You know the crackling feeling of an in-person event: the hum of excited attendees, the buzz of interactive panels, the energy of a packed venue — not to mention those glass-clinking happy hours. But with the need for virtual events ever on the rise, companies and orgs of all sizes have had to pivot to live streaming to create digital experiences that mimic the magic of in-person ones. Whether you’re planning an internal all-hands, customer meetup, or an industry conference, virtual events can help you stay connected with your employees and customers, even if you can’t bring them all to the same place.

We know there are plenty of challenges that can come from pivoting to a live stream experience. How do you monetize your event? Is there a way to gate access for specific attendees? How do you help make joining an event easy and approachable even for the most tech-averse guests? 

Here’s some good news: you don’t have to answer those questions alone. We’ve compiled a guide to help newbies and experienced streamers alike launch their own live event.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • What is a virtual event
  • What are common virtual event use cases 
  • How to plan a virtual event
  • Why virtual events are worth your time

What is a virtual event?

Unlike in-person or hybrid events, virtual events take place exclusively online. Speakers and audience members come together digitally to share in a brief session or multi-day virtual experience. If you registered and attended a virtual event recently, you probably saw keynote speeches, panel discussions, live polls, Slack communities — all happening via desktop, tablet, or mobile device.

The beauty of a virtual event is that planners have full creative license to design an immersive experience. You’re not restricted by physical venues or a hard-lined budget for food and beverage.

In addition, event attendees can tune in from anywhere around the world, lowering the barrier of entry for those who couldn’t attend in the past.

Six use cases for virtual events

The event space is expanding — it’s not just broadcasters anymore. With so many events going virtual, let’s take a look at a few ways Vimeo customers have taken in-person events online.

Internal Events

These events are for employees within an organization. Programming varies between a quick, 30 minute meeting to an all day event. Typical internal events include all-hands meetings, employee training, sales kick-offs, or company-wide events like holiday parties (BYOB!).

Because internal meetings are primarily hosted for internal attendees, gated or ticketed registrations are less important than privacy features like SSO.

For more info on internal events and the state of workplace communications, check out our report.

Conferences

Conferences are the most common virtual event. They can last for a single day or multiple days. They typically include a moderator or MC, multiple speakers and keynotes, breakout meetings, networking activities, and other experiences to keep attendees engaged.

Conferences attract virtual attendees interested in shared industry topics, networking experiences, and educational opportunities. Lead generation is important here, so expect to see free and paid events with varying access.

Webinars

Webinars are the original virtual events. They last between 30 minutes to an hour and commonly function as either a demand generation channel or a thought leadership channel. If you hop on a webinar, you’ll likely find housekeeping notes (aka “this webinar will be recorded”), speakers, a slide deck, data, and a few tools — like Q&A or live polls — to engage audience members.

Webinars center around actionable content. Organizations and creators looking to grow their audience can leverage webinars to increase thought leadership, brand awareness, and education around their services.

Festivals and award ceremonies

Fast growing categories of virtual events include performing arts programs, music festivals, and award ceremonies (like Vimeo’s upcoming VFA). Organizations are adapting their experiences for an online-only audience and finding innovative ways to punch up excitement.

Performing arts events may include live talent, exclusive interviews, or other live entertainment to keep audiences hooked. They also attract a broader audience coming together to celebrate an artist, a type of music, film, or entertainment.

Sporting events

In the last few months, sporting events have transformed to adapt to the times, which means sports content covers everything from live streamed games, on-demand games, live interviews, and other content to keep fandom alive.

Faith-based events

Local parishes are finding new opportunities through video. Faith-based communities find a lot of flexibility by live streaming their sermons and community events. Whether those events are services, classes, community workshops, or just a virtual gathering — live stream helps a congregation stay connected even when they’re apart.

How to plan and host a virtual event

There’s a common misconception that virtual events require less planning than in-person events. The reality is that virtual events need just as much time and attention to be incredible experiences.

To help you hit the ground running, we’ve got nine tips on how to host a virtual event.

