WORLDWIDE ACCESSIBILITY WITH VIRTUAL EVENT

Virtual event is an online representation of location-based event that occurs on the internet. It may take place as an extension of physical event or on a standalone basis. A virtual event has come a long way from simple live streaming to a virtually customizable environment that replicates the real event venue. It is suitable for a big event that has an international audience or a small event that does not require a physical venue. The main benefits are a wider reach of attendees and a closer experience to the action than ever before, but there are a few downsides to consider which are a lack of face-to-face communication and attendee’s distractions. However, a proper integration of virtual event can turn the physical event into hybrid event that offsets the disadvantages and creates the perfect event for everyone, for example, South by Southwest (SXSW) conference utilized live streaming for linking their multi-venue together and broadcasting the live event to their worldwide audiences.

Key Takeaways for MICE:

  • A virtual event replicates the interactive environment of physical event which attendees can participate online from anywhere and have an experience similar to physical event.
  • The second most-watched type of live contents were speakers and conferences, tied with concerts and festivals at 43% according to livestream, a video live streaming platform.
  • Digitell, a conference recording company, estimated the cost of a 300-person with 3-day face-to-face meeting at $210,600 while the same meeting could be run virtually for $20,000 to $40,000 depending on the number of sessions.
  • According to Techjury, a technology guide and product review website, around 67% of audiences who watched a livestream purchased a ticket to a similar event the next time it occurred

The Virtual event concepts

Rise of virtual event

Event is one of the most important activities in the business sector as it brings various opportunities such as networking with new partner, creating brand’s visibility and connecting with other players which will further the growth of businesses. Today, it is hard for event to have all potential stakeholders participating in person as a lot of them live in different geographic locations. However, the advancement of telecommunication technology has led to the evolution of events into what we know as virtual event. It replicates the interactive environment of physical event which attendees can participate through the use of computer and internet from anywhere. A virtual event may take place as an extension of physical event or on a standalone basis. There are many popular platforms for running different formats of virtual event. For instance, Facebook or YouTube for live streaming, WebinarJam or Zoom for webinar and vFairs or 6Connex for virtual environment event. Any types of event can be delivered virtually, but the most common online events are career fairs, global conferences, membership meetings, trade shows, and product launches, according to iVent, a virtual event provider.

Accessibility is the main benefit

Virtual event generates many benefits to both event planners and attendees. For the event planners’ side, it increases the accessibility for global audiences and may create new participants in the future event according to Techjury, a technology guide and product review website, around 67% of audiences who watched a livestream purchased a ticket to a similar event the next time it occurred. Moreover, the cost of hosting a virtual event is relatively low compare to the physical event as the cost of a 300-person with 3-day face-to-face meeting is at $210,600 while the same meeting could be run virtually for $20,000 to $40,000 depending on the number of sessions according to Digitell, a conference recording company. For the attendees’ side, virtual event provides more flexibility because it enables attendees, who cannot attend physically due to restriction of travel budget, time constraint or other conflicts, to take part online. Also, the attendees can watch the event’s sessions again later as it can stay live as long as the event planner allows. Furthermore, virtual event allows audiences to observe and experience the session as close as possible since some physical events may be too crowded. In addition, it provides a real-time engagement to every attendee via live chat which encourages the interaction among them. However, a few downsides of virtual events have to be concerned including a lack of face-to-face communication and distractions. According to the interview from Aucobo, the company that took part in NEXCON smart manufacturing virtual congress, the biggest disadvantage about virtual event is that a lot of attendee were doing the other tasks at the same time. As a result, they did not check the event thoroughly as they would normally do at physical event. Besides, the company still preferred a face-to-face event when attended the fairs because they want to have more personal connections with their customers. Thus, there will always be a need of physical event, but a proper integration of virtual event can turn the physical event into hybrid event that offsets the disadvantages and create the perfect event for everyone.

Formats of virtual event

A virtual event has come a long way from simple live streaming to a virtually customizable environment that replicates the real event venues. Event planners have utilized different types of virtual event and been able to create a positive outcome.

