Virtual Conference 101: Getting Started with Virtual Conferencing – The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has altered the way businesses are done with stuff like virtual conferencing becoming a thing.
With the lockdown, many businesses had to adapt to a new mode of operations. Generally, companies had to leverage the internet to offer their services online.
Workers had to start delivering their tasks from the comfort of their homes. In the same vein, event planners also had to discover a way to adapt to this new way of living by bringing audiences together through virtual conferences.
So, let’s get down to business then. Let us show you how to do a virtual conference and how it can benefit your brand.
- What Is Virtual Conferencing?
- Types of Virtual Conference
- How Virtual Conferencing Can Benefit Your Brand
- How to Setup Your Virtual Conference
- The Best Practices for a Successful Web Conference
- Best Virtual Conference Platforms
- Can A Virtual Conference Have the Same Effect As an In-Person Event?
What Is Virtual Conferencing?
Not everyone is quite familiar with the term ‘virtual conference’ so let’s quickly do a brief run-through of the concept.
Essentially, a virtual conference allows participants to access live onsite meetings and events remotely from their computers at any location on the planet.
Virtual conferences are hosted completely over the internet. Thus, there’s absolutely no need for participants to huddle together in a conference room.
The virtual conferencing can be done on a website or via the use of specific video conferencing tools designed to work for the virtual experience.
These tools are usually user-friendly allowing participants to join the virtual meetings with ease.
Aside from live events, virtual conferencing also includes features such as discussion forums, networking opportunities, conference resource centers, options to search for and chat with other conference participants, etc.
These features are specifically tailored to give virtual participants the same experience they’ll get as onsite attendees.
Types of Virtual Conference
There are three major types of virtual conferences. These are video conferences, teleconference, and web conferences. They can be applied in different kinds of industries or situations depending on the requirement of the conference. Below is a short explanation of these variants.
1. Video conference
With video conferencing, participants can not only hear but also see each other in the meeting using a computer’s video camera and microphone or a mobile device’s built-in camera.
There are lots of video conference providers in the market today including Zoom, Skype, as well as ezTalks.
People planning to join a video conference will need a video conferencing application, a computer with a webcam (can be built-in with the computer or as a separate accessory), and a microphone speaker.
Joining a video conference can also be done using a smart mobile device, and a fast Internet connection.
This form of virtual conference is usually used for interviewing candidates residing in faraway locations or for delivering group online meetings for business.
It can also be used for meeting with employees working remotely and telecommuting as well as for connecting to long-distance clients.
Additionally, video conferencing is ideal for online trainings and for hosting brainstorming sessions or project-planning sessions.
Teleconferencing, as the name suggests, connects meeting participants with the aid of telephone lines.
This can be done via landlines or cellular devices that allow several users to connect simultaneously from multiple locations.
This category of conferencing includes telephone conferencing, phone conferencing, and audio conferencing.
However, teleconferencing comes with a drawback. This downside is that there is no visual reference for meeting participants.
Thus, people have no access to the identity of the speaker. In short, participants cannot see each other.
This form of conferencing can, however, be more effective if all the participants are introduced beforehand and if each person identifies themselves before commenting.
3. Web Conference
The web conference is a general term used to describe the process of utilizing a web browser and the internet to connect individuals or groups together from various geographic areas for educational or training webinars.
It can also be used for video conferencing, collaborative online meetings, or live presentations in real-time.
Web conference accommodates real-time point-to-point communications as well as multi communications from a sender to several receivers.
It features data streams of text-based messages, voice, as well as video chat to be shared simultaneously, across geographically dispersed regions.
How Virtual Conferencing Can Benefit Your Brand
During the first few months of 2020, COVID-19 and the resulting social distancing regulations lead to a sudden jump in remote work and a heavy reliance on remote work tools.
Similarly, it left several organizations pondering how to host a virtual conference since they needed to quickly make the transition from in-person events to online ones.
Most businesses, particularly those with little to no idea on how to host a successful virtual conference that year opted to completely cancel these events instead.
