Virtual conferences provide businesses with a great, cost-effective way to engage a wider audience, and when executed correctly can generate a higher attendance than a traditional conference.
After all, you can attract attendees from all over the world without having to worry about travel and accommodation arrangements.
Here, we will discuss all you need to know about planning a virtual conference and some important best practices to maintain.
What Is a Virtual Conference?
It’s crucial to really understand the concept of a virtual conference before planning and organizing one.
A common mistake is to think that a virtual conference is just your traditional online meeting, while it’s much more than that. On the other hand, while there are similarities between a virtual conference and a webinar, there are also some unique things about virtual conferences to consider.
Typically virtual conferences are hosted multi-day while featuring keynote sessions, Q&A sessions, educational/training sessions, product demonstrations, industry trends keynote, and live entertainment in-between sessions.
We can host a virtual conference for various different purposes:
- Generating leads
- Demand generation and product introduction
- Building brand awareness
- Building and maintaining relationships
- Educating prospects and customers
And so on.
A virtual conference can be great on its own in achieving these objectives, but we can also combine it with an offline conference as a hybrid event.
Virtual Conference VS Traditional Conference: Key Benefits
With a virtual conference, businesses can reach a broader audience than their typical offline audience, up to 8 times the number of registrations. While obviously, a virtual conference cannot totally replace the physical interactions of a traditional conference, there are also some unique benefits you can only get in virtual conferences:
- The number of attendees won’t be limited by the size of your venue
- The above benefit would also translate to cost-efficiency since you don’t need to rent an expensive large venue
- You can invite attendees from all around the world without worrying about accommodations and travel arrangements, amplifying your reach
- You don’t have to host your speakers/exhibitors and other parties physically, which means easier and more cost-efficient logistics
- You can charge lower ticket prices/registration fees due to the lower costs, which can translate into amplifying your reach
As we can see, a virtual conference can be a cost-effective way to amplify your reach to a wider audience, build brand awareness, generate more leads, get new networking opportunities, and more.
Best Practices for Hosting a Virtual Conference
1. Define Your Objectives and KPIs
As with any event, it’s crucial to define measurable objectives and assign KPIs to track the virtual conference’s progress against these goals.
For a virtual conference, having a clear, precise, and unified goal is very important. It’s more difficult to attempt several segmented goals in a virtual event, so it’s best to focus on a single primary objective.
Here are some examples of objectives you can consider:
- Generating more leads (brand awareness)
- Selling more products/services during the event or other forms of direct revenue generation
- Improving customer retention and loyalty
2. Define Your Virtual Conference’s USP
How will you provide unique value to your attendees? In general, when hosting a virtual conference, you can focus on delivering value in at least one of three different areas:
- Providing valuable education and/or training for your attendees
- Providing networking opportunities for your attendees
- Providing entertainment
You can obviously attempt to provide value on all three, but it’s crucial to define and communicate your virtual conference’s unique value proposition (USP) as soon as possible.
3. Prepare Your Technology Infrastructure
Planning a virtual conference isn’t all that different from hosting a traditional in-person conference, but the key difference is how you should focus on technology.
In fact, it’s common for virtual event organizers to allocate up to 80% of their total budget to technology.
You’ll need to consider technology infrastructures for the following areas:
- Registration and/or ticketing
- Mobile app for the event
- Event management for managing your team
- Onsite engagement tool
- Pre and post-event surveys
- Live streaming platform
- Attendee tracking tool
A more cost-effective approach is to invest in an all-in-one virtual event and conference platform so you don’t have to worry too much about integration and can focus on planning and delivering your perfect virtual conference.
Nevertheless, choose your technology stack based on the experience you want to deliver during your virtual conference. For example, whether a custom-tailored mobile app will be necessary to provide the kind of experience you’d like to give your attendees.
4. Plan Your Sessions Carefully
This is really crucial for a virtual conference and any online events at all: your session’s content is your event.
The quality of your event sessions is more important than quality, and you should optimize the following areas:
- Length: it’s best to provide shorter sessions with a wide variety of content to maintain engagement
- Diversity in formats: be diverse and try various formats from keynotes, webinar, entertainment, video presentations, and more
- Interactivity: plan how the audience can interact with speakers/exhibitors like panel sessions, allowing the audience to be seen on the live feed, etc.
- Live streaming vs pre-recorded: live-streaming allows better interactivity but has more potential risks. Find the right balance.
- Type of content: vary your content from thought leadership, training/education, data presentation, and more.
5. Be Creative When Approaching Sponsors
You can actually offer various types of benefits for your sponsors in a virtual conference setting, including:
- Video advertising in-between sessions
- Sponsored sessions
- Virtual trade show booths
- Product placement during sessions
Be creative when negotiating for sponsorships. For example, you can create a virtual trade show by utilizing the right technology, which can be a great value for sponsors.
A crucial aspect of hosting a successful virtual conference is to invest in the right software and technology equipment so you can execute your event flawlessly.
The world is changing rapidly due to the pandemic, and we can expect online events including virtual conferences to stay going forward in the future. For businesses, a virtual conference can be a cost-effective way to amplify its reach to engage a broader audience all over the world without the limitations of an event venue.