One of the most common questions we receive from clients is how long should a virtual event be? Virtual event platforms have gained a lot of traction in recent years due to the obvious advantages they offer. A virtual event allows you to target a relevant audience without the hassles of arranging physical logistics. You don’t have to worry about booking a venue, arranging flight itineraries and hotel stays for your guest speakers, or printing material for your participants. This translates into less effort, lower cost, and greater ROI.
Organizations are naturally inclined to virtual events for these benefits. However, they are still at an early stage of adoption as event organizers have yet to figure out precisely what works and what doesn’t work with digital events.
Audience Engagement and Attention Span
A key concern with virtual events is duration. Live, in-person events have traditionally been day-long or multiple days. However, virtual event participants have shorter attention spans.
One study revealed that humans have an attention span of about 8 seconds. For virtual events, the average attention span in a single session is around 15 to 20 minutes. You then need to do something to keep them engaged.
How Long is Too Long for a Virtual Event?
Most experts agree that the recommended duration of a virtual event is 3 to 5 hours. If you want to distribute your event across multiple days, you can schedule 3 – 5-hour sessions each day. This ensures consistent levels of audience engagement each day.
In general, the recommended duration for virtual events is gradually diminishing as more and more people attend an increasingly larger number of online events. Consider the example of webinars. A few years back, webinars could be as long as 90 minutes and still keep an audience engaged Today, the recommended duration for a webinar is between 30 and 45 minutes. The same is true for all virtual event formats in general – the attention span of the audience is decreasing rapidly. One way to offset this is by breaking up your virtual event into easily digestible segments of 10, 15, or 20 minutes.
Each segment may comprise a keynote speech, live discussion, Q & A session, ice-breaking games, or any other activity. Versatility is the key to keeping your participants hooked to the event.
The right duration for your specific virtual event also depends on the type of event. Here is a look at the recommended duration for specific types of digital events.
Recommended Duration for Each Type of Virtual Event
Webinars are an informal way of connecting with your target audience virtually. This format of virtual events has been around for a while. It has evolved from webinars that ran for hours to digital events today that are around 30 to 45 minutes in length. Even if your webinar runs 45 minutes, it should include activities such as a Q & A session to keep things interesting. You can append live chat and live polling features to the webinar to create more interaction opportunities for your audience.
Educational events, such as online lectures or short courses, have also gained in popularity over the years. Such events are routinely used by students as well as professionals to enrich their learning and acquire a basic understanding of new skills.
A single lecture or course session for an educational event should also follow the same duration recommendation as a webinar. It should run for 30 to 45 minutes. At most, you can stretch an educational digital session to 60 minutes, including Q & A.
Organizing virtual day-long conferences as a virtual event is trickier. This is simply because you cannot expect your audience to sit in front of a screen all day long and remain engaged. The good news is that there are several ways you can structure the day to stay connected with the participants.
One way of doing this is to break down the day into two parts – morning and the evening. The morning sessions are the core agenda of the day – you can include your keynote speeches and other main events during this time slot. Even so, morning sessions shouldn’t exceed 3 to 5 hours in total.
You can also add a few pre-recorded sessions during the morning slots. These allow your audience to tune out for some time without feeling that they have missed out on anything. It also takes the pressure off the organizers.
The evening can be reserved for more pre-recorded sessions. A live session, such as a panel discussion, can also be inserted into the evening sessions at an hour when your audience is most likely to be available to tune-in live.
You can experiment with different combinations and schedules to see what works best for you in a day-long virtual event. If you go with sessions and slots that are suitably spaced, your audience will not only remain engaged but also learn the best of what your event has to offer.
Multi-Day Annual Events
Many companies and organizations adopt a hybrid approach to multi-day events. This approach uses a combination of virtual and in-person sessions. If you want your multi-day event to be entirely virtual, it will be a formidable challenge and you must prepare accordingly.
In most cases, it is recommended that you distribute your multi-day event over an entire week. You should also meticulously plan the placement of keynote speeches, pre-recorded sessions, virtual product demos, or sponsor material. By alternating between different types of content, you can help maintain the audience’s interest.
Pre-recorded sessions typically form the backbone of multi-day virtual events. Such content also increases your reach beyond the active participants and allows you to connect with a broader audience.
A single panel discussion, comprising multiple speakers, should ideally conclude within 60 minutes. You can go beyond the one-hour mark if you want to include a Q & A session.
If your event centers on a single panel discussion, you can broadcast the discussion live and bundle it with other recorded content. If you have several panel discussions, it is best to carve niche audiences and hold the discussions concurrently. Alternatively, you can distribute them into morning and evening slots.
Tips for Managing the Duration of a Virtual Event
Split the Event into Multiple Days
Many virtual event organizers see better engagement and success by using a multi-day schedule. If you run your virtual event for too long on a single day, your audience is likely to become screen fatigued. As a result, you may see a dip in audience engagement and participation.
You can avoid this by splitting up your event into two or more days. Each day can last between 3 and 5 hours. This can be done strategically to make each day equally important and thereby compel the participants to attend. For instance, if you have two keynote speakers, you can schedule them on different days. This way, you can pack more value and incentives into each day of your virtual event.
Interactive Features to Drive Virtual Event Engagement
In-person events are fully immersive and take place in the actual world. Virtual events, in contrast, are experienced on a screen. This means that there is an obvious difference in the levels of engagement for both events.
If an in-person event is interesting enough, you may be able to anchor the attention and interest of an audience for the whole day. The same is almost impossible for a virtual event. A person can look at a screen for only so long.
This is why you need to incorporate interactive features into your virtual event to drive engagement. These can include live polls, live chats, games/prizes, scavenger hunt, discussion forums, and more. You can also intersperse individual sessions with interactive activities to break things up and retain the interest of the virtual participants.
Consider Multiple Parallel Sessions
It is often possible to break down a general audience into different segments. You can then target each segment separately. This allows you to specifically cater to that audience through separate session tracks. These sessions can run concurrently and conclude within the duration you have defined for your event.
The upside to this is that you can deliver a more tailored experience for your audience segments. It also makes things more interesting, as opposed to more general sessions which have a broader appeal but resonate less with niche segments.
Structure the Sessions
When you are considering the right duration for your virtual event, you must also work on the structure of the event. It is typically a good idea to break down each session of about 3 to 4 hours into parts.
One part may comprise a keynote speech that is the main takeaway for the audience. Another part may be a Q & A segment where the speaker and the audience get to interact directly. Finally, you can also incorporate ice-breaking sessions, breakout sessions, and other activities depending on the nature of a session.
A clearly defined structure lets you make the most of your sessions and your event in general. You can achieve better engagement in the same duration of time.
Take a Hybrid Approach
Hybrid events use a combination of in-person and virtual event features. This makes them a highly attractive option as they bring together the best of both worlds. You can provide an in-person experience for your attendees while also augmenting the possibilities by incorporating virtual event features.
Alternatively, you can use pre-recorded or on-demand content. This helps you connect with your target audience even when the event is not live. For instance, if your virtual event stretches over multiple days, you can arrange your live sessions during the day. In the evening, you can put out on-demand content which your participants can view at leisure.
In summary, the duration of your virtual event can play an immense role in determining your virtual events’ success.
At the end of the day, each virtual event is different and unique. You must consider the factors listed above and your requirements to see what best suits you and the objective sought in each event. A consultation with professional virtual event provider will go a long way towards helping you structure and time your event well.
Ready to Host Epic Virtual or Hybrid Events?