virtual events is the inability to meet face-to-face with other people. Networking opportunities during lunch breaks or coffee breaks are invaluable especially when it comes to business events like seminars and conferences.
Delivering networking opportunities virtually is crucial if you want to maximize the outcome of your online conferences. Even though physical proximity isn’t possible, there are some tools and strategies you can use to enable your conference attendees to create their own online community.
An effective way to enable networking at your virtual conferences is by using a tool that facilitates one-on-one communication between participants as well as with speakers after the event. This way, they’ll be able to connect with like-minded people and exchange contact details, similar to how they would do at an in-person conference.
Another way you can help attendees network with each other is by using messaging tools. By scheduling one-on-ones and break times, you can get them to network, share ideas, and develop business contacts.
You can also set up a Twitter page or a Facebook Group, or Slack group for your virtual conference and encourage attendees and event speakers to network on these social platforms.
Additionally, you can use meeting and webinar software that offers chat features. Or you can set up a Slack channel or Discord channel to allow attendees and speakers to communicate with each other. Both these tools offer real-time chat features while enabling participants to share files and send direct messages to other attendees instead of posting messages publicly.
A simple way to enable virtual conference sponsors to network with attendees is to offer a bulletin board that can be used to post ads or job openings.
#5: Share the conference material
Sharing the conference material with your attendees enables them to increase retention and allows prospective future attendees to learn about your virtual conference and your speakers and reach out to you.
Your business website is a useful tool for sharing conference material with your attendees. For example, you might include video and audio recordings of presentations and training sessions conducted at the virtual conference in your digital resource hub. It makes it easy for attendees to download these resources and go over them again at a later time.
Moreover, you’ll be able to use this resource hub to give prospective attendees an inside look into your conferences and get them to sign up for your next event. You can also publish blog posts about the topics you covered in your virtual conference sessions and interviews of your keynote speakers.
In addition to this, you can post short videos from past conferences and publish testimonials and reviews from attendees. You can also set up an FAQs page on your website to answer any questions prospective attendees might have.
Email is a powerful two-way communication tool that is perfect for sending PDFs, worksheets, and guides during the virtual conference. This enables attendees to follow along with the speakers and boosts in-event participation.
You can also share presentation slides, galleries, and resources with your audience, collect responses from participants, and gauge their satisfaction. A dedicated Facebook Group is a great for sharing photos from the event as well as resources including checklists and downloadable files.
Pro tip: Once you post conference material on social media, you should link it back to your business website to support your content marketing efforts.
Pro Tip: Do your best to curate the content from each virtual event for marketing materials to promote the next virtual conference.
Measuring virtual conference success: 5 event metrics and KPIs to consider
KPIs (key performance indicators) help you monitor different aspects of your virtual conferences and identify the ones that need improvement. Let’s take a look at some of the most important metrics you should consider based on your virtual conference’s goals.
#1: Brand awareness
Simply put, brand awareness is the extent to which your audience can recognize your brand. A well-planned virtual conference will result in increased brand awareness and create a strong connection between a brand and its audience.
An effective way to measure the brand awareness of your virtual conferences is by tracking the number of registrations, social media reach (e.g. impressions, clicks, check-ins, and posts), business website visits, event page visits, and media placements.
Measuring these metrics will help you identify where there is room for improvement and ways you can target customers with your messaging.
#2: Revenue and Retention
Although revenue sounds like a strictly financial ratio, it reveals important insights about the success of your virtual conferences. It includes the number of leads generated, new deals negotiated, opportunities created, and sales. This KPI can also help you measure your event’s impact on your income as well as the performance of your team members.
If your conference is valuable to attendees, or high quality, you’ll retain more attendees. And since capacity is nearly unlimited for virtual conferences you can accommodate more and more attendees for very little marginal cost. Therefore, if you can retain attendees from one virtual conference to the next, revenue should naturally grow.
#3: Educating conference attendees
This KPI can give you important insights related to audience engagement and satisfaction. The more engaged attendees, the more likely they are to eventually buy from you. By comparing a number of factors before and after each event, you’ll be able to better understand the effectiveness of your virtual conferences.
