The world of virtual event planning has suddenly become more confusing in 2020, even for seasoned planners used to managing large virtual conferences. An unprecedented number of virtual event platforms have hit the market and the old ones are vying with each other to grab eyeballs. Which app to choose and for what?
We surveyed some apps, forums where event managers have been talking, app feedback sites and combined that with our own experience this year. The result is this list. There are other features out there, addressing other virtual meeting needs. But these are by far the most common features everyone is either looking for or trying to provide.
- Real, virtual and hybrid — Does the virtual event platform offer full event coverage? Do they allow live streaming? In-studio sessions? Do they allow uploading pre-recorded material and offer some amount of ‘touching up’ to make the video and audio content more relevant? What if you do need to hold a good old office meeting, an events all-hand before the gig, and need a safe space complete with coffee and whiteboard? Once the nature of the event is decided, this is the first criterion to go app shopping.
- Real and virtual partners of the app — How much can one provider get done? We are taking off on the previous bullet. A platform may not be able to offer all the requirements of a hybrid event, but may connect you to its partners who make it easy, quick and economical for all stakeholders. Is the platform offering ease of use, good graphics, production help with the event, logistics support and good analytics? You have zeroed down on the perfect virtual event planning app. But it doesn’t offer tracking social media analytics. However, it links you out to another site that offers a great dashboard and you are still logging in only once. Or you may want studio recording in a country where you are not able to travel right now. Would the virtual event app be able to find you a studio partner in that location? Crack these issues right at the onset, even before you spend time on the app tutorial. Unforeseen roadblocks mean more expense, and you are the one who will have to pay.
- Ease of use — How user friendly is the app? Don’t choose a virtual meeting app that takes up more time than the actual work. In other words, at 9 am on the first day, you should have an app which takes up 5% of your time, keeping the rest for actually managing the event. You may find a free, attractive app that requires 3 rounds of security protocol each time you log in. It’s a bad idea. If you are organising a virtual event with very diverse people who have limited technical knowhow, avoid a complicated app. The idea is to strike the perfect balance between automation and customisation. You want to build the event microsite quickly, but want to tweak a particular template you like. Do you have the option? Go through the automation and customisation options of a virtual event planning platform before choosing it, starting with logging in and going up to checking out its live / on-site options.
- Pricing and analytics — Customisation is cool, so long it doesn’t burn a hole in the pocket. Once you are certain a virtual event planning app satisfies your requirements, haggle. Shortlist three platforms and choose one that matches everything in this list so far, point by point. On the other hand, check out the analytics the chosen app offers. Perhaps you are raising the bar, but are you able to track what your money is doing for you? The best deal is a virtual event planning app that allows you to customize to the level you want, a sort of one-stop-shop for event requirements, with competitive pricing and live analytics.
- Technical back-up — Does the app offer you real technical troubleshooting services, have great connectivity, and easy-to-follow app training modules? Try a test run. Pose a problem, call their helpline or start a live chat with the bot. Ask colleagues from diverse locations to log in from their devices at the time of the day when you are expecting maximum participant footfall.
- Aesthetics — Looks matter. Once again, go for an opinion poll. Ask a mix of colleagues for their opinion on microsite, VR rooms, any other VR / studio space you might be using, analytics tab, custom mailers and any other option that marries technology with design. Set feedback deadlines though, aesthetic tastes tend to be coloured by personal preferences, even when people are as neutral as they can.
- Engagement tools — Does the virtual event app offer polls, surveys, action and participation based gamification, push notifications? Is it easy to share out from the app to social media handles? You will be surprised how many hard headed adults love to share gamification prizes with school boyish glee. Surveys and polls ought to happen just after a session, while the memory is fresh, not a week later when the entire event is over. Your audience is not captive anymore, and unless you ensure engagement through interesting widgets and tweaking the content, they will get up and wander away.
- Personalisation options — This is crucial for any interactive virtual event. Can participants notify speakers in advance and book virtual tables? Can a speaker be pinged separately while a session is in progress without diverting him or her? Step into the shoes of a participant and think of everything they may want to do with a virtual meeting platform. Virtual events actually have the potential to be more personally fruitful than real events where business meetings mean skipping sessions, leaving the venue or getting delayed. Does your app allow you to maximise this advantage?
- Networking and community building — How special can you make it for partners, sponsors, speakers, participants and colleagues? All of them are stakeholders, in some way or other. The community you build with an event paves the way to business in the immediate future. Newsletters are not enough. They mostly land up in the spam folder and disappear from there. But a well-planned virtual event where a participant gets personal sessions with speakers of choice is easily remembered. Sponsors and partners deserve spoiling. Make sure their space on the microsite is getting enough attention without the traffic leaving you. Check post-event follow-up tools, they are as important as in-event networking tools. One such great tool is the event calendar. It shows snippets from old events and informs about upcoming ones. Everyone would use it, participants, speakers, sponsors and partners — they would appreciate that feature — and thank you for choosing a platform that offers it.
- Make your own point — Have we left a unique requirement of your event untouched? Good, because that’s the last point on this list. You have a need that you want to communicate. Does a human answer or is it only bots? Can your virtual event planning app partner appoint a single point of contact for you? Answerability is a growing concern. Choose the app team that will get your job done.