Virtual Events, Real Benefits

By April Dunnett • April 12, 2019

With everyone’s busy schedules, members or industry professionals may find themselves unable to attend an association’s in-person events or make it to their annual conference. Some may also find that they do not have the budget to attend such events. Your association should be sure to provide additional opportunity when this is the case. Virtual events are an excellent way to bring together your audiences in a timely and convenient way, and help members make connections year round!

In this article we will cover:

  • The benefits for your association of hosting a virtual event;
  • Virtual event platform details to consider; and
  • How to earn additional non-dues revenue with minimal staff time.

What are virtual events?

Virtual events are web-based events that contain many similarities to on-site, in-person events. Virtual events became increasingly popular during the late 2000s because they offered an economical way to effectively bring thousands of attendees from all over the world to an event.

They can be used for many purposes such as career fairs, discussion forums, networking or coaching. Virtual events allow users to interact with companies or peers from the comfort of their home, office or a nearby coffee shop through chat or video conferencing.

To attend or host a virtual event, all that is needed is an internet connection and a device to access the Internet. Most platforms are compatible to access through a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet. They are typically a single or two-day event; users can join when they are available and make the valuable connections they are looking for.

Benefits of hosting an association virtual event

There are many benefits for associations or employers when hosting a virtual event:

  • Save significant staff time: Due to the ease of platform use and virtual location, virtual events require minimal setup time. The planning time compared to in-person events is reduced tremendously.
  • Because there are no logistics related to venue, travel, hotels and food, virtual platforms reduce the overall costs of putting on an event.
  • Because a virtual platform can be accessed from anywhere an attendee has a computer or mobile device and an Internet connection, virtual events also reduce the costs and travel/out-of-office stress of your attendees. More members can take advantage of this member benefit.
  • For businesses, virtual events have the ability to reach more candidates. Sometimes, candidates are unable to attend your in-person events due to time, budget or location. Businesses have the ability to reach an unlimited audience regardless of these factors. Users can access from anywhere within the world.

What to look for in a virtual event platform

When searching for a virtual event provider, you want to ensure that the following criteria are met:

  • Customized event site development versus templates: Most virtual event providers offer a library of site templates. Does this work for your organization or do you require a custom look and feel?
  • Support system: What type of support does the vendor provide? Have they developed best practices for your objectives? What type of support do they provide before, during and after the event?
  • Communication / interaction options: Are there multiple ways for your users to interact such as chat functionality / video conferencing?
  • Promotion of the virtual event: Do they assist with a marketing campaign, advertising, emails, or website promotion for the event?
  • Full-service platform or self-service? Most platforms offer a self-service method that allows customers to create and produce events independently. Many also offer a variety of services to assist with creative. Full-service may be best for organizations that may host one event a year, or are short on resources to dedicate to the initiative.
  • Reliability of the platform: Determine the size of your event: Is the platform able to handle the number of attendees you are anticipating?
  • Analytics and reporting: Does the platform provide you with insight to all aspects of the event such as the number of users, the volume and extent of interactions, or the popularity of documents available for viewing or download? Many vendors provide interaction metrics of some sort. Be sure you are getting the information that is important to you and your organization.

Steps to ensure a successful virtual event

  • Determine the type of event: Are you looking to hold a career fair? Is the virtual event going to be held in conjunction with an in-person conference, or are you looking to bring your users together to network or for coaching? It is imperative to create a unique experience for your users to allow them to get the most out of their interactions.
  • Understand your target audience: Do you feel your members would be interested in attending a virtual event? Are they tech-savvy and comfortable interacting this way? You could send out surveys to gather information from your audiences during your idea stages to see what type of interest you attract and if a virtual event would be a good fit.
  • Choose a date / time: The great thing about virtual events is that regardless of where users are in the world, they are still able to interact. Nailing down the time and duration of the event is one of the most important details. Take into account all time zones in which your potential attendees live, and any other major events that may be going on around the world that would affect their decision to attend. You wouldn’t want your event to be overshadowed by another in which your key audience may be involved.
  • Choose your virtual event platform: Be sure you get demonstrations of the platform and view a demo of all the features you are looking for. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be sure to familiarize yourself with the vendor’s team – you’ll be working closely with them.
  • Market the event: Just as you would a physical event, you will want to be sure to market your event as much as possible to get optimal attendance from members, vendors, employers, or other appropriate stakeholders. Send emails, mailings or social media posts. You can also use your association’s newsletters or publications to get the word out.
  • Follow-up with a participant survey: After the virtual event, do a follow up survey with your attendees to find out how they liked the event and if they have any suggestions / feedback for future virtual events.

Virtual events offer convenience and flexibility for both attendees and speakers, and can be a welcome, practical addition to your association’s event plan. The cost savings can be passed on to your members, making it easier to be engaged with your association. They are easy to set up and encourage participation from attendees who might not be able to afford (in time OR money) attending an in-person event. The next time you are reviewing your events strategy or member benefits, consider adding a virtual event to your association’s lineup.

About The Author

April Dunnett is an account manager with career solutions division of Naylor Association Solutions.