2020 was the year of the virtual conference in the business world. It was uncharted territory for many, but it’s not as if we had much choice in the matter. Virtual conferencing was an unusual experience, so awkwardness and glitches dominated a lot of virtual business events.
Now that we have most of the bugs worked out, it’s time to brainstorm virtual conference ideas to start the new year strong. Going forward, a lot of conferences that used to be in person will be virtual.
This might come as a disappointment to those who enjoy business travel, but going digital is a good thing overall. Virtual conferences are cheaper, easier to organize, and more eco-friendly than in-person conferences. Even if industries hold as many in-person events in the future as they did before 2020, the growth of virtual events makes it possible to hold more conferences, more often.
Chances are, part of any reluctance you may have about going virtual is that you’re somewhat new to it. You don’t have to explore the world of virtual conference planning alone. Help is here!
Take a look at this list of virtual conference engagement ideas.
- Who Doesn’t Love Swag Bags?
Let’s be honest: One of everyone’s favorite things about going to conferences is the goodies you get to take home. Guests at trade conferences often enjoy discounted goods and freebies from brands related to their fields. Some conferences offer swag like pens, shirts, and lanyards.
That makes virtual conferences a huge disappointment for some—At least on the surface. The truth is that there are plenty of fun options for virtual swag bags.
Vendors that would usually offer discounted goods and free items can offer coupons to their online stores and gift cards. They can even let guests give them an address so they can ship goods to their companies and homes.
Free eBooks, podcasts, online courses, apps, and industry journal access are also wonderful conference perks. Digital wallpapers and participation certificates are good replacements for low-level handouts like pens and lanyards.
Advertising a digital swag bag as a main part of your event is a little desperate and might look bad—or not, depending on your industry. A casual mention on the invitation or announcement for your event can’t hurt and could motivate guests who wouldn’t otherwise go to a virtual conference.
- Invite International Guests
One of the biggest benefits of hosting an event online is the ease of including people from all over the world. You can advertise your event to international audiences, and have speakers give lectures from countries other than your own.
It doesn’t cost any more for someone to join your virtual conference from the opposite side of the world than it does for someone to join from your hometown. Guests that couldn’t afford to go in person get an opportunity to come be a part of the event.
Inviting speakers from other countries is valuable to get a perspective on how your industry works and what developments are happening around the world. For example, say your company imports goods from China. You could learn a lot from a speaker from one of the Chinese businesses you work with.
- Entice Parents With Virtual Daycare
A creative way to encourage event attendance is virtual daycare. It’s common for parents to stay home from in-person events because they can’t find someone to watch their kids—or sometimes can’t afford it.
It’s easy enough to set a room aside at an in-person conference and hire a couple of caretakers to watch attendees’ kids. How can virtual event planners give parents a chance to get away from their kids when the whole family is at home?
Virtual daycare comes in many forms and shares a lot with virtual events ideas for schools. Ideas range from videos and presenters for kids to multiplayer computer games and more. In many cases, it’s a great opportunity to introduce guests’ kids to the basics of their parents’ business.
Kids will enjoy the novelty of having their own conference to attend while their parents do their business.
An online surgical conference could bring in a speaker to give a fun talk about the human body. A dog trainer’s conference could show a video about teaching tricks. Kids whose parents attend a virtual pilots’ conference could try their hands at a flight simulator.
If a parent has the means to attend a virtual conference, it’s typical for their kids to have a computer or tablet and internet access. That makes it easy for virtual event organizers to reach kids with engaging events and activities.
The ability to offer unsupervised activities for kids opens up a huge range of possibilities. Unlike offering multiple physical rooms for kids’ daycare and activities, laying out a variety of online activities and events for different age groups doesn’t come with much additional expense, if any.
- Make an Interactive Multimedia Program
As you work with event strategy and planning professionals to decide what your conference will involve, you’ll develop a program to share with attendees. The rise of smartphones as everyday devices makes virtual programs easier for in-person events.
Yet, the program is far from the focus of any good 100% in-person event. It’s more of a guide for guests to decide what they want to see and do, and virtual programs are handier than flipping through thick guidebooks.
On the other hand, a program is everything to a virtual conference.
In many ways, it’s the center of the whole production. Links to Zoom rooms on the program that everyone, without exception, visits multiple times throughout the conference are like the rooms in a conference hall. In that light, the program is the closest thing a virtual conference has to a venue.
Hosts of virtual events have almost total freedom to trick out their programs with interactive features that engage conferencegoers. You can embed things like speakers’ past videos and live streams of their lectures.
Including comment sections and polls brings virtual attendees together. It helps the event feel less isolated and a bit more like a regular conference. Chat rooms and embedded social media feeds are another great way to create that feeling of togetherness.
For planners of virtual events, examples like these are a few of infinite options. In-person event organizers can only do so much to shape the venue’s layout or guests’ experiences. Interactive, multimedia programs give planners total control.
- Host an Online Vendors’ Alley
For many industries, a conference feels sort of empty without a row of vendor tables or stalls—sometimes rooms and rooms of them. The inability to offer that experience is one downside of online conferences…right? No!
A vendors’ alley is easier online than it is in person. You don’t need to worry about setting up complicated booths and equipment. Merchants can design a logo that you can add to the conference website as a button to their store. They can write social media posts on the event’s pages and the event can boost their messages.
Those options are super easy and don’t take much time or effort to set up. Without the limitation of event space, you can invite as many vendors as you want. International vendors and others who wouldn’t otherwise be present can join in.
The possibilities of an online vendors’ alley are a huge boost to your event’s potential for revenue. It’s common to charge vendors for space at an event, and/or to take a cut of their profits as payment for the opportunity. Your unlimited capacity for vendors online is a moneymaker.
The conference or event can host its store alongside the visiting sellers. If the event is successful enough, guests will jump at the chance to buy merchandise.
It’s easier for online conferences to run stores and to offer more products. Conference planners don’t need to spend anywhere near as much money upfront to run a store when they don’t need to buy products wholesale ahead of time. You can work with companies that make custom products on-demand get the exact number of products visitors order, or close to it if you get a discount for even-numbered orders.
Bolster Your Brand With Virtual Conference Ideas and More
These virtual conference ideas are worth trying. They can help you fine-tune and improve your socially-distanced business practices. Using engaging ideas like these guarantees we’ll have better conferences in 2021.
We’re prepared whether long-distance conferences stay as important as they were in 2020 or become an affordable, more eco-friendly occasional alternative going forward.
For more innovative business tips to help make your brand become and stay a success, look around the site. Clicking another article could turn you on to the next big thing in business, so what are you waiting for?