The past year has proven to be challenging not only for the event industry in general, but also for clients. Without live, in-person events to convey their brand’s message, organizers have lost innumerable opportunities to connect with their target audience through traditional points of sale. As our world has gradually shifted towards digital over the past years, virtual event platforms and online events were still considered a novelty and while convenient, overall they were less preferable to organizers and audiences than in-person meetings.
Since last March, however, circumstances have sped up the process of digitization, and along with the comet-like rise of virtual meeting software such as Zoom, digital event platforms have also being to inundate the market, aiming to offer an experience that resembles that of the sorely missed live meetings. Faced with such choice overload, organizers and clients alike have the most difficult time finding and ultimately selecting the platform that fits their needs.
In this article we will look at on the elements of any virtual event platform that are essential in making your event a success. From design to interface functions, from audience engagement to budget, we give give you a list that can help narrow down your choices and ultimately select the digital event platform that best fits your needs.
Before we begin, however… let us answer the most important question that you may still have!
What is an event platform?
A platform is the digital “venue” where your event takes place. An event platform – often called digital, virtual, or online – is a complex software quite different from the tools that we use every day for online meetings, such as Zoom, Skype, Teams, or GoToMeeting. It is specifically designed to recreate the feeling – as much as possible – of being present at a live, in-person event, incorporating many elements of a traditional meeting or conference while still connecting audiences from anywhere in the world.
Some might say that virtual event platforms are gaining popularity as more of the population descends into what has been referred to as “Zoom fatigue”, but in reality it is the need to distinguish their digital event and make it stand out from the hundreds of thousands of similar meetings happening over the internet is what propelling companies to recreate an environment similar to that of a traditional event.
A platform, much like a live event, allows multiple sessions happen on different tracks or in different “rooms” at the same time, offering audiences the choice to pick the content they are most interested in or hop between sessions. Contrary to Zoom meetings, you are able to control the level of audience engagement by “muting” attendees during sessions (no more barking dogs or ringing phones in the background) and encouraging live interaction from and between participants at other times. Almost all platforms are able to record content for future streaming or download, so that your audience can catch up with sessions they have missed. With virtual platforms speakers also have the added convenience of not having to conduct everything live, should one prefer pre-recorded content over real-time, live streamed sessions.
It is crucial that the company you choose to work with or that you recommend to you our you client – if you are on the event producer side of things – offers you a package that covers all of your needs. Some platform providers will take care of your event’s technical elements for you, and some will hand the reins over to you or your event production company. In both cases it is of the utmost importance to clarify the exact responsibilities of each party: the client, the platform provider, and the event production partner alike.
To make sure the virtual event you are hosting is smooth sailing, ask yourself the following questions before committing to a digital platform:
1. Does it meet my budget?
2. Are all the features that I need included in the package that I get for my money?
3. Will attendees and speakers find it easy to use the platform?
4. Is the design customizable to perfectly represent my brand’s image?
5. Does it give me or my event producer creative control over the look and feel of the event?
6. Will it help me create a memorable, enjoyable, and valuable experience for my audience?
7. Does it provide networking opportunities for my audience?
8. Does it allow my entire event to be recorded, or only parts of it?
9. Can I monetize the platform, if necessary?
10. Does it provide me with full-time live technical support?
Our Swiss AV Alliance member Habegger AG has had an interactive webinar – streamed live from their studios in Zurich – on choosing and evaluating digital event platforms. You can watch the recording by requesting access here.
Elements of a great virtual event
Before you find the answers to these questions, we have a listed a number of features and characteristics that are key to creating a professional event experience for your audience.
An integrated event management software
Similarly to an in-person meeting, your online event needs to be planned meticulously. To make this easier for you, many platform providers offer event management software integration as part of their package. This will spare you much time as it usually includes a professional attendee registration feature, a built-in email system that allows you to send invitations or marketing material to your audience, and a customizable landing page for your event. Some platforms have built-in features (or even a separate mobile app) that will allow your participants to have high levels of engagement, like polls and surveys, scheduling, personal agenda, 1-on-1 meetings, chat function, push notifications, etc.
Social media integration is a helpful tool to engage not only your attendees, but also to create buzz on different social media platforms by sharing content on real-time. Allowing your audience to automatically share content they like through their own accounts, and using the right tags, will also raise the value of your brand as well as their overall event experience. Social media walls are a fun way to display all the content shared by the participants throughout the event, whether it takes place live or via a virtual platform.
Certain parts of the event management software require seamless automation, which can make hosting a virtual event a less daunting experience for you. By taking over tasks that are time-consuming or complicated if done manually, it does not only make planning easier for you but it also saves you considerable time, effort, and money. Besides the automated processes such as registration, data analytics, etc. that help the platform work better for you (all created in the backend of the platform’s system by the developers), there are other functions that can work automatically; for instance, uploading information to the platform, such as speaker and session data, creating attendee profiles, and much more.
Data analytics and reporting
A professional integrated event management software is best enhanced with access to real-time data analytics and reports about your participants and their activities. Just like in the case of a live event, gathering data will help you improve your event experience and give you, your client, and sponsors unique insights into what the attendees are interested in, and monitor your event’s ROI through a given period of time. The analytics tool will provide you real-time information about your virtual audience’s movements between sessions, interactions, levels of engagement, and even show you if they leave the platform or re-join the event.
Interactivity and audience engagement
Networking is one of the reasons people miss live events so much these days, but you can still give your participants the opportunity to talk to each other and make new connections throughout your virtual event through features such as live chat, messaging, 1-on-1 meetings, group discussions, or gamification. Many platforms now have the option for attendees to wander around freely during breaks and explore the virtual conference venue and chat to anyone they encounter!
