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Conferences are ubiquitous in most industries. There is something to be said for paying hundreds of dollars in travel and accommodation, showing up at a venue before the sun rises, and sitting in a stuffy conference centre for hours on end.
To be honest, in-person events and conferences can be a really great way to distribute content and network, but are they the most effective way to build and connect with an audience?
As businesses and governments look to tackle climate change, there has been a renewed focus in digital alternatives to events, namely virtual events (not to mention the increased interest coming from businesses as they try to manage the fallout from coronavirus event cancellations).
With all this in mind, the question remains: what is better, in-person or virtual events?
But first, let’s get back to basics...
Before we can answer that question, it helps to understand exactly what we’re talking about when we refer to virtual events.
A virtual event is a large, multi-session online event that often features webinars and webcasts. The most basic definition of a virtual event is: an online event that involves people interacting in a virtual environment, rather than a physical location. They are great because they are highly interactive and give a similar look and feel to a physical event.
Okay, now that we know what a virtual event is, we can take a look at the different types of virtual events. Yes, there are a number of different types of virtual events - most of which are tailored to specific goals or purposes.
Virtual Open Days are the virtual alternative to traditional physical colleges or university open houses. Choosing a college or university to attend is a life-changing - and often daunting - decision, and Virtual Open Days give prospective students the freedom and flexibility to learn more about potential academic institutions, so they can make a more informed decision.
Similar to conventional conferences, virtual conferences are highly engaging and include a series of large sessions run by thought leaders in the industry who present to and interact with attendees. Virtual conferences achieve this by hosting a virtual lobby wherein attendees can choose sessions and streams to “attend.” And, like conventional conferences, virtual conferences offer the opportunity for sponsorship, sell tickets to engage with speakers through polls, chats, and live Q&As.
A virtual career fair, or online job fair, is a virtual event that allows employers to connect with job seekers in a virtual environment, rather than a physical one. Virtual career fairs are transforming the way job seekers and potential employers interact. Just like with other types of virtual events, interactive features such as webinars, webcasts, live chat, chat rooms and more, break down geographical barriers and extend the reach of potential employers without losing the valuable engagement that attracts prospects.
Virtual trade shows are considered the online equivalent of traditional trade shows, but unlike their physical counterparts, virtual trade shows are not limited by their geographical location. Just like with traditional trade shows, attendees interact with hosts and sponsors, getting access to loads of valuable content. And, they can attend virtual trade shows anywhere, anytime - all that’s needed to attend is a computer or mobile device with a good internet connection.
A virtual benefits fair is an event designed to help employers and benefits providers communicate and explain the benefits provided to their employees at scale through an interactive online environment, rather than a physical one.
Only 40% of employers help employees understand and maximize their work benefits, so virtual benefits fairs make providing this information to employees more affordable and scalable by removing the physical and time-based barriers that often come with in-person events. This can be especially useful for Enterprise organisations with multiple locations. These benefits fairs result in more informed employees who benefit from understanding the entire scope of their compensation package, rather than just their salaries.
Now that we know what a virtual event is and what types of events there are, we can really start to explore the benefits of this type of event (and there are heaps of them!).
While virtual events are a great alternative to physical events, there are some cons to be aware of when considering them as an option.
If you do decide to host a virtual event, you’ll need to plan out how you are going to do this. You can do so by following these simple steps:
Need some help coming up with some ideas for virtual events? Here are some examples to get you started:
South by Southwest (SXSW): SXSW is an annual conference/festival featuring film, interactive media, and music events that takes place annually in Austin, Texas. What’s great about SXSW is event organizers stream the keynote speeches online for all to see and enjoy, increasing their accessibility and opening up content to those who can’t get down to Texas.
Idea: Stream panel discussions to extend the reach of physical events you’re already hosting.
AWSome Day Online Conference: This is Amazon event showcases the AWS platform and its core capabilities. It’s free and looks to engage IT managers, system engineers, system administrators, developers, architects, and business leaders, with content will be available in English, French, Spanish, Italian and German.
Idea: Include free training or certification as part of your online conference to increase the ROI for attendees.
Graduate Prospects UK Virtual Career Fair: Prospects has worked at the heart of the higher education sector for almost 50 years and is the only careers organisation to invest its profits back into education. In June 2019, they started running virtual careers fairs for graduates to increase their prospects after graduation. Their first event garnered over 2500 registrants and had multiple sessions with recruiters.
Idea: Use multiple sessions to create streams for attendees, meaning they can focus on the content that most interests them.
CBI Annual Conference: CBI is one of the UK’s premier business organisations, directly influencing over 7 million professionals. Their annual conference is their flagship event, with guest speakers previously including the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and many other leading business speakers. Each year, they replicate their annual conference with a live conference stream, extending their reach to audiences attending out in the regions and internationally.
Idea: Gate exclusive events with pay-to-attend model. This way you can increase accessibility while also generating revenue.
As you can see, virtual events are an engaging, flexible, and highly resilient way to run your events. Whether you replace your physical event completely or supplement it with digital content, taking your conferences, trade shows, and careers fairs online can increase your reach, minimize your costs, and delight your audience.