There is no one-size-fits-all solution for organizations virtualizing brick and mortar conferences or events. In a previous blog post, I outlined the two main platform options for virtualizing your events, namely webinar and virtual conference platforms. Almost everyone is familiar with hosting a webinar, but what are some considerations in deciding to host a virtual conference?
What is a Virtual Conference Platform?
Until recently, many were unaware that virtual conference & tradeshow platforms were available as alternatives to hosting brick and mortar events. Many organizations, often seeking to preserve event revenue, are looking to virtual conference platforms to overcome restrictions on travel and gatherings.
Virtual conference platforms allow delegates to navigate a virtual conference venue that can have a variety of virtual spaces, such as virtual plenary and breakout rooms, virtual lounges for networking, and virtual tradeshow components. Virtual tradeshows are one of the few opportunities during COVID-19 for companies that emphasize exhibition in their sales process.
Planning a Virtual Conference
Many aspects of virtual conference planning are similar or the same as planning a brick and mortar conference. Much of the work you have already done is applicable in the virtual environment, including session planning, promotion, sponsorship and registration.
Special consideration must be given to the virtual format, including:
- addressing the logistical and A/V complexities of virtual sessions and tradeshow booths,
- addressing the increased competition for attendee attention,
- adjusting registration and sponsorship pricing,
- communicating event changes, and
- providing educational resources on how to get the most out of virtual events.
Another key consideration in hosting a virtual event is the implementation period. Implementation periods can range from days to weeks or months, depending on the complexity of the event. However, given the surge in interest due to COVID-19 related restrictions on gatherings, implementations may be delayed or extended by weeks.
If you are considering hosting a virtual conference in the coming months, it is essential to start preparing as soon as possible.
Cost of Hosting a Conference Virtually
The various offerings are quite a bit more sophisticated than meeting and webinar platforms. Unsurprisingly, they are also quite a bit more expensive. From my research, the lowest implementation cost I could find was $8,000 USD for vFairs which requires you use your own webinar platform for sessions you run. At the high-end, Communiqué, one of the more sophisticated platforms, starts at $35,000 USD, but offers many more features.
Unlike the monthly fees for webinar platforms, the cost of a virtual conference platform is comparable to that of venue space. Instead of paying for the venue operational costs, you pay for the implementation (which may take many hours of work), the hosting services, and tech support for you, your attendees and exhibitors during your event. Some premium platforms offer extensive customization, logistical and event planning support.
Assessing Demand & Pricing
Many of the virtual conference platforms claim that events that virtualize often see an increase in the number of attendees and exhibitors. However, this potential increased interest may or may not translate into increased event revenues since many virtual conferences end up lowering registration and sponsorship prices.
There is a lot of nuance involved in setting your prices. It is key to speak to your attendees, sponsors and exhibitors to assess their level of interest in a virtual conference or tradeshow. In my experience, sponsors and exhibitors are enthusiastic when talking about virtual conferences. Time will tell whether that enthusiasm translates into sponsorship and exhibition revenue.
Restrictions on travel and large gatherings are expected to last well into 2020 or even early 2021. For some organizations, switching to a virtual conference may be a welcome alternative to cancelling their brick and mortar events. Much of the work involved in hosting a brick and mortar event translates into hosting a virtual one. However, it is important to gauge the interest of your delegates, sponsors and exhibitors to assess the financial viability of hosting a virtual event.
If you are thinking of virtualizing your conference, contact prospective platform providers now to ensure you are not affected by the longer than usual implementation periods.