Everything you need to know about hosting a virtual event

Virtual events have been on the rise since the technology for them became available, but without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic threw them into hyperdrive.

March 9, 2021

- 7 min read

Virtual events have been on the rise since the technology for them became available, but without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic threw them into hyperdrive. In fact, just over two months after widespread lockdowns began, virtual events had increased by 1000%

Today, virtual events are used for everything from employee training to international conferences. These are the essentials you need to know about hosting virtual events and making sure your events thrive. 

  1. What is a virtual event?
  2. Why should I host a virtual event vs. an in-person event?
  3. How does a virtual event work?
  4. What should I consider when organizing a virtual event?
  5. How to make your virtual event interactive?
  6. How can I promote my virtual event?
  7. How to monetize your virtual event?
  8. Tips for increasing attendance at your virtual event
  9. Hosting a successful virtual event

1. What is a virtual event? 

A virtual event is any event that takes place online. It is hosted on one virtual platform that everyone logs onto so that they are in the same virtual space. Virtual events can have many different structures and components, but they all share that one quality: bringing people together through a unified digital platform rather than a physical event venue. 

2. Why should I host a virtual event vs. an in-person event? 

A virtual event makes participation far easier and more likely for people who live far from where your in-While in-person events used to be the norm for any conference or gathering, more and more organizations are taking advantage of the benefits of virtual events. In fact, there are several advantages to taking your event virtual.

1. Connecting with distanced participants

A virtual event makes participation far easier and more likely for people who live far from where your in-person event would have been. Yes, many people are willing to travel for conferences and other major events, but it requires far more time and logistical planning, not to mention hundreds or thousands of dollars.

As a result, you get a higher overall attendance because your event is accessible to a larger pool of people. That provides more value for your exhibitors and sponsors as well.

2. Hosting a more inclusive event

Travelling is not the only reason some people may be able to attend a virtual event but not an in-person one. Even for those who are local, many people don’t have reliable transportation or they have mobility issues that make in-person events difficult or impossible.

Time is a factor for local people as well. In-person events require them to block out enough time in their schedules to get dressed, travel to the event, and stay for a significant period of time. With virtual events, the commute is gone and it’s easier for them to pop in and out as needed.  

3. Saving on event costs

Hosting an in-person event is never cheap. Between the venue, the staff required to set up and operate the event, the refreshments, and so on, there are many up-front expenses that you may or may not be able to recuperate. Virtual events, on the other hand, are far less expensive.  

4. Protecting participants’ health

The COVID-19 pandemic provided a clear, health-focused reason for events to go virtual. Even without a global pandemic, though, flu season happens as do outbreaks of other contagious illnesses. For anyone whose health is fragile, this often takes in-person events out of consideration, so your virtual event will be more accommodating.  

3. How does a virtual event work? 

virtual events,virtual event

When you host a virtual event, you start by setting up your online event venue in advance. You can format that venue in a way that has breakout rooms, individual webinar sessions, or other features you might need. You’ll have a link participants can use to join the event at the designated time. 

 You can either include that link when you advertise the event or you can require guests to RSVP or register and then send them the link when they register. Either way, they log in when the event begins and can take advantage of the virtual environment and sessions you’ve established.

Common types of virtual events

The beauty of virtual event venues is that they can accommodate nearly any type of event imaginable. The most common types include:

  • Webinars such as instructional classes. 
  • Workshops or online training such as online employee training, which is typically a more interactive version of a webinar. 
  • Career fairs in which each employer has a virtual “booth” where participants can learn about them and request an online interview in a breakout room. 
  • Conferences and summits which can include a variety of speakers and presentations as well as a virtual exhibition hall with “booths” for each exhibitor. 
  • Event series such as a series of speaking engagements hosted by a professional group.

All of these events and more are easy to manage in a virtual environment as long as you choose the right platform and plan appropriately. 

4. What should I consider when organizing a virtual event? 

Meeting with attendance numbers on Canapii platform

As you start planning and setting up your virtual event, there are many top factors to consider and questions to answer.

1. Who is my audience?

What types of people are you catering to for your event? Where are they from and what will they want to get from this event? For example, if your event is a virtual medical conference, your audience could include medical professionals from around the world who want to learn about the latest advancements in a specific topic. 

2. How many attendees am I expecting?

The number of attendees you expect will dictate the platform you choose and the way you structure your event. Each platform typically has a technical limit to the number of people who can be logged in.

3. What types and levels of interaction will I need?

Think about the format of your event and what interactive options you’ll need in order for participants to get the most benefit from it. Will you have one large video chat with multiple breakout rooms available? Will you have small breakout rooms only? Will the host be the only person who can transmit video and audio? Do you need a text chat or a way for participants to answer polls and questions? 
This is a way to take stock of the features you need from your virtual event venue so that you can plan accordingly.

4. Does everyone have the technology they need?

As you first start planning your event, make sure that all the hosts have the technology they need. They should have a high-quality microphone and camera so that they’re easy to see and hear, as well as an appropriate space for their presentation. 

You may want to have technical support personnel available too in case something goes wrong at the last minute or in case your participants have difficulty navigating the event.  

