Virtual events have become all the rage in the events industry following the Covid-19 pandemic. By seamlessly replicating the look, feel and realism of a traditional event and bringing it into the digital sphere, companies can reap many benefits by hosting virtual events

However, maximising attendance requires consistency and a solid strategy behind an online event’s timing and duration. This includes determining the best day, time and, of course, content and scheduling. One of the most common factors in any event – virtual or not – is its runtime. While virtual events have one clear advantage in the lack of physical logistics required (i.e. no venue, concierge, travel or accommodation arrangements to book), that doesn’t mean that your event should be without preparation or structure. So it begs the question of how long an online event should last. 

This guide will explore all of that and provide you with all you need to know about organising your virtual event to be the perfect duration to maximise attendance and give your attendees the best experience possible. 

What’s the Best Day to Host a Virtual Event? 

Statistically, Mondays and Fridays work best for online or virtual event dates.

This is because it falls on a day when working professionals start or finish their working week. As a result, with typically fewer midweek distractions or commitments, attendees are likely to be more engaged at an event on a Monday or a Friday. If people aren’t engaged with your event’s content then you have to wonder whether your event can truly be considered a success. 

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Hosting an event on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday runs the risk of lower engagement and attendance, as it effectively breaks up the working week and many people may be less inclined to commit. However, this is not to be taken purely as gospel – these days have worked well for numerous events previously, but the attendance and engagement factors are worth thinking about.  

What’s the Best Time to Start a Virtual Event?

There is some information to suggest that the earlier the virtual event start time, the better your engagement and attendance. However, that’s not always the case, especially when you consider time zone differences which may interfere with attendees’ lives more than your own.  

Statistically speaking, online events that take place in the early afternoon (between 1:00 pm and 3:30 pm) capitalise on both attendance and engagement.  

This period accounts for the possible lower attendance and engagement in the mornings and enough time for attendees to grab lunch, which can always affect numbers. 

While this period might work best for a virtual event hosted in one time zone, if you are catering to international attendees too, you may benefit from streaming your event or providing on-demand access so people can access material when it’s more convenient for them.  

What is the Recommended Duration of a Virtual Event?

This is the burning question. While all-day events can work well in virtual environments, you have to consider the fact that in a digital setting, people are more prone to distractions. As they’re more sedentary and simply engaging with a computer screen, running a very long virtual event can pose risks to your audience. 

Therefore, we’d recommend your event run no longer than five hours. The ideal duration would be an event between two and four hours in length, but of course, this will depend on your content. Keeping your event within these parameters is likely to help you achieve maximum engagement and attendance across the event itself while accounting for minimal dips in your online audience’s attention span.

If you do insist on running all-day online events, you should expect more regular dips at certain times throughout the day – specifically mid-morning, lunchtime, mid-afternoon and early evening.

Duration for Different Types of Virtual Events

Depending on whether your event is a single-day event or one that spans multiple days, you should schedule each session to ensure maximum audience engagement across the day. 

It’s worth noting that recommended virtual event duration is getting lower each year. As we highlighted earlier, people’s attention spans are notoriously short, especially when online, so you should consider this when planning. What worked in the past won’t necessarily work today, much less in a virtual environment.  

The right duration of your online event will largely depend on what your event will be. Here are some examples. 

Webinars

Webinars can be great for businesses to connect with their target audience and followers. While webinars often used to run for several hours, nowadays the typical webinar length rarely surpasses 45 minutes.  

These webinars will also usually involve an activity of sorts that requires participation from the audience, such as a Q&A (question and answer) session to keep your audience paying attention and engaged.  

Educational

Short courses and online lectures have been instrumental as educational and skill-learning resources. Also, unsurprisingly, they have grown in popularity in recent years, regularly used by tutors, lecturers or business coaches. 

Single lectures for educational events would benefit from being no more than 30 or 45 minutes, ideally accounting for a collaborative activity or discussion towards the end.  

