No longer considered a wave of the future, virtual events are now a staple of the present. As the world continues to wade through the coronavirus pandemic, online events have become standard procedure for both large- and small-scale gatherings. From conferences to concerts, connecting via digital experiences is not only possible, it’s practical and purposeful, as well. In this article, we take a deep dive into what virtual events are and show you how to turn your physical events into immersive digital experiences with event technology for the best virtual events.
What is a virtual event?
A virtual event is any organized event that takes place online rather than in person. Virtual events can range from a one-time meeting where different presenters share their screen, to a series of multiple sessions that often feature webinars, conferences, or even celebrations.
Virtual Events: Working, Socializing and Partying During COVID-19
In light of its global reach over the past few months, it’s safe to say the COVID-19 crisis has impacted nearly every industry and individual on some level. Whether it’s adopting a work-from-home approach or transitioning to an online ordering system, communities and companies around the world are adjusting to a quickly changing landscape.
With the continuation of stay-at-home orders and social distancing protocols, in-person events are also on pause for the foreseeable future. But the show (or conference) must go on, which is where virtual events have come to the rescue. Rather than canceling an event scheduled months in advance, people everywhere are reframing obstacles as opportunities and finding innovative ways to implement online events into their workweek or social activities. This is all possible thanks to modern technology and recent advancements in video conferencing tools. Some virtual events even rival the in-person version with virtual events platforms.
4 Types of Virtual Events
Virtual and hybrid events are as varied as the people who attend them, and these days it’s possible they’re more widely attended than ever. With fewer contingencies and significantly lower operational costs, people are quickly realizing the intrinsic value of the virtual space. Not to mention, with the amount of resilience and creativity people have expressed during this critical time, the sky is truly the limit for the number and types of events that can transition from in-person to online.
Webinars (a combination of the words “web” and “seminar”) may not be a new resource, but they have certainly gained more traction and popularity in recent months. The focus of today's webinars spans a multitude of interests and industries, from highlighting current topics to diving into DIY adventures and providing expert opinions from professors and business professionals alike. With a quick Google search you’ll discover webinars tailored to kids, some targeted more toward adults and even general-audience topics that everyone can appreciate.
2. Conferences and trade shows
Many months (and sometimes years) are spent preparing to host a conference or trade show, so having to cancel would be devastating on a number of levels. Fortunately, companies have found ways to pivot and move their conferences online this year. Microsoft’s annual developer conference was recently announced as a ”digital event” for 2020, as was the Craft Brewers Conference, which has launched a five-week virtual version of their typical program.
3. Parties and ceremonies
Parties and ceremonies are a chance to bring a bit of joy and cheer to an otherwise heavy situation, which is why even during a pandemic, people haven’t stopped finding reasons to celebrate. Despite distancing, groups are still spending time together by way of digital dance parties, virtual graduation ceremonies, online award shows and birthdays commemorated with drive-by parades and themed video calls. It’s clear that even with in-person events being postponed, people have continued to devise new and heartfelt ways to rise to the occasion.
With venues of all sizes having to close their doors, it seemed live shows would be on hiatus, as well; yet luckily, artists and entertainers have pressed on and are instead bringing their talents directly into fans’ homes. Live events have been popping up all over social media and other online platforms, featuring a variety of virtual concerts from the Metropolitan Opera to folk ensembles and pop superstars. Just like parties, music will continue to be enjoyed, even if it means the stage coming to our living rooms.
Hosting a Virtual Event: How to Turn a Physical Event into a Digital Experience
The coronavirus is undoubtedly requiring us to change how we operate within both our personal and professional lives, but it’s also providing an excuse to break out of our molds and try something we may not have normally considered. Although moving from a physical event into a digital experience comes with a few challenges, if you keep organized and make sure attendees are prepared, there’s a great chance you’ll have a positive, accomplished outcome.
1. Create a schedule or itinerary
Since virtual events don’t allow for everyone to be in the same room at the same time, organization is essential in keeping things running smoothly. By drafting a schedule for the day, the week or however long your event runs, participants can be on the same virtual page. An itinerary for the day’s activities helps set expectations and ensures that presentations or performances run on time. When creating a virtual event schedule, remember to include natural breaks in the day, just as you would when hosting in person.
