Tools to facilitate virtual events are sprouting wherever you look. The demand for virtual event tools has seen a huge increase since the pandemic hit us in 2020. In fact. 55% of event organizers state that they will increase the number of virtual events they host next year.
When it comes to hosting virtual events, there are many ways that lead to Rome. Depending on your audience size, you might get away by hosting a virtual event on platforms such as Zoom or Teams.
However, for larger events, you’ll likely have to invest in a proper virtual event platform. These platforms typically require quite the investment.
Naturally, questions arise surrounding the main differences between full-blown virtual event platforms and video conferencing tools. Which tool do you use in what situation?
There are situations where video conferencing tools will do the job absolutely fine, such as when hosting virtual roundtables. In other cases, you might need to get a little more advanced.
So let’s take a look at the main differences between virtual event platforms and other virtual event tools such as video conferencing software.
What is a virtual event platform?
A virtual event platform is dedicated software that allows event organizers to host virtual events that simulate large in-person conferences. It contains advanced features such as ticketing, hybrid event capabilities, handling complex agenda’s with multiple sessions running simultaneously, and MarTech integration.
To get an idea of well-known virtual event platforms, take a look at this article in which I cover the use cases of them.
What are video conferencing tools?
Video conferencing tools are designed to facilitate virtual meetings. In some cases, they also provide event capabilities such as hosting webinars. However, as these tools are built for different purposes, they lack features for advanced virtual events.
What are the similarities between virtual event platforms and video conferencing tools?
The biggest similarity between virtual event platforms and tools such as video conferencing software is that they allow virtual interaction between geographically dispersed audiences.
The next similarity is that they usually contain basic features to engage an audience such as polling.
When getting creative, you can also play pre-recorded sessions on both tools but this is much better facilitated on virtual event platforms.
To host a large virtual event successfully, you need both a virtual event platform and video conferencing tools. Without the video conferencing tools, your audience will lack networking capabilities. More about this further down in this article.
The main differences between virtual event platforms and video conferencing tools
Now without diving into too much detail, let’s take a look at some of the key differences between virtual event platforms and video conferencing tools, or event tools such as Facebook Events.
1. The features of a virtual event platform simulate in-person trade shows
Virtual event platforms are built to simulate in-person trade shows. If you’ve ever attended a tradeshow, you’ll know that they are very complex. There are a lot of moving parts at the same time and it typically attracts a large audience.
With large virtual events, you typically sell sponsorship packages to offset the costs of the event. On virtual event platforms, you have functionality to brand certain sessions or other aspects of the event.
With virtual event fatigue kicking in, it’s important to keep your audience engaged at all times. Virtual event platforms offer advanced gamification features that you wouldn’t have on tools which aren’t purpose built.
As mentioned, virtual event platforms also offer advanced analytical tools and integrate with your MarTech stack which is critical for operational excellence.
One of the most important aspects of hosting successful events is facilitating networking capabilities for your audience. During an in-person tradeshow, there are loads of networking possibilities. Virtual event platforms facilitate this through event apps, chat features and the ability to book one-on-one meetings with other attendees.
2. Virtual event platforms can welcome a larger audience
Tools that aren’t purpose built for hosting large virtual events can’t handle audiences of over 1000 people. Imagine having 1000 people in a Zoom meeting, it would be crazy.
Virtual event platforms are built to welcome thousands of people to the event effortlessly. Those people have the capability to browse through the event platform, visit the virtual booths and talk with other attendees. They can choose to attend speaking sessions or engage with something else during your event.
3. Virtual event platforms offer more capabilities for sponsorships
We briefly touched upon this point but I want to reiterate the importance of sponsors at your virtual events.
There are many benefits to sponsoring virtual events. For event organizers, it’s an extra revenue stream and your sponsors will also promote the virtual event. This will lead to more attendees and a more successful event overall.
However, when you are charging money to companies for sponsoring your event, you better deliver value in return.
The sponsor packages that you can sell with a complex virtual event platform backing you up is much more extensive than selling packages for events hosted on video conferencing tools.
Companies mainly sponsor your event for lead generation and brand building. Virtual event platforms allow you to transfer generated leads to your sponsors automatically as soon as your audience engages with the lead magnets from your sponsors.
Your sponsors can also set up virtual booths which simulate booths at in-person trade shows. Your sponsors can chat with people that visit the virtual booth and try to add value to your attendees.
4. Virtual event platforms can handle complex agenda’s similar to in-person trade shows
At in-person conferences, there will always be speaking sessions happening at the same time. As an attendee, you can configure your own agenda to attend sessions that are valuable for you.
Virtual event platforms can handle complex event agenda’s and they often come with an event app that your attendees can use to configure their agendas.
Most speaking sessions on virtual events are pre-recorded but virtual event platforms also allow for live sessions.
On video conferencing tools, it will be very difficult to host multiple speaking sessions that happen at the same time. It’s possible, but not with the best user experience.
5. Virtual event platforms handle audience registration and integrate with marketing automation tools
When hosting a virtual event, data becomes crucial. Virtual event platforms give you advanced analytical features that measure how long people have been in sessions, which sponsor booths they’ve visited, and with whom they’ve engaged, as an example.
As an event organizer, you need to have access to this data as you’ll use it as input to evaluate the success of your speaking sessions and the overall event success.
Virtual event platforms also integrate with marketing automation tools and CRM systems such as Salesforce.
This way, your sales organization will have direct access to data surrounding who’s attending the event. This is crucial if one of your goals is to create new opportunities on the back of the event.
There are countless other use cases for integration with marketing automation tools such as sending email nurtures and to apply lead scoring points.
6. Video conferencing tools are often integrated into virtual event platforms
A fun fact is that video conferencing tools are typically integrated into virtual event platforms.
As mentioned, networking is a key element to ensure that your audience is getting value out of the event. You need to provide your attendees with functionality to conduct one-on-one meetings with other attendees.
Virtual event platforms offer this capability and then use the integration with video conferencing tools to automatically set up a Zoom call between your attendees, as an example.
This way, you’re using the tools in a way for which they are purpose built.
7. Virtual event platforms contain hybrid event capabilities
34% of event organizers will increase investments in hosting hybrid events in the next few years.
The definition of a hybrid event is a conference, tradeshow, workshop, or any other event that takes place in-person and virtually at the same time. The in-person and virtual audiences are able to connect through event management systems.
Virtual event platforms contain functionally to facilitate hybrid events. Platforms such as Orbits, will rebuild real-life venues digitally so that the in-person audience attends the same venue as the virtual audience. Features like these are really neat.
The key to making a hybrid event successful is to connect the in-person world with the virtual world. This means that you should provide a way for the in-person audience to network with the virtual audience. Most virtual event platforms have this functionality. For more information on how to do this successfully, please read this article about How To Host Incredible Hybrid Events.
In summary, virtual event platforms and video conferencing tools are built for different purposes. They are both fantastic tools to connect virtual audiences but serve a different purpose.
When it comes to hosting successful virtual events, you will need to work with both virtual event platforms and video conferencing tools.