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Published in Technology Solutions category on (03/25/2011)

When to Consider a Virtual Event

Think about it. For every participant present at your event, there may be several who are interested but unable to attend due to budget, distance or schedule. That’s why many organizations are incorporating virtual events into their meetings program as it expands an event’s reach beyond a single location, allowing people that cannot make it to a physical event to participate.

What’s a Virtual Event?
Simply stated, virtual events provide an online venue where conference attendees can participate and interact from the convenience of their web-enabled computer or tablet. Whether used in conjunction with a physical conference or as a stand-alone virtual meeting, a comprehensive virtual event solution should include the following components that can be utilized in many variations:

  • Separate areas that attendees can visit (Exhibit Hall, Speakers Pavilion, Virtual Lounge, etc.)
  • Live streaming video for speaking sessions and keynotes
  • Recorded webcasts for exhibitor demos and returning visitors
  • 1-to-1 communication options, including audience-to-speaker or attendee-to-attendee interaction
  • Ability to upload and access company collateral and other resources for use in an exhibitor’s area and available to returning visitors
  • Complete tracking and reporting on visitor behavior to understand how attendees spent their time

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Physical vs. Virtual
You can use virtual events in a many ways and companies are still experimenting on how to best use them. The two main approaches for leveraging virtual events today are:

  • Hybrid – A combination of a physical meeting with a virtual event offered to attendees.
  • Virtual – A complete online event with no physical component.

A virtual event works very well when used in conjunction with a physical event, even when the meetings take place on different dates. For example, a Spring virtual event can build on the audience from an annual conference that happened in the Fall. When creating a completely virtual event, organizations use streaming or recorded video, as well as other methods discussed above to keep participants engaged. These virtual events can usually have areas that stay open long after the event is over.

Creating an Online Community

Even though virtual events involve using impersonal technology – as with physical events – it’s the attendee’s experience that matters most. It helps to approach your virtual event as if you are building an online community; one that allows your audience to connect before, during and after the conference. Companies can provide attendees a communal area – such as a visitor’s lounge – where participants can find people with similar interests even before the meeting starts, make connections and network during the event and stay in touch long after the conference has closed.

The Costs
When comparing to a physical meeting of equivalent size, you should expect a successful virtual event to have similar costs for meeting space (i.e., the virtual event software), production, and pre & post-event management. Virtual events, however, will not have travel, housing, or food & beverage costs; a plus for your attendees. Also, meeting professionals and participants alike save the time spent traveling to a physical event. Consequently, virtual events may have lower registration fees, sponsorships, and exhibition fees than their physical counterparts.

On the flip side, there are other costs associated with virtual events that aren’t always considered with traditional meetings. You will need a great deal of content for virtual events that must meet the highest standards and there is a heavy reliance on live and recorded video. Care should be taken to ensure high-quality production values are used for all content, especially audio which can make or break a presentation. Some companies offer – and charge for – full services on site, while others provide the technology and look to you to provide onsite services.

You should also be prepared for attendees at a virtual event to come at you from every direction – email, chat, Twitter, and every other communication type this side of the aldis lamp.  Make sure you have enough event staff available and ready to help attendees with their needs, particularly at the beginning.

Considering Virtual Events?
When choosing a virtual events solution, your criteria should be the same as with any software package:

  • Flexibility: The ability to mold the software to the way that suits your requirements
  • Reliability: The platform must be available when you need it. Consider a cloud-based solution that enables 24/7 access from anywhere
  • Scalability: The ability to service just a few attendees or scale up to tens of thousands simultaneous users
  • Ease of Use: The easier it is to setup and use the virtual solution, the better. A meeting organizer’s burden can be greatly reduced if content providers and exhibitors can manage their own setup with some simple instructions.

As virtual events evolve, ensuring your selected solution can change with industry trends and practices is essential. When you are ready to incorporate virtual events into your program, consider Certain Virtual. Certain Virtual is a comprehensive, scalable software solution that can help you and your organization easily manage your next virtual event.

To learn more about Certain, please visit www.certain.com.

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