However, since remote work and online-only events and seminars are our new normal, you should also pivot your business to the trend by adapting and learning how to host a virtual conference that’s just as impactful as an in-person one.
In terms of the benefits your business can enjoy from virtual conferencing, learning how to host one offers several advantages outside of cost savings related to event space, travel, and hotels.
In addition, moving your conferences online helps save when you consider the hassles related to travel time. It also makes it easier for your event to reach a nationwide or global audience.
Also, since there’s less cost involved and more convenience by going virtual, the chances are higher that you’ll get a higher number of both registrants and attendees. This translates to more leads for your organization.
Furthermore, the data you receive from attendees during the virtual conference through features like Q&A sessions and live polling can help you improve on your marketing strategy, product launch, and any other future virtual events you host.
Lastly, virtual or online conferences are a fantastic way for startups to expand their brand recognition.
It also gives new companies the chance to generate revenue by selling products during the conference or by charging a registration fee.
How to Setup Your Virtual Conference
Setting up your first virtual conference can be a bit tricky, but its nothing you cant handle with adequate research and proper time allotted to planning.
Follow the steps below to guide you through the process of setting up your very first virtual event. And if this isn’t your first, read on to see if there are any steps you might be missing.
Step 1: Plan and Structure Your Virtual Conference
Now, before you start reaching out to speakers or creating ad campaigns for your conference, you need to develop a plan and structure your virtual conference.
This will help you establish your conference’s visual identity, format and event scope. So, get started with strategy sessions as these will be crucial to the success of your conference.
It will also set the foundation on which your team will build on. So, during the planning stage, be sure to ask yourself these questions:
Why is your company creating this conference?
Who are the target audience of your conference?
What will the attendees gain from your event and why will they want to attend?
How much would it cost? It could be free to attend or require a standard ticket price or perhaps a sliding scale with VIP attendees getting additional perks.
When will it happen, what is the best date to ensure maximum attendance at your event?
Starting your planning and strategizing early is key to a successful event. Depending on when you choose to hold your event, you’ll want to give yourself enough lead time.
Your lead time could be weeks, months or even years before the D-day of the conference. It really doesn’t matter as long as it is planned to perfection.
- – Visual Branding
As soon as you’ve figured out the why, who, and what, of your event, you can start working on your conference’s visual identity.
Your visual identity or branding is a very important aspect of your conference. Basically, it can make or break how your attendees perceive your event.
So, don’t rush it – take plenty of time to plan this out. As a side note, this also presents an excellent opportunity for you to step out of your brand’s day-to-day aesthetic and create something that will set you apart from other virtual conferences.
When creating your brand visual, focus on your audience while keeping your brand’s identity in mind. Also, try to relax and let your team flex their creativity as they fashion designs that’ll excite your attendees.
However, if you choose to deviate from your usual branding, it’s totally okay as long as you retain certain elements. Generally, you should not be afraid to get creative.
But still, remember to be consistent. Be sure your visual branding captures the attention of your potential attendees across all touchpoints including landing or events page, emails, social media posts, etc.
You can set up a visual mood board to guide and inspire your creative team as they design the conference’s theme.
It would greatly help put all of your ideas together so you can figure out what styles complement each other.
- – Structure and Schedule
While the creative team is working their magic, you can turn your attention to the event’s structure and schedule.
You can start by thinking about conferences you have attended previously – it is even more engaging when there’s an array of session types.
Remember that your event is happening digitally, thus, you’ll want to keep your attendees as engaged as possible.
So think of mixing solo sessions with panel discussions and Q&As. You can also kick off the event with a meditation and intention-setting session just like EveryStylishGirl’s digital conference.
A meditation session brings a unique mix of IRL activity and creativity to the digital space in terms of audience engagement.
In addition, it allows your attendees to de-stress while building their excitement for the sessions to follow.
Now, this is the point where the importance of choosing your speakers comes into play. The fact that Abena Boamah is both a mental health advocate and entrepreneur meant EveryStylishGirl was able to deliver something beyond a regular solo session.
