How to Choose the Right Virtual or Hybrid Event Technology Provider?
Before we go into the specific functionality and features you need to look for in a virtual event platform, there are a couple of important things organisers should take into account when considering investment in a new platform.
- Hybrid events are on the rise – some organisations have been doing them for years. Some not as much. What is clear is that hybrid events that combine both in-person and virtual experiences will slowly become the norm as we make our transition to a post COVID-19 world.
- In-Person Vs. Virtual Events – Having a system that allows you to manage your in-person and virtual events within the same platform is really important so that you can get the ‘big picture’ overview you need on all your events.
It then makes sense to use an event management system that not only supports your virtual events – but one that allows you to support all your events on one centralised data platform: Virtual, in-person or hybrid. This will ensure your investment can support your events now and in the future.
Whether you’re hosting online sessions or a full-on multi-day virtual conference, it doesn’t make sense to ditch your traditional event management tools. You still need a system that allows you to manage invitations, registrations, agendas and payments. You still need a system that allows you to collect all your attendee data in one place. So it makes sense to invest in a tool that allows you to do all this – as well as provide the virtual event platform itself. It will save you time and money too. Even if you end up using two different systems, it’s critical that the virtual platform can easily be integrated with the other tech tools you’re using around your events so that data is easily transferred from one system to another.
Let’s now look at the virtual event platform itself. This is the platform your attendees, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors will log into and use to take part in your online event. In many ways, it’s like the new venue of your event. As the organiser, you want a system that is simple to use and relatively easy to set up. At the same time, you want to make sure it has a clean, user-friendly interface that makes things easy for your attendees too. Remember that most of their event experience will be on this platform and you don’t want them wasting time figuring out how to make the tech work. It’s already a lot more challenging keeping people engaged in an online setting compared to an in-person one – especially when they haven’t paid for attendance too. So don’t risk it. Think about the user journey and try and make the path from one area of your virtual event to the other as smooth as possible. A lot of people will also be logging into your virtual event platform through different devices (especially if your event goes on for some time), so you need to think about how it’s going to look and work on different screens.
There are many aspects to think about here but one of the most important elements of customisation is branding. Being able to integrate your organisation’s branding and messaging throughout the virtual event platform will help create a consistent experience for your attendees. So look at what kind of customisation options are offered by the platform so that your websites, registration forms, delegate emails and the virtual environment itself all follow the same branding guidelines. Find out how flexible the customisation can be for different events – for example, a medical conference is going to have a different look and feel to a gaming conference. You also need to consider the way the platform helps attendees customise their own experience. So having the ability to personalise schedules, meetings and agendas is one way. You could make some sessions visible to some people (ex. VIPs) and some to everyone. Look at what customisation options the platform offers and decide what makes sense for your events.
It is important that your virtual event platform allows you to stream both pre-recorded and live content – whether it’s your keynotes, panel sessions, debates, workshops and so on. Some say that pre-recorded sessions don’t attract the same type of engagement as live content but each of these formats have their own set of advantages. Live broadcasts, for example, offer the advantage of interactivity with the audience. You can feature multiple speakers and you also have the ability to run Q&As, conduct live polls and so much more. At the same time, a pre-recorded video of your keynote may work a lot better as it allows you to edit and refine the presentation and eliminate the risk of last-minute glitches. It is also important that your virtual event platform allows you the facility to playback all your live and pre-recorded content and make them available on-demand once the session or event is over. It extends the life of your content and makes it available to those unable to attend. It helps with monetisation too – which we’ll look at a little later on.
We all know how remote attendees can have a lot more off and on-screen distractions to deal with than those attending conventional face-to-face events. There’s also the issue of shorter attention spans and what many people now call ‘Zoom Fatigue’. In the months since the start of the pandemic, people who could make it through a day of in-person meetings with minimal issues have found themselves incredibly drained by a full docket of video calls. And this is something you need to bear in mind when running events online. The topic of attendee engagement in a virtual environment is a big one – and something we cover extensively in this eBook on virtual event engagement. However, when it comes to choosing the right platform for your event, make sure you ask the vendor what tools they offer to facilitate engagement with your online attendees. Think of things like chat rooms, forums and virtual breakout sessions – as well as in-session tools like Q&As, live polling, social sharing, quizzes and surveys. Find out what flexibility you have in using these features – as too many can sometimes have a negative impact on the experience if they are not necessary for your event.
