Virtual Events in 2021 – Your Definitive Guide

8 min read

Virtual Events 2021

Physical experiences will always be popular but in our ever-evolving digital age, virtual events are proving more valuable than ever before. 

Today we have a wealth of technology available at our fingertips, the kind that makes hosting engaging and immersive virtual events a living, breathing reality for businesses across industries.

Here we explore the continual rise of virtual events while looking at essential tips to help you host your own brand-boosting experiences or conferences in 2021.

Let’s get this (virtual) party started!

The rise of virtual events

Since the first-ever documented virtual event, ‘ConventionView‘, was hosted in 1993, the virtual events market has seen a steady rise.

Digital transformation is changing the professional landscape, forcing more organisations to reconsider their business models and embrace the power of emerging technology.

As businesses and institutions across sectors start moving to the beat of a digital drum, the demand for virtual events is growing.

The virtual events industry is expected to soar from a current worth of £57 billion globally to £600 billion in 2030 – an incredible rate of growth, to say the least.

A colossal driving force behind the acceleration of virtual event adoption is of course, the pandemic. The enduring threat of COVID-19 has thrust us all into a state of mass isolation with droves of people around the world turning to digital technology to stay connected.

This year alone, the number of organisations planning or launching virtual events has doubled. And, as new brands, big and small, join the virtual events party, we expect to see big things in 2021!

Virtual Party
Clearly no one told these happy stock image models about WellBox. On the plus side, the cake is in one piece so they clearly didn’t use Y*del to deliver it …

Why host a virtual event?

Growing demand and necessity aside, there are many reasons why you should host a virtual event.

First of all, virtual events know no geographical bounds. From online conferences and webinars to tours and app-based challenges, virtual events will empower you to reach a wider audience without having to leave your home or office.

In our current climate, the ability to connect with your audience virtually will boost brand awareness, drive engagement, and ensure your business remains well and truly on the map.

Plus, when you consider that 84% of organisations who host virtual events confirm they are more cost-effective than physical experiences (while often earning the same results), it’s clear that going virtual can offer an excellent return on investment (ROI).

Another clear-cut benefit of virtual events is the fact that they are cancellation proof. As you will no doubt know, unexpected issues can crop up, stopping a physical event in its tracks—which is disastrous in anyone’s books.

But, as virtual events aren’t bound to the shackles of a set venue or location, most can go ahead in some form regardless of what is happening in the outside world.

With a solid concept and the right planning, online experiences offer a host of business-boosting benefits—and as we hurtle towards the end of another (and somewhat strange) year, it’s time to start thinking about your virtual events strategy in 2021.

While on furlough, even Ed Sheeran decided to get himself a side-gig as a virtual event organiser.

Essential virtual event trends for 2021

The value of hosting virtual events is undeniable. Now that you know why you should host virtual events, it’s time to look at the latest industry trends that will shape the landscape in 2021.

Data intelligence

Big data offers a deeper insight into your audience’s wants, needs, and behaviours—and in 2021, an increasing number of organisations use virtual event engagement metrics to improve their offerings across channels.

Utilising data analytics platforms, hosts in 2021 will drill down into attendance, engagement, and satisfaction metrics to gain a better understanding of how their virtual events are received in 2021.

By gathering this level of insight, organisations will be empowered to improve their virtual event events for maximum success while improving their marketing communications across touchpoints.

At present, 90% of virtual event organisers use surveys to measure attendee satisfaction. And in 2021, data intelligence will become a top priority for brands and businesses across industries.

Experiential content

As the likes of virtual conferences, webinars, and challenges continue to gain momentum, organisations of all shapes and sizes will look to boost event engagement by creating value-driven content across platforms.

By producing supplementary content including online membership portals, blog posts, videos, and white-papers related to their virtual events, organisations can boost brand awareness, expand their reach, and offer far more value to their attendees.

One of the UK charity sector’s virtual event leaders Diabetes UK, for instance, creates a mix of digital content to transform its Swim 22 challenge into an engaging digital journey.

With a dedicated landing page that features informational blog posts, inspiring supporter stories, and a platform to log your progress and earn badges, the charity encourages its participants to remain motivated while encouraging them to share the content with their peers.

This innovative approach to experiential content has made Swim 22 the UK’s most successful virtual swimming event. In fact, it raised more than £700,000 this year alone.

If you’re thinking of dipping your toes in virtual events in 2021, creating experiential content will grow your audience and set you apart from your competitors.

User experience (UX)

Now that virtual events are becoming a regular fixture in our lives, focusing on your user experience (UX) offerings is vital.

Today’s digital natives want virtual experiences that are smooth and frictionless—no kinks, no confusion, no snags. That said, in 2021, virtual event UX will count more than ever.

Before you promote or launch a virtual event, test every aspect of your attendee journey to ensure it’s as efficient as possible.

Here are some tips to help you increase your virtual event UX & engagement in 2021, and beyond:

  • Test your event signup journey, streamlining the number of steps needed to confirm attendance or order tickets.
  • Check that your live stream or events portal is fully optimised for mobile screens. If it isn’t, you will lose a significant chunk of your audience.
  • Gather previous attendee feedback to find out where you can improve your virtual events from a user experience standpoint (improved streaming quality, better content and messaging, a smoother attendance process, etc.).
  • Send your attendees email content on the lead-up to your event, telling them exactly what to expect while walking them through the attendance process on the day.
  • Wow attendees by going the extra mile and sending them a gift to enjoy during or after the event. We’re naturally biased, but our Delight and Refuel virtual event gifts are a great fit for any conference or event!

