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The Rise of Virtual Events in 2020

Events were the first thing to go back in March -- as soon as the NBA, March Madness and schools began shutting down, our phone started ringing. But not in the good way.

Clients were calling to postpone their in-person events, which like everything else in 2020 was scary and put us in the position of getting creative and figuring it out. Companies quickly pivoted and started inquiring about virtual events to take their place -- in any other year, virtual events would be done either alongside an in-person event, and usually tacked on as an afterthought for those who couldn’t make it.

Making social distancing social

However, since April, we’ve assisted filming for a growing number of marketing events, virtual concerts, medical events and even a fishing tournament. And to our amazement, people seem to love it. Not only have the teams throwing the events seen the value, but seen how it opens up the attendee pool and increased participation.

At first we thought it was just a fad, but over this year we’ve found these events as something to get creative with - an opportunity to break out of the typical format and make it special for attendees.


Here are some of the ways our team and our clients have optimized virtual events:


1. Pick an event theme The Non-Profit Innovation and Optimization Summit, or NIO for short, is a yearly marketing event hosted by NextAfter, a company that uses the internet as an online laboratory to test what does and doesn’t work in the non-profit digital space.

NIO Summit is an event Just Add Video has helped produce for the past four years, and was designed as a gathering place for non-profit marketers to share their findings and grow their skills.

After deciding to delay the planned in-person event to 2021, they decided to instead construct a virtual variant where they could still present this year’s data while it was still relevant. They chose an 80s virtual theme, a move that helped the event still feel cohesive and fun, even virtually. Picking a theme that is recognizable, as with a typical event, certainly makes it easy to keep consistent branding and energy across all content.

2. Build a virtual space to make the event feel complete To be clear, when we refer to a virtual event, we aren’t simply talking about a live stream hosted on a webpage. A virtual event is exactly that - a virtual venue that attendees can navigate, and typically include exhibitor halls, auditoriums, info desks, game rooms, and more. These elements make it fun and just as engaging as an in-person event.

The way this is accomplished is via virtual venues, such as the one seen in the NIO Summit welcome video above. It’s also a good example of how to integrate the theme into everything.

3. Build in social elements Mirroring of in-person events makes virtual equivalents stand out. What makes events memorable isn’t sitting in sessions listening to speaker after speaker, it’s the content in-between sessions - networking, games, earning swag, speaking with exhibitors and of course, parties. And the best part about virtual parties is that there’s still alcohol, but you don’t have to pay for it.

NIO Summit sessions were mostly pre-recorded, with live discussions and Q&As being delivered via Zoom. The content, while great, was only a part of the entire experience. What people stayed for after sessions were completed included group yoga sessions, musical bingo, a scavenger hunt and virtual cocktail hour, to name a few.


Can a virtual event compete with an in-person event in 2021 and beyond? After seeing the responses on both sides, and the fun people are able to have even through a virtual event, it’s clear that there is a place for more virtual events, even once people resume actual handshakes over elbow bumps.

In the same way that businesses have opened up to employees working remotely, so have people attending gatherings remotely.

The data from this year’s NIO Summit supports the idea that virtual events will have a place next to in-person events. The 2019 in-person NIO Summit attendance was around 620 people. Additionally, we hosted a live-stream of the entire event, the data of which can be seen in the below graph. An advantage to virtual events is being able to track visits to sponsor and vendor booths.


*2020 live stream required a login. **2019 live stream did not require a registration or login. The player was also embedded on the NextAfter.com homepage which drove up views, but is not accounted for in the “Session” metrics above. A few things to keep in mind with these numbers:

  • Both the 2019 live-stream and the 2020 live virtual event were free, though the virtual event also offered a paid premium access ticket that included additional perks to attendees.

  • We live streamed the 2020 virtual event sessions as well (not on-demand), meaning viewers had to join sessions when they started, the same as if it had been in-person.

  • There was an overall increase in registrants, page sessions and unique users for the 2020 virtual event compared to 2019’s in-person event.

  • Total number of booth visits totaled 16,603, and unique booth visits totaled 8,003. Multiple booths from vendors and sponsors saw total visits in the 1,000s, with nearly half of those being unique visits.

Obviously, we aren’t comparing apples to apples here. This data doesn’t conclude that virtual events are better than in-person events or their live-streams, but it does suggest that there may be an untapped audience here. The key to engaging this audience is to create content and experiences outside of practice sessions that will infuse a virtual event with the qualities that make live events truly enjoyable.

Are you looking to produce a live stream or entirely virtual event? Reach out so we can help you produce a virtual event to surpass expectations.

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