Virtual events still sound a little futuristic, but they’ve been happening since 1993 when the world’s first livestream brought us nail-biting webcam footage of a coffee maker in mid drip. The streaming pot brewed up millions of views.
In some ways little has changed in 2020. On TikTok, teenagers have gone viral with sleep feeds, raking in crypto coin as they catch some zzz’s. But tech and social media upgrades have opened the door to new ways to connect online, from virtual museum tours to live Q&As with astronauts in space.
Even some of the largest conferences have gone partially or completely digital. Moving events like this online can reduce costs and carbon footprints, and make attendance accessible to a wider audience. In 2018, Coachella’s YouTube livestream brought Beyoncé’s Homecoming to more than 41 million people in more than 232 countries, rather than just the hundreds of thousands in attendance in person.
From live-tweeting to livestreaming, businesses and organizations are staging virtual events across the web. So, is your company ready to get digital?
Whether you have an event already in mind or you’re looking for ideas, this article is your all-access pass.
What is a virtual event?
A virtual event is any organised meet-up that takes place online rather than in a physical location. These events can range from small question-and-answer sessions to large-scale conferences with thousands of attendees. Even a livestreamed feed of a solo cup pyramid can be a virtual event, apparently.
Here’s a rundown of the different kinds of online business events your company can host.
How-to’s, tutorials, and classes
Have a product or service that needs some explaining? A how-to or tutorial is a good way to provide tips, tricks, and instructions.
This type of event can be used to launch a new product, answer frequently-asked questions, or reveal different use cases. Kick things up a notch with a full-on class. For instance, yoga instructors or chefs can share exercise and cooking classes online.
Training and courses
For more complex topics, webinars, workshops, and courses might be a better fit. This format can offer deep dives around specific themes, skill sets, tools, and more. For example, Hootsuite have webinars which include Best Practices for Using Search and Social Advertising Together and How to Build an Audience Driven Social Marketing Plan.
Give your followers a peek behind-the-scenes. Places like museums, galleries, theatres, airports, and even national parks, can offer viewers glimpses at what it’s like to visit. Or what it’s like to work somewhere.
Your business doesn’t have to be an attraction to make it happen. Tour your lab, factory, office, workshop, tradeshow or test kitchen. Show your customers how the “sausage” gets made.
Interviews and performances
Tap your in-house experts to share their knowledge in a live question-and-answer session. Host a laidback Ask Me Anything (AMA) on social media. Or invite speakers or artists to give a talk or performance.
Everything from TED-style talks to stand-up comedy shows or intimate interviews is fair game. Interactive trivia games and contests can also keep things engaging.
Conferences and shows
Even large-scale events can have a virtual component. From Coachella to SXSW, live concerts and summits have been streamed online so that people who can’t attend in person can still get in on the action. But there are also many conferences that take place entirely online, with networking and meetings integrated, too.
How to host a virtual event (and tools that can help)
There are a variety of ways to host a virtual event. Here’s a round-up of the different formats along with some of the best virtual events platforms you can use.
Start an online discussion by live tweeting an event, asking a question, or hosting an Ask Me Anything. Use a hashtag to help people find and follow the conversation.
Other online discussion tools include:
- Discord: Free voice and text chat mostly used by gamers.
- Reddit: A discussion forum popular for AMAs.
- Slack: An instant-messaging platform good for organising chats.
Stories are a great platform to share videos and visuals of tutorials, interviews, and more. Add filters, special effects, and stickers to take questions, conduct polls, host an influencer takeover, and more. On Instagram, you can add them to a highlight for future viewers.
The ephemeral approach to live events works with:
A typical webinar is an online presentation held in real-time. But they can be shared and viewed afterwards as well. Most of the time, a presenter will share their screen to go through slides or demos, while narrating. Participants can ask questions by voice or through a chat feed if the platform and presenter allows.
It’s like a one-off workshop or class that happens in real-time.
Webinar platform options include:
- 6connex: Available on any browser or device, with no download required. Features include flexible registration, social media integration, and real-time analytics.
- Crowdcast: Can be joined through a single URL. Tools include built-in registration forms, analytics, replays, and more.
- Demio: Allows for pre-recorded or live webinars—or a mix of both. Includes private chat, interactive polls, call-to-action buttons, and other features.
- Livestorm: On-demand webinars from Livestorm include integrations with Google Analytics, Slack, and various engagement tools.
- WebinarNinja: No need to download software for this platform, which offers paid and free events, 1,000+ app integrations, and even Facebook Pixel ad tracking.
- Zoom: Can have one host, group chat—and even offers breakout rooms. Plans cover from 100 to 10,000 view-only attendees.
- YouTube Livestream: A free and easy option for streaming live webinars.
Just about every social media platform has a live video feature. Livestreams are known for driving engagement. According to Facebook, live video averages six times more engagement than regular video.
Social livestream platforms include:
Most livestreams show comments and attendees in real time. And some, like Instagram, make it possible for you to go live with a friend—a good option for a Q&A or co-presentation.
Expect Facebook to roll out live selling features soon, too.
Conferences and networking
For more formal virtual events, there are platforms that offer suites of tools that include livestreaming, chatrooms, and more.
- 6connex: Exhibitors can create virtual booths, compete for leaderboard positions, livestream, and chat with this virtual trade show platform.
- AirMeet: Online events that encourage immersive interactions and networking among attendees.
- Brella: Speakers, multitrack agendas, sponsors, individual streams, and more are taken care of with this hub for virtual conferences.
- HeySummit: Build a landing page, onboard speakers, register attendees, and more. Note that this solution helps package virtual events, but you’ll need to integrate with tools for livestreaming.
- Hop In: This all-in-one live events platform covers everything from networking events, meetings, trade shows, webinars, live broadcasts, and more.
- Run the World: Everything from cocktail parties to fireside chats are an option with this remote conference platform. Built-in templates are available for different use-cases to minimise event-planning hassles.
- Vfairs: A virtual expo platform with everything from booths to webinar and conversations starter tools.