Organizing and hosting a conference can be exciting and rewarding, but it also presents a multitude of challenges, some of which may be unanticipated.
Budget worries, managing event logistics, marketing and audience engagement; meeting the expectations of attendees, sponsors, and stakeholders all require careful planning, attention to detail, and an uncommon knack for flexibility. Creating memorable experiences for your business, organization or industry can test even the most seasoned event planner.
When we were all forced by a global pandemic to take our conferences virtual in 2020, there was no need to question whether or not it was the best option for our businesses, industries or organizations; it’s what we had to do.
Now that COVID-19 has eased and folks are as eager as ever to “return to normal” and get back to in-person gatherings, it’s worth remembering why we chose virtual conferences in a pre-COVID world.
The same drivers that have made virtual events and conferences a more strategic choice than their in-person counterparts still exist today and many have been exacerbated: budget tightening amid economic uncertainty; the high cost and inconvenience of travel; the need to reach dispersed teams and global audiences.
Allow us to highlight several of the greatest challenges that in-person conferences present that a virtual solution can eliminate or simplify to help you decide if an online experience is right for your conference, convention, trade show, summit or expo.
- Location (eliminated): Choosing a location that appeals to your audience and guests is a heavy lift. We probably would all prefer to be on a tropical island or mountain retreat, but we’re probably going to end up in Las Vegas, San Diego or another major city with the space to accommodate us in convention centers, hotels and ballrooms. Some of the most attractive locations also run the risk of being distractions from your event.
Virtual eliminates this effort and allows your staff and audience to participate from their home or office. For most of us, there’s no blinking, light-up, novelty mug in the world that can compete with the comfort of a pair of slippers or reliably good coffee.
Virtual events allow you to reach dispersed teams and a truly global audience and capitalize on exceptional talent that can’t always come to you.
- Travel (eliminated): Travel takes considerable time and effort, presents accessibility issues and it’s increasingly costly. An inability to travel due to a disability or illness or the high cost is a barrier that prevents underserved members of your community from engaging with your conference, making your event exclusionary (which is not the same as exclusive).
Travel demands that all participants suspend their daily commitments and routines to join you and a huge number of worthy participants just can’t do this.
Virtual eliminates the need to travel and makes budgeting the cost in time and money of attending your important event easier to manage for everyone which greatly enhances accessibility and inclusion. The value of being able to maintain our daily commitments with our families, friends, pets and work is a huge benefit that can’t be overstated.
- Lodging (eliminated): Securing group rates for lodging may not be the hardest part of your effort, but are you sure that’s where people want to stay? What other events might be going on at the same time? The jackhammer operators convention may not jive so well with your relaxation and mindfulness summit, but you might not know about it until you arrive.
Virtual allows your team and participants to skip the expense and inconvenience of staying away from home for several days. You may still choose to gather some of your key stakeholders in one location to create synergy between teams presenting and supporting your events.
- Scheduling (simplified): The task of scheduling a series of key notes and presentations, workshops, breakout sessions and downtime for networking and meals and packing it all into two to three days can be puzzling.
Getting the mix right and avoiding overlap of important happenings is a crucial element of planning. Your vendors, exhibitors and sponsors need time to connect with attendees too. Presenters don’t want to feel like they are competing against one another for time.
You may not need to cram everything into 2-3 days as you have the option of, for instance, hosting your virtual conference or summit over a week or more with sessions occurring for only a few hours per day which gives our participants even more flexibility to attend to their daily lives. With the effort that you’ve saved on items like travel, lodging and location, your team will have more time and bandwidth to plan an outstanding schedule of events.
- Technology and AV (simplified): Technology and audio/visual (AV) equipment are critical components of any conference or trade show, but they can be complex, challenging to manage and incredibly expensive.
Conference organizers must work to ensure that the right team of experts is hired and in place to manage the rented equipment and that technical support is available throughout the event. Technology is a substantial part of any conference budget.
Making sure that your virtual event presenters and guests have an appropriate microphone or headset and quality camera requires a bit of guidance and a quality check, but the proliferation of virtual events into all of our daily lives has made this very simple.
The cost and time saved by hosting virtually is considerable and is often the deciding factor involved in choosing a virtual experience.
- Recording and Post-Event Content Marketing (simplified): How do we remind participants of the great experience, learning and networking of a conference? A swag bag goes only so far. Making recordings available helps people re-engage with and share your event content, but the cost and effort can be tremendous for in-person events. Further, you won't likely have the results of your recordings until after the conference is long over.
Hiring and coordinating a team of experts to bring the cameras, connect to professional audio, manage the recording process, and edit is a task that requires considerable time and budget.
The software used to host a virtual meeting or webinar has recording built in. The ease of recording and sharing your virtual sessions and offering later playback can allow participants to take in what they’ve missed live.
Designating a member of the session team to confirm each is recorded is simple and does not require knowledge of video capture or editing. The cost saving here is considerable and your files can be available shortly after each recording is completed. Share the recordings right away, edit to resell the content or use it for social media campaigns during your conference.
- Budgeting and Finances (simplified): Organizing an in-person conference or trade show is an expensive undertaking, and managing finances and securing budgets can be a challenge. Conference organizers must work to stay within budget while still providing a high-quality, memorable experience for attendees.
Every dollar that you save by hosting virtually can be redirected toward enhanced marketing efforts and hiring key talent to make your virtual conference a greater value for your audience and improve your ROI tremendously.
- Networking (requires intention): Networking is a critical component of any conference or trade show, but it can be challenging for attendees to make meaningful connections when there are so many people and events to navigate. Conference organizers will need to work diligently to create opportunities for networking and facilitate introductions between attendees.
Networking is one area of your virtual conference that may need more attention than an in-person conference because your audience is not benefitting from meeting at designated networking areas, booths, lunch and happy hours or in the hallways between sessions.
Creating networking opportunities for a virtual conference will be more deliberate with networking times scheduled and topics provided to help folks find the right people with whom to mingle.
Here are several more elements of your planning that are impacted by taking your conference virtual: vendor, exhibitor, and sponsor visibility, attendee engagement, catering and food service, crowd management and site logistics.
As you can see, there are several benefits to hosting a conference online as opposed to in person and very few new challenges. One of the main benefits is that virtual allows people to attend the conference from anywhere in the world, which can greatly increase the number of attendees. This can be especially useful for conferences that have a large, international audience.
Online conferences also tend to be more cost-effective than in-person conferences, since they don’t require attendees to travel or book accommodations.
Additionally, hosting a conference online allows organizers to easily record the sessions and make them available for attendees to watch later, which can be useful for those who are unable to attend the live event.
Another benefit of online conferences is that they can be more accessible for people with disabilities or illness because attendees can participate from the comfort of their own homes or offices and don’t need to worry about navigating a physical space.
Overall, hosting a conference online has the potential to increase the reach and impact of the event, while also being more cost-effective and accessible for attendees.
Choosing the right platform and tools for your virtual conference requires careful consideration and we hope that you will find that EventSpace satisfies your needs by allowing you to bring the tools and technology that you are used to using to your event.
The ability to create admins and hosts for your Venue and various Spaces on the EventSpace platform makes the delegation of tasks easy, allowing your contributors to focus on their expertise to build a better event without relying on the one person with a software license to do everything.
EventSpace has features like the User Badge to help us to network, learn more about one another and connect more easily through messaging and links to our social media pages.
To learn more about EventSpace and how we can help you reach your audience, we encourage you to schedule a demo with our team to discuss your needs and create a great fit for your virtual conference.