Even though the world has been planning virtual events for quite a while now, they can still cause stress and confusion. But perhaps none other brings as many questions as the infamous choice of platform. In a matter of months, this particular industry segment witnessed an extraordinary boom. And as virtual events kept evolving, planners were bombarded with dozens of features and opportunities from platforms promising they were the next big thing. Considering the circumstances, it’s no wonder so many event profs become exasperated and downright overwhelmed.
But the question remains: in face of so many virtual event platform features, how are you supposed to make a choice? What should you prioritize? Well, here at Endless, we’ve done a lot of homework. Not only do we help each organization make the right choice for their perfect event, but we’ve also undergone the necessary training. So we decided to give you some precious insight into the world of virtual event platform features. Let’s make this process as easy as possible!
It All Starts With The Why
If you’re a veteran Endless reader, then you already know what to start with. Yep, that’s right: goals and objectives! One of the worst things you can do is rush into your choice of platform. Sure, it’s very easy to go with the shiny new toy that promises you heaven and earth. But if you are basing your choice solely on how cool and feature jam-packed a platform is, then you’re not doing your event justice. When it comes to planning, your goals should be the compass guiding your every decision.
Take a second to consider what you want to accomplish with this experience and build your virtual event strategy. Is it all about the amazing content and educational value? Then maybe you should invest more in features that support that goal and less in shiny customization. Of course, there are key virtual event platform features we believe every experience should include. However, the question you should consistently ask yourself when evaluating potential platforms is “how do these features support and drive the goals of my event?“.
Moving On To The How
Drawing from the previous thought, once you’ve solidified your goals and objectives, you can start evaluating virtual event platform features with a more critical eye. Looking at all the stages of your event – before, during, and after – what capabilities are absolutely necessary? For instance, let’s say you want to achieve a higher level of brand awareness. In this case, a platform must allow you to fully customize rooms, booths, content, and more.
Maybe you want this particular event to be all about the content and evergreen lead generation. In that case, you’ll want to give priority to the quality of the live stream, as well as the possibility of recording, editing, and making the sessions available post-event in an on-demand fashion.
Once you establish this, you can start crossing out the options that don’t offer this possibility. From there on out, and as you prioritize the features that matter most, it all comes down to a process of elimination. Eventually, you’ll find the perfect platform that meets the top needs of your virtual event! Keep in mind that you’ll probably have to make small concessions in the name of honoring the goals you’ve established. Because as of right now, a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t yet exist.
Key Virtual Event Platform Features
All of this being said, there is definitely a handful of virtual event platform features that every event should have. Thankfully, most providers got with the program soon enough and do provide at least some of these elements. However, it’s always worth keeping an eye out for capabilities that will both make your virtual event successful and your life as easy as possible.
Some virtual event platforms are easier to use and navigate than others. Choosing one based on UX/UI depends on how tech-savvy your audience is. Knowing your audience is everything! To be on the safe side, it’s best to make the experience as seamless and easy as possible from the get-go.
Remember that, due to pandemic-adjacent circumstances, the virtual event market is quite saturated. And this means that attendees will have no problem leaving your event and opting for one that offers a no-frills approach. So make sure that the platform you choose doesn’t require a three-day-long course to be understood by those seeing and using it for the very first time.
Registration & Ticketing
Staying true to the trend of making the experience as harmonious as can be for your attendees, let’s talk registration. You’ll want access to your event to be easy, a one-and-done kind of thing. Platforms that offer an integrated feature of ticketing and registration go a long way in removing the barriers to entry to your event. This particular event platform feature doesn’t just concern virtual events. In the era of COVID-19 compliant events, seamless registration and ticketing are just as important for in-person attendees.
Hybrid, virtual, or in-person; no matter what type of an event, from the audience’s standpoint, it will always be preferable to register directly on the platform. It’s not a make-it-or-break-it situation, but it might be the difference between attracting or discouraging attendance.
Live Polling, Live Chat, Q&A Sessions
Giving your attendees a chance to voice their opinions and communicate with each other boosts engagement and keeps webinar fatigue at bay. Virtual event platform features to look for here are live polling, live chat, Q&A sessions, and virtual lobbies, for example.
