Do you remember all those times they said going digital was the future? Although we had anticipated this change to take place gradually and smoothly, surprisingly enough, the future is ‘here’ already and it’s time for you to shift your business strategies to virtual platforms ‘right now’. One such shift includes moving your events online.
Where a number of leading global organizations had already been benefiting from hosting virtual events in the past, there is no surprise that this number has particularly experienced an exponential increase during the coronavirus crisis. However, the truth is, regardless of a pandemic, a virtual event is all that you need to engage with a global audience, maximize your ROI, and obtain robust analytics and reporting – something a traditional, physical event would never be able to cater to.
This article therefore aims to teach you, not just how to react and adapt to sudden global transformations, but also how to improve your overall strategies and offer a value-added experience to all your stakeholders with the help of a virtual event.
Table of Contents
- What is a Virtual Event
- Why Should You Host a Virtual Event
- What are the Different Types of Virtual Events
- Features to look for in a Virtual Event
- 10 Questions to Ask Your Virtual Events Provider
- Virtual Event Planning Checklist
- How to Host a Virtual Event
- Cost Summary
- About vFairs
A virtual event is an online version of a physical event, with added value that differs from platform to platform. Virtual events are a great way to connect audiences globally using chat tools, live webinars and digital content usually served via a visually rich interface.
Virtual events help you maximize your reach and achieve greater and measurable engagement. Virtual events have, over the years, proven to help a number of organizations across various industries, as well as universities across the globe achieve this goal. With the exceptional pros and the next-to-none cons, virtual events continue to benefit organizers and here’s why you should be next in line. Let’s do a quick, descriptive break down of the reasons for you to take your event online:
1) Your Target Audience exists across the globe
If your event aims to attract visitors from different parts of the world (and why won’t it?), going virtual is your best bet. Virtual events are accessible from any browser, on any device and in any part of the world. Your virtual event is simply a click away from your prospects, which results in a wider and more diverse turnout. Moreover, at a time where the world is distancing itself in order to survive, virtual events are mending those distances and bringing people together in a safe, virtual space to progress with their usual activities.
2) You’re on a budget
Virtual events, not only provide you with a user-friendly experience, but also a cost-effective solution. Eliminating the additional cost of venue, hospitality, travel, marketing collateral, etc, virtual events remove your physical as well as monetary burden, and provide you with greater value at a smaller cost. (Scroll down to learn more)
3) You wish to save time
A virtual event has a setup time of about 3-4 weeks if you partner with a reputable virtual event platform. This includes the setup time, training your staff to use and manage the event, and pre-event marketing to ensure maximized attendance. A physical fair, on the other hand, can take months of planning, weeks to conduct vendor meetings, and the event itself consumes your event manager, even before it has taken place. Not to forget, clean up and exit takes an additional day or two at times.
At a virtual event, material stress is eliminated and the rest is transferred to the platform providers who not only treat it as a turn-key project but also provide reliable customer support before, during and after the event.
4) You want to provide a unique user experience
At a virtual event, each visitor has the option to choose the content that they wish to absorb and save. This includes webinars, videos, brochures, and e-books that often rate virtual events much higher in overall engagement.
With a conventional fair, your attendees would have to go through the standard schedule of seminars and presentations but the ‘on-demand’ viewing aspect of virtual fairs enables them to handpick material of choice which increases interest and conversions. Individual chats enabled on each session and virtual booth adds to the individual visitor experience. They can chat with reps without having to queue in a long line and having to condense their queries to a 1 minute per person interaction.
5) You labored over quality content that shouldn’t go to waste
Your team must’ve worked really hard at creating compelling content for visitors. A virtual event allows you to re-use it to improve your content marketing game long after the event is over. The possibilities of using your content are endless:
- Your introductory videos can go onto your company’s careers site or products page
- You can upload the webinars onto YouTube or Vimeo and share them with your subscribers through email campaigns
- If you conducted in-event surveys and polls, you can convert those results into a quick blog post and share it with your social media followers
- You can also use your chat interactions to create or update an FAQ page
6) You Want Quantifiable Metrics and Reports
Perhaps the most salient tie-breaker between physical and virtual fairs is the ability of the latter to furnish detailed reports. With a physical fair, although you do have people coming in, visiting booths, grabbing brochures and dropping their contact information, you don’t possess the means to accurately measure the results of the fair. So, in the end, it essentially comes down to how well the exhibitors thought the event had gone.
A digital space, on the other hand, tracks every registrant and records every chat conversation exchanged, on-demand videos watched, resources downloaded and shared along with all the uploads made and transactions performed, enabling you to track KPIs and ROIs.