1. Determine your virtual event goals.

Before you plan your virtual event, you’ll need to identify event goals. Pro tip: This will also help you determine what virtual event type you should stream.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the goals for my virtual event?
  • Is this an internally facing or externally facing event?
  • How many event sessions do you plan to have?
  • Will the event registration be free, paid, or both?

2. Identify your target audience.

Any seasoned event professional will tell you the most important KPI is the attendee experience. Make sure your virtual event hits the mark by clearly identifying your audience beforehand.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are you trying to reach?  
  • How do you need to reach them?
  • How will your audience interact?

3. Create stream-worthy content.

Content dictates everything when producing a live event — how you shoot it, what type of cameras you’ll use, how to light it, and even some of your encoding and technical choices.

Four components to awesome virtual event content:

  • Relevance: Make sure the live streaming content live streaming aligns with the interests of the intended audience, and that the content matches your brand voice and targeted prospects and customers.
  • Engagement: Keep viewers on their toes by encouraging interaction with the stream (we love keeping things exciting with the live chat feature). Keeping the audience entertained will make sure attendees get the most out of the day.
  • Consistency: If possible, turn the live event into a series (either annually or otherwise). “Keeping your events consistent is a guaranteed way to increase brand awareness and brand equity, while engaging meaningfully with your audience,” says Vimeo’s Live Production Lead Tom Gott.
  • Actionability: What is the call to action at the end of the virtual event? If you want to convert the audience, make sure to facilitate viewer interaction after the event is over.

4. Gate event registration with ticketing.

If you’re streaming an event that you’d like to sell tickets for — or just control access to — you’ll want to leverage an event tool like Eventbrite that integrates seamlessly with your live video platform. With a dedicated event platform, you can easily set up events for your livestream and sell tickets or require registration. (Don’t forget: even if you’re not planning on charging for tickets, encouraging people to register is always a good idea.)

“We’re intentionally building a sense of exclusivity around our live streams, so it’s not like tuning in to an Instagram Live stream with thousands of other people who don’t have a shared interest,” Will tells us. “Those elements of connection have been really important.”

We’re intentionally building a sense of exclusivity around our live streams, so it’s not like tuning in to an Instagram Live stream with thousands of other people. Those elements of connection have been really important.”

Will Steinberg

Co-President of Zinc Agency

5. Optimize your attendee experience.

By using a dedicated tool to sell tickets or registrations for your virtual event, you’ll also get access to a host of features that will maximize your attendee experience.

Three must-haves for a great attendee experience:

Online events page

When setting up your virtual event, you’ll want to create a page for your event. Think of this as your virtual venue. This page will be where attendees can access the link that will take them to your live experience. You can even embed your Vimeo livestream directly onto this page!

To create a more VIP experience for ticket holders, you can add custom text, images, or PDFs to make a more immersive virtual event experience, and even load tiered content unlocked by different ticket levels.

Attendee reminder emails

A pre-event communications strategy is critical to drive attendance. When you publish your virtual event on Eventbrite, for instance, a series of three reminder emails will automatically be created. These are set to deploy two days, two hours, and 10 minutes before the event, and contain key information on how and when to join the event. Most critically, they include a CTA to go to the events page – where your attendees will find your live stream link.

Plus, the timing, subject line, sender name, reply-to email address, and email body copy of these emails can be customized to help give every part of the event a cohesive look and feel. Be sure to customize each field to ensure that attendees know where to go when it’s showtime!

Post-event library

Ideally, the post-event experience will engage registrants and attendees long after the event ends. Consider creating a web page or portal for event sessions and make them accessible for those who registered.

6. Make it interactive.

Your job is to make the viewing audience feel like they’re there in person — even if they’re watching in their PJs. To impress your online audience, make your digital experience match the level of quality you’d expect from an in-person event. Create an engaging experience with tools like Q&A, live polls, and live graphics.