The chance to network is one of the main reasons people attend events. And that hasn’t changed with the advent of virtual experiences! Even if attendee engagement and networking aren’t a priority for you, we still encourage you to keep an eye out for platforms that offer your audience the option to connect. The good thing about this particular feature is that it can be achieved in many different ways. From chat rooms to breakout sessions, there are plenty of directions you can take. This means pretty much every platform out there – even the most basic ones – will somehow include a variation of this feature.
There are many ways to measure the success of your event. But none is as spot-on and relevant as real-time and post-event analytics, lead retrieval, and CE credit tracking. Data is like oxygen for most industries, and ours is no exception. The ability to monitor the actions of your attendees will provide key insights into what went well, what could have gone better, and whether or not the goals of the event were ultimately achieved. Not to mention what an asset this platform feature will represent when planning a future virtual event! So yes, we strongly recommend you pay attention to reporting when looking at virtual event platform features.
Another powerful way to boost virtual audience engagement is to gamify the experience. Who doesn’t love a good game and a little bit of competition? Keep in mind that the gamified elements of your event should serve a purpose: to meet your event’s goals and objectives. What are you trying to achieve and how can gamification help with that?
You see, gamification at virtual events goes beyond keeping attendees engaged. As Kara Gladish pointed out on the #EventIcons podcast, gamification can also help with event management. “You could have a code that says ‘you have to join the event platform early’. You can use gamification to give extra points if people get there early. Then, they’re getting settled in. That helps the usual influx of ‘how do I sign in’ and ‘what’s my password’”. Additionally, “you can gamify paying attention in different sessions or talking to your sponsors”, she added.
All The Integrations & Customization!
Depending on your event strategy, you’ll very likely need several integrations among your virtual event platform features; there are integrations for social media (this is a must!), email, fundraising, CRM, and beyond. Integrations ensure your attendees have all the content and resources in one place, which creates a truly professional, streamlined experience for everybody who’s part of the event.
Some platforms are more customizable than others. An important virtual event platform feature is the ability for your sponsors, presenters, hosts, and exhibitors to show off their brand in virtual space.
Hybrid Event Features
Hybrid events, the perfect synchrony of in-person and virtual experiences, are establishing themselves as the way of the future. They come in various shapes and sizes, depending on your chosen venue and the size of both types of audiences.
If you were planning to simply use the same tech solution for both your audiences, you’re in for a rude awakening. Not all event platforms are fit to host a hybrid event – it’s the most flexible ones that will do the job. Among virtual event platform features to be on the lookout for are seamless video networking solutions, real-time communication channels that enable interactions between digital and in-person audiences, and detailed analytics, among other things.
All Roads Lead To Automation
As time goes by, virtual event platforms are becoming increasingly more automated. Kyle Kocinski who recently spoke about virtual and hybrid event platforms on the Event Tech Podcast said that automation is a key virtual event platform feature to look for. “As soon as attendees get access into the platform, they’re able to see what sessions would be most interesting to them based on how they signed up in the registration process. There are a lot of key questions you can ask even before they get into the platform to try to personalize their experience as soon as they get in.” That way, attendees get to choose their own adventure rather than being force-fed the entire experience. That’s the way of the future!
A Note On 365 Community Engagement
Event marketing is one of the most powerful ways to grow your business and generate leads, and it doesn’t have to end when the live experience is over. Instead, use your event platform as a hub that your community can visit pre- and post-event as well. Not only will your attendees be able to watch sessions they might have initially missed, your virtual platform can also serve to connect several events together. 365 community engagement has so much untapped potential. Find an event platform with features that support this exciting event trend.
Is A Virtual Event Platform Enough?
We’ve spoken at length about how choosing the right platform isn’t enough. A platform is just one of the variables that goes into creating the entire event equation! As Einsteins of Events, we strongly advise that you always go to a strategic partner who not only knows the ropes of the virtual event world but can also offer high-level event strategy consulting. Consistent support behind the scenes – both before, during, and after your event – makes the event planning process much easier.
At Endless Events, we pride ourselves on being technology-agnostic. We’ll help you find a virtual event platform with features that best suit your goals and objectives. If you have any questions and are still unsure, reach out to us. Our team is always here to help and offer the best insights into the virtual-sphere!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2020, and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy by Anja Grcar.