7) You want to opt for an eco-friendly approach
Aviation contributes about 2% of the world’s global carbon emissions. Traveling for an event thus contributes to this damage to the environment. Virtual events eliminate the need for all kinds of travel, therefore saving the planet from carbon emissions.
Not just that, on an average, around 600,000 tons of waste is produced at trade shows every year, caused by paper waste and other marketing material. This increases the carbon footprint contributing to climatic change. Due to the lack of printed/plastic usage at a virtual event, going online helps you organize a green, healthy event. Read more an how you can opt for a green business strategy.
The online nature of your platform can allow you to organize a number of unimaginable virtual events. Some might wish to organize a small coffee time get together, while others might plan out extravagant virtual trade shows. Let’s dive right into the most popular types of virtual events (however, the list of course does not end here):
1) Virtual Conferences & Summits
Why move your conference online? The real question is, why not?
The demand for Virtual Conferences has skyrocketed due to their stellar outcomes. With powerful online tools for engagement, you can reach a wider audience, invite keynote speakers from across the globe, save costs and fulfill your objectives in a more effective way than a physical conference would allow you to.
2) Online Trade Shows & Exhibitions
We all agree that the basic goal of any business is to enhance profit by maximizing leads. But were you really maximizing them if you weren’t reaching a global audience? The best part is that it’s never too late to get it right. Hosting a virtual trade show & expo can enable you to engage prospects across the globe using live chat tools, educate them about your offerings using live webinars, and eventually convert your warm leads with an online store within your event, in a shorter time.
3) Virtual Career Fairs & Virtual Job Fairs
Top organizations around the world find their best employees by increasing their reach and virtually meeting their future employees.
Instead of cancelling your career fairs, taking them online can improve the quality of applicants with the help of various 1:1 audio/video chat tools, job boards, and effective video assessment tools. Not just this, but a virtual career fair gives you the opportunity of showcasing your employer brand to a global audience.
Want to learn more about hosting your own virtual career fair? Read ‘The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Career Fairs‘.
4) Virtual Onboarding Fairs
Business owners generally agree that success rests heavily on new hires themselves. To ensure you direct your new hires from foundation to success, a powerful onboarding program needs to be set in place. A Virtual Onboarding Fair can enable you to boost productivity for distributed hires and train them via rich interactive tools such as webinars and audio/video chats. Cherry on top – you can also measure the performance and make changes at any time.
5) Virtual University Fairs
Universities often set up a number of programs and fairs in order to help their students get a head-start on information and opportunities to reach their education as well as professional goals. For this purpose, leading universities base their programs encouraging top prospects from across the globe to come join their institutions.
In order to engage with the global cream, however, the first step is to be visible and accessible. Virtual University fairs can be accessed through any smart device, from any corner of the world. With this diversity, here’s how virtual events of the following type help students & alumni engage with Universities as well as top employers across the globe, benefiting all the stakeholders in the process.
- Virtual Open Day – allows prospective students to absorb the rich culture at your university, interact with faculty and fill lead-capture forms through a virtual event. Virtual open days help you attract & engage 3 to 5 times more students as compared to a physical event.
- Virtual Education Fair – helps universities showcase their infrastructure, culture and programs to a diverse prospective student base from across the globe. In addition, a virtual education fair helps educate student masses about higher study options through one comprehensive event.
- Virtual Student/Alumni Networking Fair – connects students with successful University Alumni and boosts engagement with rich interactive tools such as webinars, discussion forums, audio/video/text chats.
- Virtual Job Fair – helps students/alumni network with leading employers and find sustainable careers via an accessible, online platform, rich in interactive tools.
6) Virtual Benefits Fair
Hosting a virtual benefits fair can help your employees learn about employee benefits through an easy and interactive online event. It removes the hassle and long hours that HR has to spend on each employee, and more than that, provides a better way for employees to access appropriate plans.
The success of your virtual event is based on the aggregate of a stimulating experience, secure interactions, and of course measurable performance outcomes. This means, you need to have what it takes to reduce the noise and stand out in the crowd for perfect results. We’ve listed down a set of must-have features for you to hit the bull’s eye with your upcoming virtual event.
Branded Landing Page
You need to first put yourself out there to get noticed, and you’d like to do that by showcasing your brand. Set up an exciting custom branded page where your audience has its very first contact with your event. This page should provide an event overview, schedule, details of keynote speakers (if any), and a link to register.