The point here is that when you plan your virtual conference’s sessions and schedule, you should also do the same with the speakers you invite.
Take your time to discover what works best for your speakers, be it a solo session, keynote, or outdoor chat – be sure to make them feel comfortable on camera.
As soon as you’ve confirmed your sessions and structure, you can identify content themes and make a decision on the flow of your conference.
Here’s how to choose your speakers:
- Reach out to people who resonate with your audience and have valuable tips to share
- Decide on the length of your conference. If it’s going to be a one-day event, you’ll want to limit the number of sessions and speakers. This will help you avoid screen fatigue.
- Before you start emailing speakers, always do your research first.
This instantly gives off the idea that she has done her research and is reaching out intentionally. Also, it helps if you put yourself in the speaker’s shoes.
What type of information would get you all giddied up and excited about joining the lineup of your event’s speakers? Include that information in the email to your speaker.
Lastly, during your budget planning, remember to allocate a small amount for your speakers. And as we reiterated earlier, try to give yourself enough lead time when reaching out.
This will help you in coordinating how the sessions will be recorded.
Step 2: Select Your Virtual Conference Platform
Undoubtedly, what sets in-person conferences and virtual conferences apart is the location. In-person conferences occur in a single physical location while virtual conferences allow you to reach a much larger audience across several nations and time zones.
Additionally, with the option to record and send out replays, you can generate even more engagement after the conference is over.
Now, here is one of the biggest parts of hosting a virtual conference – selecting how your content will be viewed by attendees and what hosting platform will meet your conference’s needs.
Virtual Events and conferences are still on the rise and as a result, there are several available hosting platforms as well as webinar tools to choose from. They include Zoom, Hopin, BigMarker, ClickMeeting, Whova, etc.
Each of these virtual conferencing platforms have their own unique features – from online chat to breakout rooms – so it is imperative to request demos and see how they fit in with your event plan.
Using a mix of pre-recorded and live sessions can help in keeping your attendees engaged and willing to tune in for the entire conference.
Although this requires extra effort in terms of coordination and organization but when you pull it off successfully, it will be worth it. So, get started with scoping the right virtual conference platform early.
Step 3: Create Hype and Market Your Virtual Conference
Just like any other event, you’ll need to market your virtual conference to attract attendees. You can start by creating hype around it using an integrated social media, email marketing, and influencer marketing strategy.
Also, you’ll want to create a branded hashtag and ensure your creative assets are in sync. This way, your event will instantly become recognizable across all touchpoints.
You can start with a few social media posts to build hype several weeks before the event. However, as the conference date starts getting closer, increase the number of posts aggressively.
Below are some interactive ways to create hype for your virtual conference:
- Create and post quizzes about your speakers. You can make use of the quiz sticker on Instagram stories.
- Create a buzz using the countdown sticker to encourage your audience to save the date.
- Involve your speakers’ communities. Add a section in their contract where must post about your virtual conference.
- Hold giveaways for special perks such as exclusive merchandise or one-on-one consultations.
- Make a short video content by selected speakers revealing a sneak peek into their session.
- Have a member of your team host an Instagram Live while answering FAQs.
- Create a blog post that highlights some of the key strategies your audience will learn.
Be sure to develop and brainstorm ideas while sticking to a solid timeline. This will no doubt help you avoid any fire brigade scheduling. In addition, it also helps your team optimize their creativity several weeks in advance.
Step 4: Engage with Your Audience During the Virtual Event
Prolonged staring at screens can reduce your blink rate by 33%. This can result in eye dryness, strain, as well as fatigue.
Have this in mind and plan your virtual conference proactively by including short breaks and maintain a good level of excitement throughout the conference.
Elements such as giveaways, live coverage on social media, and speaker engagement are key factors in keeping your attendees locked on to your event. Most importantly, try to have some fun!