5. How to make your virtual event interactive?

virtual events,virtual event

One concern some event organizers have is encouraging enough interaction in their virtual space that it replicates the productive interaction at an in-person event. Fortunately, there are many ways to make your virtual event engaging and encourage active participation from attendees.   

1. Offer real-time chatting

Provide a way for attendees to interact with each other directly. It might be through text-based chatting or a large number of individual breakout rooms. This lets attendees network with each other and take advantage of spontaneous, productive conversations.   

2. Include activities and exercises

If you want attendees to interact, give them a reason to interact. Rather than only using lecture-style speaking sessions, incorporate more activities and exercises into the event.

For example, if your event is an informational seminar about career development, guide participants through a personality assessment to determine their strengths or put them in breakout rooms with small groups for a few minutes to discuss a particular topic. Either way, it gets them involved and engaged.   

3. Incorporate polls or questions

Set up your virtual event in a way that allows participants to answer polls or questions during a presentation. For example, in the same example about career development, you might poll attendees about how many of them have applied for a job within the past seven days, or ask trivia questions for them to answer. You’re getting attendees involved in the discussion and keeping them on their toes.

4. Use games or contests

In-person events have long used contests and games to encourage engagement, such as the classic “collect stamps from every booth you visit and get entered to win a prize.” You can do something similar by giving each exhibitor a code that they need to give to each person who interacts with them.

You could also incorporate quizzes after each speaking engagement and give prizes to the participants who get the most correct answers throughout the event. This encourages them to pay attention to the speakers while also encouraging them to attend more sessions.

5. Set up a social media wall

Create a real-time social wall with an all-in-one social wall solution like Walls.io and give your audience a way to become a part of the event. A social wall that displays posts from attendees, speakers, and sponsors is a great tool to spark conversations and create a sense of community at your virtual event. 
To turn attendees into active participants, encourage them to share their experience on social media using your hashtag or right on the social wall with Direct Posts, display and answer questions, or use the wall to play ice-breaker games and promote networking. Here are 30+ real-life examples of audience engagement with social walls

6. How can I promote my virtual event? 

virtual events,virtual event

Promoting your virtual event is one of the primary factors that determine how successful it will be. Thankfully, there are many ways to reach potential attendees and encourage sign-ups. 

1. Social media

Word of mouth spreads quickly on social media. Start by posting organically about the event on your pages and asking other hosts or exhibitors to do the same. You can also invest in paid ads that target specific groups of ideal attendees for your event. 

2. Public relations

External media outlets can be exceptional options for publicizing your events if you know how to use them. Establish connections with members of the media or hire a PR firm that has them already. Any time you can be mentioned in a news story, appear in a podcast, and so on, you reach more potential attendees. 

3. Email marketing

Don’t forget to market your event to the people who already follow you. Send blasts to your mailing list about the event, and consider offering them special perks as well because they’re your VIPs.

7. How to monetize your virtual event? 

Virtual events can be fantastic ways to connect with the community and spread the word about your brand. If you play your cards right, though, they can be revenue sources or funding sources too. There are several ways to monetize your events:

1. Charging for admission

Charging for admission is the simplest way to monetize your event. Keep in mind that the price point must make sense with the informational value that attendees will receive.

2. Selling sponsorships

Whether you want your event to be free for attendees or you want an additional revenue stream, consider selling sponsorship packages. Sell marketing opportunities like speaking engagements, priority ad placement, and other valuable add-ons in exchange for varying contribution levels.

3. Selling “booths”

We mentioned setting up virtual exhibition halls with a “booth” for each exhibitor, and these are ideal sources of revenue. Companies will pay to load their videos, interactive programs, and content into these “booths” for attendees to explore.

4. Selling ads and goody bags placements

There are plenty of advertising opportunities you could charge for during your event. Sell ad placement within the virtual event platform if possible. Or, you can send each attendee a virtual or physical goody bag and advertisers can pay to place their content or products in these packages. 

8. Tips for increasing attendance at your virtual event 

Recorded webinar with a person presenting

Whether your virtual event is a revenue source, a community outreach effort, or a publicity opportunity, you want it to thrive. Use these tips to boost your attendance. 

Be sure to also check out our new features to boost your virtual event

1. Show immediate value

There’s a common principle in marketing that you shouldn’t tell consumers what your product is; you should tell them what it can do for them. The same is true when you’re advertising your virtual event. Tell people how it can benefit them and why it’s worth their time.

2. Offer a wide timeframe

Part of the benefit of a virtual event is that not everyone has to be in the same place at the same time. A featured speaker could give their presentation live but the recording could stay online so attendees who had scheduling conflicts can view it later. Offering these features with a wider event timeframe will allow you to fit into more attendees’ schedules.

3. Plan and advertise early

Speaking of schedules, remember that your attendees are busy people who need to plan ahead, even for virtual events. To make sure as many as possible can attend, start advertising your event months in advance. Be sure to keep advertising until a few days ahead, though, to capture the impulse schedulers too.

9. Hosting a Successful Virtual Event 

Hosting your first virtual event, large or small, can be intimidating. You’ll soon find, however, that it is a practical and easy way to truly provide more value for your exhibitors, sponsors, and attendees alike. To start planning your next virtual event, reach out to us today. 

virtual events,virtual event

Gemma Edwards

Co-Founder at Canapii

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