Configurable branded booths
It is important to offer your audience a digital experience that mimics the feel of a real-life event. Your virtual platform should provide each exhibitor the option to choose avatars to depict company representatives. In addition to that, they should be provided with configurable booths and enable the ease of information exchange with tabs leading to content that each exhibitor wants its visitors to consume.
In order to ensure a remarkable user experience, make sure your audience can browse through various areas of your event in a user-friendly manner. Whether it is navigating from one booth to another, or moving from the lobby to the auditorium, allow your audience to navigate seamlessly by testing the platform yourself first.
Secure Chat Options
By offering a space that is rich in interactions in the form of text, audio and video chat, you have a great responsibility of ensuring that these interactions are secure. In case of virtual career fairs, for instance, employers might be carrying out screening processes on the spot. In any case, you are ethically obliged to provide a secure platform to people you are inviting.
A single webinar could get you over 1,000 leads proving them to be an effective way to educate masses in 2020. Whether they are live webinars, or on-demand webinars, inviting industry experts and having them share helpful insights with your audience is an incredible way to keep a large number of individuals hooked at the same time. Webinars are most often followed by Q&A sessions making two way communication possible and fruitful. Incorporating webinars into your event will increase your event’s engagement and ensure your audience walks out with value.
To opt for a “green” business strategy, it is essential to provide downloadable content and go for paperless marketing. Virtual events allow all downloadable resources to be added to a “swag bag” or a “briefcase” for easy access and consumption by the audience.
While the concept of virtual events is highly popular in today’s world, it is also fairly new to a number of individuals. A help desk or an information desk, just like in any physical arrangement, is staffed by your technology provider to ensure that your audience gets their queries answered promptly at all times.
While virtual events have revolutionized the events industry based on how accessible they are, a number of platforms still disregard individuals with hearing, visual, or other cognitive impairments, claiming to provide customers with a global reach. Make sure your provider offers the relevant accessibility options to ensure that a wider audience is welcomed to your event.
Reporting is absolutely, without a doubt, one of the prime features of a virtual event. By hosting a virtual event, measuring all performance indicators (click for details) are essential to evaluating the success of your event.
Features such as leaderboards and scavenger hunts can be incorporated into your event to award points to guests based on activity and give away sponsored prizes. This feature also contributes to prolonging the time spent by your audience at your event.
By embedding an online shop into your event, you can eliminate purchasing delays and maximize conversions by encouraging transactions in real-time. Not only does this online store capture existing opportunities that you’ve nurtured throughout your event, but also passive opportunities that would otherwise be untapped and unexplored in case of a physical event. To learn more about your online shop, click here.
Researching and finding the right virtual events provider is as important as planning the nitty-gritties of your virtual event. You’re handing over a huge share of responsibility to your platform and need to be sure that they can provide you with the best service as well as the greatest value.
Before you get started, here’s a set of questions you might want to inquire about.
1) Will I get a detailed demo of my virtual event?
Request a thorough demo of the platform to get a sense of what your virtual event will look like. The demo will also help you test aspects like platform functionality, ease of use, navigation, visual quality and built-in features that are central to obtaining your event objectives. Getting the look and feel of your future event is crucial and a custom demo is your first step to visualizing and planning a sophisticated virtual event.
2) Are there any past executions that can be shown?
With many new solution providers entering the industry, you want to choose one that has worked with a diverse range of top organizations, executed a wide range of virtual events, and can provide you with one-on-one customization that best matches your event requirements. Since vFairs has had the experience of setting up events for organizations and universities of all sizes, and is the highest rated virtual events platform on Capterra, we know exactly how to guide our clients and continuously innovate to meet their targeted KPIs.
Similarly, if you are planning a virtual job fair for instance, you would want your solutions provider to particularly help you acquire job-related data from the participating companies to make information exchange seamless, in addition to providing CV parsing solutions to aid employers in recruitment.
3) How long is the set up time?
To ensure that your events calendar stays on schedule, do enquire the average time it takes for the provider to set up the event, from start to finish. Knowing this duration will assist you in chalking out your entire pre-event marketing strategy and will also give your team enough time to prepare for the live event. The ideal time for a high caliber provider should not cross 4-6 weeks to set up your event.
4) Where will the virtual event be hosted and how secure will it be?
Make it a point to ask your virtual events provider about the hosting company that they partner with and the specific security features that they have in place (like RAID, Uptime, Secure Datacenter). This is particularly necessary as your event should be protected from data fraud, viruses, and crashing servers when the event sees bulk registration.
5) Is the platform compatible across devices and operating systems?
