Are you wondering how do I choose a virtual conference platform? Virtual events have been gaining traction since the onset of the pandemic, as companies look for ways to reach their audiences. This has led to a sudden increase in the number of virtual event platforms. Despite the increase in software as a service platforms, not all are efficient or reliable.
Finding the right virtual event software has become an arduous task. The industry is full of options, and finding the perfect software is becoming increasingly overwhelming. This article offers some handy tips on how to choose the right virtual event platform.
What are Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right Virtual Event Platform?
- Begin by Defining Your Attendee Needs and Deciding What Type of Experience You Want to Deliver to Your Attendees
Event objectives can be a combination of things like lead generation, building community, training and education, brand building, connecting with stakeholders, or connecting with internal workforce. Even with a flexible, scalable virtual event platform, you will want to prioritize your objectives so that you build the event that best enables you to achieve your goals and, of course, report on your successes.
The attendee needs an intended experience of your virtual event plays an tremendous role in the type of virtual event platform you will need. Things to consider include:
- Is your virtual event strictly educational and focused on sessions or is attendee networking and engagement also important?
- What countries are attendees joining from? Any need for language translation/localization?
- Do you want role-based access to rooms or sessions OR do all attendees have access to everything?
- Any ADA (disability) requirements such as closed captioning for sessions?
- Do you want any smaller breakout or workshop sessions where smaller groups conduct two-way audio/video meetings?
- Are you issuing any continuing education (CE) credits?
- Are there going to be any sponsors?
- Do you want to include an exhibit hall with booths?
- How important is networking?
- Do you want to include gamification with leaderboard?
Is adhering to your event budget the highest priority to your organization, or are they willing to pay more for more to deliver a better attendee experience? If you are working under a strict budget amount, this will ultimately narrow down and dictate which platforms you can choose from. Most of the time with event technology, you get what you pay for.
When thinking about budget, consider both hard costs and soft costs. Hard costs include the virtual event technology, etc. Soft costs include the human time and resources required to effectively plan, build out, market, and execute the event. Bear in mind that, with virtual, your staffing needs will have changed, and you may need to assemble a different team with a different set of more technical skills.
- Customization Features
One of the key features of virtual events is the ability to customize. A highly customizable virtual event platform helps create a personal experience. Integrating your customization’s makes it easy to brand and pass your message throughout the event.
The virtual event platform should allow different events, such as conferences, marketing, sales, promotions, and more. Look at the extent to which you can customize the platform depending on the type of event you’re hosting.
- Interactive Spaces
Virtual event platforms should have several interactive spaces. You don’t want virtual event software that doesn’t provide options for interacting with the audience.
Ideally, each platform should have interactive spaces, such as conference halls, panel discussions, exhibit zones, etc. Through these spaces, you can arrange seamless interaction. For instance, you can share relevant digital collateral, connect attendees with subject matter analysis, easily display your products, and more. Plus, highly visual interactive spaces provide an immersive attendee experience.
It’s best to choose a virtual event platform that allows attendees to connect. A virtual event platform that allows networking provides the perfect chance for attendees to create lasting relationships. The ability to conduct 1:1 or in small groups is a great way to bring the audience together.
Also, networking sessions are a good way to break the event monotony or boredom. A large number of attendees make valuable contacts, and this helps get wider audiences for future events.
Does the virtual event platform keep your attendee data secure (names and email)? Does it restrict third-party access?
In the current digital era, security is a major concern, especially where you exchange information. Before choosing a virtual event platform, it’s best to ensure it’s secure and that the mountain of information passed through it is confidential.
Event hosts take on a significant risk by investing in virtual event platform they know so little about. Every provider claims their platform is secure. This is why you should ask for 3rd party certifications to validate if the platform meets the necessary security standards or not. Make sure the virtual event platform has either ISO 27001 certification or SOC II compliance.
- Live and On-Demand Content Delivery
The virtual event platform that you choose should allow attendees to stream both live and prerecorded content. Live broadcasting is ideal as it allows interactivity, while prerecorded content is easy to deliver because of prior preparation.
