Meeting Mentor Magazine

January 2021

Cover Story

What Do Audiences Really Want from Virtual Events?

Two just-released studies confirm just how fast the behaviors of prospective attendees are changing relative to face-to-face and virtual meetings.

Here are some key findings from the Virtual Event Study, done in collaboration with the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, Relate Content & Community Solutions and Tagoras, and funded by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events:

Most virtual events are digital extensions of physical events. There appears, though, to be a reluctance to live stream content, as only 35 percent of past users and 26 percent of future users plan to hold virtual and physical events at the same time.

Yet live content (video and webcasts) is most popular, and this despite the fact that 43 percent of physical events capture less then 10 percent of their content for other uses.

Resources remain big concerns: from staff time to execute a virtual event to costs, quality of experience, and complexity of technology.

Revenue is also an issue. Nearly two-thirds of past users of virtual events did not charge attendees, and almost one-half received no sponsorship revenue.

A larger audience is the most important objective. This was mentioned by more than 82 percent of past users of virtual events and 84 percent of future users, especially since nearly half reach less than 50 percent of their target audience with their physical exhibitions and events.

Events are shorter, sales cycles longer. Short-format content sessions and shorter event days are preferable for virtual events, but like a physical event, a longer sales cycle is recommended.

Still, significant disinterest remains. More than 36 percent of those polled report no interest in holding virtual events in the future, primarily due to concerns over return on investment, time and resources required, preference for face-to-face events, and lack of implementation expertise.

Meanwhile, according to Business Motivations and Social Behaviors for In-Person and Online Events, a study sponsored by the Professional Convention Management Association, UBM Studios and Virtual Edge Institute:

• 80 percent of respondents are comfortable connecting and networking with strangers.

• 70 percent are comfortable using a video/webcam to chat and meet others.

• 33 percent share information by instant messaging at online events, while 28 percent do so at in-person events.

• 41 percent use Twitter at online events, while 51 percent do so at in-person events.

(About three-quarters of 479 respondents in North America were from corporations; 11 percent from associations/non-profits; and 12 percent from education, government, media company.)

Not surprisingly, technology allows attendees to become easily distracted. At both in-person and online events, respondents are pros at multi-tasking: checking e-mail, texting and tweeting, taking phone calls, and instant messaging. Virtual attendees, though, appear more subject to interruption, which suggests they may need to be engaged in a more interactive experience — with video-audio chat, real-time demos and live expert Q&A. At the same time, they can start activities online, flexibly shift to offline at will, then return online.

Respondents seek similar information from exhibitors whether booths are live or virtual: more than half want to see what a company does and how it can help them, and nearly half of respondents want to get company, product or solution information for review or want to see a demonstration or the product itself.

Across all events, digital or physical, respondents want to access content online and via mobile devices before (94 percent), during (78 percent) and after (84 percent) the event. But the study identified a gap between how and when organizers distributed content compared with the desire of participants.

Finally, virtual events draw attendees for key reasons, said respondents: the value of the content provided (97 percent); the environment’s ease-of-access (90 percent); and the ability to ask questions and participate actively (90 percent). They are also driven to attend virtually because of reduced travel costs and hassles (88 percent), and minimized time away from family and office (87 percent). — Maxine Golding

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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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