What is a Virtual Conference?

virtual conference
virtual conference

The hybrid way of working is more popular now than ever. As the technology required to stream live content has continued to improve, virtual conferences have become more common as they offer a virtual space where everyone can meet regardless of their physical location.

This is a guide that will walk you through all aspects of virtual events, what to expect, and how you can utilise the services of an expert agency with experience in organising and executing exceptional virtual conferences for a wide range of industries and businesses. 

What is a virtual conference?

A virtual conference is a conference that takes place online and on a virtual platform instead of in real life with attendees physically travelling to a conference centre location to experience the event in person. Most virtual events have followed the same pattern that a real-life event would, especially when virtual conferences were first executed. This includes the concepts of:

  • Panel discussions
  • Training and certification
  • Sales demos
  • Thought leadership
  • Industry trends sessions
  • Product training and adoption
  • Entertainment
  • Online ‘Happy Hours’
  • Breakout areas
  • Networking events
  • Keynote speakers

When attending a conference, you’ll expect them to take place over multiple days, and for a virtual conference online this makes it much easier and cost-effective to attend than it would be for a physical conference.

These days, there is more scope to be creative and to put together a virtual conference in different ways to what you would expect, with a lot more potential for interactive elements throughout the entire conference schedule, text chat opportunities between different attendees, and other creative ideas. 

What are the benefits of a virtual conference?

In simple terms, the main reason that any organisation or business looks to host a virtual conference is that it gives a much better chance to reach a broader audience than would be possible with a physical conference in one location. For some people, there is no replacement for face-to-face interaction, but for many people a virtual conference provides a good chance to get more people in the room at a better cost.

Some of the specific benefits of hosting a virtual conference include: 

Accessibility

Hosting a conference online as opposed to in a physical location immediately removes the logistical limitations of hosting an in-person event. It is much easier to invite attendees to a virtual conference and it means that you are not limited in who you invite. Those potential attendees who live in a far-flung location, have issues with time and funding to attend a physical conference, or have mobility issues are now much more likely to attend your conference. 

Flexibility of conference

The timing of a virtual conference is not restricted in the same way as a physical conference can sometimes be. You don’t need to plan a long day of events, from breakfast through to late in the evening when hosting a virtual conference. Instead, you can spread things out over a longer period of time to ensure that people who do want to attend each event within the conference timeframe have a much better chance to feel fresh and focused to take things in when listening to different speakers and attending different types of events. 

Better chances to network

At physical conferences, networking events can sometimes be lacking, especially if there is a busy schedule and not much time to see and do everything you want to do as an attendee. This can mean networking events can fall by the wayside or be viewed as a chance to take a break rather than make genuine connections. A virtual networking event within a conference creates more opportunities to get attendees to connect in a positive and fruitful way. 

Creative formats

As a virtual conference is online there is much more scope to be creative and innovative in the style and format of the conference, as well as in the tech that is used to connect attendees with the different conference events and other attendees. There is no limit to what is possible, and organisers of virtual events can focus more on the attendee experience, especially, as it can be quite daunting to attend a conference online and feel truly part of the event. 

Create on-going communities

Once connections have been made between attendees and with the organisers at a virtual conference, it becomes much easier to maintain this connection in the future. Whereas in a physical situation there is a reliance on each individual to reconnect with people they have met, a virtual conference has already provided this connection, so future online communities are much easier to create and maintain, as there isn’t that extra step that could provide a roadblock for some attendees. 

Manage the conference effectively

In terms of event-planning and tracking all the statistics and data that comes with a virtual conference, it is a simple process to manage the entire event when compared with a physical conference. All the information that an attendee requires can be placed within a personal dashboard that is simple to access and manage, and this is a much-welcomed alternative to a complimentary tote bag full of branded merchandise and leaflets. 

Access information at any time with ease

Attendees will have the capability to re-visit information that they found interesting or purely for reference purposes. This can take the shape of re-watching keynote speakers, reading panel transcripts, or finding other digital materials that were provided live during the event itself.

Are there any challenges when putting on a virtual conference?

There are challenges to putting on a virtual conference, as there is with organising a physical conference, but they are very different. The challenges that organisers of virtual conferences face include: 

Maintaining engagement

One of the biggest challenges of a virtual conference is how to maintain focus from attendees. This is difficult enough in person, but when attendees are signing in from home or their office, there are other distractions around them, and if they are bored it is easy to wander off and lose focus. Material at a virtual conference, therefore, must be engaging and keep the focus of those viewing.

Value for money

The cost of attending a conference must also be considered, as people are attending from home and where there are no longer the organisational costs of conference centre employees, travel costs, and other logistical costs associated with a physical, in-person conference, it can be hard to justify the cost of a ticket for a virtual attendee. Obviously, a conference ticket price must be assigned, so it is important to think about how you can offer genuine value for money. 

What happens outside the speakers and lectures?

There isn’t a need to just mimic a traditional, in-person conference format. Think about different ways you can keep attendees entertained and connected outside of the keynote speakers and panel discussions. This could be key to how successful the virtual conference is overall.

The planning phase for a virtual conference

The initial stages of planning a virtual conference are vital to how successful the execution of the event is. The content strategy you put together is very important, due to the fact that attendees are viewing the conference online, from their workplace or home. A virtual conference strategy must focus on content and its effective delivery, thinking about all angles and challenges to ensure that every attendee has the optimal experience.

