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The Essential Guide to Virtual Events and How to Host One

Virtual events are the future! This essential guide breaks down everything you need to know to host the best virtual events and hybrid events.

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Virtual events have just been added to your organization’s communication strategy. Now it’s down to you to host exceptional digital events to inspire your audience and drive conversions.

There’s a chance you’re not yet convinced that virtual events are the way to go. You might even be worried about poor engagement and screen fatigue. But 72% of respondents to a Vimeo survey said they expect to attend as many, or even more, virtual events in 2022 as they did in the previous year.

It’s official, virtual events are the future. So how do you host one?

What is a virtual event?

Virtual event definition

A virtual event is any occasion experienced online by remote attendees, rather than in-person. If you’ve ever live-streamed a concert, completed an online training course for work, or even participated in a virtual quiz with family, you’ve attended a virtual event.

What’s the difference between a virtual event and an in-person event?

  • In-person events occur when multiple people gather in the same geographic location to experience something together, such as a wedding or a live sporting event. Since all attendees are physically present, all in-person events are experienced synchronously.
  • Virtual events are typically hosted on a video conferencing platform, which uses the internet to stream or record audio and video. Live-streamed events are experienced by audience members synchronously (at the same time) while recorded events are experienced asynchronously (not at the same time). In either case, virtual attendees can participate from anywhere with an internet connection, regardless of geographical location.
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What are the types of virtual events?

If you can imagine an event, it probably exists in virtual form. There are many types of virtual events, including:

Events with in-person audience members that are also live-streamed online to remote watchers are known as hybrid events. Performances like comedy shows and concerts are suited to the hybrid format, as these events rely on the energy of a live audience.

Like a seminar but online, webinars are intended to educate an audience on a particular topic. Audience members are not required to participate but may choose to do so using built-in chat, emoji reactions, a question tab, and other engaging features.

It’s possible to host exhibitions or expositions online too. These are known as virtual expos. Usually, these take place on an online platform with multiple rooms or “booths” where attendees can move around independently to watch various presentations.

When a group of people uses live video and audio streaming to communicate, this is known as video conferencing. This can include a range of online events including large online meetings, 1:1s, client onboarding, and interviews.

A live-streamed virtual event can be large and structured like a conference or it can consist of a single person using social media to “go live” and have an informal chat with their connections or followers.

What are the benefits of a virtual event?

  • Cost-effective. In-person events require venue hire, cleaners, caterers, decoration, lighting, and sound equipment, which is all extremely expensive when compared to the costs of running a virtual event.
  • Scalable. Without such constraints on space and cost, you can scale events for bigger audiences.
  • Accessible. Attendees can join instantly, from anywhere with an internet connection. Your event will be easier for attendees to factor into their day, even for people with restricted mobility, caring responsibilities, and limited funds.
  • Easy to record. Gain a shareable resource by setting your event to automatically record. This will make it easy for you to repurpose your virtual event. You can use recordings as training materials or as an incentive for customers to sign up to your mailing list.
  • Easy to data track. Your virtual event platform can automatically collect registration and attendance records. Some software, like Livestorm, will even track attendee engagement across events to provide detailed insights into your audience demographics.

What platform do you need to run a virtual event?

The key to excellent digital event planning is choosing a platform that meets the specific requirements of your virtual event. Look out for a platform that will simplify your workflows and enhance your events with customization, automation, and in-platform video engagement features.

Key features of a virtual event software

The best online event platform will have the following features:

  • Registration pages. Your event software should allow you to add your branding and embed registration forms into your existing website.
  • Custom forms. Custom form fields will give you a clear picture of your audience. You can find out what their role is, where they work, or how big their company is.
  • Email cadences. Email reminders and follow-ups should be automated to help encourage participation.
  • Event automation. You can start and stop your event, redirect to a page, or add media with event automation which helps your events run on autopilot.
  • Custom room design. Revamp the look and feel of your event room by changing the background and button colors, add a background image, or customize your company logo.
  • Analytics dashboard. Use the analytics dashboard to get to know your audience and track engagement across events.
  • Contact record. See granular detail for each participant to understand your audience demographics and engagement level.
  • CRM synchronization. Integrate your virtual event software with your CRM and existing apps for seamless hosting and simple workflows.

Best platforms for virtual events

To help you choose the best virtual event software, we’ve looked at reviews for platforms that suit different types of virtual events. Here’s our top five:

Livestorm

Livestorm is a versatile video engagement platform for hosting virtual events at scale.

Why should I use Livestorm?

Livestorm is a powerful platform with functionality suited to everything from employee onboarding to large-scale live events like webinars and web conferences.

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Benefits include:

  • Strong engagement features like Q&A, question upvoting, polls, chat, emoji reactions, and breakout rooms
  • Hundreds of integrations with collaboration tools like Visme, Miro, and Slack.
  • Automate your workflows with custom registration pages, email invitations and automatic reminders
  • Livestorm is optimized for reporting on engagement metrics using detailed data analytics dashboards

Are there any drawbacks to using Livestorm?

