From the outside looking in, it’s easy to assume that virtual events are created seamlessly by an event platform. Although good technology is at the heart of successful online events, developing a virtual event strategy that is conducive to individual goals is the event creator’s responsibility- and it’s a hefty one. Especially for newcomers to the virtual space, choosing the best platform for an event can be a daunting task. Today, we’re breaking that process down.
What Do You Want Your Event to Accomplish?
When deciding on a platform, the first thing you need to ask yourself is this: What are my specific goals for this event? For example, is your key objective to generate leads, network, or teach a new professional skill? Is your event heavily content-based? Whatever your main goals, you need to choose a platform that supports them. It’s easy to be distracted by the platforms with the shiniest new features- and, to be fair, lively animation, an engaging interface, and technology that runs smoothly are important!
Now that virtual event technology is becoming more affordable and accessible, there are suddenly more choices. That can be overwhelming, especially when you’re on a tight schedule and don’t have all day to make decisions. But we advise against choosing a platform based on advanced features alone. That’s why it can help to have a set of guidelines to check off when you’re deciding. After all, event technology is at the core of every hybrid or virtual event. It can make or break the experience.
If your event is all about presenting educational material or teaching a new skill, fancy graphics are probably less important than content production and interactive features. For example, if you’re trying to teach attendees how to use a new technology, you may want a platform that allows them to interact with this technology virtually. If your goal is to introduce and/or sell a new product, you’ll want to incorporate product demo software that allows people to “try” the product online.
Are you looking to achieve a higher level of brand awareness? Then you’ll need a platform that offers customized booths, breakout sessions, content, and more. The key word is customization when it comes to brand awareness. The platform you choose should support a unique experience that enables attendees to interact with your brand. Perhaps product demos are a part of this strategy; if so, you’ll need a platform that is compatible with the software required for this feature.
Is your main goal to generate leads? Virtual events have the potential to reach tens of thousands more people than even large-scale in-person events ever could. The virtual space has literally opened up a world of opportunity that many companies- especially small businesses- did not have access to before. Barriers like travel and hotel costs, limited budgets, and time constraints have been removed by virtual and hybrid options. So take advantage of that. Use whatever data you have at your disposal to choose a platform that helps you give attendees what they want.
For lead generation, interactive features are tantamount to success. Make sure to use a platform that supports one-on-one time with your brand and any exhibitors that will be present. Q & A sessions are important, and so are animated links that pop up at the appropriate times with contact information for staff members and vendors. Most people at a conference will have special interests related to your main topic. For this reason, it’s a good rule of thumb to choose a platform that offers engaging breakout sessions. During these sessions, attendees can briefly learn more about specific areas of interest, thus getting more out of your event. You’ll also want to be able to record, edit, and make sessions available for those who weren’t able to attend your event live.
While these sessions can be costly and require a venue design that supports them in person, those costs are essentially cut out by using a virtual platform. No, conferencing platforms aren’t cheap, and virtual events require an investment on your part. Because Zoom and other similar platforms have evolved to support webinars and event promotion, it can be tempting to use them instead of more advanced platforms. But if you do this, you need to closely consider your goals and measure them against the pros and cons of using Zoom. (Our next post will tell you how to make the most out of a Zoom conference if it is your go-to. Not everyone has the budget to splurge on more advanced platforms, and every event creator deserves the know-how to make their event the best it can be).
For example: Can my attendees authentically engage with my new products and educational materials on Zoom? Will this platform provide immediate support if I experience a technical glitch? Does this platform integrate well with other apps/software I will need to use? If networking is my goal, does my platform have the right features to help my attendees connect?
The hallmark of a good networking platform: It offers a variety of ways to connect. Chat boxes, video chats, breakout sessions, and Q&A are just some of the interactives that you should be looking for. At an in-person event, there’s really only one way to network- walk up to people and strike up a conversation. As we all know, not everyone is an extrovert. Yes, there are many skills and practices one can learn to make networking easier, such as leaning into subjects you are genuinely passionate about. But at an in-person event, all of them involve face-to-face contact.
This isn’t the case at a virtual event. You can choose a platform that gives attendees the option to interact via chat boxes. Some people really do prefer written communication; others need that direct, face-to-face contact. As long as the quality is superb, video chats give attendees the opportunity to have spontaneous discussions and make connections.
