March 24, 2022

What Is a Virtual Event — And How Does It Compare to In-Person?

What is a virtual event — and what are the benefits of virtual events compared to in-person? If you’re interested in hosting a virtual event of your own, keep reading to learn more.

In the last few years, many companies have made the switch from physical in-person events to virtual events. But what is a virtual event — and how does it work?

What Is a Virtual Event?

A virtual event taking place in the Touchcast metaverse

A virtual event is a structured, organized gathering that takes place entirely via a digital platform, as opposed to in-person. 

Because they’re hosted online, virtual events can range in size. You can organize a small virtual meeting with a tiny cohort of guests — or host enormous arena-sized gatherings in the metaverse. For instance, one of the largest virtual events, attended by 78 million people, was Ariana Grande’s concert in Fortnite, courtesy of Epic Games.

Virtual events vary in format — from single webinars with one presenter or multi-day virtual conventions with numerous tracks and concurrent virtual speakers. 

During the global pandemic, organizations around the world had to pivot to virtual events to accommodate a new remote workforce. Although many were forced to go from physical to digital, there were some huge benefits of running virtual events vs in-person events.

Benefits of Virtual Events

There are many benefits of virtual events. Here are some of the top reasons why you should consider migrating to virtual events over in-person:

Accessibility: If you’re hosting a global conference, attendees may have to travel long distances to reach your event. Not only are long commutes time-consuming and unproductive, but they can unfairly marginalize people who may not have the resources to attend. Virtual events allow attendees to log in from the comfort of their own homes. No travel required.

Real-Time Language Translation: Touchcast’s virtual event platform allows for real-time language translation dubbing in over 100 languages, meaning you can break down the barriers of language to create a truly inclusive event for speakers of almost any language.

On-Demand Content Hub: Events are expensive. A virtual event provides the biggest ROI, as Touchcast allows you to record every presentation and feature it in a Netflix-style content hub, that lives on long after the event is over.

Sustainability: The cost of travel can have a big impact on the environment. From carbon emissions to event waste, virtual events allow you to host an environmentally-friendly online event.

Audience Engagement Analytics: A virtual event allows you to track audience engagement analytics like registrations, session views, attendance rate, attendees, and average viewing times.

Customizable Venues: By choosing a digital venue with Touchcast, you can customize it with your own company branding and choose from a range of beautifully designed venues for any event size. 

AI-Powered Instant Articles: Turn a guest speaker’s talk into an article, with Touchcast’s AI-powered Instant Articles feature.

In the next section, we’ll cover some of these virtual event benefits in-depth.

Virtual Events Vs In-Person Events

What are the advantages of a virtual event vs. an in-person event? Whether an organization was already exploring virtual events or the pandemic forced a structural change away from in-person events, there are some significant advantages to hosting events virtually.

Virtual events are not limited by the parameters of in-person events and can expand the reach of the event, as well as provide a way to create a content hub that can be repurposed.

Audience Reach

Audience reach is one of the most critical pieces of any event. The best-planned event, whether in-person or virtual, is only as good as who actually attends, participates, and benefits from it. 

While the experience of an attendee differs between an in-person event and a virtual event, both kinds of events depend on the presence of an audience. When it comes to audiences, virtual events have distinct advantages with regard to accessibility and reach.

The audience of an in-person event is limited by the ability to be just that: in person. Attendance in person may seem simple on the surface, but it comes with many potential barriers. 

Does the potential attendee have the budget and schedule flexibility to attend the event in person? Are all aspects of the event accessible to every attendee, regardless of physical mobility? Are services provided for all attendees to access the event content, regardless of sensory or language barriers? Virtual events alleviate, or even eliminate, many of these core challenges. Travel times, malfunctions, and costs are no longer an issue when it comes to virtual events. Virtual events provide unparalleled opportunities for event organizers to reach a global audience.

As previously mentioned, virtual events allow for global accessibility. Passports aren't required and translation is no longer a communication barrier. Virtual event platforms, like Touchcast, provide real-time translation services, in over 100 languages, to transform any event instantly into a global event. Automatic time-zone conversions create clarity around event schedules — no more scrambling to work out the time difference between hemispheres. And if an attendee cannot make an event? All the event content can live on indefinitely on Netflix-style content hubs.

Regardless of physical ability, virtual events allow any attendee the ability to participate. Accessibility services can be baked into the virtual event platform. This ensures all sessions and breakout groups are accessible to all participants. In addition, asking a question virtually may be more comfortable for attendees and cause less anxiety. Virtual events are excellent for social distancing and are germ-free. No more carrying home whatever conference bug was floating around the main hall!

Affordability and Accessibility

Any event, whether an in-person event or a virtual event, has a cost to it. Whatever the cost of an event — it plays an outsized role in who gets to participate. Organizations or individuals who can’t afford the airfare, hotel rooms, and conference fees — may be excluded from participating, even if they want to.

In-person events also have temporal costs: the time spent traveling and time spent away from other tasks and priorities — and families. Working parents may not have the ability to take a week away from their children in order to attend an event. Wheelchair users also face challenges with travel. Some wheelchair users require a companion to assist with air travel, and finding hotel accommodations with amenities like roll-in showers, can add another layer of complexity when attending events. Virtual events allows an event to be truly inclusive for all people.

At the same time, creating a virtual event has a lower cost for the event organizer. Organizers can eliminate costs like venue rental, signage, transportation, and catering. Additionally, the flexibility of virtual events allows the organizer to choose the optimal time for the event to occur, rather than working around a venue’s calendar.

These cost savings can be deployed on additional events or broader digital marketing or a different tier of virtual speaker. Or they can be used elsewhere in the organization.