  • Attendees aren’t free to roam multiple booths or stages, although breakout rooms can be used for networking and collaboration
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YouTube Live

With over 2 billion users logged in every month, YouTube is familiar to many as a video hosting platform.

Why should I use Youtube?

Youtube’s live-streaming tool is good for reviewing and product tutorials, particularly within the gaming industry. It’s also commonly used by vloggers and influencers to connect with their audience for more informal conversations and Q&As.

youtube live channel streaming for virtual events

Benefits include:

  • Low learning curve due to widespread familiarity with YouTube
  • Large user base means wide-reaching events
  • Free with a YouTube account

Are there any drawbacks to using Youtube?

  • You might be tempted to monetize events by overlaying ads, but users may find this annoying
  • There are limited engagement features aside from the chat-box
  • There’s no tech support team
  • Youtube is not ideal for a B2B use case as there’s no easy way to gather and track leads

Google Meet

Google’s answer to video conferencing sits within Google Workspace, although you don’t need a paid subscription to use it.

Why should I use Google Meet?

With a limit of 100 participants, Google Meet is a popular choice for startups and remote teams with a need to host virtual meetings.

screen shot of google meet virtual event platform

Benefits include:

  • Free for Gmail users
  • Host events for up to 24hrs
  • Low learning curve with a simple user interface

Are there any drawbacks to using Google Meet?

  • You can’t set a password for events
  • Even basic engagement features like polling require a paid subscription
  • It requires high processing power meaning that some users will experience lags in other browsers and apps while using Google Meet
  • Lacks a detailed analytics dashboard

Orbits

Launched in Australia in 2020, Orbits is an immersive online venue for workplaces and digital events.

Why should I use Orbits?

Orbits is ideal for virtual festivals and trade shows, where attendees are free to roam between areas. Hosts can custom build virtual venues to suit the format of the event, complete with sponsor stalls, networking areas, and live presentation stages.

Orbit's immersive online venue for online events

Benefits include:

  • Unlimited attendees
  • Multiple concurrent stages
  • Audience free roaming

Are there any drawbacks to using Orbits?

  • There’s no option to blur backgrounds during video calls
  • You can’t browse pricing options without communicating directly with the Orbits team
  • Orbits is very new to the virtual events scene so you won’t find a wealth of user reviews or case studies out there

Hopin

Hopin is a virtual event platform that now includes tools to support in-person events.

Why should I use Hopin?

Hopin allows for roaming between booths, making it a good platform for careers fairs and expos. Unlike Orbits, the Hopin interface is more aligned to traditional video conferencing platforms which prioritize the video call format.

a series of blue and white squares each featuring the image of a person

Benefits include:

  • Discounted pricing plans for nonprofit organizations
  • Simple user interface with intuitive iconography
  • Dedicated networking space allows for randomly assigned 1:1s in the style of speed dating

Are there any drawbacks to using Hopin?

  • There’s no option to share emojis or gifs within the chat box
  • Time cap on networking means you can get abruptly cut off mid-conversation
  • Audience members must create an account to attend events

How do you host a virtual event?

You know which platforms to look out for, but you’re still wondering how to create a virtual event. Don’t worry, even if you’ve got no virtual event experience, you can follow this guide to digital event planning:

Set intentions

The first step to virtual event management is to set clear goals. When you know what you want the event to achieve, you’ll be a step closer to working out what type of event you should host, how large your audience will be, and whether or not to charge entry.

Understand your audience

Before you can plan content, you’ll need to do some market research. Who is your target audience? Knowing this will help you create an agenda to satisfy attendees and meet your goals. For example, if you’re hosting a virtual recruiting event, you could survey LinkedIn users to find out how they would benefit from an online career fair in your industry.

Choose the right software

Now you know your desired outcomes and have a better understanding of your audience, you can choose an event platform that meets your needs. If you’re not sure what virtual events technology is right for you, try Livestorm, which comes with customizable registration pages, a range of engagement features, and insightful reporting options.

Pro tip:

Hardware matters too. After a bad connection, the biggest annoyance at virtual events is bad microphones. If you need a mic upgrade, try Blue Yeti.

Plan content

Book an engaging keynote speaker with relevant expertise who can capture the interest of your audience. Then, consider how you might segment your event with interactive elements like breakout rooms for collaboration and networking. Don’t forget to create a knowledge base where you can host resources, or use the Handouts plugin.

Create a social media strategy

You should start promotion for your online event at least two weeks in advance. First, develop a drip campaign to remind your mailing list and incentivize registration. Then, plan some social media posts to build anticipation. Don’t forget to leverage your speaker’s networks as well as your own.

Promote your virtual event with these 11 methods!