Any virtual event platform should stream whatever type of content you want, from workshops and debates to panel discussions and keynotes.
What does the ideal event experience look and feel like? Do you envision a simple 2D design or immersive 3D virtual environment?
A responsive, or 2D, design environment is based on a flat grid layout and uses simple buttons and labels, similar to a web page. This design option is a bit more content-forward and is faster and easier to set up. In addition, 2D platforms cost less than 3D platforms.
A 3D environment, on the other hand, uses images with texture and depth to give users the feel that they’re in a three-dimensional space. A 3D environment may also use visually rich photography to make users feel like they’re inside a convention center, corporate office, University, an outdoor veranda or an elaborate exhibit hall. This design option is focused more on the visual experience with the content integrated within it.
- Live Support For Staff and Attendees
No matter how well you have prepared, things can happen which will require real-time support, just as they do at on-site events. Having a provider who offers live day support to help resolve issues will be a valuable asset.
How Do You Evaluate a Virtual Conference?
Once you have a clear idea of your event goals and objectives you can decide which virtual event features will help you achieve your goals.
If your goal is to facilitate networking among your guests, you’ll want to select a platform that offers a variety of intentional and unintentional networking features.
Every platform has different features and there is a difference in how the features work. Therefore, it is important to know which features you need for your particular event. Here are a few common features to get you started:
- Registration and ticketing
- Branding capabilities
- Webinar streaming capabilities
- Sponsorship opportunities
- Exhibitor booths
- Personalized agenda
- Networking tools
- Attendee engagement – Q&A, polls, surveys, etc.
- Entertainment add-ons such as a photo booth, social wall, scavenger hunt, etc.
- Integration with CRM software
- Customer support for set up and during live days
What Makes a Virtual Event Successful?”
Here are my top tips and best practices for making a virtual conference successful:
1. Shorten Session Duration’s
A one-hour presentation at an in-person event is doable, and does not impact the attendee experience much. This is mostly because attendees are watching a produced show in-person with other attendees next to them. There are also no other distractions.
On the other hand, it is way more difficult retain your guests attention in an online event. Consider shortening the your virtual sessions to 30 minutes.
3. Staff Moderator or Emcee
Having a consistent speaker that contextualizes the sessions for virtual attendees helps remove the isolated feeling and keep guests engaged over several hours.
Have the emcee pause presentations for a “chat storm” where the emcee throws out a question and solicits feedback via the chat panel. The emcee can quickly sort through the responses, call out attendees, and create a similar energy that an in-person event has. They can also moderate questions for the expert speakers.
4. Provide Detailed Attendee Instructions Every Step of the Way
Just because you designed a great virtual event agenda, environment design, engagement, and networking activities does not mean that attendees know what to do.
- Create a pop up video recording that lets attendees know what to expect and what to do in each room or space. Most virtual conference platforms have settings that allow welcome videos to only play once or the first time.
- Have a speaker or emcee create a short recording that plays at the beginning of each session that explains in detail how to watch the session (e.g., increase the size of the webinar panel), how to submit questions, answer polls, etc.
- Create a help desk room that has links to how-to guides and live support chat
- Prepare broadcast messages that pop up throughout the live day(s) to let attendees know what is happening and when
5. Require Speaker Walk-Throughs
You should make it required that each speaker (a) tests the computer and connectivity they plan to use with the platform in advance of the event to make sure there are no firewall or other issues (b) practice their presentation at least a week before your virtual event.
Every virtual event software platform is different, and presenters need to understand the nuances when delivering a presentation.
Finally, provide your speakers with a virtual event speaker tool kit that provides detailed best practices and instructions regarding lighting, backgrounds, audio, branding, etc.
How Much is A Virtual Event Platform?
The Bottom Line
Consider whether your provider has flexible options and is able to grow and evolve with your different event needs. Virtual event technology is changing and evolving. Select your provider with a high level of confidence that will be there for you in the long term.
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