The Insider’s Guide to Hosting a Virtual Event – There’s More to Know than Just Zoom Bombers!
Updated: Nov 19
In a time of reduced in person gatherings, the frequency of digital connections has skyrocketed. From social media to digital conferencing, meetings to virtual festivals, the world is turning to technology to keep us connected and entertained.
Traditional events have taken on new formats, and brand-new experiences are being born to help fill the voids. We’re sure you all have seen virtual wine tastings and live stream fitness classes flooding your feeds. And maybe you’re looking for creative ways to host your own virtual event but are intimidated by the tech and streaming options. Well, we’re here to get you started down the right path!
But before we dive into pros and pitfalls of the most common virtual event hosting platforms, we need to figure out what YOU need. The format, goals, demographic and scale of your event will be the principle drivers for your selection. A few things to consider:
Are you live streaming or using prerecorded content or a mix of both? With prerecorded sessions you sacrifice some real-time engagement, but you have much more control over the production value. If you’re priority is that your keynote speakers’ internet doesn’t go out right at go time, you might consider sacrificing your audiences’ ability to participate in real-time.
Do you want your event participants on audio? Video? If you know your attendees or have a system of control, seeing faces can be beneficial in times of social distancing. Enabling audio provides another level of participation. But you do want to be cautious when your group size becomes large and unfamiliar.
What level interactivity do you want your event to have? Consider whether your participants need the ability to participate with audio or Chat or even to come on video as a featured guest. If your providing entertainment you might not need these components, but they are great tools for creating engagement and community.
What is the desired life span of your event content? Do you want the event to be available at only one stated time or will you be releasing a link of the recording after? Perhaps, Live for 24 hours and then poof or even Live on YouTube for eternity J?
What types of digital media and technology resonate with your audience? Younger demographics lean towards platforms optimized for mobile with minimal login processes. Mature audiences might be more inclined to participate in secure platforms with login requirements and higher production quality.
Now that you’ve locked in the concept for your online experience, let’s dive into your options for host platform!
FACEBOOK & INSTAGRAM LIVE
Best for: Free, short content targeting a younger demo
Instagram & Facebook Live are features on Stories that allow users to stream video in real time to Followers. Hosting an event through a social media Live setting can contribute to an increase in Followers and, with over a billion users on Facebook and Instagram, can garner high impressions, but since there is no option for a pre-registration system and the time is capped (1 hour for Instagram Live, Facebook Live can vary depending on source) we find this best for short bits of unregulated content.
Because these Lives are not associated with a single website link, the audience is required to either Follow or find the accounts and then navigate to the Live under the Stories. While this is second nature to those that grew up with a cell phone in their hand, older audiences will find this navigation challenging.
Best for: Free events with a long life span goal
With YouTube Live your audience may watch with you live or watch on replay at their convenience. This is a huge bonus, as it gives the audience the ease of “attending” when it’s convenient and fits in their schedule. You lose the risk of limiting your audience because of scheduling conflicts.
You’re able to share a single access link with your attendees, making navigating to the live super simple. With YouTube you also can integrate the stream onto your website, which is a great option for a branded experience page.
Best For: Private groups with video and audio offered to everyone
Zoom offers two products that can be used for Virtual Events. Zoom Meetings is best for private groups of up to 1,000 where you know everyone who is attending (to some degree) and all participants need the option to be on video and audio. As the host, you have levels of control for muting participants upon entry and enabling a waiting room. Zoom Meetings can also be password protected or require registrations.
Of special benefit to virtual events, Zoom Rooms can be created to offer break off sessions or small group mingling. We love using this for fundraiser events where tables would typically have been purchased by a single company…now that company has a private Zoom Room in addition to the general content space.
Best for: Large audiences, private or public
A more private big brother to Meetings, Zoom Webinar is best for large audiences and/or unknown audiences. You can feel comfortable sharing a webinar link on social or other public places without having to risk that some random pops up shirtless and telling people about his pet alligator.
Attendees are not on camera or audio; however, to increase interactivity you can always invite attendees on as a panelist by asking them to click the Raise Hand icon. You can have up to 100 panelists on video/audio and up to 40,000 audience members (note: 10,000 is standard but you can speak with a rep to increase capacity). Green Room and practice sessions make this a good option if flawless execution is your goal.
Chat capability is an option for both Meeting and Webinar, and both platforms allow streaming to social media and screen sharing.
OTHER VIRTUAL CONFERENCING PLATFORMS
While we reviewed some top dogs up above, there are several other webinars and social media platforms (Digitell, Evia, Intrado, GoToMeeting, etc.) offering options for virtual experiences. While we don’t have time to review each one in detail, we hope that now you understand what to look for in a platform and understand how to make a selection that fits the unique needs of your event.
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STILL A BIT LOST WITH THE DIGITAL GET DOWN? CHECK OUT THIS VIRTUAL EVENT EXAMPLE. We used a mix of pre-recorded and live content streamed to Facebook Live and YouTube Live over a 2.5 hours period with Chat interaction.