Step 5: Make Customers from Attendees
If the main goal of your conference is to gain more customers, you can convert them by leveraging your attendees. In fact, this can be done in several ways without even coming across as being too salesy.
An interesting way of converting attendees is by offering promo codes for your products or services. They can be as simple as “Get a free 10-day trial,” a discount on your products, or a free downloadable e-book.
Also, you can give attendees a digital “swag bag” that includes a collaborative offer for a limited period.
Generally, a digital swag bag is considered a fun gift for attendees and it is in fact, an intelligent way of getting them to try your product without being seen as pushy.
You can also convert attendees into customers by sending out a post-conference email. When crafting your post-conference email, be sure to thank the attendees for being part of the success of your event.
You can also try including a link directing them to where they can access the rewatch of the event. Once your attendees have opted into your newsletter or email, it creates a unique pathway for you to communicate with them.
Thus, you can use that medium to share crucial updates about your business, upcoming sales, or new product launches.
When it comes to down to planning a virtual event, it does require extra organization and communication, however, you’ll get the rare opportunity to flex your creativity, reach a planetary audience, and acquire new customers or patrons.
The Best Practices for a Successful Web Conference
Along with the steps above, you should also adhere to these best practices for how to host a virtual conference in 2021.
How Long Should a Virtual Conference Be?
Start by considering the length of the virtual conference. Indeed, day-long events are quite common however, much of that time is usually spent networking and socializing.
Thus, if your virtual event is going to be an all-day one, consider making some of the topics shorter on-demand sessions or include plenty of breaks.
About 70% of webinar registrations are for virtual events that are an hour long – so be sure to consider the most important part of your conference and make it count.
If your event will cover a broad topic, you can consider spreading it over the course of a week.
Whatever length you choose for your virtual conference, be sure to create and share an event agenda with your registrants beforehand.
Should You Develop a Virtual Conference Agenda?
If your virtual conference will last for several hours, it is best to create an event agenda. It allows attendees to choose which sessions and speakers they will prioritize and also highlights the event’s overall value.
In addition, conference agendas also let you build in dedicated virtual networking times for the participants throughout the day – this can encourage them to stay longer.
Furthermore, agendas help in learning how to host a virtual content because they present a clear outline of how you’ll transition from one subject or speaker to another.
They also keep speakers that would often go over their time on schedule. The best practice you can follow here is to place your most important information at the beginning of the conference while saving the most anticipated session or speaker for last.
How Can You Prepare For a Virtual Event?
If you were hosting an in-person conference for the first time, chances are that you’d have secured the space a few hours ahead of schedule.
This would give you ample time to practice and ensure that all tech and equipment are working as they should.
However, with a virtual conference, you’ll have to search for a webinar application that comes with a virtual practice room.
This is a private meeting room where the organizers can show off their products and speakers can meet to rehearse their presentations.
They can also make sure that tools like slides and other engagement features are working properly. These private rooms can even record practice sessions allowing hosts to view and improve their virtual presentations.
But, even with lots of practice, things can still go wrong. So, be sure to have plenty of tech support staff as well as customer service representatives on hand during the event.
You can also create a “Plan B” before the virtual conference begins to handle the possibility of technical difficulties.
Best Virtual Conference Platforms
The advice given above won’t make any impact if you do not pick the right webinar application. Check out these excellent virtual conference platforms below.
1. Zoom Video Webinars
Zoom video webinars can accommodate up to 10,000 virtual event attendees. The app also includes both live and on-demand viewing options.
Some of its top features include:
- Live chat
- Live streaming to Facebook Live and YouTube Live
- Custom branding
- Pass presenter tool
- Virtual hand raising
- Integrations with popular team collaboration
- Branded registration templates
- Host controls
- Reporting and analytics
- Event planning assistance
The pricing plans for Zoom’s webinar starts at $40/month per host for up to 100 attendees. It is an awesome platform for companies aiming to increase brand recognition and monetize webinars.
You can make use of GoToWebinar, GoToMeeting’s webinar platform, which can conveniently host up to 3,000 attendees while also allowing both live and pre-recorded content.