  • Live streaming refers to online streaming media simultaneously recorded and broadcast in real time. It is currently accounting for more than two-thirds of all internet traffic and the number is expected to increase to 82% by 2020. The use of live streaming also extends to MICE industry as the second most-watched type of live contents are speakers and conferences, tied with concerts and festivals at 43% according to livestream, a video live streaming platform. Many well-known events and festivals, for example, South by Southwest (SXSW) is an annual conference that celebrates technology, business, music, film and more in Austin, Texas, United States. The event utilized live streaming in 2 different ways. First, it connected 4 different venues that locate separately in downtown area to link every place together. Second, it broadcasted their event and retained online audiences with continuous contents via YouTube channel that currently has over 200,000 subscribers as well as uploaded the recorded sessions which, in 2019, it had total views of every session over 3.7 million views.
  • Webinar is short for web-based seminar. It can be used for presentation, lecture, workshop or seminar that is transmitted via the internet using video conference software. Webinar is very collaborative and interactive because of several main features such as real-time communication, video file sharing, and screen sharing. It is suitable for a smaller group up to hundreds of people. For example, Schneider Electric, a multinational corporation that specializes in energy management, has a global presence in over 100 countries. The company realized that its customers did not always have the freedom to travel to physical event causing a difficulty for the company to gain its customer attention. Thus, Schneider expanded its communication with customers directly into live webinar events by bringing everyone from multiple locations to meet in one virtual place. As a result, the webinar event was able to reach additional 300 customers, which equal to 23% of total attendees, through digital contents and half of a million dollar in revenue was generated from a single webinar.
  • Virtual environment event is built to replicate the environment of physical event. It is combined with various settings of technology such as live chat, webinar, video streaming and avatar graphics to be able to function similar to physical events. The virtual environment events are popularly used in tradeshows, job fairs and conferences. For example, BambooHR, the world’s largest virtual human resource conference, hosted a virtual event to connect over 20,000 registrants with 60 highly engaging and interactive sessions. The event offered participants numerous areas to explore such as a Theater with guest speaker along with live Q&A session, an Expo Hall where key partners exhibited their booth and a Resource center that offered a central place to download online resources. As a result, it had almost 10,000 attendees with over 150,000 content views plus around 20,000 virtual booth visits.

Best practices for effective virtual event

Things to consider

Although hosting a virtual event has less complication than a physical event, there are series of factors that should be taken into account. Firstly, the background of audiences is important for planning the event. It will help organizer defines the strong reason for attendees to join, considers about their time zone differences and finds the best way to reach them. Secondly, an equipment and internet service should be capable of producing a high-quality audio and video as it is the main thing that virtual attendees will experience throughout the event. Thirdly, a production team must include 1) a producer who can control the event’s flow and understands how to measure and interact with audiences, 2) a tech personnel who knows how to use equipment and is always ready to solve the technical issues that may occur during the event and 3) an operator who knows how to control a camera and decides the angle in order to provide the best experience to virtual attendees. Lastly, a platform should be chosen based on the type of event in order to support different event’s sessions. Additionally, the popularity of platform should also be considered as it can effectively increase the accessibility of audiences.

General tips for hosting a virtual event

There are a few fundamental points that every type of event including virtual one must be thought about, however, these points can be done differently in virtual event.

Attendee’s attractions can be created differently depend on the format of virtual event. If it is simple live streaming, the attractions will base on the attractiveness of physical event as well as the advertisement that makes event more appealing. In contrast, if it is virtual environment event, the interface of platform must be designed to capture attendees’ attention. Nevertheless, the quality of contents is still the main attraction in every format of virtual event.

Enhancing the interaction among attendees should be done properly since it is not a face-to-face communication. It can be facilitated by implementing the right means of communication, for example, group chats for live streaming and live video for webinar.

Data collection and analysis is essential for future improvement which, in virtual event, data can be more easily obtained for later analysis as everything that attendees did always leave a digital trail. So, the organizer should seize this opportunity to collect and analyze data then make use of more accurate insight for future events.