While your visitors will be accessing your event using any/all smart devices, you need to make sure you provide them with a seamless experience on their smartphones, laptops as well as tablets. In addition, ensure that that your vendor provides event hosting compatible with Android and iOS platforms. After all, you do not want to lose visitor acquisition or engagement due to poor technology compatibilities.
6) Who Owns All the Data?
The data stored on your Virtual Event platform will oftentimes be highly confidential. For example, in case of a virtual career fair, you might be storing hundreds of candidate profiles, feedback forms and company data, and hence, making it crucial for your contract to be very clear in detailing the provider’s right to store and process the data whilst relinquishing all data ownership to your organization.
7) What Kind of Support Do You Offer?
You want to be sure that the solutions provider is not choosing a one-size-fits-all solution for you, and is instead going to deliver customized instruction across all phases from booth design, event layout, and marketing- in addition to delivering flawless execution and independently managing the event planning and implementation without you having to oversee the set up every step of the way.
vFairs assigns dedicated project managers to all our clients as a key point of expertise so that all concerns are promptly addressed, objectives met, and you can run your event with the best support team in the business.
8) What are the different Engagement & Interactive Features that are available?
There’s a lot more to virtual event planning than defining timelines and budgets; you want to attract, excite and engage the visitors to leave the intended impact. Discuss if you want textual, voice or video chat-based functionality. Perhaps you want to go a step further and have a live webinar to address audience questions or share market insights. Pondered over how important is a multilingual platform to you?
Be specific with how you choose to communicate with your visitors so that your virtual event is remembered by all participants and ensure the platform you choose excels in those features.
9) What Sort of Accessibility Options are Available for Differently-abled Visitors?
One of the key winner points of a virtual event in comparison to its physical counterparts is that it is accessible and inclusive. It invites quality individuals based on their skills and relevance instead of restricting them based on their disabilities. Look for features such as:
- colour contrast for visually impaired individuals
- text size adjustment
- page narration
- webinars with subtitles
- clear and straightforward layout for easy navigation
If you wish to reach the globe and offer value to people from the comfort of their homes, it is imperative to cater to those who are normally left behind but can offer a lot at the same time. Look for accessibility features in your next virtual event provider or talk to our representative to understand more on delivering all that a virtual event truly needs to comprise of.
Read more about accessible & inclusive virtual events here.
10) What Type of Reports will be generated?
The vendor of your choice should not only excel at delivering a fantastic virtual event but provide reports that measure the impact of your initiative on your audience. Your reports should also help determine your KPIs in advance, for example, unique visitors, visits per booth, or job applications received for every position advertised. Measuring success is pivotal to determining the ROI. Discuss with the vendors how they can help you monitor visitors, downloads, video plays, chats, conversions etc. before you choose to go ahead with them.
Hosting your very first virtual event? Click here for our top advice and tips!
Now that you’re all set with your virtual event platform, how about we setup a detailed checklist to take off a remarkable virtual event?
- Set a clear objective – decide on a quantified objective (product promotion, sales or lead generation) that can be used to drive metrics that you plan to achieve with your virtual event
- Know your audience – identify your target audience and base features as well as content that they will most relate with
- Timing is everything – do your research well in advance and pick the days when all your partners, exhibitors and visitors are available (this means avoiding weekends or days with mega sports events)
- Get partners on board – ensure that all your exhibitors and sponsors are notified, briefed and trained about your virtual event well in advance for them to create and provide their material
- Promote, promote, promote – prior to your event, strategize your marketing channels such as social media, email lists and official website. Setup informative landing pages and think about how you could get people to spread the word
- Create compelling content – It is important to deliver what visitors want. Use surveys, polls, and questionnaires to devise presentations, articles, brochures and other collateral that delivers your event’s purpose
If you’re looking to produce a high-quality digital experience with one-to-one interaction and continuous engagement, then you’re in the right place at the right time.
Step 1 – Decide the type of event you’re planning to host
Step 2 – Set a Timeline
Ideally, it takes about 4-6 weeks for an event to be up and running. However, it is highly recommended to book your event way in advance so that you can build it up to perfection and have enough time to market it to your audience.
Step 3 – Choose the right virtual events platform
When choosing a virtual events provider, ensure that they support your necessary requirements to deliver your brand’s goals and vision. Prepare a set of questions, no matter how many, and inquire till you’re absolutely sold on their service.
Step 4 – Reach out to Exhibitors, Keynote Speakers & Sponsors
Booking key stakeholders is a time consuming task. Invite them via emails, calls and if needed, use explanatory videos to bring them on board. In case of exhibitors, you will need to sign them up to give them enough time to set up their booths and invite their audience via social media, emails and other platforms of their preference.