Some of its unique features include:
- Live Polling and Q&A
- Handouts and file sharing
- Virtual hand raising
- Webinar templates
- Automated emails
- Audience spotlight
- Online and local recording and transcripts
- No0download attendee access
- Event analytics and reporting
- Multiple payments accepted
- Custom registration form
This software is ideal for large virtual events as well as companies using virtual conferencing to learn more about their target audience or generate revenue.
On GoToWebinar, there are four paid plans ranging in price from $49 per month to $399 per month.
WebinarJam is another virtual conference application that can host up to 6,000 attendees, six presenters, and allows webinars of up to four hours.
Some of its best features are below:
- Chat messenger
- Live polls
- File sharing and handouts
- Active offers
- Email/SMS notifications
- One-click registration
- Panic button
- Automatic recording
- Performance analytics
- Integration with Mailchimp, Zapier, and more
WebinarJam is a great choice for virtual events that include live offers and those that rely mainly on attendee engagement and participation. However, note that it only offers live webinars, not automated ones.
If you plan on using WebinarJam, you can select from three paid plans ranging in price from $499 per year to $999 per year.
With EasyWebinar, you’ll get both automated and pre-recorded virtual events of up to 2,00 attendees.
The major features of EasyWebinar include:
- Unlimited monthly webinars
- Live chat messenger tool
- Up to 4 simultaneous presenters
- HD screen sharing/ integration with free screen sharing apps
- YouTube Live and Facebook Live integration
- Noise reduction VoIP audio
- Automatic recording
- Attendee reporting/analytics
- Real-time offers
- Pass presenter tool
- Email notifications/reminders
Ideal for organizations aiming to use the platform to learn how to create training webinars for employees, EasyWebinar is also perfect for those who want to reuse previous webinars.
The price plan on EasyWebinar ranges from $78 per month to $499 per month.
5. BlueJeans Events
BlueJeans Events is an exceptional webinar platform that can accommodate a maximum of 50,000 attendees, device-agnostic attendance, and up to 100 simultaneous screen streams.
Some of the excellent features you can find in BlueJeans Events include:
- Live chat messaging
- Screen sharing
- File sharing
- Live surveys
- Live polling/Q&A
- Integration for Salesforce, Marketo, and more
- Unlimited virtual conference length
- Toll-free dial-in access
- 5 hours of event recording
BlueJeans Events is awesome for nationwide corporations that seek to be able to host the highest number of event attendees possible.
However, just like WebinarJam, you won’t be getting pre-recorded, automated virtual conferencing on BlueJeans Events.
In terms of pricing, BlueJeans Events offers one-time webinar hosting for $499 or unlimited webinars for an undisclosed amount.
Can A Virtual Conference Have the Same Effect As an In-Person Event?
When you take into consideration the various features, audience engagement tools, and comprehensive attendee analytics, hosting a virtual event in 2021 is not just as good as an in-person event but in fact, even better.
But to properly plan how to host a virtual conference and ensure that all the speakers and planners are on the same page, you should consider upgrading your team collaboration app to improve your management system.
Top project management tools like Asana and Monday.com can help you to assign tasks such as content development and contacting guest speakers to specific members of your team.
In addition, chat messaging tools such as Slack and other great alternatives ensure that your staff can get instant answers to time-sensitive questions and communicate with other departments about bottle-necks such as registration page errors.
Moving your in-person event to a digital venue requires a total transformation of your mindset from what you’re used to with live events.
Virtual conferencing is a transition that presents a new opportunity for you to explore unique ways of delivering even better events.
So, keep your thinking outside the box. Try not to limit yourself to the status quo, and feel free to recreate anything within the online environment.
Be creative. Try stuff that no one has ever done before. Do not be worried or afraid of trying out new approaches and technologies.
If it fails, you’ll learn from it. But if successful, it could be the turning point your business has been waiting for that will plant your brand solidly on the global landscape.