What makes for a great virtual event? Lots of attendees? Big-name speakers? Not exactly, but those do factor into what matters more than anything else: user engagement.
Here are some of our favorite examples of virtual events that put user engagement first and how you can apply these strategies to your own events.
Our favorite virtual event examples from 2020.
1. Adobe Summit 2020.
One of the first virtual events that launched in May of 2020 was Adobe Summit. Due to the timing of it all, Adobe wasn’t left with much time to pivot and turn the event around in a digital format. However, what they did put together was paramount in the development of virtual events across the industry. Adobe was one of the first to create a virtual experience that focused on highly produced on-demand content, allowing their registrants to access their presentations and resources immediately, any time they wanted to watch. The investment in polishing those pieces paid off because Adobe was able to entertain and educate audiences and keep them engaged throughout.
They also created an easy-to-navigate event that was structured similarly to popular online streaming services, making it easy for most registrants to find the content they wanted to watch and consume at their own pace. Furthermore, Adobe created hyped introductions leading into their recorded sessions, which featured exciting music and mimicked the excitement of walking through a live event. Virtual events have evolved a lot since last March, but the Adobe Summit remains a great example of putting the audience experience first.
- Focus on production value. Exciting intros and high production value can make on-demand sessions feel like they were recorded live.
- Provide simple navigation. Adobe Summit’s video streaming service-like structure lowered the learning curve for attendees.
2. Telehealth Innovation Forum.
This event we know very intimately as we had a hand in planning, executing and managing it from start to finish. Everything about the Telehealth Innovation Forum was branded to a T, so when visitors reached the forum, they knew it was the right place and they felt familiar with the design and navigation. We offered a combination of high-energy, live keynotes and pre-recorded on-demand content. This mix gave the audience a sense of urgency to attend the live sessions as they premiered, knowing there was plenty of time after the event to consume the on-demand content. It was a perfect mix of flexibility and structure like with a normal event, but with the added bonus of being able to watch sessions after the event ends. Another bonus were the experiential sessions, such as the social volunteering cause, a mixology course, and Grub Hub lunch paid for by the sponsor.
The Forum experience was made possible by about 15 different technology platforms and tools, all of which were integrated with each other to seamlessly hand off data across the stack. This not only resulted in a smooth experience for conference-goers but enabled organizers to track attendee interactions throughout the event for great insights about prospect and customer interests and intent, as well as what worked and what didn’t about the event.
- Consistent branding improves user experience. This virtual event should be a separate, cohesive experience from your website. Differentiate this experience from other digital experiences with your company.
- A good event is usually tied to a good experience. You don’t have to give away free swag but you have to make the event fun and memorable, which is why every virtual event should offer at least one experiential session.
- Technology integration is a MUST. This not only ensures attendees have an uninterrupted experience but is a baseline requirement for organizers to be able to easily track user journeys and collect deep attendee data.
3. SIGNAL 2020.
Twilio searched for a virtual event platform that could do everything they wanted for its annual SIGNAL customer and developer conference but ultimately decided to build their own from scratch. Luckily, they had the resources and budget to make it happen, and they really brought the heat with this event too. They provided a very custom experience thanks to their bespoke platform and they used their budget to do big things, including featuring Barack Obama as a keynote speaker.
The best part of this event was the introduction of “SIGNAL Developer Mode,” which was an augmentation of the existing virtual event experience. This Twilio CLI plugin was available to any SIGNAL ticket holder, giving people a more involved, and personalized experience. Developer Mode included:
Live keynote mode. Attendees could see closed captions for the keynote and view relevant demos and resources as the speakers were presenting.
Packed demos section. An area where people could discover a collection of Twilio applications to help them get started with different products.
Automatic demo set up. People could pick a demo and automatically download it, install dependencies, and configure any necessary values.
Cheat mode. This was a temporary and hidden section of the CLI that was only active during the first day of keynote airings and one hour afterward.
- Be intentional with your budget. A big budget isn’t everything and you don’t need to break the bank for a virtual event, but the budget you have must be used in ways that truly better the user experience.
- Personalize and gamify. Personalization is fun and having some gamification at your event is a great way to increase engagement, but Twilio did more than that by making the event the game. This event gamification demonstrates a deep understanding of an audience and what gets them excited, which ultimately helped them create a highly positive and memorable experience.
4. INBOUND 2020.
INBOUND has been a popular in-person live event for many years now. One of its most iconic aspects has always been the great pavilion space that acts as a kind of “community gathering place,” featuring food trucks, swings, an outdoor lounge, and entertainment. HubSpot did a fantastic job replicating the look and feel of that Boston outdoor pavilion virtually for INBOUND 2020. They also recreated the feeling of walking around and finding sponsor booths with an interface that allowed attendees to travel down a virtual hallway with posters of all the sponsors, that, when clicked, led to the sponsor’s booth.
Another thing we love about INBOUND’s virtual event was the attention they put into their pre-event promotions. Their demand gen emails prior to the event were well-designed but more than that they felt human. One example of this was the incorporation of a celebrity-backed service announcement calling for everyone to go vote and use their voice. Another way INBOUND humanized and brought the feeling of a live event into the homes of attendees was with their VIP swag boxes, which were a direct mail piece that made attendees feel more involved and engaged.
- Remember what people love about in-person events. You can’t replicate every aspect of a live event online—nor would you want to. But if you can come up with a creative way to bring one piece of that in-person experience to attendees at home, you’re sure to wow your audience..
- Humanize your virtual event. There’s a lot happening in the world and people want to feel connected and united. Whether it’s messaging or experiential sessions, a company needs to actively engage in a human way before, during, and after the event.
The Iron Horse insight.
When it comes to events, virtual or otherwise, user engagement is still a big key to success. All of these virtual event examples were highly well-received and widely considered as top-notch events. It’s no coincidence they all focused on promoting the best user experience possible. To create a memorable and delightful experience, it starts with demand gen promotion and it requires a company to focus on helping attendees navigate the event, as well as to deliver content that’s specifically tailored for the audience.