One of the myriad changes brought by the pandemic is the rise of virtual events and the need for quality online event management. With everything from university commencements to the Grammys and Oscars being reimagined as remote events, digital gatherings have normalized.
Even now, with many COVID-19 restrictions easing, remote events continue to be popular. According to 2021 research conducted by the technology advisory firm Metrigy, more than 90% of companies now host some form of the virtual event, from one-off webinars to large multi-day conferences. Similarly, a 2021 Grand View Research market analysis report projected that the global virtual events industry will grow nearly tenfold, from $78 billion in 2019 to $774 billion by 2030.
However, the rise of virtual events has brought new challenges in event planning and management. For instance, online event hosts need to:
- Keep audiences engaged with the right amount and type of content
- Incorporate brand logos, colors, and promotional materials into virtual settings
- Consider event security and privacy
- Offer accommodations to improve accessibility for participants with disabilities
- Provide immersive and interactive elements to combat “Zoom fatigue” and disconnect
- Arrange for live tech support in case of issues during the event
- Strategize to move participants down the pipeline during and after the event
- Ensure an overall smooth and glitch-free technical experience for participants
Given that remote workplaces are here to stay, what are the best ways to host a productive, engaging online event? Below, we’ll outline some important practices for online event management and explain how your team can host a successful virtual event.
1. Choose the Right Technology
Today, familiar platforms like Webex, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom offer many options for hosting online events — including robust features that extend well beyond simple video conferencing. By comparing the key features of these platforms, you can discern which choice is best for your organization’s events.
- Webex Webinars offers excellent all-in-one event management software and hardware that provides customization across the entire event lifecycle. Its rich UI and scalable video call features lend themselves to productive work meetings as well as polished, immersive virtual events with up to 100,000 guests.
- Microsoft Teams is a strong choice for large webinars and virtual presentations. Its video calls offer custom layout and presentation options, live transcription services, and other settings that can be tailored to your unique event — plus an integrated workspace chat platform for seamless event planning.
- Google Meet features flexible layouts, screen sharing, transcription, and interactive tools like breakout rooms and polls for Google Workspace users. This solution is best for small to medium events, as the participant cap is 500 guests.
- Zoom has established itself as a popular choice for internal meetings in remote and hybrid workplaces. Whether you’re in a small group of five or at a corporation of 5,000, you can take advantage of easy keyboard shortcuts, transcripts, and effortless integration with third-party apps.
Beyond the major players, there are many other platforms in the online event management space, including companies like Hopin. This plethora of options allows companies a great deal of latitude in planning their online events strategy — but it can also pose significant challenges.
According to a 2021 Harvard Business Review article, almost half of all organizations use more than one platform for internal webinars. Companies need to contemplate the benefits of utilizing a single platform that provides all the desired features to manage quality online events versus trying to integrate, implement and streamline multiple platforms that each provide separate features.
Many organizations choose to streamline their operations to a single platform for the most efficient and cost-effective online events management. At a minimum, a company should use a single platform that includes features like detailed analytics and audience engagement tracking to monitor and improve attendee experience — ideally in real-time. All-in-one platforms like CVent, Hopin, Whova, and Webex may offer the best functionality in these cases.
By using a single platform that’s all in one you don’t have to sacrifice quality, pick and choose which features to use from what platform, or deal with the complications of trying to streamline multiple platforms.
If companies choose to use a single, all-in-one online event management platform, it’s still crucial that they offer sufficient training and development for their teams. Employees who are planning, hosting, and overseeing digital events should feel capable, confident, and conversant in all the features of the platform they’re using.
2. Focus on Attendee Experience
As the event-planning industry shifts towards an attendee-centric model, companies need to consider audience experience. This shift may prove challenging: A 2021 Harvard Business Review article noted that “event planners often struggle to engage with attendees before and after events—and that could get worse with hybrid events due to the lack of necessary capabilities within the tech stack or data silos among platforms.”
However, when given access to the right tools and technical support, event managers can focus on virtual audience engagement and satisfaction to execute great events. To improve your team’s online event management practice, consider the following suggestions.
Captivate Your Audience
- Be concise. For better or worse, speakers at remote events are competing for attention with TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, emails, and countless other real-life distractions. Shorter, snappier presentations are key to keeping your viewers engaged.
- Offer interactive elements. With effective instructional design and the right tools, you can offer polls, quizzes, Q&As, and other gamification features to increase attendee engagement.
- Stay small, even when you’re big. When hosting events with hundreds or even thousands of attendees, include breakout sessions so participants can connect in smaller virtual settings.
- Avoid glitches. Make sure the platform and tools you’re using can accommodate your guests’ different devices and bandwidths. Have a plan in place to troubleshoot with users who have tech difficulties or who struggle to connect to the event.