The Ann Arbor film festival team used the live chat feature for their Q&As — and it worked like a charm. “I was surprised at how much of that community sensibility I felt knowing everybody was viewing it together,” Leslie says. “The chat brought some great energy to the online experience.”

7. Test everything.

First rule of live streaming? Test. EVERYTHING.

The best thing you can do to prevent mishaps during your online event is test everything, but most importantly, your stream. Test primary equipment workflows, backup equipment workflows, audio quality, video quality, internet connection, and any and all redundancies. Perhaps most importantly, confirm your upload speed by testing your connection at a website like Speedtest.net. You should schedule time to test all of your video production equipment both off-site and on-site.

Wondering what gear you need to live stream? Read this.

8. Create a remote broadcast checklist.

It’s likely that (in the short term) your need to collaborate with a distributed workforce on your virtual  event. Here’s a quick checklist of what you’ll need:

Five point remote broadcast checklist:

  • Connectivity: Chances are your company’s office wifi is better than what you have at home. Check your speeds and, when possible, use a wired connection.
  • Capture: How will your audience enjoy your content? Think about what cameras and mics you’ll use, and how you’ll bring in remote guests to your virtual event.
  • Encode: What software will you use to bring your event into the internet ether? We’re keen on Livestream Studio 6, but there are other options out there, too.
  • Distribute: Where will your virtual event live? Think about whether you’ll want to secure the content (like with SSO), or spread far and wide (think simulcasting).
  • Engage: A beautiful viewing experience is only part of what makes a great virtual event. Audience engagement tools like live Q&A, polls, and chat can further create a memorable event.

9. Prepare for “Murphy’s Law.”

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” Tom says. But don’t let that scare you off! If you identify the things that might go wrong, you can create a plan for how to handle them. Go in with a plan, solid tech, a top-of-the-line ticketing platform, and the right support, and you’ll be prepared for anything that comes your way.

To learn more, check out our Vimeo experts on how to plan a virtual event.

Why virtual events are worth your time

We get it. Pivoting to a virtual event for the first time can be daunting. Around the internet, it’s clear that virtual events are an effective way for event marketers to extend their reach. Here are a few reasons why your next digital experience might have even more payoff than your last IRL one.

Virtual events extend your reach.

We’ve seen customers increase their reach 50x by simulcasting a conference stream to social channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, and more.

Leslie Raymond, director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, noted that they were able to reach more people than ever during their first year going virtual. “We saw our audience grow from 10,000 ticket holders to 16,000 streams from 50 countries, with over 27,000 viewers for the whole week,” says Leslie.

We saw our audience grow from 10,000 ticket holders to 16,000 streams from 50 countries, with over 27,000 viewers for the whole week.”

Leslie Raymond

Director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival

Virtual events democratize your experience.

Anthony Rudolf, partner at creative agency Co.create NYC, leverages live video for their annual Welcome Conference for hospitality workers:

“We’ve used live video at the Welcome Conference since day one. Restaurant and hospitality workers are overworked and underpaid, so the likelihood that they would have the time or finances to attend was small. We looked at video as a way to really democratize the talks that were happening.”

Virtual events extend the shelf life of your content.

Your content doesn’t stop being valuable once the online conference is over. Videos and talks can live on as a branded, searchable experience that can continue to drive engagement.

Virtual events allow you to get creative.

With an online-only experience, you can play with content formats, bring in additional speakers as remote guests, explore new revenue streams, and engage your audience in a measurable way. Will Steinberg, Co-President of event marketing agency Zinc, has found even more opportunities for customer engagement using virtual events:

“We’re finding more educational elements in live streaming as opposed to what we’ve done in the in-person space,” says Will. “With our culinary events, a chef used to do a demonstration, and the guests would enjoy their dining experience at the venue. Now, we’re sending out meal kits and branded aprons before the live stream even starts, and it’s become a much more hands-on experience.”

“That’s a huge benefit that we were never really able to take advantage of before during in-person events.”

Originally published on August 7, 2020. Updated on January 7, 2021.

Learn how to live stream your virtual events