Your 2022 Guide to Hosting a Virtual Conference

Events February 11, 2022

Sayana Izmailova

By Sayana Izmailova

Over the last two years, more and more organizations have made the move to virtual events and conferences.  We now have the technology to host thousands of attendees in the virtual space, while providing them with valuable, engaging, and memorable experiences. 


This is great news, because virtual events are cheaper, easier to organize, and often more convenient for guests to attend. 


If you’re thinking of hosting a virtual conference, read on. We’ll go over everything you need to know to plan and execute a successful virtual conference. We’ll also talk a little bit about virtual conference platforms and even share our top picks. 


Let’s take a look!

What Is a Virtual Conference?

In some ways, a virtual conference is similar to an in-person one — attendees come to sessions, learn something new about their industry, get inspired, and network with each other to build new connections. 


In other ways, the fact that this event happens in the virtual space makes all the difference. Unlike with in-person conferences, people can attend from anywhere in the world and often experience fewer barriers to actively participating in the event.

Key Features of a Virtual Conference

A valuable and engaging virtual conference typically includes:


  • A keynote speaker who sets the tone for the event with an inspirational address

  • Educational sessions, panel discussions, workshops, and demonstrations

  • Breakout rooms that offer attendees the opportunity to network and interact in smaller groups

  • Other networking opportunities via instant messaging, one-on-one video chat, attendee directory, themed chat rooms, and forum discussions 

  • End of day/conference events, such as virtual happy hours or an after party

  • A virtual exhibit or trade show, especially if the conference has a number of sponsors 

  • A game-like experience with prizes for the most active participants 

  • Other fun elements like giveaways, contests, entertainment, swag bags, etc. 

Why Should You Host a Conference Online?

Hosting a virtual online conference has a number of benefits for both you and your guests. 

For your attendees:

  • As we already mentioned, they can attend your conference regardless of where they live

  • Many find virtual conferences to be much more affordable 

  • They can curate a highly-personalized schedule and experience

  • If they run into any scheduling conflicts, they can watch session recordings on their own time

  • They get many more opportunities to engage with your organization and other attendees through chats, networking sessions, Q&As, surveys, and polls

  • Unlike with in-person events, networking doesn’t just happen with whoever is closest to them — they can search the attendee directory for people with common interests and directly message someone they want to talk to

For your organization:

  • You can sell more tickets, since people can attend from anywhere in the world, and there are no venue capacity limits

  • It’s a very cost-effective option because you don’t have to rent a venue or pay for other expenses related to hosting an in-person event 

  • It’s a lot easier to organize than an in-person conference

  • There are more opportunities to engage with your attendees and talk to them about how they can get involved with your organization beyond the conference 

How Do You Host a Virtual Conference?

Some aspects of hosting a virtual conference are similar to hosting an in-person one. For example, you’ll still need to create landing pages, set up online registrations, accept payments, secure sponsors, find speakers, and promote your event. 


However, unlike with in-person conferences, the actual event will happen in a virtual space, rather than a physical venue. For this, you’ll need a virtual conference platform. 

What Is a Virtual Conference Platform?

A virtual conference platform is a software tool that combines video conferencing and webinar capabilities with other virtual event elements that engage and entertain attendees. This platform, in the form of a website and/or a mobile app, will be the virtual space where your guests will “hang out”. 

What Features To Look For in a Platform for Online Conferences

The best virtual conference platforms offer an all-in-one solution that takes care of nearly everything related to your event. Common features to look for include:


  • Powerful video conferencing and webinar tools, complete with attendee engagement features like polls, surveys, and Q&As

  • Breakout room capabilities

  • Networking functions, such as an attendee directory and discussion forums

  • A way to build and customize landing pages, emails, and virtual “hang out” spaces

  • Event insights and analytics

  • Integration with other tools, like your membership management software

  • A technical support line for both you and your guests

8 Best Virtual Conference Platforms

Below are just a few of the most popular virtual conference platforms to consider: 

1. Accelevents

Accelevents is an all-in-one event management platform that’s perfect for virtual and hybrid events. It takes care of ticketing and registrations, live streaming, attendee engagement, event analytics, and much more. 

