How to Set Up a Successful Virtual Conference?

Put simply, a virtual conference is exactly what it says on the tin; a conference held in a virtual space.

What is a virtual conference?

Put simply, a virtual conference is exactly what it says on the tin; a conference held in a virtual space.

It allows remote participants to access live, interactive networking opportunities and content through their computers, no matter where they are located.

A virtual conference is hosted entirely through the internet. There is no need for travel, hotels or catering, you simply log on through the virtual conference portal, hit enter and are good to go.

This means a virtual conference causes minimum disruption to a working day or week; with no extensive travel time required or overnight stays, attendees need only be away from their work for as long as the conference is actually live.

Once the conference is complete, those attending can simply return to work, or their home life, without further impact to their valuable time.

Virtual conferences, done correctly, can be as engaging and fulfilling as a face-to-face one, making use of virtual networking, live panellists/speakers and live Q&A.

Particularly in today’s climate, with in-person events and conferences being cancelled or postponed, the demand for virtualisation is on the rise.

Huge events like SXSW, the Eurovision Song Contest and the Premier League have all been cancelled due to the increased requirement for social distancing and self-isolation, to mitigate the risk of diseases spreading.

While virtual conferencing isn’t necessarily applicable for the aforementioned events, there are plenty of businesses who have had to cancel their own events recently, who will benefit from taking it virtual instead.

How do virtual conferences work?

How do virtual conferences work

A virtual conference works very much the same as a live one. The base experience for each virtual conference is the same, while the way in which they are presented varies from platform to platform.

Participants sign up to attend but instead of a physical address and directions, they receive an internet link.

Once the day and time of the conference comes around, they click the link and are transported to a sign in page, where they can choose their name and how they are represented, via avatar or image.

Next it is important to check that video cameras and microphones are working to enable maximum interactive and participation in the virtual conference, as well as ensuring the internet connection is stable.

Once inside the conference, it operates very much like a face-to-face conference; there will be networking, chat, tables that you can sit on and meet new people, while waiting for your speakers to take to the stage.

If you want a personal, in-depth look at how a virtual conference works from the inside, our colleague Catherine wrote a blog about her very first virtual conference experience with a platform called Remo. You can check it out here.

What platforms facilitate it?

Online, virtual events are becoming more commonplace and because of this, there is more software being developed to meet this need all the time.

At VTT, we have had some experience with a few platforms that we have found work brilliantly.

  1. Remo

    Remo is an up and coming virtual conference and remote working platform. It facilitates a live, virtual event and networking space, using an all-in-one platform with broadcasting capabilities for real-time, face-to-face engagement. And it can host up to 1000 attendees!

    It enables live Q&A sessions to maximise attendee engagement and hosts an in-app chat function that allows participants to ask questions or vote in real time, during speaker presentations. This means presenters on the platform can engage with their attendees immediately.

    Attendees can interact with one another in real time, by joining one of the many tables in the virtual conference space and even features sofa areas to facilitate more informal conversations.

    It creates an authentic, fun experience with all the benefits of a face-to-face conference at a fraction of the cost, financial or timewise.

  2. GoToWebinar

    GoToWebinar is another one of the best ranked virtual event platforms. The platform makes it easy to launch and host your event, while delivering video and audio sessions to your participants.

    Hosts can share recordings, send automated emails to their attendees, share files and conduct live chat with members of the audience during the event.

    Attendees can also join in with the discussion, asking real time questions and contribute to polls during the presentations.

    It offers a function for attendees to join the conference by default, but if you subscribe to a higher paid plan, you unlock the ability to broadcast conferences that will run directly from your web browser.

  3. Zoom – Webinars & Events

    Zoom is a huge, straightforward video conferencing and messaging platform that works across almost any device.

    It offers easy, widespread usability, enabling quick adoption, start up, joining and collaboration for everyone.

    While Zoom itself can be used for a myriad of things, including 1:1 meetings, team collaboration and virtual training, they also offer a package called video webinar.

    It allows up to 100 interactive video panellists, with plans ranging from 100 to 10,000 view only participants. Host controls include muting and unmuting panellists, presentation sharing and recording capabilities.

    It also enables live Q&A, polling, reporting and a live streaming function, allowing you to reach unlimited audiences on Facebook Live and YouTube.

  4. Cisco WebEx Events

    To this day, Cisco WebEx is still one of the most popular virtual event platforms.

    The platform is reliable, offering integrated video, audio and easy content sharing. It allows the host to record their virtual conference, share files with attendees, mute or unmute participants and present by sharing their screen.

    Joining is relatively easy; participants can smoothly join the offered conference with no need to sort through endless login codes or passwords.

    Usefully, it also comes with a built-in artificial intelligence to detect and minimise background noise, such as passing vehicles or barking dogs.

What are the pros and cons of virtual conferences?

What are the pros and cons of virtual conferences

There are several pros and cons to hosting virtual conferences. While there are a great many benefits to running your event online, there are invariably areas which will be different to running it face-to-face, perhaps producing a different set of results.

Here are the pros:-

  1. It’s cost effective

    In-person events usually incur travel, hotel accommodation and food expenses, all of which can add up to significant cost for a business.

    Online conferences and events allow you to skip the extra expenses and only pay your registration fee.

  2. Convenient

    Conferences can be a lot of fun and very useful to attendees, but they are not always convenient.

    Travelling to face-to-face events by car or plane, missing out on family time and trying to get work done from your hotel room or an internet café can throw you off kilter. If scheduling conflicts crop up, you may decide not to attend the conference at all.

    With an online conference, you can attend the event from the comfort of your own office, or even from home; anywhere as long as you have a stable internet connection and a working device connected to it.

