The new normal calls for new tools and platforms to deliver events. Meeting online is not new to anyone, but transferring all aspects of our social life into the virtual world surely demands a change in the way we interact. The mission of event platforms over the past year has been to make this transition as seamless as possible. Most have successfully managed it and have created virtual experiences that go beyond what we could have imagined a few years ago. On the one hand, the novelty of event platforms appeals to participants and has made them want to explore them. On the other hand, relinquishing access to the data now required to attend an online event has been intimidating, if not outright frightening, for some.
The pros and cons of online event platforms have had event organizers reconsider the way they want to engage with their audiences and what compromises they are willing to make to offer customized experiences without too high a price paid in recording participants’ data. Before deciding which platform is right for an event, organizers have to go through a checklist and set their priorities, aligning what is most important for them with what the platform can offer.
In this article, I will go through some of the points organizers should watch out for.
Let’s start with the most important aspect of all events, the one that sets them apart and gets participants interested in attending.
Content Hosting and Distribution
Bottom line, you want a platform on which you can host and distribute the content of your event. As events have moved online, virtual event platforms have become the one and only way to ensure content gets to audiences. Content hosting and distribution features differ from platform to platform as they try to cater to all kinds of events. Once you have the calendar set, you will be able to make a list of formats you want to create, and decide which platform best integrates these formats. Whether it’s keynote talks that require embedded live streams functions, a charity event that needs a virtual fundraiser, or a product launch that could benefit from a VR demo, there is something for everyone out there.
Registration and Barriers to Entry
People are becoming more and more discerning when it comes to accessing virtual events, and oher online services too, for that matter. If a platform requires participants to fill in too many details or includes too many steps in the registration phase, the entire process will be seen as a nuisance, and attendees might even abandon the purchase of a ticket even though they want to attend your event. This is why it is so important to use a platform with a great user experience and as few barriers to entry as possible. Be sure to look at the registration process and even request a demo if needed when assessing platforms. If you find the procedures too tedious, chances are your audiences will too. As a rule of thumb, you should always seek not to ask your attendees to do something you wouldn’t be happy doing yourself.
This is an increasingly important feature for participants. Starved of networking with people from their industry, event attendees will attribute a lot of the success of an online event to the networking opportunities it facilitates. We all know that a great draw for real-life events was the opportunity to meet other people in your field. If virtual events are to be successful in the long run and stand the test of time even when things reopen, they have to meet the demand for networking. The good news is, many platforms now use AI tools for matchmaking. This means participants who have completed their profiles and have made their interests and backgrounds public will be matched with those with similar interests and backgrounds. It’s a great way to make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction with a more personalized experience.
Audience Participation and Engagement
“Zoom fatigue” is not just a buzzword. Anyone who has worked from home and tried to learn online knows it’s a real thing. This is why the last thing you want is for your attendees to simply sit in front of their screens and listen to a keynote talk. Instead, you want to offer them the opportunity to get involved and even incentivize them to do so. Event platforms now integrate multiple ways for attendees to get involved, whether it’s simply raising a hand to contribute to the discussion, taking part in polls and surveys during a talk, answering quizzes, text chatting, or even following user-selected presentation paths. One great advantage of modern online platforms is that they have something for both introverts and extroverts, so the user can take their own path and get involved as much or as little as they wish.
Navigating online events is still challenging for a great number of attendees. Setting up such an event is challenging for organizers. Look to choose a platform that has great customer support, preferably on-demand, so that the pressure is off when it comes to the day of the event. Knowing that a robust technical team has your back when it comes to sorting out the technical nitty-gritty will allow you to focus more on the actual content and experience you are offering, and ultimately, enjoy the event you’ve worked so hard to put together.
Real-time and Post-event Data Analytics
Ahhh… the data! What would event organizers do without it? They would be fumbling in the dark, trying to guess what their audiences are thinking about what they see and hear and what they might want to see and hear. Luckily, you don’t have to work blind anymore because in the online world it’s so much easier to track, understand behaviors, and ultimately, understand your participants’ needs. You want to have access to all that information that is so easy to obtain from a virtual event, and the best way to do it is to choose a platform that has high quality, real-time, and post-event analytics.
The great benefit of virtual events is that the cost of the venue and the logistics can be left out of the equation. But all is not good news on the pricing front. Virtual event platforms can be expensive. While the event platform is key to the success of your event, the pricing options out there are very different, and for small events, some platforms might indeed turn out to be more pricey than a live venue. Do the math and figure out your budget before you even start looking at features and extras, so you don’t waste your precious time considering a platform that is too expensive for your requirements.
You might not find the platform of your dreams that ticks all of the boxes I mention in this article. In this case, be sure to prioritize the features you need most, depending on the format and content of your event, the audiences’ needs and preferences, and, last but not least, your own resources. The best thing that came out of last year was the wealth of options in terms of virtual event platforms, which means that even when there are some limitations, solutions can still be found easily.