Accessibility is another key concern for online event management. While virtual events are more accessible for some participants with disabilities, they can also create unique challenges for others. Adopting the following accommodations recommended by the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Bar Association, and the disability-led nonprofit RespectAbility ensure that everyone can participate in online events.
- Use captioning tools to provide captions and translation for the 48 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing and the 5+ million Americans who are English language learners.
- Use image formatting tools to provide alternative text for the 13+ million blind or visually impaired Americans.
- Use an online color contrast checker to make sure text is legible.
- Distribute documents to attendees in advance, and provide transcripts and recordings after the event.
- Use platforms with real time translation in multiple languages
Thanks to online accessibility tools, there are more opportunities than ever for organizations to improve the inclusivity of their online events.
3. Invest in Advanced Features
Software that allows you to include interactive and accessible elements for attendees is important, but software allows your team to make the most of your event. The best digital event hosting platforms now offer everything from enhanced analytics and video editing to seamless integration with lead-generation tools.
When choosing an online event management platform, look for advanced features like:
- Customizable virtual venues with brand colors, logos, and content
- Live support for technical issues during events
- Tools to facilitate pre- and post-event management
- Team collaboration capabilities that allow real-time coordination with other remote event managers during the event
- The ability to live stream events to other channels like Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn
- Tools to record, edit, store, and disseminate keynotes, speeches, and presentations
- The ability to host large audiences (up to tens of thousands of viewers) as well as smaller breakout sessions without losing network performance
- Integrations to help sales, marketing, and customer support teams promote events, capture leads, and drive pipelines
- Integrations to track analytics and gather data and customer feedback
- Interest-based “matchmaking” tools to facilitate small-group networking for attendees
- Ticketing and registration features, including processing payments and refunds
- And more
4. Craft an Environmentally Sustainable Plan
Offering environmentally-friendly online events can improve your company’s standing with participants — individuals, nonprofits, small businesses, or major corporations. Positioning your event as an ecologically-minded one is excellent for both the environment and building brand trust.
Indeed, in a 2020 study by IBM and the National Retail Federation, 57% of purpose-driven consumers stated they were willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impact.
Virtual events already generate a much smaller environmental footprint than in-person events. However, a report from the University of Michigan President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality revealed that video-conferencing and streaming still produce carbon emissions, with every 2 hours of Zoom calls generating approximately 1 kg of carbon per person. And 2021 research published in the International Journal of Environmental Studies projects that the environmental impact of virtual events will only grow, as IT and online communications may use more than 20% of the global electricity supply by 2030.
Given that no virtual event is completely emissions-free, the University of Michigan suggests that organizations take steps to reduce their carbon footprint further. These methods offer added benefits for event planners since they generally improve efficiency and participant experience.
- Have non-speaking attendees turn off their webcams during long presentations and keynote addresses. This not only cuts down on emissions; it also improves the bandwidth for other participants.
- Ask attendees to compress shared media files before the event and delete unnecessary materials after the event. In addition to helping the environment, this can speed up file transmission for participants.
- Purchase carbon offset credits through a certified organization like Native Energy, 3 Degrees, or TerraPass. Attendees who see that your company is committed to sustainability will be more likely to trust your brand.
5. Learn from the Professionals
Underlying every best event management practice are the right tools and technologies — and the knowledge to utilize them effectively. The most skilled event organizers in the world will flounder without the correct software and training, and businesses are starting to take note.
Recently, organizations like the Event Leadership Institute and the Professional Convention Management Association have begun to offer training courses and even certificates in virtual and hybrid event management. California State University, Dominguez Hills now offers a Meeting and Event Planning Certificate program that includes instruction on planning virtual events. And eCornell, the executive development wing of Cornell University, even hosted a “Sharing the Screen” keynote about online event management and effective hosting in the virtual space.
Popular e-learning platforms like LinkedIn Learning also offer courses and other resources on virtual event management. Similarly, Meet Me in the Cloud offers e-learning courses and live instructor-led courses to help teams get up to speed on online event management technologies and tools.
Although they’re not always tailored to your team’s unique needs, these courses and certificates can be a great start for organizations looking to improve their digital event planning.
Manage Your Online Events with Success
Meet Me In The Cloud wants to help you adopt the software and strategies you need to host exciting, effective virtual events. Our proven 6-step methodology helps teams seamlessly adopt new technologies and optimize the way they work.
Meet Me In The Cloud also offers event assist services to support your online event with pre-event planning, tech check sessions, in-session technical guidance, and post-event analytics. Our team of producers has worked with clients from educators and nonprofits to corporations and government entities. We’re well versed in all the top event hosting and virtual conferencing platforms, and we’re skilled at offering insights into engaging instructional design and delivery.
Let us ensure your online event runs smoothly so you can focus on what you do best. Contact us today for more information.