 

Accelevents

2. BigMarker

BigMarker is designed specifically for webinars and virtual events. It allows you to create your own website where your conference will be hosted, register attendees, automatically send confirmation and reminder emails, and fully customize your guests’ experience. 

 

BigMarker

3. GoTo

GoTo offers a number of solutions for virtual meetings and events, including GoTo Webinar — one of the most widely used webinar platforms. Host live or pre-recorded webinars, send communications, engage your attendees with surveys and polls, and much more. 

 

GoTo

4. Hopin

Hopin is a complete event management tool designed for in-person, virtual, and hybrid events. It takes care of event marketing, building landing pages, registrations, streaming, and creating an engaging attendee experience. 

 

Hopin

5. MemberClicks’ Conference App

While MemberClicks is a membership management software, it also offers an add-on conference app that’s perfect for virtual events, conferences, and trade shows organized by membership organizations. It allows you to engage your attendees while seamlessly integrating with your membership database. 

 

MemberClicks Conference App

6. vFairs

vFairs is a virtual and hybrid events platform that has everything you need in order to organize and run a virtual conference. Features include webinar hosting, a resource vault, personalized virtual swag bags, on-demand hosting, virtual sponsor booths, and more. 

 

vFairs

7. WebinarJam

WebinarJam is an all-in-one webinar platform with a reach of up to 5000 attendees. It allows you to build custom landing pages, engage attendees, rerun webinar recordings, and much more. 

 

WebinarJam

8. Whova

Whova is an all-in-one event management platform for in-person, virtual, and hybrid events. It’s especially great for increasing attendee engagement, using gamification, and providing networking opportunities. 

 

Whova


Read More: Your Complete Guide to Virtual Events for Associations

9 Steps to Hosting the Best Virtual Conference

Planning a virtual conference is a huge undertaking and can be a little overwhelming. To help you organize the best virtual event with ease and confidence, we’ve broken down the process into nine simple steps. 

1. Define Goals

Start by defining what it is that you want to accomplish with this virtual conference. This could be things like:


  • Generate X amount of revenue

  • Attract X new event attendees

  • Sign on X new members for your organization

  • Increase brand awareness

  • Establish your organization’s authority in your field


Along the same lines, think of what you would want your attendees to get out of the conference. You can later use these ideas to better plan and promote your event. Here are a few examples:


  • Learn valuable information about their industry

  • Network and build new relationships

  • Engage in meaningful conversations and generate new ideas 

2. Determine KPIs and Success Metrics

Next, think about how you’re going to measure whether or not you achieved your goals. A common way to do this is to look at key performance indicators (KPIs). Here are a few examples of KPIs you can track:


  • Number of attendees (be sure to track new and returning guests)

  • Attendee engagement (can be tracked via discussion forum traffic, number of questions asked during Q&A sessions, percentage of attendees participating in polls and surveys, etc.)

  • Attendee feedback score (run a post-event survey to determine this)

  • Number of new members

  • Amount of revenue generated

  • Return on investment (how much revenue you made vs. how much you spent)

3. Create a Timeline

Starting with the opening date of your virtual conference, work backwards to determine key deadlines and milestones you need to hit. These can include deadlines for things like:


  • Securing speakers

  • Securing sponsors

  • Choosing a virtual conference platform

  • Creating registration pages

  • Designing promotional materials 

  • Sending out invitations 

4. Create a Budget

The great thing about hosting a virtual conference is that you don’t need to pay for a venue. However, there are still other expenses you’ll need to cover. Decide now how much you’re able to spend and determine what you’ll be spending it on. 


Here are a few examples of what you might be paying for: 


  • A virtual conference platform and any other software tools

  • Speaker and entertainment fees 

  • Marketing your event (for example, paid advertising)

  • Physical swag bags

  • Food and drink vouchers so attendees can order meal delivery 

5. Build Your Team 

Determine who will be helping you organize the event and assign specific roles. You likely won’t need as many volunteers as you would for an in-person event, but see if anyone has any particular tech skills you could use (for example, graphic design or social media management).