Even though the live element will be missing, it does not mean that your attendees cannot or should not have as much interaction with you or your client as possible throughout the course of the event. Audience engagement is just as crucial online – and twice as hard to achieve – as it is in person. The possibility of anyone being distracted, disengaging, or even logging off at any time is high. Consequently, capturing your attendees’ attention and involving them as much as possible is the key to your event’s success.
The easiest way to do this is allowing them to communicate with the moderators and the speakers. While parts of a virtual event work much better if the audience is muted (for practical reasons), giving them the opportunity to engage them by hosting Q&A sessions, much like you would do at a live gathering. Most event platforms already have this function built in and available for any virtual event; questions can be posted in real time to the moderator or the speakers, and some even allow you to pull those with questions up on the screen via video. Those audience members who are less inclined to come forward and ask questions can be engaged in live polling – your creativity really is your only limit as to what you can ask them – and by making use of the audience chat function – whether through an app or built into the platform – to encourage networking.
Aesthetic appeal and customizable design elements
For many of you, this element should rank even higher on this list, as the first thing that any attendee, sponsor, or speaker will notice about your event platform is its design. It is the single most obvious representation of your brand and your message, and thus it should be perfectly aligned with it. Digital platforms offer custom design options to various degree, and it is up to you to decide which one serves your purpose best.
The most important feature, however, that you should not negotiate is the integration of your corporate or brand identity – logo, colors, visual elements, message, etc. They should be present throughout the entire platform, from the invitations to the registration, from the event website to virtual room design.
Similarly, it should provide the same function to your sponsors and their dedicated virtual exhibitor spaces, allowing them to customize their booths with their own branding and design elements.
Easy access and uncomplicated use
The easier you can make registration and login for your attendees, the more they will love you for it. By choosing a platform that has integrated event management tools, you ensure that the registration process is not only automated, but does not allow data loss of any kind, therefore you can manage, resend, or recreate your participants’ login details should they lose the registration email with the joining link. The login process should also consist of as few steps as possible to make it easy for attendees to access the platform before and during the event.
Some digital event platforms have user interfaces that take quite some time to get used to, and that in turn can hinder user experience. Choose a platform that has a logical and visually clear menu, easily accessible virtual rooms, a fun but uncomplicated navigation system, and easy-to-follow instructions for participants that are available at all all times during the event.
Recording and pre-recording options
Having a recording of your entire conference material is not only valuable to your attendees to revisit, but it is also future marketing gold for your brand. It is important, however, to make sure when you select your platform provider that it is possible to record your content via the software itself (and clarify the exact way the recordings will be made), where and how the material will be stored, the time frame during which you be able to view or download it, etc. Making your event’s recordings available on demand via the platform or another media distribution software, or uploading it to secure video sharing sites such as Vimeo is a great option if you would still like to share the content with past attendees but you wish to prevent it being downloaded by anyone.
Most virtual platforms allow you to use pre-recorded material during your event, which is a practical way to secure speakers who otherwise would not be available on the given day, or have technical issues that would prevent them from live streaming or broadcasting their session. It is also a great way to avoid an issue that is common with live events: when a speaker has to drop out from attending the event shortly before the date, they are still able to record their presentation without having to cancel their entire participation. Pre-recorded content can be uploaded directly to the platform prior to (or even during) the event and be scheduled to be streamed at any given time.
Live broadcasting function
Having mentioned live broadcasting, we have to first clarify the difference between that and live streaming. While live streaming works by transmitting the streamed content one-to-one to each registered user or viewer (think of YouTube live streams!), a live broadcast sends the same stream of content through only one signal, so in this case to the platform itself. This makes this type of content sharing a more unique and engaging method, as it can enable interaction with the audience and with other speakers real time, thus allowing you to have sessions with multiple speakers joining from different locations.
Live broadcasting can happen from studios specifically designed for professional broadcasting, and many of our AV Alliance members operate such green screen studios that are equipped with the latest technologies.
Multiple rooms within one “digital venue”
Some event platforms have recreated the feeling of visiting physical event locations by designing complete virtual venues with multiple rooms and spaces. With breakout rooms, auditoriums, exhibition floors, networking lounges, meeting spaces, and even lobbies, these platforms give participants the opportunity of roaming and exploring the different rooms that host certain sessions at their own leisure, meeting fellow attendees and discovering sponsor areas at the same time.
Besides being a strong reminder of the coolest 3D video games around, these virtual venues are filled with branding possibilities and customizable surfaces, and are ideal to display any audio visual content that further increases the overall event experience for audiences, sponsors, and clients alike.
Round-the-clock live tech support
While listed last, having a capable, responsible, and constantly available technical support team is probably the single most important element of any digital event. From handling IT infrastructure-related issues (such as power cuts, lost internet connection, low Wi-Fi signals, unmet system requirements, etc.) to platform-related problems (such as faulty links, login and access issues, blank screens, malfunctioning features) technicians are the main source of help for all attendees, including yourself and/or your client. While your job is to make the event that you are hosting as memorable as possible for your customers, sponsors, and target audiences, tech support is responsible for making sure you can do that without having to worry that not everything goes as smoothly as possible. Nothing can hinder a great attendee experience more than insufficient technical support from the platform operators’ side and from your own IT specialists, therefore it is absolutely crucial to make sure that you are working with a highly responsive, helpful, and quick thinking technical team.
We at AV Alliance are here to help you with recommending you the best event platforms based on our own experiences, and offer you the best and latest live streaming and green screen studio technology to make your virtual event shine. Check out our global studio network in over 70 locations, and let us know how we can help you bring your next event alive at [email protected]!