Virtual conferences have been on the rise in recent years, as technology has made them more feasible and affordable. But do they actually work? Are attendees engaged and do they get value out of the experience? Or, are associations trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and trying to serve up online events when attendees are looking for an in person conference experience?
It's hard to believe that virtual events were first introduced only a few short years ago. And, in that short time, they've become one of the most popular and efficient ways for associations to connect with their members, exhibitors, and sponsors. But does that mean they'll still be popular in a few years? Or, will something new have (or a craving for in person events) take their place?
Do virtual conferences work?
So, do virtual conferences work in 2022? And, will they work well beyond that? I'll spare you the suspense and as the answer is a resounding yes! And, it's not just because EVA offers a wide array of virtual conference services. We offer virtual conference services because we truly believe it is the next frontier for associations to engage attendees and to provide a suitable alternative to the longstanding physical event.
What are the benefits of a virtual conference?
There are a number of benefits that make virtual conferences an attractive option, not just in the near future, but also for your organization's long-term planning process. Here are some of the key benefits:
Virtual events are more affordable than a physical conference
If you're looking to make your events more affordable for your organization, your members and attendees, and your exhibitors, the virtual conference route might be enticing.
For associations making the switch, many costly overhead expenses can be reduced, like venue expenses, staff travel, meals, hotels, etc. The list goes on. While a virtual meeting may carry with it its own unique expenses, they typically pale in comparison to a physical event.
For attendees, a virtual event may help them save on the above travel expenses, but can also help them to save in the realm of opportunity cost. If an attendee can fulfill all of their needs and expectations from a virtual conference experience, they can stay at their home base where they're able to be productive outside of the hours of the meeting.
Finally, virtual events represent an emerging frontier for exhibitors to engage with their target audience and focus on lead generation without the hefty overhead costs of exhibiting at an in person event. A successful virtual conference will typically feature a virtual expo hall that will help them connect with conference attendees with video conferencing tools, pre recorded content, and literature that will help attendees feel they were able to learn about products or services that can move their organization forward.
Virtual conferences are more convenient for attendees
Event planners and marketers alike are all-to-familiar with one of the main barriers to potential registrants - the need to coax them from their homes to a physical space. Enter virtual conferences, which can help eliminate the need to book time off work or arrange childcare. Attendees can join the conference from the comfort of their own homes or office. All they need is an internet connection and computer screen. Babysitter not required.
And, where the past has seen an overwhelming preference for physical events, the tide is starting to shift toward the virtual world. According to research by Statista, roughly 43% of meeting attendees now prefer virtual events over physical events, or they have no preference. As professionals become more acclimated to the virtual direction society is going in, the more preferences will continue to shift toward virtual conferences.
Online events have fewer limitations on attendance
Have you ever attended an in person, live event where the most popular panel discussions have a waiting list to get in? Or, you've been excited about joining one of the breakout sessions discussing hot topics in the industry, only to be left on the outside looking in when other attendees are filling the seats while the event begins?
With a virtual event, anyone, anywhere can join in, no matter how far away they are, and how popular the session is. Unlike the space limitations physical events may have with keynote speakers, educational sessions, networking opportunities, and other live events, space is only limited to the platform you've chosen for hosting virtual events.
For a relatively minor investment in additional capacity, you can accommodate many potential attendees and host a successful virtual event that no one has to miss due to a session being full. If you've ever felt the agony of missing one of the crucial events at a conference you wanted to attend due to physical space, you know what a game-changer virtual conferences can be for making sure everyone has a seat at the table.
Virtual events are more sustainable
With no need for travel, virtual events have a lower carbon footprint than in-person conferences. While for many, this is a more hot-button topic than others, publications like Forbes have identified the shift to sustainability as being the top trend in business for 2022.
With a critical eye toward sustainability in the future, organizations and associations who are looking for ways to invest in the online event space as a primary venue to host events or as a way to supplement in person meetings, may foster goodwill and be ahead of the game.
Some compelling virtual event trends
While we're all still navigating the challenges of post-pandemic life and what "the new normal" will look like, there are a few trends in the virtual events landscape that show promising signs heading into the future.
