Just like an in-person event, a lot of decisions need to be made throughout an event planning journey for a virtual event. One of the decisions that you need to make early on is where to host your virtual event - again, just like an in-person event.
I, with my team, host an annual virtual conference that attracts over 4,000 people across North America. From our experience, these are the three things a virtual event host should consider before choosing a virtual venue: 1) audience experience; 2) value to all event stakeholders including sponsors; and 3) budget.
Ensuring stellar audience experience
Ensuring stellar audience experience is the most important aspect of any events and virtual events are not any different. You put together an event for these people. There is a slim chance of achieving your ultimate business objectives of hosting a virtual event such as brand awareness and demand generation if your audience is absolutely disappointed with the event experience.
Plus, today's consumers expect an awesome digital experience whether they purchase a product or attend an event. They have higher expectation with digital experience now more than ever as a lot of innovation and changes were brought into life due to the pandemic.
When we were planning for our virtual conference for the first time, we decided to use vFairs. Some of the other platforms like vFairs we looked into are ON24, 6Connex, and Hopin. It was our first time hosting a large scale virtual event. The right decision to ensure a great audience experience was to utilize a virtual event platform.
The second year, we decided to move away from the third party virtual event platform and design and create our own conference environment. What our experience from the first year taught us was that using someone else's platform still requires a lot of internal resources if you were to ensure a customized event environment that brings your event vision to life.
The first year experience gave us ton of ideas that we wanted to try to improve the event attendee experience. To be able to make those ideas reality, the best option was to design our own.
What do you want your audience to remember at your virtual event if there is one thing for them to take away from the whole experience? What are few other aspects of the event experience that are more important than others? Jot them down and evaluate virtual event venue options based on them. This will help you make the decision of which virtual venue to go with.
Being successful means becoming the expert in recognizing “wow” when it shows up. More importantly, it means being able to recognize it when it is absent - and insisting that you ask yourself to deliver it. Don’t settle for something less, because, in doing so, you are depriving your customers of the wow experience they seek - and deserve. Michael Hyatt in his book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World
Creating the maximum value for all event stakeholders including sponsors
One of the most important things to do in event marketing (and in marketing in general) is to intentionally collect and analyze data. Because this is the only way you can effectively and efficiently optimize your event operation and audience experience.
When evaluating virtual event platforms, be sure to ask what type of data points they can provide you pre, during, and post event. The third party virtual event platform companies should be able to provide you with various data such as who attended your event, who attended which session, who visited which virtual booth, etc.
When you design your own virtual event environment, you are not limited to what the third party companies are able and willing to provide you. You get to decide which data to collect and analyze.
When you know which data is important to you and your sponsors, you can even add certain design elements to collect specific and relevant data. For example, you can place buttons strategically throughout your virtual event environment to test what attracts your audience better. Being able to collect the data you are looking for and your sponsors are looking for enables you to create the maximum value for all stakeholders involved. More of the right data and the ability to analyze them to bring out valuable insights means a higher ROI, more of satisfied returning sponsors, and great audience experience.
Managing your event budget effectively
Putting together a successful virtual event can be expensive. When working with a limited event budget, we need to be smart with our budget management. Virtual event platforms can be quite costly. All of the platforms we researched and used cost more than $10,000 for a single event. Some charge you significantly more than that. And I do mean it when I say "significantly more". Some quotes we received were simply jaw-dropping high.
What is the reasonable amount you can spend on a virtual event venue with the budget you have? Here are some of the things to consider to calculate the reasonable amount you are willing to pay: your ultimate business objectives for the virtual event, the potential and ideal return on investment, audience experience you are looking to create, and the opportunity cost of hosting the virtual event.
Our annual virtual conference, #Empower, is for nonprofits and charities. It is more than a conference to us. It is our biggest annual giveback initiative. Registration is free. The purpose of this event is to empower nonprofits and charities with the latest trends and knowledge to help them scale their mission. As we don't generate profit from the event, we do work with a limited budget and it is critical for us to do our absolute best to be cost-efficient while ensuring excellent audience experience. Creating our own virtual event environment is way more cost efficient for us especially because #Empower is our annual, recurring event.