Day-Long Conferences

Organising online conferences spanning a whole day requires far more preparation. It would be unwise to assume all your attendees would stay in front of their screens all day and remain engaged throughout without needing some form of a comfort break. 

If you are running a day-long conference, you might fare better by breaking your event down into two larger chunks – a morning portion and an evening portion. Ideally, these portions should not exceed more than three or four hours, which is why you can benefit from adding pre-recorded content in there too.  

That way, your audience can focus on other things and take a breather, and come back to digest your content without missing out. 

The key practice to make this work for you is experimenting with different timing and structure combinations to see which is most effective for your type of online event.  

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Multi-Day Annual Events

Multi-day virtual events require even more organisation than single-day events. Many companies are adopting a hybrid approach to annual events, however, for it to be purely virtual, you may benefit from a slight tweak in your event’s structure. 

For example, you might find that spreading your multi-day events across an entire week would maximise your audience interaction and interest. Stretching the content across several days can alleviate many engagement issues. The inclusion of some pre-recorded material would also go a long way in aiding those that cannot attend every session.

Panel Discussions

Panel discussions that include multiple speakers rarely need to span longer than an hour, with or without a Q&A portion. If you have a handful of panel discussions, rather than shoehorning all discussions into one, suggest spreading the sessions to cater for the most interested types of audience niches.  

Tips for Managing the Duration of a Virtual Event

Panel discussions that include multiple speakers rarely need to span longer than an hour, with or without a Q&A portion. If you have a handful of panel discussions, rather than shoehorning all discussions into one, suggest spreading the sessions to cater for the most interested types of audience niches.  

Split the Event into Multiple Days

A single-day event chocked full of content is sure to divide opinion and fatigue audiences. Splitting your event into two or more days can make each specific event date feel important and more compelling/engaging. 

It also allows your attendees to have more control over what they can engage with, which they’ll appreciate. Having more flexibility is better than having less. 

Interactive Features to Drive Virtual Engagement

Interactivity is key to driving engagement with your virtual events. We suggest you try and drum up some excitement by involving your attendees as much as possible to make the event feel less formulaic. Remember they’re often confined to one room (sometimes shared) for hours of the day, so make it feel worth their time and attention. 

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This could be in the form of:

  • Live chats 

  • Breakout rooms 

  • Networking sessions 

  • Discussions 

  • Group activities 

  • Research 

  • Votes or polls 

  • Feedback 

  • Forums 

  • Invitations for questions 

  • Elevator pitches 

Consider Multiple Parallel Sessions

A general audience can be segmented. You can then decide which of these segments should be targeted and thus structure your event’s sessions to cater to each one separately.

While there’s likely to be some overlap between segments, you can provide sessions that run parallel to audiences that are less divided.  

For example, you may have a business coach delivering a webinar for sole traders at the same time as you have a keynote speaker talking about the strategy for corporate marketing directors streamlining their teams. There’s unlikely to be a huge crossover. 

Providing clear, scheduled sessions so the audience can decide for themselves which is most relevant can help significantly. 

Structure the Sessions

As we’ve explored above, the structure of your virtual event is vital. The structure also matters significantly for the content of your event. 

While the material will largely be constructed by your participating speakers or guests, you may find that providing some input can have mutually beneficial results. As an example, one part (such as a keynote speech) can dominate a 45-minute session, but perhaps 25% of it could be spent on other activities such as networking, tasks or research, which would be the remit of the audience.

Try a Hybrid Event Approach

While digital online events cannot recreate the same experience as an in-person, face-to-face event 100% of the time, hybrid events can provide a healthy blend of both. 

Many working professionals love the idea of balancing face-to-face and remote working nowadays, and luckily, the same can now be done with events.

With the help of Canapii’s event platform, you can seamlessly cater for both online and in-person audiences to work for you. Contact us for a demonstration or if you have any questions about how we can set it up for you.

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