What makes a successful 2021 virtual event: top tips

Now that you’re all up to speed with the essential market trends, let’s explore some additional tips to make your 2021 virtual events a roaring success.

Outline your strategy

Every successful virtual event is built on solid foundations. So, before you send a single invite, it is vital that you consider why you’re hosting your virtual event as well as what you’re aiming to achieve.

To give your virtual event shape and direction, you should aim to answer these questions:

  • What type of event do I want to create?
  • Will my event be live, rolled out over a set timeframe or on-demand?
  • Is my event going to be free or will I charge for access and attendance?
  • What is the primary goal of my virtual event (to spread awareness, educate, drive brand engagement, promote a product, jump on a current trend, etc.)?
  • Will people have access to my event content once it has finished?
  • How will I measure the success of my event?
  • Do I want to provide a gift for virtual event delegates? 

By working with your team in an open, collaborative environment, you will be able to hit the ground running and deliver an event that your audience will want to attend.

Promote & engage

There are almost five million active social media users across the globe.

In addition to creating inspiring, value-driven experiential content related to your virtual event (as mentioned earlier), getting active on social platforms will earn you added engagement while expanding your attendance rates.

By analysing engagement data (likes, comments, and shares) for your existing Facebook, Twitter or Instagram posts, you will be able to share event content with your audience at the times when they are most engaged. In turn, your virtual event offerings will reach a wider audience while enticing more people to signup.

Searching for relevant social media trends and hashtags will allow you to tap into the right conversations at the right time, and reach more potential event attendees.

Sending timely email communications about your event will also help you to drive engagement and encourage more people to give your event a try. And, if you deliver the goods, you will keep your attendees coming back for more.

Make it accessible

To be successful and demonstrate positive organisational values, your virtual event should be as inclusive as possible.

There are thousands of people living with hidden as well as physical disabilities the world over. Without considering the needs of everyone and making your virtual accessible, you will alienate a large portion of your audience.

To make sure your event is accessible, you should:

  • Ensure your messaging and content is written in plain, simple language.
  • Avoid using too many tones and colours when designing your event communications.
  • Use large, clear fonts where necessary.
  • Include captions, subtitles, and audio descriptions to ensure everyone gets the most from your event.
  • Offer a range of language subtitling or translation options if possible.

Anticipate tech troubles

While virtual events are boundless in terms of scope and location, technology does sometimes let you down at the worst moments.

Like physical events, virtual shindigs can go a little off course due to technical glitches. But, if you consider all eventualities in advance, you will minimise any issues on the day (or during the course of your entire event if you’re running it over weeks or months).

To minimise the damage of any potential tech troubles, you should test your internet connection, tools, and platforms in advance of your event—you should back up any content or files in a secure cloud too. That way, if anything goes wrong, you’ll have backup content to share with your audience to keep them entertained while you fix the issues.

Also, it’s important to remember that not all of your attendees will be particularly tech-savvy. To save any confusion or frustration if an issue does crop up, sharing an easy to follow troubleshooting guide and updating your event’s FAQ page before the event is advisable.

Hosting virtual events in 2020 – Helpful resources

While hosting a virtual event used to be a daunting and somewhat complicated process, these days a wealth of digital tools are available to help make your efforts as smooth and seamless as possible—platforms including:

  • Join.me With functionality similar to Zoom but with a mix of tools dedicated to hosting virtual events for numbers of up to 250, Join.me’s Pro plan is affordable, easy to use, and even has a recording function for collecting content for use at a later date.
  • Google Meet If you’re looking to host a smaller event, webinar, Q&A session or conference, Google Meet is simple to launch, easy to navigate, and integrates with other G-Suite tools including Calendar for streamlined attendee invite management.
  • Glisser A savvy attendee engagement tool, Glisser makes it easy for virtual hosts to send images or graphics, launch polls, share quizzes, and gather participant data during the event. An invaluable innovation that will help boost user experience and engagement during every kind of virtual event imaginable.

Virtual event examples for your inspiration

Are you ready to start planning your next big virtual event for 2021? Here are a few shining examples to inspire your efforts.

South by Southwest (SXSW) online

As one of the world’s most iconic music festivals, Texas’ SXSW experienced devastation as a result of COVID-19.

But when it comes to art and music, the show must go on. In that spirit, SXSW worked swiftly to launch a lineup of exciting keynote speeches and virtual gigs to keep the event rolling in challenging times. The event was so successful, part of it will return in virtual form in 2021.

SBC’s digital summit

The SBC Digital Summit leveraged an advanced digital platform to offer its attendees access to immersive virtual event spaces including networking rooms, digital exhibitor stands, and a conference auditorium packed with innovative keynote content.

A groundbreaking virtual experience that attracted over 10,000 happy attendees and a testament to the ever-growing power of virtual events.

Zoomtopia

Since the start of the pandemic, Zoom has seen a jaw-dropping level of uptake. To capitalise on its success while showcasing its commitment to digital innovation, the brand launched Zoomtopia—a virtual charity ball that raised over $20,000.

This wildly successful event, hosted on the Zoom platform, was immersive, engaging, and inspiring, enjoying a wave of critical acclaim.

Speaking about Zoomtopia, Vogue’s Lilah Ramzi, said:

“There was a well-designed invitation, a guest list, performances, signature cocktails, a host committee, and charity—100% of ticket sales went directly to World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Response Fund and the International Medical Corps.”

All the ingredients of a successful virtual event!

If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that we must embrace innovation and remain adaptable to change.

We hope our definitive guide has inspired you to launch a virtual event of your own in 2021.