It’s pretty accurate to say that COVID-19 has dominated the events industry throughout the 2020s thus far. But after the first wave of cancellations of in-person events, organisers soon realised that there was another way to host events without the need for attendees to be in close proximity to each other.
Virtual events have become much more than just a buzzword. Today, they are a necessity. Even when the coronavirus is nothing more than a distant memory, the digital world has evolved to the point where live streaming services can make your event every bit as impactful and meaningful as if your paying guests were there in the flesh.
The good news is that it isn’t too technical or overly complicated, either. With the right event production team in place, you can create engaging event formats that leave lasting memories for your virtual guests.
But before we answer some of your most pressing questions concerning setting up and hosting virtual events, let’s take a brief look at how we got here.
How COVID-19 Has Reshaped the Events Industry
As was the case for the hospitality and travel industries, the events industry was initially sent into a tailspin of mass cancellations and postponements. With person-to-person contact off the menu and indoor events, in particular, a genuine threat to public health, event planners across the globe have had to reconsider their options.
While we’ve helped several seasoned event planners put on outdoor experiences such as socially-distanced music festivals, there’s yet to be a concrete return to indoor in-person events such as expos, trade shows, arena concerts, or industry conferences.
Let’s not be coy about it; nothing can beat the thrill and buzz of an in-person event. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t put on a meaningful experience. Even though individuals have been attending events from the comfort of their homes or offices, there’s been several examples of rip-roaring success stories from organisers who pivoted to the virtual event model.
In fact, such has been the success of virtual and hybrid events; they will be here long after this horrible virus has ceased to dominate our lives.
The Shift To Virtual Events Got Off to a Rocky Start, But Then Won People Over
It’s fair to say that virtual events didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts. Those of you who attended any virtual event back in April 2020 will testify that there were often all sorts of technical issues. Presenters didn’t know they were unmuted (or muted), live streams often dropped connection or froze, and let’s be honest, those of us who’d never heard of Zoom before the spring of last year struggled to get it to work correctly.
However, despite the initial teething issues, virtual events have come on leaps and bounds. Now, many attendees actually prefer a virtual or hybrid version of their favourite in-person events.
When you get past the obvious benefit of staying safe locked up indoors, why wouldn’t an attendee of an annual industry conference enjoy a live stream of their favourite event without having to fly halfway across the continent, find accommodation, arrange transport, and run from auditorium to auditorium to catch the keynote speakers they want to see?
Why not enjoy those speeches in the comfort of their pyjamas back at home? If you missed what someone said, no problem, just pause the video, rewind, and listen again to ensure you heard them correctly. That’s not something you can do in-person. At least not yet anyway!
That’s why moving forward into 2021 (when we’re all allowed to see each other in-person once again), hybrid events will become very popular.
They will satisfy those who love to meet colleagues, watch industry titans give speeches, and network in-person. But at the same time, they will provide an equally intimate and engaging experience to those who can’t or don’t want to be there in the flesh.
You see, no matter what’s going on in the outside world, events are still vitally important, even if they can’t take place in a physical setting.
Why Events Remain Vital in the Midst of a Global Pandemic
Events are so pivotal to many industries that even a pandemic can’t get in their way. While there are too many to name, for industries such as pharmaceuticals and tech, events are the lifeblood of the sector. They provide the stage upon which new products are launched, it’s where vendor relationships are formed, and the palace for uncovering new industry innovations.
What’s more, they are critical for companies for the purposes of gathering feedback. Who better to gain insights into the perceptions of new products and services than fellow experts in your field?
Visitor numbers to virtual events thus far demonstrate the demand for events is going nowhere. Some virtual events have pulled in upwards of 10,000 online visitors. Many organisers have found that they are attracting more visitors than they could have accommodate and their usual physical event location.
So there’s no need to worry about convincing sponsorship partners about how many eyeballs they can secure. In fact, you can likely secure huge savings by running the event on a virtual or hybrid basis while keeping sponsorship revenue at the same level. You may even attract higher event income to reflect the increase in visitor numbers!