It’s also a good idea to assign moderators for each virtual space where attendees will be interacting, as well as planted audience members to check that everything is working correctly. 

6. Set Up Event in Your Virtual Conference Platform

At this point, your event should be taking shape and you can start building it out in your virtual conference platform. Take care of things like:


  • Building landing, registration, and confirmation pages 

  • Drafting confirmation emails and reminders

  • Creating a schedule of events and inputting session information

  • Updating speaker and sponsor information as you receive it

  • Creating and populating networking spaces with icebreakers and conversation prompts 

7. Map Out Content 

Your speakers are booked and they’re bringing amazing content to each of their sessions, but there’s still a lot of other content you need to think about. This includes what you’ll share with your audience before, during and after the event to give them the most valuable experience. 


Now is the time to draft things like:


  • Introductory and concluding speeches from your organization, as well as short messages from the moderator of each individual session

  • Promotional content for social media, paid advertising, press, etc.

  • Promotional emails and website content 

  • What information you’ll share to help highlight your sponsors

  • What supplementary resources you’ll share with your attendees

  • Drip campaigns for after the event is over so you can keep attendees engaged and potentially convert them into members 

8. Create Virtual Event Master Plan

Once you go live with your virtual conference, the goal is to have everything go off without a hitch. To help make this happen, create a master plan for the big day (or few days). 


Include schedules, important to-dos, assigned roles, and instructions. Most importantly, try to anticipate running into problems (you’ll almost definitely face at least a few) and create troubleshooting instructions and contingency plans. 


Put this master plan into a single document and make sure everyone involved has access to it. 

9. Post-Event Analysis

Once your virtual conference is over, be sure to send a survey to all attendees and ask them for feedback. This information will be crucial if you ever decide to organize another virtual conference in the future. 


Finally, get together with your team and discuss how everything went — what worked well, what didn’t, and what needs to be changed for next time.


Read More: The Ultimate Event Planning Guide: How to Plan an Event


20 Ideas for a Successful Virtual Conference

6 Virtual Experience Ideas

Your ultimate goal is to create a virtual conference experience that’s enjoyable, valuable, and runs as smoothly as possible. Here are a few ways you can do this: 


1. Create a user-friendly registration process. Your goal here is to make the entire experience quick, simple, and pleasant. If your platform allows, adopt a self-serve model and let your attendees complete, modify, or cancel their registration on their own. Otherwise, make sure they can contact you quickly and easily should they need help. 


2. Send regular communications before the start of the conference. Send out reminders, as well as instructions for how to access and use your conference platform. Be sure to give attendees an opportunity to troubleshoot any issues before the conference starts. 


3. Send a swag package well before the event. Branded merchandise like t-shits, pens, and notepads are a staple at in-person conferences. The good news is, you can still recreate a similar experience for your attendees by sending them a swag package in the mail. Invite them to wear and show it off when they attend the conference to create a sense of community. 


4. Invite attendees to create a personal schedule. Like with in-person conferences, your attendees likely won’t be able to or be interested in attending every single session. Give them a chance to create their own personalized agenda that includes only the sessions and activities they plan to attend. Most virtual conference platforms have this feature and can even send push notifications to remind attendees when it’s time to log on.


5. If possible, give attendees the option to use a mobile app. Our smartphones can do just about anything, and taking part in a virtual conference is no exception. Most attendees will likely prefer to participate through a mobile app because it’s easier and can be done on the go. Some may even like to watch the webinar portion on their desktop while simultaneously networking within the mobile app. 


6. Keep the conference platform accessible after the event. There’s a lot of value within the platform — attendee directory, contact information, important conversations, and resources. Make sure you let attendees retain access to all these for a few months, or even up to a year, after the conference is over. 