Looking to promote your virtual event across all marketing channels? Check out this video for 11 tips to promote your online event via your website, email, social media, and through collaborative marketing.

How do you keep virtual event attendees engaged?

After the 2020 Zoom fatigue phenomenon, you might think virtual events were at risk of dying out. But virtual events technology keeps improving and hosts are finding more innovative ways to engage audiences.

In fact, audience engagement and conversion rates during digital experiences are going up. But you still need to know how to host an engaging virtual event if you want to avoid giving your audience digital fatigue.

Follow these virtual event best practices to keep your audience engaged:

Bring the energy

Energy levels are bound to drop over time, so start with high energy right off the bat. Play a dynamic video clip while your audience arrives, or gamify your event by introducing a leaderboard that rewards the audience for interacting with the Q&A, chat, and polls. You can also tease later segments to build anticipation.

Expert speakers

Your speakers’ credentials should add prestige to your event and inspire curiosity in your audience. Be sure to book strong communicators with expert knowledge. If they come from a well-known organization, or are an influencer in their own right, even better. You can even use the chat of your virtual event room to ask the guest speakers questions.

Icebreakers

How much audience participation will be required? If you want your audience to be engaged include some icebreaker activities to get your audience comfortable speaking on camera. Even if your panel is doing all the speaking, informal elements like a fireside chat or quickfire personal Q&A can help break the ice for them too.

Interactive elements

If you don’t expect your audience to turn their mics or cameras on at any point, it’s still important to utilize interactive elements like the chat box, polls, calls to action (CTAs), and digital whiteboards during your event. This helps keep interest levels high and gives you a way to gauge the audience’s mood. When planning your event, find out which features and integrations your virtual event platform has to offer so you can make the most of them.

Pro tip:

The more you engage your audience after the event, the better you’ll understand how to improve on future events. Always get feedback and take a look at the engagement data in your analytics dashboard.

7 Steps to Make Your Virtual Event a Hit

In this video, we're breaking down how to host a successful virtual event in 7 easy steps. From planning to promotion and following up with your event registrants, you'll learn what steps to take before, during, and after your virtual event.

How do you measure the success of your virtual event?

To measure the success of your event, you need to know what it is you’re trying to achieve. We talked about setting intentions for your event, and that can really come in handy here. If you met those goals, congratulations! Your event was successful.

Back up your findings with data reporting from the event. Your virtual event platform should track:

  • Total registrations
  • Attendance rates
  • Drop-out rate

Measuring engagement at your virtual event

Whether you’re hosting online mental health workshops or virtual quiz nights, engagement should be a top priority. There’s no use hosting any kind of event if you’re not successfully capturing the attention of your audience and inspiring them to action.

If you’re unsure about how to measure engagement, check the reporting tools included in your virtual event platform. For example, Livestorm’s analytics dashboard will show you key engagement metrics for audience members across multiple events, including the number of poll responses, messages, and duration of attendance.

6 ideas for great virtual events

Stuck for fun virtual event ideas? Try these virtual event engagement hacks:

  • Sponsored giveaway. Only 30% of event organizers send out prizes to attendees, which means a sponsored giveaway is an easy way to make your virtual event stand out.
  • Set a challenge. Whether it’s an interactive leaderboard or a scavenger hunt, setting challenges will ignite that competitive streak in your audience. Plus, you can include actions like “post a Tweet using the event hashtag” that will help raise your company profile.
  • Certificates or badges. Educational events that impart skills are well suited to certification. Use a platform like Accredible to create branded badges that can be shared on LinkedIn to reward your attendees and get your organization noticed.
  • Branded media. The best way to promote your event is using branded media like pre-recorded videos that give a flavor of your organization and the value of your virtual event. If you don’t have a big virtual event production budget, you can create branded image assets for free on Canva.
  • Guided meditation. A good way to focus your audience and encourage them to set intentions to help make the most out of their virtual event experience. Keep it short and grounded to avoid alienating anyone in the audience.
  • Workshop. Adding a workshop segment to a virtual expo, festival, or virtual fundraising event, is another way to keep things interactive and add value for your audience. If your virtual event focuses on presentations and speaker panels, introduce a small workshop element to help audience members put their learning into practice.

Hosting a virtual event: next steps

Now you know about all the different types of virtual events and have our tips for keeping your audience engaged. It’s time to start planning your own digital event.

As we’ve discussed, promoting your events on social media and keeping your audience engaged is key to hosting exceptional virtual events. No matter what format you choose for yours, you need a good marketing strategy and reliable software.

Your virtual event software should make hosting simple, with built-in promotional tools like custom registration pages and automated email reminders. Try a browser-based platform like Livestorm, which will allow your audience to join instantly, without creating an account or downloading an app.

When it’s all over, don’t forget to keep interacting with your audience online and collecting their feedback for even more powerful future events.

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