December 3, 2020
By this point — months into our new normal — many event professionals have planned at least one virtual event. As the date of return to 2019 levels of travel and events continues to elude us (thanks to the continued spread of coronavirus globally), both demand for and disillusionment with virtual events are growing.
What has become clear to me after planning my own virtual event and participating in several is just how fundamental the choice of platform is to a successful virtual event. The platform is what makes or breaks the event experience, no matter how earnest or interested the participants. Going into 2021, meeting and event planners should be refining their virtual strategy, starting with their tech choices. Here are three things you’re probably overlooking when vetting virtual event technology:
The team behind the product: Engage with the vendor as if they’re a part of your team, because for the purposes of your event, they are. You want a provider/supplier you can rely on for advice and support, that will guide you and your attendees through all facets of the event. So, find out what level of support (help with setting up the event, day-of support including live chat, etc.) is included in the quoted price. What will the onboarding process be like? How many staff will be devoted to your event? Is training/support available for your speakers and/or sponsors and exhibitors? Ask about vendor workload and customer response times, and also how/why the product was developed and what the company plans to focus on next, especially if it’s a new product. Knowing this will tell you a lot about a company, about its culture and the thought process behind design decisions and features, and whether that company will grow with you (aka be a good fit for your future events).
Fully integrated recording, broadcasting, streaming and video chat: This was a major factor in our decision to build our own virtual event platform versus going with an already available solution. (Read our story here.) Many solutions claim to be “all in one” but actually require you to use something like Vimeo for streaming, Zoom for video calls, or even Slack for networking at extra cost. Not only can this rack up the price of the technology, but it complicates the experience for you (the organizer) and your event participants. The goal is an integrated experience for all stakeholders, not one platform for audience engagement, another for the livestream, etc.
Flexibility and administrative control: The two may seem incongruous and the former a rather broad quality to look for; but from an organizer’s point of view, the level of admin control and customization (branding configuration) a solution provides will either increase or limit your flexibility. You want a platform that’s intuitive to use and doesn’t have limits like attendance caps on sessions, but you also want to be able to make the platform your own, turn off/on features at will, and control incoming content (i.e. attendees’ comments) to a degree. Integration also plays into flexibility.
Ideally, the platform you choose should have more features than you need and the ability to turn off features that don’t fit your unique audience or even restrict access to certain features depending on attendance type or ticket tier. Ask about admin controls. What can you do as an admin to ensure a positive event experience, from removing comments/muting a user or even shutting down a chat in case of inappropriate feedback to taking over a user’s profile to quickly troubleshoot an issue? How many admins can you have? (The more staff you have monitoring comments, the better, but if only one or two people can delete remarks, it’s more difficult to act in real time.)
As far as integration goes, it’s nice when everything’s built in but it’s also important that the platform you choose play nicely with the tools you and your attendees already use. An open, robust API is key so you can integrate your registration platform, payment gateway, etc. if you want/need to.
Look out for more articles like this one. I’ll cover additional considerations for choosing a virtual event platform, all kinds of advice for planning virtual and hybrid events, how to monetize your online event, provide value to sponsors, support your speakers, and more.