  3. They are always accessible

    Often, when you attend a virtual conference, they will be recorded by the host. This means that even once the conference is finished, you will have access to the recording, giving you a way of referring to the information that was presented to you during the event.

    Sometimes, when caught up in the rush of the conference, some details can be missed, whether through going to the toilet or being particularly engaged in conversation with another attendee. Having the ability to refer to the content is a valuable asset.

    With an online conference, you can attend the event from the comfort of your own office, or even from home; anywhere as long as you have a stable internet connection and a working device connected to it.

And now let’s look at the cons:-

  1. It requires dedication to attend

    Particularly if the event is free, it can be easy to decide you are ‘too busy’ to attend a virtual conference and simply not attend. If you physically must make the effort to attend a face-to-face conference, you are more likely to, lest it be a waste of time or money.

    Online, there are fewer ramifications for not attending the session. It is far too easy, particularly if busy at work, to decide your time is better spent focused in a different area.

  2. Limited face-to-face networking

    It can be argued by some that networking via video chat just doesn’t allow the same tactile, interpersonal connection that being in the same physical space with another person can do.

    However, it is important to consider that this is on the decrease as the virtual conferencing platforms continue to develop and are increasingly making the option to network via video more immersing and engaging.

    At VTT, we love the way video networking allows even the shyest of introverts the opportunity to meet new people in a virtual conference space.

  3. It’s dependant on the internet connection

    Anyone who wants to attend a virtual conference must have a device (mobile or static) and a stable internet connection.

    There are times when you may be located in a poor signal area or suffer a poor internet connection. This unfortunately will always impact on the experience of the virtual conference, limiting what can be seen or heard. Worse still if it is the speakers or panellists who are suffering this unstable connection.

    It is unfortunate when it occurs, but also mostly avoidable with quality planning.

What type of business do virtual conferences suit?

Every company, no matter what size or industry, has the potential to benefit from using virtual conferencing.

The benefits as highlighted above means that running an event, especially virtually, makes the experience even more accessible to everyone.

Where small companies might have previously been unable to facilitate an event, due to financial limitations, running a virtual conference cuts the required spend by a considerable amount, by removing the need for travel, venue hire, accommodation or catering.

For bigger businesses, the benefits are the same, allowing them to run more events with lessened impact to their bottom line and also greatly lessens the risk involved in hosting an event in the first place.

In terms of industry, most, if not all would do well to consider making the move to virtual. Client conferences, employee events, social or business, there is no limit to what can be achieved through the offered conferencing software, and each offers the company enough customization of their experience to make it their own.

What do I need to run a virtual conference?

Running a virtual conference is very much like running a face-to-face one, minus the research on the best venue and place to go for dinner afterwards.

You do however have some key decisions to make, and planning to do. Here’s a quick look at what you need to do to get started.

Here is our blog on the 5 things we learned during our first virtual conference, which you might find useful.

  1. Define your conference strategy

    Define your conference strategy

    You need to start by clearly outlining your target audience and who you want to attend your conference. This will go on to shape the kind of content you choose to include and how you will market the conference to that chosen audience.

    What is it that you are trying to achieve in hosting this conference in the first place? What is the most effective way to achieve those goals?

    Clearly lay out the plenary, panel and networking/breakout sessions you want to have and decide on your list of speakers.

  2. Prepare the content

    Prepare the content

    It is a great idea to ensure you have some pre-recorded content in the form of well-edited and interesting or informative video clips. Not only will this minimize the possibility of a technical glitch denying you of your intended content, but it allows you to keep you attendees fully engaged.

    You can also offer the content as a post-conference download, or as videos on-demand, afterwards, which will make attendees feel as if they have been given something to take away.

  3. Choose your platform

    As we highlighted above, there are a wealth of great platforms out there for hosting virtual conferences, each with their own set of pros and cons, design choices and ease of usability.

    You will find that not all the platforms will do everything you need them to, depending on what kind of event you want to hold.

    You need to consider whether you want space for sponsors to demonstrate and promote their products and how interactive the conference will be; is it an engaged networking event or a webinar, for example?

    All these decisions will inform what kind of platform will work best for you, but don’t be afraid to demo several, to find which one truly fits your needs.

  4. Market your conference

    The success of any conference, virtual or face-to-face, relies on the strength of the marketing campaign.

    Another important decision to make is whether you would rather market to many, to attract anyone and everyone to attend your event, or if you would rather have a dedicated, quality list of attendees?

    Think back to when you defined your audience and let that influence your decision of where, when and how to market your event out to them. How can you best attract the people you want to see at your conference?

  5. Enable your attendees to network and interact

    Enable your attendees to network and interact

    One of the most important components of a conference is ensuring that your attendees can connect with one another, share contact information and start planting seeds for potential future deals and partnerships.

    Fortunately, one of the great advantages to a virtual conference is that networking can often be easier and more scalable than during a physical conference.

    Some platforms, like Remo, even offer an option to connect directly to an attendee’s LinkedIn page for easier relationship building.

Conclusion

Virtual conferencing is great, and it offers a lot of benefits to many people. The ease of scheduling and attending cannot be denied, the impact it has on the expenditure of running such events is significant and the tools for hosting them are developing all the time.

Particularly with the world’s current circumstances, it is becoming more apparent that the mass shift to virtual events needs to happen soon.

If you are facing the cancellation of your own face-to-face events and would like some virtual alternatives, we have a blog with some of our own ideas here.

At VTT, we truly believe virtual networking will be part of the way forward, providing all the benefits associated with event management.

If you would like some advice, based on our own experience of attending and running virtual conferences, please do get in touch. We would love to discuss it with you.

If we have one final piece of advice, it is this; get out there and attend some virtual conferences. You will get a much better picture of what it means to host one, if you have been to one yourself.

Good luck!