Why virtual events?

It’s no longer about the survival of the fittest, but the survival of the most adaptable. In these times of business turmoil brought about by numerous factors – the Covid-19 pandemic being the most testing – companies who were able to pivot and adapt their products and services to rise to the challenges are those who come out on the winning end. 

Staging events online (virtual) is one of the adaptive mechanisms many businesses have embraced to adjust to the times. But is it better than in-person events? In terms of organization, participation and achieving the end-result – which one is more superior, virtual or face-to-face? 

This article lists the pros and cons of virtual events for organizers, speakers & exhibitors as well as attendees.  

What is better: Online or Face-to-Face events?

Whether you’re organizing, attending or participating in an online event as a speaker or exhibitor, going virtual brings about advantages as well as limitations for you. Here we discuss them, as well as provide a few tips on how you can leverage the pros and overcome the cons.  

For Organizers

PROS – “Sustainable and Scalable”Low costHigh frequency (can do more events) High potential for data gathering and analytics CONS – “Lower event value”Lack of wow factorFewer sponsorship opportunities A drop in ticket value 

PROS: One of the biggest advantages of going virtual for event organizers is the reduction of operations costs. Let’s face it: staging face-to-face events is very expensive. You have to deal with venue rent and decoration, as well as staffing and security. To get your participants to the venue, you probably need to arrange free transportation (shuttle buses, or offer free train tickets), as well as provide printed badges to facilitate entry. All requiring $$$. For online events, you do away with many of these budget-eating costs so you can focus on other important things like getting a big-name speaker, partnering with a reliable online conferencing platform provider, and doing more event promotions. 

Lower costs also allow organizers the capacity to hold events more frequently. Instead of one or two big events yearly, you can hold four (or more) mini-events, once every quarter. This helps you to reach out to your audience more frequently and stay “top of mind”. Holding more events may actually be a necessity (rather than privilege) for many who have shifted to online events – it is typical for physical events to be held for the entire day over several days. Virtual events tend to be shorter to avoid screen fatigue, so organizers will need to break them into smaller events.   

Online events also give organizers a massive opportunity to collect data from their audience and analyze what works vs what doesn’t. With every interaction done digitally (virtually) from registration and check-in to participation in chats and polls, drop-offs and post-event feedback, organizers can track and interpret all these data points to help them understand their audience and guide them on future events. Just make sure you choose a platform that can track these KPIs for you. If you need help in making this decision, contact us at Vootprint for professional advice.   

CONS: On the negative side, it is difficult to replicate the “wow” factor in the virtual space. Sure, you can have a branded background for your online conference, but it pales in comparison with the ambiance created by being physically at a venue filled with hanging banners and billboards of your (or your partners’) brand logos. 

Speaking of partners and sponsors, event organizers lose the revenue opportunity coming from sponsorship sales when they go online. Items such as event lanyards, tradeshow bags, pens at the registration counter and even paper cups used in the venue lounge – all usually command top dollars from sponsors as they are expected to generate maximum exposure to the target audience. With virtual events, these “event souvenirs” are no longer necessary, thus not sellable. 

Maybe the heaviest blow to event organizers by shifting to online conferencing is the perceived decrease in the event value and thus, the potential drop in ticket prices. Popular face-to-face events can command hundreds (even thousands) of dollars from each attendee as they offer VIP-level experience onsite such as priority entry, private meetings and networking happy hour. Online event organizers can counter this lowered perception by inviting big-name speakers and making sure the topics and content are relevant, insightful and “worth paying for”. 

Summary for organizers: 

If you are an event organizer looking to scale up your presence and audience reach, you should embrace this shift to virtual events. However, there are aspects of physical events that are difficult to achieve in the virtual world like creating the wow factor, making virtual events seem lower value compared to face-to-face.   

For Speakers / For Exhibitors 

PROS – “Focus on the presentation”Local and international reach Can pre-record Focus on presentation  CONS – “Low energy”, “Low trust”Feedback voidMore difficult to hold the attention  More difficult to build trust   

PROS: For speakers and exhibitors, the event location is no longer a hindrance in joining a virtual conference or tradeshow, because everything is online! Exhibitors no longer need to send products to the venue and deal with shipping costs and taxes. Speakers can address an audience in Hong Kong in the morning, and then join an event in Singapore or India in the afternoon.   

In some events, speakers are also given the luxury to pre-record their presentations. This means you can practice and perfect your presentation to deliver the maximum impact to your audience. 

Lastly, eliminating all the hassles of traveling to the venue, booking hotels and setting up using unfamiliar equipment, you can put all your focus on the presentation you will deliver. Make sure the content is relevant and the delivery is engaging.  

CONS:  Switching to the not-so-good aspects of online events, many speakers feed off the energy of the audience when delivering their presentations. Thus, the feedback void in a virtual presentation can have an adverse effect on the speaker’s ability to engage the crowd. It is also more difficult to hold the audience’s attention in an online setting.

For exhibitors looking to close big sales deals during tradeshows, the absence of shaking hands and face-to-face meetings makes it more difficult to build trust and rapport with potential clients. Some products are also best seen and touched – experiences lost in virtual tradeshows.

Summary for speakers/exhibitors:

Online events enable speakers and exhibitors to participate in as many conferences and tradeshows as they like, no matter international or in-town. But they may find it difficult to build energy as well as trust with the audience – crucial to achieving a successful result. 

For Attendees

PROS – “Low barrier to entry”No travel, can attend from anywhereSaves time More options, can attend more eventsCONS – “No post-show networking”Less excitement More distractions, tech challengesNo post-show networking 

PROS: With most events held online (and many free of charge), attendees can pick and choose the events they want to participate in without worrying about travel bookings and costs. Attending from anywhere also saves time so you can join as many events as you wish. Nowadays with face-to-face client visits still limited, many companies switch to holding online webinars and conferences to reach their current audience and attract new ones, hence there are plenty of options for attendees to choose from. 

CONS: For many “tradeshow warriors” (those who’ve been attending tradeshows for many years), having to travel to attend tradeshows or conferences is considered a perk or highlight of their work. Without this opportunity, attending an event becomes less exciting – more of a chore and not something they look forward to doing. 

Attending an event from home can bring with it many distractions like having the TV on, traffic or construction noise, or other family members working or attending classes from home. This keeps you from concentrating and fully appreciating whatever discussion is ongoing. 

Not everyone is tech-comfortable (or have people around them who can help). So when connection problems arise or other tech challenges happen, some attendees don’t know or couldn’t be bothered to try to rejoin.  

But what many attendees consider as the biggest disadvantage of online events (and what they truly miss in going to physical events) is the lack of opportunity for networking and catching up with peers from all over the world – not just at the event floor but perhaps at a nearby bar or restaurant over happy hour drinks or while enjoying some local food.  At virtual events, there is no hangout space where attendees can go to post-show to “shoot the breeze” and discuss anything under the sun, business-related or otherwise.  

Summary for attendees:

Virtual events have leveled the playing field for anyone who needs or wishes to attend tradeshows or conferences. In the past, attendance might be reserved only for the company’s big bosses due to budget constraints. Now anyone with a device connected to the Internet can go! However, the experience and satisfaction one gets from attending may not be the same as going to a physical event, especially with distractions, tech challenges and lack of human connection.  

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