Step 5 – Create a compelling landing page and an immersive experience for visitors
You need to set a memorable first impression, just like at any physical event. Make sure your landing page is not only visually compelling, but also consists of relevant information persuading your visitors to register for the event. This is where you brand your event, add an event description, and setup an agenda to make it easier for your audience to walk into sessions that interest them most. As soon as your visitor enters your event, it is important to ensure that the virtual environment replicates the entire experience of an in-person event.
Step 6 – Make Quality Content Available
To begin with, a content strategy is required to inspire, inform, and raise awareness about your brand and its initiatives – a tad bit of homework for your team that will payoff well through exceptional results. This means, creating and stocking up on collateral such as:
- booth images, logos & banners
- company description
- content tabs
Remember, all the resources and content you’ve worked on fall under your ownership and can be used on multiple avenues for the times to come.
Step 7 – Use Engagament Tools
The success of any event is strongly based on the extent of engagement and interactions taking place. Virtual events provide effective online tools to maximize engagement in real time, using the following features:
- 1:1 text, audio video chat
- group discussions
- live/recorded webinars followed by Q&A sessions
- surveys & polls
Learn more about how NYU hosted a successful virtual event by creating a mutually beneficial environment, connecting its entire network with industry professionals as well as alumni working across different professions.
Step 8 (Bonus) – Gamify Your Event
Incentivize certain steps you wish for your audience to complete by gamifying your event. Scavenger hunts and leaderboards not only increase the time your audience spends at your event but also helps set a lasting impression of your organization, eventually improving the quality of leads.
What sets virtual events apart from its physical counterparts is the capability to generate reports, in real time as well at the end if the event. Make sure your reports gather enough information to help you measure your ROI and optimize your KPIs. A few components that you need to look for include:
- registrants contact details (as per the registration form)
- total registrations
- total booth visits
- clicks per tab
- downloads per content piece
- chat volume
- total webinar attendees and so on
Pricing holds great weightage when deciding which option to go for. Let’s put an end to the suspense and give you a quick breakdown of the components and hence the price of setting up a virtual event, in comparison to its physical counterparts.
It is no surprise that the cost of a certain venue is greatly dependent on the required capacity as well as its location. Both, therefore, contributing to a higher rent. On the other hand, virtual events free you of the need to book any physical space as it takes your event directly to your audience’s doorstep.
Most event organizers either provide large parking lots or free valet services to facilitate the audience visiting their event. Therefore, bearing the cost of this facility in order to provide convenience to everyone visiting the venue. In case of virtual events, since attendees are accessing the event from the comfort of their home, there is no need to allocate a budget towards additional facilities such as parking or vallet.
Setup & Equipment
Stage set up, equipment for keynote speeches, professional quality lighting rigs, projectors, technical assistance, and the list goes on. In order to ensure a smooth and seamless physical event that also sets a lasting impression, organizers usually have to empty their pockets to the last penny. What’s great about virtual events is that your event provider is responsible for an outstanding experience with live technical assistance, unique branded booths, chat tools, webinars, and much more.
Food & Beverages
What defines you as a great host at a physical event is the variety of refreshments that you offer. Virtual events eliminate the need to incur costs on hospitality, therefore lowering your overall spend.
How often has it been that your entire business had to be on high-alert during the occurrence of your event? Resources had to pitch in extra hours and all other tasks had to be put on hold till the event ended. Good news is, virtual events save you of all of this hassle. Your virtual event provider will equip you with a dedicated team that takes care of all the legwork from A to Z. With constant assistance, your event is managed by a team of professionals remotely, saving up on essential resources.
Travel & Accommodation
While inviting prestigious speakers to your event, you are bound to incur their travel expense and provide them with respectable accommodation. Fortunately, in case of virtual events, you can invite speakers from across the globe without spending a single penny to ensure their presence at your event.
Hosting a virtual event, at first, might seem like an out-of-the-world technical experience, however, it is one that is convenient in all aspects, as well as more bountiful (and quantifiable) for Businesses as well as Universities, as compared to physical events. In fact, here’s how our customers belonging to a number of industries have already benefited from their own virtual events.
Lastly, focusing on the need of the hour, as well as the overall shift in the global dynamics, virtual events have proven to be the ‘knight in shining armor’ due to the endless value and an exceptional experience they provide to organizers.
At vfairs.com, we strive to build a top-class online event platform that will help event organizers make memorable connections with their target audience. We’re obsessed with taking out the hassle normally associated with physical events, leaving organizers and exhibitors to focus on what’s most important – engagement with the audience. Get in touch with an expert to learn more about vFairs here.
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