These factors include product usage (free trial sign-ups), number of demos requested, retention numbers, and net promoter scores.
#4: Satisfying conference attendees
This is easily the most important metric for measuring the success of your virtual conferences. Some of the most important components of the attendee satisfaction KPI include the number of sessions attended, number of questions asked in virtual conferences, number of poll responses submitted, number of highly engaged participants, and number of attendees active in community groups.
#5: Exposure for sponsors and presenters
This is an important KPI that reveals information about the impact of sponsors and presenters on the success of your virtual events. This can be measured by tracking the number of opportunities given to introduce sponsors to attendees and the number of attendees that interacted or asked for more information from vendors and sponsors.
Tools for organizing virtual conferences
Here are some of the most popular tools for organizing and hosting virtual conferences:
#1: Event registration software
An event registration solution can help you attract more event attendees, increase ticket sales, and run effective marketing campaigns.
Let’s look at two virtual event registration solutions that you can use on your business website:
- Event Espresso: Event Espresso is a powerful event management plugin for WordPress that helps you offer online registration, ticketing, and payment options to your event attendees directly through your website. It’s flexible and easily adaptable to all your virtual conference event registration and ticketing needs.
- Event Smart: Event Smart is an online event registration and ticketing solution that lets you sell tickets and collect payments online from attendees. It’s a hosted solution which means that you don’t have to worry about setting up an event website from scratch.
#2: Webinar software
Choosing the right webinar software can help you organize virtual conferences that improve brand awareness and generate qualified leads for your business.
Here are two of the most popular webinar software that you can use to organize your virtual conferences:
- Zoom: Zoom is a popular cloud-based video conferencing and meeting platform that is used for sharing live video and audio. It’s used primarily as a chat application and supports desktop and mobile devices.
Zoom offers high-quality video, recordings, transcripts, along with productivity tools such as calendars and collaboration tools. The ongoing pandemic situation has resulted in worldwide use of Zoom as a chat application to host virtual conferences.
- ClickMeeting: ClickMeeting lets you create branded virtual events without requiring any technical knowledge. You can use it to organize engaging virtual conferences that attract leads and generate audience interest while increasing attendee engagement.
#3: Video hosting software
Video hosting software can help you enhance your event experience and enable you to record conference presentations and share them with your audience.
Here are two of the best video hosting sites for virtual conference organizers:
- YouTube: YouTube is easily the most popular video hosting website in the world. It’s free for hosting videos which means that you don’t need a license to create a library of publicly available videos. You can get started by signing into your Google account, creating a channel, and uploading your videos. YouTube ranks second in the list of most used search engines which makes it the obvious choice if you’re looking to boost brand awareness.
- Wistia: Wistia is the ideal video hosting platform for virtual conference organizers. It comes with powerful built-in editing tools that can help you deliver high quality video content at your virtual conferences. You’ll be able to create great looking video content that works seamlessly on split-screen views and screencasts. You can also customize your video thumbnails and player color. All these features make Wistia the go-to video hosting solution for anyone looking for a free and quick way to create and deliver highly engaging content to their audience.
Bonus: other useful software
Let’s look at some productivity tools that can make your virtual conferencing tasks easier:
- Email marketing: Launching and promoting your virtual conference is a whole lot easier if you automate your email marketing efforts. For this, you can use an email marketing tool that supports WordPress sites such as MailChimp. It can help you convert site visitors into subscribers and event attendees.
- Surveys and polls: Surveys and interactive polls can help you gather attendee feedback before, during, and after the event. You can use attendee engagement software like SurveyMonkey to create and conduct online surveys for creating great virtual events.
Compared to in-person conferences, organizing virtual conferences will give you more flexibility and wider outreach at a lower cost.
Organizing virtual conference events can be made easier using event management software and some tried-and-tested tips that will help you better understand your audience, manage event registrations and ticketing, and boost brand awareness.
Are you ready to create engaging virtual conferences? Try the Event Espresso demo today!