Virtual conferences will become more globalized
If the last few years have shown us anything, it's that traveling within the United States can be challenging enough! If your virtual conference relied on an international audience, their attendance became mired in international restrictions when it came to travel.
But, more often than not, association events didn't cater to global audiences because the ask to traverse borders was probably always too high. Now, by eliminating geographic boundaries, your organization can expand the reach of your virtual conference. Now global thought leaders from all over the world can attend virtually and begin a more broad discourse.
Not to mention, with the rise in attendees to your virtual event comes a very real rise in value that can be provided to exhibitors and sponsors.
As virtual events begin engaging a more global audience, conference organizers will begin to realize the immense value in staying on the leading edge of the virtual experience.
Virtual events will become more interactive
There is an elephant in the room when it comes to virtual conferences. Two of the main reasons attendees are making the trek to attend in person events are to network with individuals in their field and to have a good time out on the town.
Fortunately, as virtual events have become more commonplace, there has been a significant effort from private industry to mimic the feel of in person events. Conference organizers are beginning to offer more opportunities for attendees to connect. Some entertainment offerings to keep attendees engaged after the last session for the day include top-tier entertainment options adapted for virtual conferences, virtual networking, and happy hours, just to name a few.
And, this is just the tip of the iceberg. As organizations and entrepreneurs put their heads together to help attendees connect in the virtual space, opportunities for attendee engagement will soar in the coming years.
The use of AI and other technologies will increase
Twenty years ago, your cell phone looked like a brick, had spotty reception, and cost a fortune to use every month. Now, we have sleek miniature computers in our pockets that are over 100,000 times more powerful than the computer aboard Apollo 11 - the spaceship that put mankind on the moon!
At present, most event platforms are using AI to connect attendees via AI-powered matchmaking, using chatbots that can help with general customer service issues that may arise during an event, or running algorithms that help event planners optimize the next event.
But, this is far from the final frontier for how AI will impact the virtual conference space. Let's embrace our inner nerd for a second. In technology, there is an observation dubbed "Moore's Law," which basically states the number of transistors that can fit on a microprocessor double every two years.
What does that mean for virtual events? It's impossible to say. That doubling in processing power has led to our previously mentioned example of a brickish mobile phone turning into something that you can order most obscure items and have them delivered to your doorstep in two days. This all occurred in a couple of decades, but the rate of technological growth is exponential.
The use of AI to provide the ultimate virtual conference experience will play a pivotal role in taking your online conference to the next level for attendees.
...and we didn't even discuss the Metaverse.
Sponsorships and exhibitor opportunities will continue to grow
Speaking of AI... mining the data-rich stream of information from your virtual conference will provide exhibitors and sponsors unique insights into how they can leverage online conferences to drive the most bang for their buck with their target audience. This type of data is more easily accessed at a virtual conference than it is at a physical event.
Plus, as we previously mentioned, the global nature of virtual events opens up a world of opportunities for sponsors and exhibitors that were not possible with in person events.
Now, rather than being limited to exhibiting at events that are within driving or flying distance, companies can have a presence at any virtual conference that is in their course demographic. This also provides an avenue to sponsor international events, which was cost-prohibitive in the past.
The increased number of opportunities to exhibit and sponsor will result in a rise in competition for those coveted slots. That, in turn, will likely lead to event organizers getting creative with how they package sponsorships and what benefits they can offer exhibitors.
Closing thoughts on virtual events in the future
Now you might be wondering if these benefits apply to your own virtual conference. In the past, you might have looked at hosting an event online as a temporary solution to a pandemic problem. But, virtual events are here to stay, and they are ramping up in value more than ever before.
You might be asking a lot of questions. How can a virtual conference compete with the networking opportunities of an in person event? With technology changing so rapidly, what will future conferences look like? How do you host breakout sessions that go beyond feeling like just another video call?
You're not alone. As you traverse the constantly evolving virtual conference landscape, you'll find many organizations are asking the same questions you are.
Fortunately, platforms like EVA partner with you to make sure your virtual conference works, and to ensure you know how to navigate the virtual event terrain ahead. If you're interested in learning more about how EVA is at the cutting-edge of providing a truly all-in-one event platform for associations, book a demo with us today!