Hosting Engaging Virtual Events

Apr 8, 2021 | How To, Live Stream

Have you felt a little overwhelmed and anxious by hosting virtual events in place of your in-person events this year? You’re not alone. Unsurprisingly, virtual events have become a big deal this year in light of the pandemic. In 2020, the number of organizations planning virtual events in some capacity has doubled (Wild Apricot).

Between managing event planning, promotion, registration, speakers, not to mention production and technical setup and challenges, virtual events can be daunting. According to Markletic, audience engagement is the biggest challenge when it comes to virtual events (Source: Markletic). Technical problems appear to be another big challenge, with 38% of event marketers reporting that these issues were a hindrance to hosting effective virtual events.

 

What is a virtual event?

A virtual event is an online event in which some or all aspects of the live broadcast and/or audience engagement methods that would have taken place in-person have been replaced or augmented by web-based tools. This year, these virtual meetings have taken the place of conferences, trade shows, seminars, and many other types of in-person gatherings. Usually, these events take place through a live broadcast “keynote” element with one or multiple speakers, sometimes supplemented by some sort of interactive component including virtual breakout rooms, chat, or one-on-one video conferencing. 

How do I measure the success of my virtual event?
Beyond “Butts in Seats.”

In order to best plan effective virtual events, first we have to define what success is. The best metric to understand success is engagement. “Engagement” can be a bit of a nebulous buzzword for any type of event, virtual or in-person, but for us, usually comes down to three things:

  • How many people were present for the event? (attendance)
  • How long did viewers engage for? (average watch time)
  • How invested were my viewers in the event? (transactional communication)

In some ways, an event taking place virtually is much easier to measure in terms of engagement, but in other ways it can be trickier.

The first and most obvious aspect of engagement is attendance. How many people virtually walked in your door? Thankfully, online streaming platforms typically make it easy to measure this metric without counting heads. Resi’s Live Stream Platform, for example, makes it easy to count the number of total views, total unique attendees of each event, and even where each viewer was watching from (including a host of other details including device type, bitrate watched, etc.)

Secondly, let’s discuss attentiveness of viewers. In a normal event, it is fairly easy to see if a speaker has captured your audience’s attention. Unfortunately, in a virtual context, short of installing a camera in every viewer’s home (which we don’t recommend), it can be tough to know the actual command a speaker has of an online audience. Thankfully, time-based analytics, such as viewer watch times, peak viewers by time, etc. can be a great way to understand this. The other factor to consider is your streaming destination — depending on the end-point where your viewer is watching, you can either capture your audience’s attention fully or introduce distractions.

Finally, let’s talk about the transactional nature of events. In most cases, you would not typically consider an in-person event successful if the presenter simply talked at an audience for 60 minutes and everyone immediately walked out the door. Interactive tools, such as polls, Q&A, and chat can be a great way to capture and maintain a connection with your audience in a virtual conference or event, and is also a great way to measure the audience’s level of engagement in your content.

For more about understanding how to properly measure attendance and engagement in your virtual event, conference, service, etc., check out this great article on “demystifying online attendance.”

How to Produce Best Online Engagement in a Virtual Space

Now that we’ve discussed the best ways to measure the success of your online event, how do we host an event that will succeed in producing the highest quality experience with the highest level of engagement? It starts with first crafting a great event, planning how to carry it out technically, and where to host it. 

First and most obvious, your virtual event needs to be built with content that attracts and resonates with your audience. Learn how to clarify your message. Our friends at StoryBrand are invaluable for this. 

Next, plan how to carry out your event technically so that your viewers can watch your stream reliably, in high-quality audio and video, eliminating distractions and providing maximum watch time. Did you know that 30% of your audience will leave after one buffering wheel and 70% will have left by two? Unfortunately, most streaming platforms which are built on archaic infrastructure, mixed with unreliable internet connections for both broadcasters and viewers, are not conducive to keeping viewers on your online stream. Resi’s Live Stream platform solves this problem, through Resi’s Resilient Streaming Protocol built on cutting-edge infinitely scalable cloud architecture. In plain english, it’s built to withstand even significant network issues and scale to millions of viewers without any drops, disruptions, or distractions to your viewers. See our “getting started quickly” guide for more information about getting started quickly and easily, or jump on a group demo and we’ll be happy to help you with your virtual event.

The second part of carrying out a virtual event from a technical perspective is to consider the playback format. Resi provides two different methods to stream your event: live and simulated live. Live, most commonly used, is streamed exactly as it sounds – from your broadcast site to viewers with as little delay as possible. Simulated live, is a newer and very powerful tool to host your event with very minimal risk and high production value. In this case, an event is recorded to the cloud, or even edited and uploaded from a fully produced video. When scheduled to stream, viewers will watch and interact with the live video concurrently, just as if it was a fully live event. This eliminates any risk of technical failure and allows for a much more polished event, but the downside is that live interaction from event hosts, emcees, etc. is limited to whatever can be accomplished outside of the pre-recorded content. Check out this video to learn more about simulated live.

Finally, plan where your virtual event will be hosted. It’s important to choose your destinations wisely. While social destinations like Facebook and YouTube are great for marketing your events ahead of time, they are not great destinations for engagement in your event. If you’ve seen The Social Dilemma, you know that these platforms are not incentivized to keep viewers engaged in your content – they aim to distract your audience, keep them scrolling between content, and disrupt them with ads. That’s why average viewing times for these platforms is very low, with Facebook as little as 2-5 min and YouTube around 10-15. Streaming to other platforms that you own, such as your website or embedded in other event management systems is the best route. There are many great platforms to make the most of your virtual event, providing tools from ticketing and event registration to interactive features like chat, q&a, and polls. Some examples of these include Brushfire, Event Owl, or Sardius. 

Conclusion

The effects of COVID leading to necessitate fully remote engagements have been very prominent this past year. While life is thankfully returning to normal in many ways, we expect virtual events are here to stay, even in a hybrid capacity. Live events were already hard enough to produce, eliminating distractions for your attendees without having to worry about managing disruptions in each of their homes. Reach out to learn more about how Resi can help you host immersive virtual events that you can be proud of, with high levels of engagement and which produce results.

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