10 reasons why you should host a virtual event

Microphone - virtual event

The business world has been pushed into using virtual events and meetings as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, with social distancing and lockdown making in-person events impossible.

However, virtual events are not new – in fact I created the UK’s first university virtual open day back in 2009. Undoubtedly the technologies available have moved on since then, but the steps for planning an event are the same.

Firstly, let’s look at why you should host a virtual conference or event. If you’re trying to justify the investment in creating a digital experience these points will give you the basis to create a business case for approval.

1. Virtual events help you overcome travel restrictions

Reason number one right now is to enable events to still go ahead despite current restrictions on free movement. Without virtual events many businesses would struggle with their sale pipeline, and educators would have their delivery methods restricted.

However travel restrictions have happened before either due to natural disasters (ash cloud/weather/terrorism) or regular travel disruption such as road works. If you know that your audience are going to struggle to travel in person then a virtual event allows you to continue with your business plans regardless.

2. Alignment with business values and environmental concerns

If your organisation values environmental issues as part of the core values, or has an environmental policy then a virtual event makes much more sense as reducing the need to travel means that transport-related pollution will be reduced. Every journey saved can make a difference to the quality of our air.

Of course there is great value in meeting people in person, but weighed against the impact of flights, trains and taxis there is a choice to be made.

3. Reach a new audience with online events

One of the reasons for our virtual open day back in the day was to reach an international audience. International students often didn’t get the opportunity to visit a university in person before applying, even though the financial commitment was higher than for domestic students.

By creating a virtual event you are enabling new audiences to experience your product or service who may otherwise not have engaged. Virtual events are as global as you want them to be.

4. Reach a larger audience with a digital event

One of the key insights from our virtual open day was that the audience of domestic (UK) applicants was significant. Further research revealed that students who wouldn’t otherwise have visited in person (either because of expense or time constraints) experienced the virtual event. Therefore a virtual event allows you to reach more of your existing audience as your capacity is not restricted as it would be for a physical event.

5. Digital means accessibility for all

Providing information as part of a virtual event allows you to make content available to people regardless of physical ability, mental wellbeing or ongoing condition. Attending an in-person event can be daunting for many, but nearly impossible for some. Technology is a great leveller, and by creating a virtual event you can enable all attendees to experience the same event.

6. Virtual events drive brand preference

I’ve yet to find any published research on the impact of virtual events on brand perception, however our research at the time of the virtual open day indicated that participation in our virtual experience (whether combined with an in-person visit or not) led to an increase in preference towards the university.

Perhaps this is linked to the fact that more information that was available, the opportunity it gave to experience the event multiple times, or the halo effect of using innovative digital engagement methods that resulted in a favourable brand perception, but either way we found that it had a positive impact on sentiment.

7. Virtual events save resource

As any Event Manager will know the organisation that goes into planning and delivering an event is significant. Creating a virtual event will still require time and money, however the key differentiator is that your return on investment will be greater.

As well as increased capacity, a virtual event can be recorded or produced in a way that allows it to be accessed many times over, not just on one occasion. The presentations and content will have a much longer shelf-life than that one-off workshop or keynote speech giving you many more opportunities to influence your audience.

A student watches a virtual event

8. Digital events allow for immediate feedback

The immediacy of data in a digital world means that as an event organiser you will have more information at your fingertips sooner compared with a physical event.

You’ll be able to see which workshops were the most popular, which content was viewed the most, and at which point in a presentation the audience switched off (something you can’t easily measure in a room full of delegates!).

Data provides us with insight to improve content and deliver better experiences for subsequent audiences and create better events time and again.

9. Enable two-way or many-to-many engagement

Have you ever asked for questions only to be greeted by a wall of silence?

With virtual events it is easy to collate questions in advance ready to answer at the end of your presentation, create message boards or chats that are active whilst your event is happening, and continue to be moderated after the main event has ended.

This many-to-many conversation is invaluable as it allows you to listen to your audience and gain feedback in real time, hearing what they are interested in before your event is over. No post-event survey allows you to do that.

10. Relationship building through data collection

With virtual events comes the opportunity for data capture from your audience. In turn this means that you are able to maintain an ongoing conversation with your delegates before, during and after your virtual event. (GDPR and PECR permitting)

The all-important follow up communication allows you to re-engage with your audience and create a nurturing sequence that includes new content for them to enjoy.

Still looking for reasons to create a virtual open day or digital event? Get in touch to discuss your plans and we’ll help you put the case for investment together.

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Roisin Kirby is an experienced Marketing Consultant based in Nottingham (UK), specialising in education and services marketing. A Chartered Marketer and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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