2. Send out a notice with rules for the event
Live streaming an event from one’s home may feel less formal than meeting in a shared space, but parameters around politeness and digital decorum still exist. Especially if your event involves multiple speakers or interactions, be sure everyone knows how to mute their microphones and take turns speaking so dialogue doesn’t overlap or become unintelligible. A brief email outlining these rules should suffice to help avoid unnecessary interruptions or confusion and make for a more respectful atmosphere.
3. Ensure participants have necessary hardware, software and meeting links
A top priority in planning a virtual event is to check that each participant has the necessary equipment and knows how to access the meeting. Attendees will likely need specific devices or accessories to stream in real time with a quality connection; if not, they may be left out of the event all together. In addition to secure internet access, reliable conferencing technology is a must, including hardware or software components. Can the event participants join the meeting from their web browsers, or do they need to download a specific app or software before the start of the event? Make sure you send out all meeting links, passwords and instructions for connecting to the meeting in advance.
4. Use stimulating visuals
Visual materials are just as influential to virtual events as the verbal elements, but it’s important to include visuals that enhance your presentation or meeting, not distract from it. Consider incorporating relevant charts or graphs, maps, diagrams or even video clips in conjunction with the verbal message. Visual content should keep your audience engaged and actively listening, so if it’s fitting for your visuals to be interactive, even better.
Keep in mind that some of your attendees will be visual learners who largely rely on images, pictures and colors to acquire information, while others will be more audible learners. But everyone can really benefit from collaborative communication, as it opens up new ideas and provides clarity around complex strategies, so ask for audience participation and feedback if possible.
Advantages of Virtual Events
Letting go of our expectations is never easy, especially after we’ve spent countless hours event planning and preparing for an event. And yet, in the midst of these unprecedented times, flexibility and staying connected are essential to our success. Moving from an in-person event to a virtual experience may be difficult to envision, but the truth is there are some unforeseen advantages to making the switch.
Unlike meetings that may limit attendees due to travel requirements, subsequent scheduling conflicts or physical space limitations, virtual events can be accessed by anyone with a laptop and a broadband connection. Virtual conferences don’t involve flights or hotel stays, and instead can be streamed from the comfort of one’s home. This expanded accessibility opens up to participants who may have otherwise declined, allowing for greater attendance and inclusion overall.
Finding ways to lower the cost of an event without comprising its integrity is always welcome, and perhaps few things are more effective at reducing the budget than hosting a virtual event. Live streaming cuts out the costs associated with renting an event space, as well as the expense of additional tables, chairs, event staff, catering and so on. And while you’ll likely still owe a speaking or appearance fee, you’ll ultimately save money by eliminating the need for transportation or lodging for presenters and performers.
A number of variables are often associated with in-person events, from inclement weather conditions to miscommunication with vendors and common travel woes. But the beauty of online events is being able to bypass all of those issues and focus on more important details. Live-streamed get-togethers aren’t subject to being rained out, a caterer who forgets the hors d'oeuvres or a group of exhibitors who missed their flight. Fewer contingencies mean better, more consistent results.
Streamline Your Virtual Events and Make Them More Realistic Than Ever with Lifesize
If you’re looking to take your virtual events to the next level, Lifesize has you covered. Lifesize technology allows for uniquely immersive face-to-face interactions, through use of both high-quality video conferencing equipment and user-friendly software tools. You can host a meeting with up to 300 participants or live stream your event with up to 10,000 viewers. Meeting participants can access the virtual event through the Lifesize app or join directly from their web browsers without the need for additional software or downloads.
Lifesize employs enterprise-grade encryption and data privacy practices to protect customers from unintended access to their sensitive communication and content. Additionally, to ensure that your virtual events run smoothly, you can assign a meeting moderator who can lock the meeting, remove disruptive attendees, mute and unmute participants, designate a presenter and respond to chat questions or a virtual "raised hand". Now there’s no reason to cancel plans and limitless possibilities to set your virtual event in motion.
Instead of canceling your events because of unforeseen circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic, turn them into immersive digital experiences. The potential for community engagement and face-to-face connection is certainly not lost; it just looks a little different at the moment. By utilizing the right technology and a reimagined approach, you can host almost any event virtually, from trade shows and leadership summits to weddings and other major milestones. So stay organized, set ground rules and secure your visuals for an incredible digital experience.