8 Tips for Choosing the Best Virtual Event Platform
The 2020 pandemic brought about a significant increase in the number of virtual events. As many cities continue to limit in-person event numbers, one of the safest options is hosting a virtual event for your next conference, fundraising gala or association meeting.
While virtual events have increased the type of platform and software to provide the best experience for your event attendees requires some trial and error. And believe it or not, Zoom might not be the best option for your next virtual event. That’s why we’ve broken down exactly what you need to look for to ensure that your event experience still translates well online.
1. Start with Research
One of my first virtual conferences during the COVID-19 quarantine was for a conference that had to pivot to a virtual platform. Instead of sourcing a virtual event-specific platform, they decided to use their already contracted Audio-Visual company to facilitate their virtual conference. The problem with this is that they didn’t really delve into how the platform actually worked. More importantly, the company didn’t have a proper demo video to actually show the client how the platform would function for their event. And, the biggest mistake was they didn’t confer with their meeting planner to help make this decision. As you can imagine, it was quite a challenge working to covert a system that didn’t meet the needs of the conference format and requirements into something that did. Not to mention the entire platform went down during the 1st day of the virtual conference due to connection problems!
To ensure that this does not happen at your event, here’s my ultimate list of things to think about before committing to a virtual event platform:
2. Create the vision for the event
What’s the goal of your event? Think about your content and program format. For example, will you need a virtual expo hall? What about your sponsors for your event?
How will registration be handled?
Will you have keynote speakers, workshop speakers.
What do you envision for attendee engagement during and after the sessions?
What’s your budget? There’s no need to look at a system that starts at $20,000 -if you only budgeted for $5000 for the digital platform
Before you begin googling for virtual platform options, those questions must be asked first to ensure you are looking at the right platforms. You have to compare apples to apples and not apples to grapefruit!
3. Choose your non-negotiable features
Let’s review a few features that will help you make an informed decision to ensure your attendees have an amazing experience at your event. Keep in mind this is just a shortlist of features – depending on your specific event requirements, there could be more.
Custom Branding – can your event be branded with your logo and custom colors and font? This is a basic feature that most organizations and associations require.
Sponsors – is there any opportunity for sponsor placement and branding of sessions and activities on the platform
Functionality – Is the platform formatted to allow multi-day events and, concurrent breakout sessions. If your conference agenda normally contains 10 concurrent breakout sessions, it’s imperative that you know if the platform that you are selecting can accommodate that.
Does the platform have a built-in registration module? How advanced is it? How much can you customize? Explore the payment feature and costs associated with that customizing your selected.
What type of attendee engagement will the system allow?
Question and answer.
Is there live polling?
What about gamification?
Social media – does the system have a social wall for live interaction and engagement. What social media integration features are available?
Hybrid Events – looking to the future. Will this platform grow with you for future events? It is forecasted that in-person conferences and meetings will look differently in the near future. Conferences and events will comprise of both hybrid and in-person events. Will the platform be able to accommodate hybrid events? Microsites - Will you need access to an event microsite to connect attendees? A microsite will contain all of your event information including schedule, speaker’s photos, bios, sponsors, instructions on how to connect to the platform, social media engagement and more.
Push Notifications – this is an important feature to consider. How will you communicate with attendees during the event?. On most conference apps, push notifications play a huge role during virtual events. This is especially important if it’s a live event and there’s technical issues or changes to the program.
4. Event Analytics
Will you be able to pull your event analytics to gauge participation for all of your sessions and activities. This is important for your post-event report and planning for future virtual conferences to provide insight into your attendee engagement patterns and what can be improved.
What features (if any) are available for exhibitors? Can there be an interactive expo hall? Are lead generation options available for exhibitors? How will they collect information on attendees who visit their virtual booths? Can there be live engagement between attendees and exhibitors?
How will sponsors be highlighted and incorporated into the event virtually? This can be done through a variety of options such as branding on speaker backgrounds, banners on the platform, sponsored introductions, branded breakout sessions, and the old reliable social media promotion. Think about if your chosen virtual event platform include features that allow you to highlight your sponsors.
7. Technical Support
This is a big one! What type of technical support is offered? Will you have tech support available during the live event to troubleshoot issues with attendees. Are they available to be in the chat room as well? What about your speakers? Will there be virtual holding rooms for speakers? How many holding rooms can the system accommodate? How will speaker holding rooms be staffed for technical support?
It’s also important to think about your pre-event preparations. Will the virtual platform staff be available for rehearsals with speakers? Or, will you need to train a staff person to facilitate all of the rehearsals?
Many people assume that going virtual means that expenditures will be low. This is not always the case. On the contrary, you should consider what attendee experience you wish to provide. The more seamless and customized the experience the higher the chances of the platform being more expensive. Don’t let this be a deterrent, as the return on investment will be worth it if your attendees enjoyed the event.
Conclusion - Virtual Event Platforms
If the virtual event platform is lacking a lot of the advanced features, this may affect the overall attendee experience. Introducing your attendees to a digital platform is already a big challenge for a lot of people. Once you get them to the platform, the goal is to make it engaging and make it an awesome experience. Remember, digital platforms are here to stay and you’ll want your attendees to be excited about coming back to your digital world.
Have a question? Contact us to find out how we can help.