Setting goals and KPIs

One important part of the planning of a virtual conference is to set goals and identify key performance indicators (KPIs) prior to the event. This allows you to have the best chance to collect, track, and analyse all data relating to the conference during and after the event. Be succinct and clinical in how you plan a virtual conference, considering brand awareness and lead generation, revenue potential, customer appreciation and loyalty, membership growth, and product adoption, amongst other targets and indicators. You can track information from the promotional stage, through sign-up and registration, attendance, and satisfaction during and after the conference. 

Methods of creating a successful virtual event

There are a few different techniques and methods that can be followed in order to execute a successful virtual event. With the assistance of experts in the field, like our experienced team, you can implement key strategies and methods that set the virtual conference on the right path. 

Consider the type of attendees

Before you put together the specific plan for your virtual conference, you must consider what you deem to be the ideal attendee. This will help shape the promotional campaigns and the way in which the conference itself functions. Having the right people attend is important as it populates a virtual conference with those who are eager to learn, to discuss and make genuine connections with others, and make for a much more enjoyable conference than one where half the people are not bothered whether they are there or not. 

Build the conference style around the attendees

Build a profile of your perfect attendee, and plan for that type of person. This could mean putting together a panel of experts for those attendees who want to learn and hear from industry leaders, putting together one-on-one opportunities and smaller networking opportunities for attendees that want to network, and always ensure there is an exciting breakout space and socialising area even in a virtual conference space. There are different ways to achieve these aims, such as:

  • Providing premium-level access to speakers
  • Offering videos of every session to re-visit at a later date
  • Host online forums and discussions before, during, and after an event
  • Maintain a permanent online community of attendees after the virtual conference
  • Host the event on a branded virtual conference platform
  • Spread the event over a few days/weekends rather than in one long day or two 

Consider the exponential effect

When you consider the possibilities of the addition of each new ideal attendee, you can start to see an explosion in growth. Every new member is another person for existing attendees to connect with, and this makes the possibilities for future growth and successful future virtual conferences even greater. Good ways to create member-led growth at a conference include:

  • Open Q&A sessions
  • Encouraging member content creation
  • Prompt honest feedback and discussion at every stage
  • Open-table conversation opportunities

Engagement is key to maintaining interest and focus on a virtual conference.

Choosing the correct conference technology

This is the biggest difference between a virtual conference and an in-person conference. Whereas a physical conference is about choosing a town or city with a good enough conference centre and transportation links, a virtual conference has many different possibilities, but this has its own challenges. Technology is crucial with a virtual conference, and there are different solutions and platforms available to choose from. The type of tech and platform you use will depend on the type of conference and content you wish to deliver. If you just need broadcast capability to stream live speakers that will not be as challenging as providing a greater level of live interaction for attendees. This is where a bespoke approach is necessary for many conference organisers.

Event tech for virtual conferences must be effective for:

  • Registration
  • Management
  • Mobile app
  • Webinar app
  • Appointment and scheduling
  • On-site engagement
  • Attendee tracking
  • Surveys
  • Video platform
  • Discussion forums
  • Member profiles
  • Breakout groups and space
    Sponsorship areas
  • Payments and bundling options
  • Live and pre-recorded access 

Consider starting the conference early

A physical conference starts on the date when the first speakers are in place and every attendee is physically in the building. The beauty of a virtual conference is that it can start at any point. You can begin to drip-feed bits of content a few weeks or even a month before the official start date. A good approach is to invite attendees into the virtual space early so that they can create member profiles, join networking groups that interest them, and just to get used to the platform and technology that you are using. It allows for pre-event discussion and questions, adding even greater value to attendees. 

Maintain conversation after the event

You can also take this approach once the conference has officially ended. After the event, keep in touch with attendees by putting together surveys, and by maintaining online networking groups and communities. If your conference is going to be an annual event, keeping in touch throughout the year is a great way to retain members for next year and keep them talking about your virtual conference. 

The importance of data capture

There is so much valuable data that can be collected and analysed at a virtual conference, even more so than at a physical event where you are limited to a certain extent. When planning a virtual event of any kind you should consider the three main types of data that should be captured and analysed.

Event data

This is basic data that indicates the type of the event, the cost of the event, date, location, number of registrations and number of attendees. This type of data allows you to accurately compare with other virtual events, your own virtual events, as well as directly comparing with physical, in-person events. 

Profile data

This is where you can dig into the data relating to each attendee. You can look at demographic data of each attendee, where they are located and what organisation they are from. Specific data includes attendee name, address, email address, title, as well as registration process and profile data if they have completed an online profile.

Engagement data

This is dynamic data that is captured directly from attendee interactions during the event. This can be responses to event sessions, surveys, other content, how they have interacted with sponsors, speakers, and exhibitors, as well as interactions with other event attendees. This type of data is valuable in helping better understand how to approach attendees from a marketing and sales point of view after the event.

All of this data is important, as it allows you to have genuine feedback on the event and where you can improve all aspects for next year, from promotion, sign-up and registration, through to the content and format, networking, and all other aspects of the event that could be tweaked and improved upon.

The Chameleon Agency knows exactly what it takes to deliver an exceptional virtual conference. There are many different ways in which a conference can be planned and put together, and our team has the skills and experience to sit with you and discuss what options are best to meet your goals. Contact our team today to discuss your requirements.

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