Sustainability and Virtual Events

Virtual events can reduce heavy carbon emissions and eliminate long journeys

For many companies, in-person event travel can conflict with their organization’s environmental policies. Attending an in-person event can rack up carbon emission expenses, especially if air travel is part of the journey.

Virtual events mitigate and reduce many of those costs. The event may still have a registration fee, but no travel expenses occur when it comes to virtual events. The commute for a virtual event attendee or speaker is as short as walking to their computer. There is no time lost to travel or flight delays or navigating hotel check-in. Organizations budgeting for event attendance can increase their participation levels, given the cost savings for travel. Virtual events are also the most eco-friendly event choice.

At the same time, creating a virtual event has a lower cost for the event organizer. There’s no pricey physical venue rental (and no working around the dates it’s available!). There are fewer physical logistics to coordinate and pay for like signage and transportation and catering. Those cost savings can be deployed on additional events, broader digital marketing, or a different tier of virtual speaker. 

Audience Engagement 

Audience engagement analytics from Touchcast

If audience reach is one of the most critical pieces of any event, audience engagement is the other. An excellent event doesn't just capture eyeballs — it’s engaging, informational, and entertaining.

If audience reach is one of the most critical

For in-person events, audience engagement leans heavily on the speaker’s visual presentations, often from the stage. It also relies on the dynamics of in-person breakout sessions and other activities set in dedicated physical spaces. 

For virtual events, actively engaging with a virtual audience can present some unique challenges — but the pay-off can be incredibly powerful. An engaged audience helps stem the dreaded dropout rate toward the end of events, and can generate positive buzz about your event on social media platforms, like LinkedIn and Twitter.

A first-class virtual event requires far more than just streaming presentations. Having attendees interacting with the event via a virtual event platform allows organizers opportunities to create concurrent ways of connecting with their audience. 

A virtual event platform like Touchcast provides embedded features that foster attendee interaction. Ask questions in real-time, and engage with elements of gamification that connect and delight the audience. It provides immersive engagement with a high-fidelity video experience. It can make a keynote address look as stunning as a Netflix show. It also creates opportunities for networking, both with new connections and with old ones.

Networking At Virtual Events

Another key part of in-person events is the ability to network and make new connections.

Virtual events also allow for an enhanced kind of networking. Participants can communicate in the chat with any other attendee, not just the one they happened to sit by in a session. Those conversations can be content and connection-driven, not distracted by trading business cards. With a virtual event, speakers no longer have to take a day off to attend an event for an hour-long session. 

With no travel requirements, organizers have more options in selecting virtual speakers. Virtual speakers have more schedule flexibility themselves. Without other logistical demands, they can include more time for interacting with attendees.

Event Structure

The very best events are organized around an abundance of great content to entice and enrich the audience experience. But even the best in-person events are limited by attendees' ability to only be in one place at one time. 

How many times does an attendee have to decide between continuing a hallway conversation with a new contact (while trying to see the contact's name on their lanyard to make sure they heard it correctly), or ducking into that track covering a topic of interest? And attendees are doing all of this while juggling an event program, coffee cup, and intermittent phone calls from the office back home. It’s no wonder that audiences are more distracted than ever.

Virtual events have an event structure that allows content and attendees to be unconstrained by time and space. Content is livestreamed across various tracks, so it can be deployed on multiple channels. It can also be recorded and transcribed so it is accessible on-demand. 

Touchcast even gives attendees the ability to search the content by relevant keywords. Imagine being able to go back and hear that inspiring and salient point a speaker made!  Virtual attendees are in complete command of what they watch and when. It’s like having a remote control for an entire video conference

ROI

What do event organizers hope to gain from organizing an event? What event success metrics do they use? And what do attendees hope to gain from attending that event? With in-person events, organizers are limited in measuring the event's return on investment. Organizers can track alleged attendance by who picked up registration packets or checked into the hotel. Room hosts can eyeball a headcount on attendees in a breakout session. Post-event surveys can be sent out to attendees, presenters, and sponsors to track net promoter scores and glean feedback.

With virtual events, data is at an organizer's fingertips. Real-time metrics track who is attending what sessions, how engaged attendees are, and when — or if — participation wanes.

Real-time analytics can provide deeper insights on the spot. Analytics and surveys measure customer experience and allow organizers to implement changes. Sponsors see actual numbers about how many views their pages had, not just a vague idea based on the business of the trade show floor. 

With travel and logistics no longer challenges, virtual event organizers have access to a wider range of virtual speakers. Speakers can have access to a wider audience and are not limited to the audience physically in front of them. Lastly, the ROI for a virtual event is not limited to the actual dates of the event. With Touchcast, the post-event ROI can be utilised, long after the curtain call.

The Post-Event Content Hub

Touchcast's stylish and intuitive content hub

For in-person events, the post-event experience usually entails a similar pattern. Attendees travel home, emails, and LinkedIn invitations are sent to new contacts. The event organizers pack up the banners, send out thank-yous, and save the date messages for next year.

With virtual events, the post-event experience has a whole new life. Virtual events are no longer "one and done" moments in time. They are now "publications" that live on, constantly evolving and living. Virtual events never sleep. Content lives on in on-demand videos. Attendee engagement continues through the digital platform in ways limited only by imagination. Event attendance becomes less like a date on a calendar and more like membership in a dynamic community.

  

The Best Virtual Events Platform

Now that we’ve answered the question “what is a virtual event” and demonstrated some of the benefits of virtual events, consider talking to our sales team about how your organization could be transformed with virtual events. Click ‘Book A Demo’ in the upper right hand corner of this website to learn more about why the world’s top companies choose Touchcast to run their virtual events.

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