So now we’ve convinced you to run your first-ever virtual or hybrid event, what do you need to know? Let’s go ahead and answer some of the most pressing questions for you.
Virtual and Hybrid Events: Everything You Need To Know
The age of cancellation and postponement is over. It’s time to push your event into the digital age with the help of live streaming services.
Whether you’re planning a virtual or hybrid event, it can seem daunting if you’ve never hosted one before. However, there’s no need to be so worried. Let’s take you through some of the questions you might have before making a start on the planning process.
What is a Virtual Event?
Nothing like starting with the basics! A virtual event (which is sometimes referred to as an online event) is an occasion that gathers speakers, performers, panellists, sponsors, and attendees together to interact with each other online instead of in an in-person setting.
The advantage of hosting an event in this manner is that attendees and leading participants can join from anywhere in the world with reliable access to the internet. Attendees benefit from the elimination of travel and accommodation costs, while organisers benefit from increased visitor numbers.
What Are Some of the Most Common Virtual Events?
In many instances, virtual events are based on their previous physical event counterparts. But in other scenarios, going online has offered event organisers the opportunity to create new experiences for their attendees.
Thus far, virtual events have extended to the following activities:
Live musical and dramatical performances
And many, many more!
What’s the Difference Between a Hybrid and a Virtual Event?
The short version is that virtual events are online-only, whereas hybrid events have an in-person element. But let’s explore the distinction in a little more detail.
For virtual events, attendees usually interact via some form of video conferencing software such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet. Your guests can log in from anywhere in the world as long as they have a stable internet connection and the appropriate software installed. There’s no need to hire a physical location for these types of events.
By contrast, hybrid events allow visitors to choose between face-to-face interaction in a physical location or an online experience. Those who choose to attend online can watch live streams of the event and can still interact with those in attendance through an avatar (a virtual representation of themselves), which usually appears on a LED screen at the chosen venue.
Virtual and Hybrid Events: On Tour Events’ Tips for Success
With the most common questions out the way, we thought we would give you some of our tips for pulling off a successful virtual or hybrid event in the social distancing era.
Firstly, we recommend pulling together a game plan from the outset so you’ll have a much better idea of what’s you’re going to require in terms of event equipment hire early in the process.
Iron out issues such as whether you’re going to need a venue, whether your event with be live or on-demand, and whether your event will require registration and virtual tickets. Once you’ve sorted out those fundamental aspects, it’s time to start contacting your participants.
Remember, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. Keep the best practices from in-person events and transpose them to the virtual world. Send out registration packs with a schedule of sessions so attendees can plan their day. Those passes you send out for physical events?
Yep, print and send them out too.
Participants still need to strike up relationships, and a visible name tag is a must. Another feature of most in-person events is the infamous swag bag. Again, there’s no reason you can’t make them up and send them home. Sending them out before the event is an excellent method for building excitement and pleasing sponsors looking for brand recognition in the eyes of your attendees.
Next, think of innovative ways to keep engagement levels high. One person talking while thousands watch online can sometimes feel a little sterile. Set up segments such as live interactive quizzes (who hasn’t done a Zoom quiz lately?!), host live Q&A sessions with unfettered access to your event’s biggest names, and why not introduce features such as live polling to recreate the audience interaction of an in-person event with a full auditorium?
These are merely a couple of ideas. It’s an excellent idea to spend time on creating original and unique ways to engage your audience so that they can’t wait to attend next year’s version.
Finally, measure data from your event. Obviously, you’ll be gathering financial metrics to see how they stack up to your previous in-person event numbers, but go deeper than that. Gain qualitative feedback from your attendees. Learn what they liked, and disliked, about your event, and what they wished you could have included. Their feedback could be pivotal in gaining thousands of new registrations for next year’s edition.
Choose On Tour Events As Your Virtual and Hybrid Events Partner
Here at On Tour Events, we are helping events companies lead the charge into the era of virtual events. We are your one-stop solution for both hybrid and online-only events. We can take care of everything you need, including all of your conference set design and stage hire requirements.