Sharing experiences and interacting with others with the same interests are two of the most exceptional and natural ways to make and create long-lasting relationships. Both in business and personally. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that this is why events are crucial activity for most businesses. From marketing to sales to internal communications and training, human interactions at ‘events’ (in whatever form that may be) are vital in supporting business growth, performance improvement as well as staff wellbeing and development. Events are powerful and important; it’s as simple as that.
Today there is an excellent range of technology available to facilitate events online and in person. There are, however, pros and cons of both so it’s worth considering all of the options before planning starts. Here’s our low down of the pros and cons of virtual events and some key pointers to bear in mind…
Pros of Virtual Events
- Flexibility. Virtual events are totally flexible. If you can host an event in person, there is almost always a way to replicate that format, in some sense, online. The Covid pandemic has shown us that after all and virtual events have increased by over 1000% in 2020! Unsurprising really. The options and scope to create bespoke and immersive environments are unlimited. In a virtual space if you can imagine it, you can create it.
- On demand content. According to Intrado 20% of virtual events attendees view the content on demand. That’s a staggering figure. On demand content is very useful as it means people who cannot attend live for a variety of reasons can still access and engage with that content later on. Sometimes even those who do attend live sessions also want to re-watch sessions or look through content for a second or third time.
- Inclusivity. In person events have the potential to leave people out; whether this is a result of geography, time, cost or a number of other potential factors. Hosting an event online, however, means that there is no reason that everyone can’t be involved. This is a real plus for company culture and team morale, especially if the event in question aims to include large numbers or people from different locations or job functions.
- Speakers. The difference between a virtual event and live event on the speaker and presenter front is that virtual events open up many new possibilities often made impossible at a live event. There may be a speaker or presenter that would never have presented in person, but who can present virtually, from the comfort of their own home. While attendees won’t get that in the room buzz in the same way, high calibre often heavily booked speakers can be live streamed from anywhere in the world right to the audience, virtually.
- The environment. According to UStravel.org, in 2018 38% of US business travel was for meetings and events. In person events will always be important, but even if you shave a portion of those types of events from the calendar and replace with virtual, the reduction in carbon emissions for travel (and hotel stays) is huge and the impact on the planet, positive. Businesses have a duty to reduce their unnecessary environmental impact and switching to virtual events is a phenomenal way of making a big difference, quickly.
- Cost efficiencies and increased ROI. Costs for virtual events can often be much lower than in person meetings and gatherings (although they still require a lot of thought, expertise and careful planning to do well.) Overheads such as accommodation, food and beverages, venue hire, insurance and security – to name a few – are not required when you’re delivering your conference virtually. This often-reduced cost of virtual events can contribute to a better ROI for the company picking up the bill.
- Reporting and data. A virtual event provides a LOT of data that is really useful for the host, exhibitors, trainers and many other stakeholders. Data collated from an online event environment can be used in so many ways and can provide real insight into attendees’ interest and interaction with content, networking, exhibitors’ products and much more. Live events certainly provide that in person experience and all-important body language, but that’s much harder to measure.
- Scalable. Virtual events are not limited to a venue with a specific number of breakout rooms or specific number of seats in an auditorium. They can be scaled up and down and cater for any number of attendees. On one of our recent Virtual Events we had 100 breakout rooms running concurrently! The option to add new tracks to an agenda exists always and can generally be implemented quickly compared to a live event. Another upside to this is ticket sales – the sky’s your limit with a virtual event!
- Reduced barriers to networking. Tools that virtual events offer such as regular polls, live chat and Q&A’s can remove barriers that may exist at in person events and help calm nerves. While it’s an important part of many events, most humans feel ‘a bit icky’ about networking. According to Markeltic, 81.8% of virtual event organizers use event polling to improve interaction and engagement with content and for networking. For online networking, it actually might be a lot easier through a screen than in person.
- Reliability. Even if there’s extreme weather, an ash cloud (or a global pandemic?), a virtual event should still be able to take place. Attendees can view the content from their own homes and as long as there is a good team delivering the event, there’s really very little that would cause it to be cancelled.
Cons of Virtual Events
- Limiting audiences. The polar opposite to the positive argument for scalable flexible virtual events, is that of exclusive, sometimes small, in person events. Being invited to a VIP must attend event with its exclusive panel and audience is something very special indeed. Sometimes, smaller, highly targeted event audiences create a huge buzz in a room that’s very hard to replicate elsewhere.
- Change of scene. ‘Business holidays’ and business travel can be an upside for many. There’s a big world out there and being able to visit new places first-hand and experience new cuisines, culture, music, sites and scenery of a destination can be an absolute joy. This type of destination business travel can create a huge sense of enthusiasm and job satisfaction that isn’t quite the same online.
- Disruptions. If you’re attending an event in person, your priority is that event. You’re in it, you’re there, and it’s all consuming. If you’re attending an event online, as enthusiastic and engaged as you may be in the content, you’ll still probably nip off to change the dishwasher over or feed the cat (we’ve all been there.) The sense of true escapism and focus of a live experience is difficult to match.
- Informal interactions. While virtual events provide lots of opportunities for networking and engagement with speakers, opportunities to engage with other attendees can sometimes be fewer at virtual events. While you can structure a virtual agenda to include a lot of ‘stuff’, sometimes memorable moments at live events are spontaneous, unplanned and unstructured.