What’s next for the virtual conference?

It remains true that if anything is still certain in the world today, it’s unpredictability, a natural foil of careful planning for businesses. This is definitely the case for events, including questions of whether or not to hold them – particularly in the more distant future – and if so, how technology and audiovisual needs fit into the plans.

The last two years have been defined by seminal shifts. Companies pivoted to virtual gatherings in 2020 to accommodate those who wanted social distancing over in-person attendance. Many of them subsequently felt they discovered a new sweet spot: Those able and willing to travel to an in-person meeting could do so, while businesses were able to expand their audiences across borders and time zones in a way that would have seemed impractical before the pandemic.

2022 is now in full swing, and fully in-person events have returned. However, COVID-19 is again on the rise in some areas, and it isn’t unforeseeable that many companies will circle back to entirely virtual gatherings.

For now, it’s safe to say that virtual conferences remain on the table for anyone that wants to host them. From our perspective as an audiovisual team serving more than 150 virtual events with hundreds of thousands of attendees since April 2020, we’ll share a few elements to keep in mind to set yourself up for success.

Do you still have to be “sold” on going virtual?

It’s impossible to overstate that question, because the choice is still yours about what to do. You need to consider whether a fully virtual gathering will work for you and if you are prepared with the right resources and staff to pull it off. 

Culturally, we’re big on getting together in person. It’s easy to feel like nothing beats shaking hands or embracing; feeling the warmth of stories, smiles and laughter face to face; and our favorite, sharing a good meal together. This is, perhaps, the special flair that in-person facets bring to corporate conferences and events.

It’s still hard to deny the benefits of going fully virtual, as many of our clients discovered:

  • There’s no physical venue you need to rent or space and capacity limitations that need to be contended with.
  • Computer and data safety are crucial, but there are almost no health risks that need to be considered, since no one is coming into close contact. 
  • You’re insulated from supply chain or vendor disruptions, at least much more so than a hybrid or in-person gathering.
  • Budgets and plans are much more straightforward. Hybrid can be a great option, but the logistics can prove a lot for companies – and with inflation raging out of control, in person events tend to mean big markups for food, furnishings, supplies, and even labor.

Any of these might be reasons why you would embrace a virtual event, whether or not COVID-19 cases are rising in your area.

How to make virtual events work for you

Virtual events are dependent on a strong and flexible streaming platform. The last thing you want as an organizer is to build momentum for an event, and draw a large audience, only to be interrupted by lighting issues, software glitches, or other technical challenges. Attendees could become disengaged or log out of the gathering entirely.

Hosting a virtual event is completely different from simply pointing a video camera at a stage, or even a Zoom or Google Meet gathering. 

You will need to consider speaking components with keynote addresses as well as breakout rooms, special activities, quizzes or challenges, and educational materials that attendees can take with them. It’s also very important to make either the most important components or all sessions available after the day they are held, so attendees can revisit or even share what they saw.

Focus on production quality

Production quality is where professional video services prove a particularly valuable investment. If you go it alone in developing a virtual conference, your company will either have to rent or purchase a high-quality live streaming camera, encoding hardware or software systems, lighting equipment, video capture software, and more. 

It will also be essential to success that anyone who uses these materials is well trained and familiarized with them. Things can and do go wrong, but this is typically on a small scale – at least for professionals who are trained and experienced enough to quickly troubleshoot and respond. 

Ask others what they think is next

It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s always good to get input on predictions from your partners or clients. You can stay a step ahead of their expectations this way, and strategize about how you can respond to some of the questions they’ve identified. 

History is another good guide: Did you struggle to put on a virtual gathering during COVID-19? What, in particular, did you face that held the event back? What lessons did you learn?

“Choice” is the operative word of today’s events world. Event clients are still fortunate that the answer to what happens next is largely in their hands. This is particularly because picking the right partner can mean that an in-person event, hybrid event, or even fully virtual gathering can succeed the same as any other.