6 Engagement ideas

When it comes to virtual events, it can be challenging to get people to participate fully and keep their full attention. Here are a few things that might help:


1. Create an attendee directory and encourage everyone to fill out their profiles. This is absolutely crucial for effective networking — your guests will be able to browse the directory, find people they’d like to chat with based on what they see in their profile, and strike a conversation. 


2. Create networking opportunities. In addition to offering an instant messaging system, create other ways for your attendees to interact with each other. This can be through discussion boards, resource sharing spaces, or even one-on-one video chat. 


3. Incorporate gamification and prizes to encourage attendees to participate more actively. For example, offer points for posting in a discussion board or asking a question during a session. List the most active participants on a leaderboard and reward them with prizes at the end of the conference. 


4. Include Q&As, polls, and surveys during the conference sessions. This will help make your sessions more engaging, while helping your attendees better retain the information they’re learning. 


5. Create breakout rooms to help attendees network and participate more actively. Smaller discussion groups are more manageable and offer a better opportunity for everyone to speak up. You can assign attendees to break out rooms randomly, based on an algorithm, or let them self select into groups based on topics that interest them. 


6. Invite attendees to get involved on social media. Create a branded hashtag and encourage your guests to use it. It will help create a sense of community, while spreading the word about your conference.  


Read More: 4 Tips for Increasing Engagement Between Virtual Attendees 

3 Sponsorship Ideas

When seeking out sponsorships for your virtual conference, be sure to provide your prospective sponsors with a benefits package. Remind them that these will look a little different from the benefits they would have received at an in-person event. However, virtual sponsorship benefits can be just as valuable! Here are a few ideas:


1. Offer offline sponsorship perks. For example, if you’re already sending out physical swag packages, turn them into goody bags instead and include a few products from your sponsors. Your attendees will appreciate the free stuff, while your sponsors will enjoy the promotion. 


2. Offer branded prizes. If you incorporate gamification into your virtual conference, you’ll likely be giving out prizes. Why not get your sponsors to provide these prizes? Be sure to regularly remind your attendees about the prizes throughout the conference. You’ll be motivating them to participate more actively, while also giving a shoutout to your sponsors — it’s a win-win! 


3. Offer branded content. There are plenty of opportunities to display sponsor logos and messages during a virtual conference. For example, you could associate each session with a sponsor, give them a shoutout at the beginning of the session, and include their logo in the corner of the presentation. 

5 Revenue Ideas

Part of the reason why you’re organizing a virtual conference is, of course, to generate revenue. Here are a few creative ways to do that:


1. Charge for attendance. This is the easiest way to generate revenue — simply price your tickets in a way that will both cover your expenses and help support your organization. Include a few different pricing tiers (for example, early bird, single day pass, VIP, or multi-day pass) to accommodate everyone’s budgets and preferences. 


2. Sell merchandise. Have you put together a valuable publication? Do you have branded t-shirts? Make these available in an online store and let your guests further contribute to your cause. 


3. Sell ad space. Your virtual conference platform will get a lot of eyes on it throughout the duration of the conference. Take advantage of this and invite relevant businesses in your industry to promote their products and services on your platform. Make sure these are actually things that your attendees would be interested in, so that you’re not taking away from their experience. 


4. Convert attendees into members. Your guests are already interested in what you’re doing and willing to spend money in exchange for what you’re offering. Take advantage of this and invite them to join your membership at a special conference discount. 


5. Monetize your conference after it’s over. One way to do this is to invite people who didn’t attend to pay a fee and gain access to all of the session recordings. It’s not as valuable as attending the conference in real time, but can appeal to those who weren’t looking for networking opportunities and other perks of attending a live event.


Will You Host a Virtual Conference?

So there you have it. Hosting a virtual conference is a big undertaking, but with the right tools and planning, it can be an effective, cost-efficient, and fun way to engage with and grow your community. 


If you’d like more help planning your conference, be sure to download our Virtual Event Checklist — it contains all the steps you need to complete in order to organize a successful virtual event.


Best of luck with your virtual conference!

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