This is another big one and closely associated with keeping attendees engaged. Most people attend events to learn and make valuable new connections. The virtual environment is no different, but it does create some setbacks when it comes to face-to-face meetings and networking. For networking, discussion forums or live chat feeds are obvious solutions; but as human beings, we gain so much information and emotional connection from being able to see someone’s face as we talk with them. The ability to have live video calls within your virtual event platform, either one-on-one or in a group, is a great way to replicate some of the value you would get from an in-person event. Some platforms like Ooffle's also use smart technology so that attendees can get automatic recommendations on contacts and companies that best match their interests.
With the loss of live in-person events, monetising virtual events is becoming a really important issue for organisers. And it can be done in many ways, including ticket sales, bookable items like access to on-demand content, virtual exhibitors and sponsorship. The process of sponsorship for virtual and hybrid events is no different to physical events. What does change is the fact that you have new elements for sponsorship. At a virtual event, there will not be a need for lanyards to be sponsored or tea and coffee breaks and so on. But there are different opportunities with online events and maybe the lanyard sponsor would be happy to sponsor one of the educational sessions or use banner ad campaigns to target specific attendees. The ideas you can use are endless – but you need to make sure your virtual event platform has the tools that allow you to deliver these ideas and make them appealing to your sponsors too. If you can see the ROI, so will they. For example, having the ability to sponsor on-demand content increases their visibility long after the event. Something that can easily be overlooked – but a big selling point and is worth money. The same rationale can be applied to exhibitors too. There is a varied choice of virtual platforms that cater specifically to virtual trade shows and exhibitions. Again, you need to look at your event and see what it is you actually want to achieve. However, if you’re looking for something simple but effective, you can look at a solution that allows exhibitors to participate in the event through virtual booths. Or go with something that offers a bit more.
Whether your virtual event involves simple webinar-style sessions or a full-on multi-stream conference, it is likely that you’ll have a number of other systems you’ll be working with, as well as the virtual platform itself. Either way, it would help if the platform plays nicely with all the other systems you’re using or the integration process will be a nightmare. For example, you may want to use your own registration platform driven from your own website. If this is the case, then it’s important to know if the virtual platform you’re considering allows you to integrate your registration platform. Or maybe you’re using an app alongside your virtual event and you need to make sure that any changes you make to your agenda are updated automatically in both systems? Dealing with a system that minimizes integration issues can be a big advantage. Not only will it save you time in terms of data transfers and getting things done, but it will also create a much smoother event experience for your virtual attendees too.
Analytics and reporting are important to any type of event. Why? Because the data helps you determine your event’s success and figure out what improvements you need to make in the future. The captured data is also one of the main incentives for your sponsors and exhibitors to keep putting money in your event. Depending on the depth of information you want to extract you could also look at data on what attendees downloaded, which exhibitors and sponsors they interacted with and a lot more besides. Again, tools like Ooffle's platform can help you do this easily. Knowing what type of data your virtual event platform can collect, what reports it can help generate, but also that the data is held in a secure and compliant environment is of vital importance.
As well as all the points highlighted in this article, it’s also key to emphasise the importance of support. Many organisers will be running a virtual event for the first time, and it is important you feel comfortable working with your virtual event platform provider. Will they help with the set-up? Is there an onboarding process? What about support on the day of the event? Do they have other add-on services that can help with things like AV requirements and remote speaker management? Make sure their support options are clearly described and a single point of contact provided – so you won’t be wondering who to call if you need help at any time. It’s also good to know where the vendor plans to take their product in the future. What is their product development roadmap? Will they be adding new features and integrations? Will they target specific types of events? Knowing these answers will help you decide whether the solution is going to be a good fit for your events in the long-run and give you a much better return on your investment. As a final note, do not rush the process. Remain objective and involve the right people from your organisation – right from the start. Get stakeholders involved too – their opinion and feedback will be important. Ask questions and discuss workarounds and you’ll find the whole process will go a lot smoother than you thought possible.