The COVID-19 crisis has brought tough challenges to the event industry. In light of the global pandemic, many of the traditional actors have been forced to rethink their strategies.
Among them, industry conferences that have long attracted thousands of professionals on the lookout for inspiration, learning of trends, or networking have had to pivot to the virtual world.
With that in mind, we will review what exactly virtual conferences are, the best platforms to host them, the tools to make yours stand out from the clutter, and the best virtual conferences in 2020.
Virtual conferences vs webinars: what´s the difference?
In public discourse, we tend to use the words webinar, virtual event, and conference interchangeably.
However, they are different types of events, with distinct characteristics.
So, it is important to define what we are referring to when we discuss virtual conferences specifically.
In this article, we’ll define virtual conferences as organized meetings taking place over a day or a number of days, involving people with a shared interest, and hosted on the Internet.
Webinars, that have recently become mainstream tools for marketers, tend to be a broadcast of experts discussing a single topic. Contrastingly, virtual conferences usually involve multiple (and sometimes simultaneous) sessions tackling several industry-related issues and spread across multiple days.
Thanks to this diversity in content, virtual conference attendees have the unique opportunity to follow their own personalized event journeys according to their interests.
Additionally, a key point differentiating virtual conferences from other web-based talks is their interactive nature.
Indeed, virtual conference sessions go beyond simple Q&As. Hosted in dedicated virtual events platforms, they integrate polls, breakout sessions, and networking features offering a more valuable event experience.
On the same line, webinar-goers are referred to as viewers since they simply tune in to a broadcast. On the contrary, virtual conference-goers are typically called attendees or users because they register for the event, input their contact information and social media profiles. Furthermore, virtual conferences offer more opportunities to network and meet like-minded professionals at the event.
Virtual conferences best platforms
Once we have looked at the unique differentials characterizing virtual conferences when compared to other events, we need to find the best platforms to host them.
Considering the wide array of options available, it can prove difficult for virtual conference organizers to find the right one. A useful read when comparing different tools is this guide to the best virtual event platforms.
However, while characteristics such as ease of use and smart design are important for every kind of virtual event platform, virtual conferences have additional specific needs.
So, the top features to look for, when comparing the needs of virtual conferences to simple live events, are:
- Enabling multiple sessions simultaneously
- Built-in networking with breakout sessions and private chat messaging
- Integrated event management solutions such as ticketing, registration, and budget planning
- Integration of sponsors and vendors with dedicated virtual rooms
- Live engagement features such as built-in polls
Following these criteria, we can outline a shortlist of platforms embedding some of these features, including InEvent, Hopin, Whova, and Cvent.
Above all, we can highlight InEvent because it combines the key event management and engagement features in one platform. Importantly, it offers ongoing 24h support to help virtual conference organizers with challenges and with learning the available tools.
Best virtual conferences in 2020
After defining virtual conferences and highlighting the key features and best platforms to host one, we can now outline some of the best-in-class virtual conferences in 2020.
The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference
The 31st edition of Apple´s WWDC was hosted entirely virtually and it did not disappoint. Once again, the conference was packed with exciting reveals and inspirational content for consumers, press, and developers alike.
Some of the most innovative aspects were the Developer Forums and one-to-one Developer Labs. In these, developers could connect with Apple engineers and dive deep into the newest capabilities such as Watch Face Sharing, Scribble for iPad, and the Action and Vision app.
INBOUND, one of the world’s largest marketing conferences, was hosted 100 % virtually in 2020. It included first-rate speakers as well as educational breakout sessions to inspire professionals.
This year, the event offered unique Q&As with keynote speakers, sponsored lunch breaks, fun trivia, and creative opportunities to network. For instance “meet by chance” virtual features mirrored the in-person conference experience.
Social Media Week
#SMWONE is another titan in the world of marketing virtual conferences. Organized across four weeks, it features renowned speakers from household names in the social media industry such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Attendees have access to over a hundred hours of breakout sessions covering topics from brand leadership, to storytelling and monetization.
Admirably, the conference brought to life its corporate responsibility values through a pass donation campaign. For every pass purchased, #SMWONE gave a pass to a small business, non-profit, or student professional impacted by COVID-19.
Sana B2B E-Commerce Summit
Sana is a leading e-commerce platform for businesses, that helps manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers. The brand set up a virtual summit to engage its customers and partners with its new e-commerce technology.
Sana´s virtual conference included over 15 insightful sessions with industry leaders, covering the latest trends and technologies in e-commerce. Added to that, it provided practical tips and information on how to succeed with B2B e-commerce.
Crucially, Sana organized the virtual conference within a dynamic virtual lobby. This virtual space replicated the immersive and interactive environment of an industry conference, as it featured simultaneous sessions as well as public and private rooms to chat and network.
DeveloperWeek Global 2020
DeveloperWeek is the world’s largest virtual developer and engineering conference hosted by DevNetwork. It attracts thousands of developer professionals and addresses topics such as API, cloud computing, and DevOps.
Among its most compelling aspects, we can highlight exhibitor chat rooms, peer networking groups, and a global hackathon.
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