The thing to remember is that there are many authentic ways to connect. If you choose an ideal platform for networking, you’re tapping into more of those than you would be at an in-person event. For this reason, virtual events are actually better for networking than one might assume at first glance. They also tend to be more organized, which helps attendees stay focused on their goals.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Some apps will sell themselves as “one size fits all” choices that deliver “everything”, but that’s rarely the case. The value that you get in one area usually requires sacrificing quality in another area. That’s why it’s so important to let your goals inform your decision every step of the way. When you get lost in a corn maze of features and functions or pros and cons, refer back to your key objectives every time. This will help you answer the question, “What’s most important to me, this or that?”
When event platforms advertise themselves as “easy-to-use”, it often means that their database is shared. This kind of app is typically referred to as a “master platform”, which means that it carries out most of its functions in a single space. Therefore, in many ways it is easier to use, especially for beginners. However, Event Tech Podcast host Brant Krueger warns of the potential pitfalls that come with these promises. What us mere mortals might not know that tech gods do: All of the elements that have been merged together by these complex platforms were once separate entities. Therefore, you’ve got to find out how well they work together. Because as we all know, tech glitches can potentially destroy an otherwise spectacular event. They can ruin the pacing, quality, or even stop the event in its tracks.
Why do so many event creators choose these “master platforms” if they’re prone to some difficulties? According to Brandt, these apps “keep your data clean and accurately translated”. So if that’s a primary need- and for many event creators, it is- these complex apps do that job. If you choose a platform like this, Brandt advises against focusing on the bigger picture and ignoring the details. He suggests getting to know all of its features, even those that work together in a shared space. Sound complicated? To give you an idea of just how complex some of these apps are, Brandt shares that some of these software's require certification for use!
According to Brandt, it’s also not uncommon for companies to create their own software when they’re unhappy with the accessible mainstays. They use their coders to create an app that delivers exactly the kind of experience they want. On the plus size, if you have the company resources to pull this off, there’s probably no better way to tailor an event to your goals. However, when you do this, you’re completely responsible for supporting and maintaining your app. That’s a major risk and responsibility that some businesses can’t afford to take.
Keep in mind that some event platforms are easier to navigate than others- and navigation is important. Taking both yours and your attendees’ tech-savviness into account, how user-friendly should your platform be? If you have this great platform that offers top-notch customization, but your attendees are struggling to use it, their focus will be on trying to keep up. Trying to navigate functions that surpass one’s skill level is a stressful experience. And the last thing you want to do is leave your audience with a negative impression. It’s all about knowing your audience.
Keep Your Eye on Your Budget, Too
We’ve talked about the importance of keeping your eye on your goals. But obviously, you can only accomplish what you can afford. At first glance, Brandt admits that the master apps are priciest. Many separately sold features are as cheap as $10. However, when choosing between all-in-one platforms or integrating separate tools, the first thing to do is figure out what tools you truly need. Again, refer back to your goals and let them guide your decision-making. If you only need a limited amount of features, the all-in-one might not be worth the investment.
The bottom line? You should be prioritizing the features that best support your goals, which are intrinsically linked to your audience’s goals. It may come down to deciding which features take precedence over others. The process of choosing an event platform is more complex than most people think; it often involves trade-offs and compromises.
Ticketing and Registration: Keeping It Simple
A smooth ticketing and registration process is non-negotiable; you simply can’t afford to compromise in this area. After all, it is one of your audience’s first impressions of your event- and for newcomers, it may be one of their first impressions of your brand as a whole. Obviously, you’ll want registration to be a simple process that can be done all in one brief sitting. The best way to ensure this: Choose a platform that features its own integrated ticketing and registration feature. The good news is that many of them do.
Although virtual events have exploded in popularity and are presumably here to stay, they are still fairly new to many of us. And once people get used to attending events on a specific platform (perhaps for work or educational purposes), learning how to use a new one can be challenging.
For this reason, we highly recommend familiarizing attendees with your event platform during the promo period. We’re not advising you to bore them to tears with repetitive tutorials, but sending out one brief demo via email (and posting it on social media) can go a long way. Again, it all depends on how tech-savvy your audience is. Some audiences have a collective skill level that would make tutorials seem like a joke; others have a limited or moderate range of skills that may or may not help them to navigate a new platform. As a general rule, the registry and ticketing process should be short and sweet.
Virtual platforms are complex, and we foreseeably go on all day. However, we don’t want to overwhelm readers! Choosing a platform and executing a virtual event strategy is challenging enough. Our goal was to break the process down and give you our best pro tips. Hopefully, we’ve been able to help pave the way toward your own unique process. Choosing a platform isn’t as easy as one might think, but it is entirely possible when armed with the right knowledge.