The State of Virtual Events: A Look at What Organizations Are—and Aren’t—Doing and Why

BY Celisa Steele


The Virtual Events Report

Written for decision-makers who want leading-edge knowledge to support their strategic planning for virtual events and for practitioners who want insight into how other organizations are approaching virtual events, The Virtual Events Report is a comprehensive look at the current role of virtual conferences, trade shows, and other events in learning businesses—and how that role may evolve.

The report continues the work of three prior Tagoras publications on virtual events and draws on data collected from 215 organizations, both those that have offered a virtual event and those that have not.

We’re grateful to Community Brands for sponsoring the report. We do not charge for the report but ask that you sign up to receive the report—we rely on the Leading Learning community to make it possible to do effective, affordable research, so we ask that those who receive the research agree to be part of the community. The sign-up form is at the end of this post (and you can unsubscribe easily, at any time).

Virtual Events Near a Tipping Point

Because “virtual event” can mean different things to different people, we offered the following definition at the beginning of the survey to normalize responses.

A virtual event is a Web-based event that replicates many aspects of a traditional place-based conference, membership meeting, or trade show. It may take place on a standalone basis or in conjunction with a place-based conference (i.e., a “hybrid” event).

Virtual events feature multiple sessions (not just a single Webinar or Webcast) and may include keynote presentations, training and education workshops, discussion areas, social networking opportunities, exhibit areas for vendors, and various other features. Activities in a virtual event may take place in real time (synchronously), on demand (asynchronously), or some combination of the two.

Using that definition, 43.7 percent of respondents indicate their organization has previously offered a virtual event. Another 24.7 percent indicate they plan to offer a virtual event in the coming 12 months, putting us on the cusp of virtual events being offered by a majority of organizations.

Virtual Events Expand Reach

“To reach customers or members who could not otherwise attend place-based events,” cited by 81.6 percent of respondents, is the primary reason organizations have held a virtual event.

“To be perceived as embracing cutting-edge approaches to serving customers or members” (59.8 percent) and “to support an overall strategy to deliver more services online” (55.2 percent) come second and third and are the only other reasons selected by a majority of respondents.

These motivations reflect necessity—organizations see a need to provide more options as travel budgets are trimmed and time becomes an increasingly precious commodity for customers and members—but they also reflect a willingness to experiment. Organizations are embracing virtual events even before their customers and members ask for them, and they’re doing so as part of an overall strategy built on online service.

Complexity of Technology, Cost, and Attendance Are Perceived Barriers

On the flip side, we asked organizations that haven’t yet offered a virtual event and without plans to offer one in the coming year why they haven’t tried a virtual event. A third (32.8 percent) see one or more significant barriers to offering a virtual event.

Cited by 76.2 percent, complexity of the technology tops the list. And this concern is not without foundation, as the technology market for virtual events is fragmented. In the survey, we asked which technologies respondents have used to deliver their virtual events, and, of 19 named providers and platforms, only four have been used by a more than a tenth of respondents. And almost a third of respondents chose the catch-all “other” option—and there are no duplicates among the provider and platform names entered by those respondents. With such a fragmented field, it does take work for organizations to find the right partner and platform.

Costs and concerns they won’t achieve the hoped-for level of attendance are each cited by 52.4 percent as a reason they’re yet to have plans to offer a virtual event.

Report Explores the Whys and the Hows

Cover image for The Virtual Events Report from TagorasAs the data points above reflect, the report explores both why organizations choose to steer clear of virtual events and why they offer them. The report also delves into mechanics with the subset of respondents who have offered a virtual event before:

  • What elements (live or on-demand Webcasts, discussion boards, archives, etc.) make up their virtual events?
  • Which technology platforms are they using to deliver their virtual events?
  • What are the financial goals for their virtual events, and how do they generate revenue from virtual events? From registration alone, or does sponsorship play a part?
  • How successful overall are they with their virtual events? How satisfied are they with revenue, the cost of technology, ease of use, attendance, and feedback?
  • What lessons have they learned from their virtual event experience to date?

Those are just highlights of the topics and data covered in the report, where we provide the full survey results and comment on the implications to organizations in the business of lifelong learning, professional development, and continuing education.

This report is an invaluable resource to help you benchmark your virtual events or help you determine if you should undertake a virtual event.

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