An Introduction to Hosting Virtual Events
Virtual event platforms exploded in popularity in 2020, as almost all in-person events were postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic. This was initially a negative, but participants quickly began to realize the positives. Online conferences, performances, webinars, meetings and other events are easily accessible, eliminating travel and disability barriers, and greatly expanding the pool of potential attendees. Today's digital communication technology offers unprecedented quality, interactivity and options, as well as a lower carbon footprint. Nimble businesses began taking advantage of this innovative shift as an opportunity to expand their brands and exposure to customers that they may have not been able to reach previously.
Virtual events typically save time and money, but there are still costs involved. You don't have the logistical overhead of travel, hotels and food, but you may still need to pay speakers/performers as well as provide a physical venue for the performance. Online event platforms can be expensive, and a streaming contractor may be needed to negotiate the maze of technology requirements and options. If audio and video are important, hiring a video production company to film and edit video segments in advance will ensure high quality and reduce risk.
Larger companies typically fund their virtual events from their marketing budget. Smaller nonprofits and arts organizations may need to seek out sponsors, sell advertising, or charge for tickets to raise funds.
If you plan to charge for your online event, how do you decide on a price?
- Begin with the cost of comparable in-person events. Most people are unlikely to pay more to attend an online performance than they would for an in-person experience.
- An event’s perceived value is the worth guests feel they receive from entertainment, education, cause contribution, or community engagement. Do your research and offer a price that is comparable to other, similar live stream events. To turn a profit, keep admission fees below the perceived value and above your expenses. As your event grows in popularity, you may be able to incrementally increase the price.
- Consider implementing tiered pricing to make your virtual event attractive to a larger audience. For example, you can charge a low admission fee for basic access, but offer exclusive content for a higher price. With most event platforms, you can easily provide ticket-based permissions to a variety of sessions and video streams.
Features to Consider
Choosing a virtual event platform can be a challenge. The most expensive are those designed for large audiences, offering excellent support and a wide range of features. The list below provides an overview of what to look for.
- The platform you choose should be easy to use and offer adequate support. Be sure to find out whether it offers live troubleshooting, as malfunctions can totally derail an event. It should also pose minimal barriers for your attendees (i.e., no special software plus cross-browser support across operating systems). It should be easily customizable, allowing you to do your own branding. Automation features typically include easy uploading of speaker bios, forms and media. Make sure your platform will provide the information you need to support future decisions - analytics and reporting is where virtual events really shine. Finally, event platforms should offer effective security and backups.
- The platform should support the content and offer the features you need to make your event successful. It should support both live-streamed and recorded content. You should be able to record and store your content for future use, as well as control whether attendees can download your content. Additional features include support for multi-day, multi-track and hybrid events, as well as different types of event spaces, such as a lobby, meeting rooms, breakout sessions and networking.
- An engaging attendee experience is critical to success. A virtual event platform should allow you to recreate the vibe of an in-person performance over the Internet. Features to consider include moderated Q&As, live chats, private messaging, breakout sessions, interactive whiteboards, networking groups and forums, waiting rooms, polls and feedback surveys, and a customizable agenda. It should also support accessibility features.
- Finally, the platform you choose should provide or integrate with other necessary services such as registration, ticketing, advertising, live auctions, donations, email marketing, web sites and social media.
Examples of Virtual Event Platforms
A great many basic online events are hosted using virtual meeting services like Zoom and GoToMeeting, as well as Vimeo and YouTube embeds in web sites, so don't ignore these low-cost options. Below are five examples of the growing number of dedicated virtual event platforms. For a detailed comparison, as well as information on many other platforms, visit capterra.com
- BigMarker is a highly rated, feature-rich platform that promotes itself as the number one video platform for webinars, summits, and virtual conferences because of its easy-to-use features and popular integrations. Plans start at $79/month.
- GoToWebinar, a division of GoToMeeting, is a webinar and online conferencing solution, and offers features like audience polling and Q&A, flexible scheduling experiences, and webinar templates. It also offers CRM integrations and reporting & analytics tools to help engage clients’ audiences. Plans start at $49/month.
- HeySummit is designed for those looking to run an online summit without requiring any technical skills. It allows you to build your events with dynamic landing pages, flexible attendee registration and ticketing, speaker onboarding, and the integrations needed to easily track the performance of your events. It is super easy to use but isn’t as feature-rich as other options. Plans start at $35/month.
- Hopin is a virtual venue for webinars, conferences & trade shows, summits, forums, workshops, and hybrid events. It offers multiple interactive areas. Attendees can move in and out of rooms just like an in-person event. Events can be free or you can sell tickets. There’s a main stage for keynote-style presentations, expo booths where attendees can interact with vendors, breakout session areas, and one-to-one video networking. The platform also offers group or private chat, plus attendee analytics. Plans start at $99/month.
- SpotMe is a brandable virtual event platform for hosting client forums, team meetings, town halls, conferences, webinars, symposia, and online training. Among the tool’s capabilities are event agendas and schedules, chat, interactive Q&A and polling, a document library, native iOS and Android apps, breakout rooms, parallel sessions, applause, emails and alerts, social media integration, and performance analytics. Plans start at $2,000/month.
Tonal Vision is a video and music production company, not an event venue. We are not allied with any particular online platform. Our focus is helping our clients communicate their message with high quality video and audio. We offer free initial consultations, and are happy to share our experiences and provide advice on controlling costs and avoiding copyright and other issues. Contact us to find out more about video and audio support for your next online, hybrid or in-person function.
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