How to host an Online Virtual Conference

Image credit: Wikipedia

As fear over COVID-19 escalates and in-person gatherings are discouraged, many event organisers are facing a dilemma between postponing the physical conference VS hosting it digitally through live-streaming platforms.

Are you considering moving your conference online but are a bit daunted at the process?

Though we do not expect online conferences to displace all physical conferences, nor to replace networking of meeting in person, they are definitely a great alternative to be socially responsible and control the spread of global pandemic in 2020. Hosting an online conference can provide alternative benefits, starting with being a cost-effective alternative (cost savings from not having to rent event spaces, hiring staff, and costs associated to travel, food, hotels, and entertainment), increased efficiency (short break-out session instead of lasting an entire day or two), greater audience reach (distance no longer is an obstacle in connecting to more attendees across the globe). That being said, it is also important to recognise that virtual event, just like a physical event, require preparation, planning and preproduction.

In this article, we will take a closer look at how you can host a virtual conference – from the technology required to key steps in putting an actual conference together, as well as, other considerations to be made.

Online Infrastructure

Video Conferencing & Interactivity Tools

Procuring a reliable real-time technical support is essential to a successful online event. You will need to recruit a technical vendor to help you host your virtual event. Depending on whether you would like it to be live or pre-recorded, size of your audience and nature of your conference, your suitable choice of vendor will differ. 

Consider researching and reading up on different options from these providers:

I would recommend doing a features and cost comparison between different vendors. It’s important to look closely on features available, capability on simultaneously connecting all of your attendees, as well as, additional controls like muting. Cost is another factor that should be taken account so you can align your budget accordingly.

To encourage interaction in virtual environment, you might consider integrating interactive Live Q&A tools to your virtual conference – here are some options:

By asking relevant, provocative questions, these platforms help to spark really good exchanges with you audience and promote discussion among your audience.

Registration Site

A website is required for your attendees to register for the virtual conference. It acts as a central repository for all information related to your event. At Eventnook, we can help you build an online registration site, where you can post information on your event with your own branding, collect information from attendees using our forms, access to a secure payment platform (where payment is required), automate email communications with robust confirmation and reminder emails, as well as, secure storage and transmission of your data. Get in touch if we could be of help at hello@eventnook.com.

Physical infrastructure – Quality gear

You can buy or rent the A/V gear, or seek out an AV production company to assist you. Ensure you have the right hardware to give your virtual conference a professional feel. If you regularly host online events, the former may be cost-effective, otherwise, the latter would be the way to go.

Book a virtual studio or professional green screen studio to record or film the event. Here, you will be able to find sound, lighting, camera, video recording and experienced operators. In Singapore, studio space day rate usually range around SGD400. If you require video camera and operator, the price ranges from SGD300 to 650. Sound recording will set you back at least SGD300.

TEST, TEST & TEST…

I am certain all event organisers can agree that testing is a very important aspect of any event. This too applies for a virtual conference, to ensure that the event is not derailed by technical problems, as far as a controllable situation is concerned. Where possible, plan for a backup software, as well as, any crucial A/V components.

Testing checklist:

  1. Ensure that your event audience can easily log in, view and hear what is happening without lip sync, glitches or interruptions.
  2. Brief presenters or panel on the software and where possible, invite them to be physically present at the recording studio. If some of presenters are joining virtually, do remind them to do several tests on their end.
  3. Check quality of the video and sound and try out the set-up in detail

Challenges of a digital conference

With virtual events, some challenges exist in contrast to a physical event.

  1. Low Audience Retention

Unlike traditional physical events, there would be challenges to maintain engagement with your audience. You are likely to experience an audience with a shorter attention span and lower level of engagement. This makes it so important to plan in a way to stay connected and engaged. Closely planning the virtual event agenda and monitoring the flow of presentation, as well as, volume and tone of presentation would be crucial to retain your audience’s attention. With virtual events, your audience on the other end could be easily distracted, switch to another task, log-off or get away from their laptops.

2. Limited Target Audience

Your target audience outreach would be limited to tech-savvy individuals or people who have easy access to a laptop or internet.

3. Lack of control

With virtual events, you are operating or working with a video streaming platform, whom you are mainly relying on for seamless virtual event streaming with no interruptions or technical issues. There could also be connectivity issues in voice and video lag.

PROMOTION

After all the preparation and considerations, you now have your hardware, software, key speakers, a clear conference programme, and a website (or event page) to guide people to. From now on, your main focus is promoting the conference via all available channels.

For an online conference, you have numerous ways for promotion on a relatively small budget:

  • Social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – all depending on your audience)
  • Relevant forums where potential attendees might hang out (e.g. a community for tourism professionals where you can promote your tourism conference)
  • Email database, own blogs and press releases

For promotion on social channels, consider a catchy #hashtag you can use whenever you post about the upcoming conference. Word of mouth is a great promotional method so do encourage your speakers to promote the conference to their audience on their own channels. They have a vested interest to do so and able to garner more buzz and interest from their followers.

CONCLUSION

Based on our experience, virtual conferences are definitely less time-intensive and risky as compared to a physical event, but that doesn’t mean they don’t require planning and consume time. A tip from us would be to “Start well in advance!”

Stay safe and take care!