2020 saw many event organizers searching for quick solutions to help them transform live events into virtual ones. In 2021, it’s no longer a matter of finding a stopgap solution with little time to spare. Now, unfamiliarity with the virtual format is the main problem, leaving many event planners wondering what, exactly, they’re looking for in a virtual event platform. If you’re in this situation, use this guide to help you evaluate virtual event providers and platforms to come up with a solution that’s right for you.
Understand Your Event and Decide on Your Event Needs
The first step in this process starts with you. Before you can choose a virtual event platform or provider, you must decide what your virtual event goals are. You also need to think about the kind of event experience you want to create.
- Event goals. What are your goals for the event? For instance, is the organization looking to position itself as a thought leader in the industry, or launch a new product? Or is it more about brand awareness?
- Event type and experience. Is this an in-house team-building event? An education-focused industry event? A networking-focused event? An exhibition or trade show?
From there, you’ll also have to think about what you need from the platform or provider you end up working with. This may be tricky, especially if this is your first virtual event.
Ultimately, you’re looking to choose a virtual event platform that lets you deliver an event experience that promotes your event goals. If you’re hosting a networking event, you’ll get the best results from a platform with purpose-built networking tools and features. An education event with multiple speakers and sessions needs a platform with tools for facilitating audience interaction and engagement.
Some common features of virtual event platforms include:
- Online registration and ticketing
- An event website
- Event app
- Sponsor/exhibitor/speaker management tools
- Agenda/schedule design
- Tools for networking and engagement
- Integrated features such as audio, video, and livestream support
Choosing a Virtual Events Provider
One-Off Event vs. Long-Term Relationship
Is your event a one-off, or are you planning to hold more virtual events in the future? This consideration may influence how you evaluate virtual events providers.
If you’re looking for a platform for a one-time event, then it’s fine to choose one with only the features you need.
On the other hand, if you want to hold more virtual events in the future, think ahead to a platform with a wide range of features. This is especially important if you plan to hold different kinds of virtual events, as the features you need vary with the event type. Sticking with the same provider saves you the time you’d spend learning a new platform. It also ensures a consistent attendee experience for each new event and a long-term relationship that gets built between you and your virtual event provider. It may also be a good idea to ask about the company’s future development plans. The ideal platform will be focused on the same kinds of events and features you are.
Bandwidth and user numbers. How much bandwidth is available for your event? What happens if your bandwidth needs run much higher than you were anticipating; can the provider up your allowance if necessary?
Along similar lines, does the platform limit the number of simultaneous users? The bigger the event, the more difficult it is to estimate capacity. This is especially true for a virtual event that runs over several days. And if you’re running a global event, where people log in from all over the world, you have time zones to consider. Estimating both user numbers and bandwidth can get complicated, and the more flexible your event platform is, the better.
Browser and device compatibility. If the platform is browser-based, does it run on all major browsers? Does it run on mobile devices as well as computers? Your audience won’t all access the event in exactly the same way, so it’s important to determine if there are any compatibility restrictions. If there are, letting your audience know about them is an important part of managing their expectations for the event.
Integration. If you have propriety or third-party features or software you want to use, then it’s important to find a platform that allows for integration. For instance, some companies want to be able to have attendees register on the company website, with seamless integration from there to the event platform.
Tech support. Any good virtual event platform should have robust tech support, with levels of service both for you and for your attendees. If the platform offers different pricing packages, make sure to find out if they cover different levels of technical support.
Usability. What is the user experience like? Unless your event is tech-focused, your audience won’t have high-level technical expertise. For them to have a good event experience, the platform needs to be easy and intuitive to use. Your guests shouldn’t have to spend so long figuring out how to use the platform that they miss out on event content.
Sponsorship and branding opportunities. Monetization is a vital part of building a successful virtual event. With that in mind, it’s important to choose a virtual event platform that has built-in opportunities for sponsor and brand messaging. From banner advertising to push notifications, online events have lots of potential for brand messaging. A good event platform has those features front and center, rather than forcing planners to find workarounds or adapt to create them.
Engagement and networking-focused features. In the transition from live to virtual events, networking and engagement are the two features that take the biggest hit. It’s hard to keep a virtual audience at a consistently high level of engagement via online content. And the organic, spontaneous networking that people enjoy at live events is hard to find at virtual ones.
When evaluating virtual network providers, one or both of these features will be high on your list of must-haves. Not all events need networking features, but most do need features that encourage audience participation. Look for gamification elements like achievements or badges, and features such as chat rooms or channels, polls, and virtual whiteboards.
For networking, look for features such as breakout spaces, meeting schedulers, and one-on-one meeting spaces. Some platforms even have highly focused features such as rapid-fire networking systems, and AI-driven networking recommendations that offer attendees contact suggestions based on shared interests.
Content Delivery System
Registration packages. Does the platform allow for multiple registration tiers? At many live events, tiered registration packages provide different experiences, from basic packages to VIP levels with extra content or perks. Having multiple registration tiers doesn’t just provide extra content; it also means more sponsorship opportunities and monetization options.
Live vs. pre-recorded content. Many event organizers prefer a platform that can support both kinds of content. Having live content facilitates audience participation and helps keep engagement high. Pre-recorded versions of live content are useful to have as a backup in case of tech troubles. High-tech pre-recorded content is also a good way to boost the overall production value of the event with less risk than complicated live content.
Data Collection and Content Restriction
Data collection. The ability to collect and analyze attendee data is one area where online events shine in comparison to live ones. For your event to fulfil its purpose, you need a virtual event platform with a wide range of data collection touchpoints. When evaluating virtual event providers, make sure to find out:
- What kind of data you can collect
- At what points data can be collected throughout the event
- What kinds of analytics the platform supports
GDPR/CCPA compliance. Data protection laws may apply depending on the location of your event and its attendees. Make a point of ensuring attendee data is held in a secure environment that complies with any relevant legislation.
Content protection. How does the provider protect the content you put on their platform? The platform should have measures that restrict or prohibit downloading content, as well as a way to check who downloads or shares event content. This is also important if you plan to offer extra content as a perk, as you need to be able to restrict it to selected attendee groups.
Are there multiple price points? Many platforms offer features-based packages at different price points. Others price their services on an individual basis, depending on exactly what combination of features you need. Still others price their services based on the number of simultaneous sessions or speakers your event needs. Regardless of the pricing model you go with, make sure you and the provider are on the same page when it comes to what features are included.
Take Your Time to Choose the Right Virtual Event Platform
If you’re new to virtual events, finding and evaluating virtual event providers may seem intimidating. Ask as many questions as you need to understand your options, and don’t be tempted to rush the process. Making the right choice now will serve you and your events well in the future, so it’s worth taking your time.