Technology improvements have allowed us to meet, connect and engage online. The 2008 financial crisis further drove the adoption of virtual events for organizations. But even to this day, there is no standard definition of what a virtual event is today and where it should be tomorrow.
My partner at The Virtual Buzz, Donna Sanford, defines a virtual event as:
An online business environment where I will go to learn more about the latest trends, share ideas with my peers, make new business connections, further my career and gather information on the industry’s hottest products and services. Because I’m very loyal to the organizations I belong to, and have many friends within those communities, I will probably only attend the organization’s virtual or hybrid events when I cannot make it to the annual physical event – or, I may attend the virtual version later, on-demand, if there was content on-site I couldn’t get to.
When a group of individuals meet, communicate, learn and engage online in real-time for a common reason and for a specific amount of time.
Here is how 17 of your peers defined virtual event
Note: some responses may have been edited for brevity while keeping the meaning intact.
Miguel Arias, Imaste:
Virtual event is a concept that defines a wide array of situations, technologies, interactions, etc. But trying to find the common components, I would say that a virtual event is a live interaction between individuals that happen through a web based application. Virtual events, like their physical counterparts, need to take place in a certain period of time, and involve the engagement of attendees at both sides of the internet connection. If there is no live interaction we are not talking about virtual events but about fancy multimedia webpages.
Hellen Beveridge, BIG Ideas Inc.:
A virtual event enlists the power of technology to deliver an online space that enables collaboration of thought, knowledge and best working practices between participants. Using a complete portfolio of information delivery mechanisms, e.g. video, chat, document download, the virtual event should mirror a live event at it’s start point in order to engage fully with an audience that is unfettered by geographical or language barriers.
Stuart Bowen, Momentum Events:
A Virtual Event, which could be termed a ‘digital experience’, is a gathering of people commonly professional, logged into a web based environment rather than meeting in a physical location. Virtual Events are highly interactive offering participants a chance to collaborate, network and share information via a number of facilities such as webcasting, IM chat and third party tools from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. They can be used to replace physical events such trade-shows, association meetings, sales meetings and recruitment events but the current trend is for Virtual Events to support their physical counterpart in a ‘Hybrid’ fashion.
Michelle Bruno, Fork In the Road:
Although we generally think about virtual events in a more sophisticated way, i.e. having exhibitors and conference sessions and chat functionality, my definition of a virtual event is broader than that. When I think about virtual “events” I think about any engagement with an audience that does not involve in-person, face-to-face interaction. So, talking with an individual or a group via telephone could be considered a virtual event. I believe it’s important to pivot on this singular differentiating factor so that each event type can develop (in parallel) using the tools, platforms, and processes that make it truly unique and differentiated from the other.
Midori Connolly, Pulse Staging and Events:
In order to define a virtual event, we must first define an event. About two years ago we had a chat on Twitter around this topic. We collectively defined an event as “A gathering of individuals to achieve a common purpose at a specific time and for a specific duration of time.”Then, a virtual event is:”An event that takes place with participants who collaborate and interact without being physically present, connected by some form of technology.” This means that a conference call could actually be considered a virtual event.
John Grosshandler, Director of Virtual Extensions, Freeman:
We produce 14,000 physical events a year and touch 375,000 exhibitors, we’re more focused on virtual extensions, than virtual events. The distinction being that we see “virtual” as a way to extend the reach, duration and value of irreplaceable face2face events. While there is a role for 100% virtual events, I think many agree that the holy grail is extending the physical event, whether that’s during the event (hybrid), pre or post. To me, an effective virtual extension leverages technology and services to bring the content, collaboration and sponsorship opportunities of the physical event to a web audience.
Peter Hackes, Performedia:
A virtual event allows a dispersed online audience with common interests to share in a common experience.
Jeff Hurt and Dave Lutz of Velvet Chainsaw:
Virtual/Digital Event: Often used as an umbrella term to encompass a variety of online event experiences. Purist definition: A live digital event that uses one of the 2D or 3D virtual platforms often hosted in a virtual world. It may or may not be at the same time as a face-to-face event. Hybrid Event: A live face-to-face meeting that also provides some type of digital/virtual component for a remote audience.
Ike Singh Kehal, CEO and co-founder of Social27:
In simple terms, a virtual event can be defined as an exchange of information (business or personal) that is not a face to face interaction. At Social27, our Virtual Event solutions enable online / digital experiences that effectively accomplish the top objectives of event attendees – To Learn and To Network.
Maria Korolov, Hypergrid Business:
A virtual event is any get-together that is bounded by time and purpose, but does not require attendees to be present in a single location. It could involve Web-based communication, or an immersive 3D environment, or be conducted by email or even postal service.
Jessica Levin, Seven Degrees Communications:
A virtual event can take place with a face-to-face speaker, face-to-face audience, a combination (hybrid) of face-to-face and remote participants or it can simply exist when people come together on Twitter for a chat. Virtual events bridge the gap when people want to connect with each other, but don’t have the time or money to get together. Virtual events can be for education, networking, business planning or just for fun. Virtual events can include video, audio or just text, or all three, but the common thread is that people are coming together to communicate real-time.
Mike McAllen, Grass Shack Events & Media:
Virtual events are a way of bridging the gap between face to face meetings and an audience that cannot attend face to face meeting. Simply put- if a virtual meeting is done correctly it will give your meeting a virtual extension outside your physical space and if your content is fantastic it will increase attendance at subsequent meetings.
James Parker, Digitell:
A virtual event is the combination of a group of people (more than 2) engaged in an online activity that promotes, education, communication, collaboration or training. Virtual events are usually conducted by utilizing an online software platform that facilitates the ease of use to achieve the above mentioned activities. Virtual events can be categorized in two different formats. One is a completely online activity where none of the participants are together in a face to face environment and the other is a Hybrid event where the event combines a combination of face to face and online participants.
Shannon Ryan, ArchetypeDNA:
Virtual events are dynamic online forums that provide opportunities for audiences to engage with content, brands and other event participants. There are many activities associated with a virtual event, with features varying by event type and audience. Features commonly included in virtual events are webinars, text and video chat, moderated Q&A, networking, sponsor spaces/booths, message boards, social media, games, and access to resources including URLs, documents and digital media (audio/video).
Dennis Shiao, It’s All Virtual:
A web and occasion-based gathering that facilitates information sharing, collaboration and interaction.
Dannette Veale, Cisco Virtual Environments Blog:
A virtual event is an event held via a digital format either on the web or in a 3D immersive virtual world. A virtual event can be a virtual only or hybrid (blending physical and virtual in one event) experience. A virtual event can consist of any combination of the following: an auditorium with live presentations including keynotes/panel discussions/chat sessions, a virtual tradeshow with virtual booths and staff, games, a resource center, networking tools including profile matching/social media integrations ala Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn/on-demand 1o1 and group chat areas, archived sessions for on-demand viewing, interactive product demonstrations, and man on the street reporting.
A virtual event is an occurrence of people gathering together where some or all of the attendees are not physically in the same location but are connected in a common environment. The common environment might be one of many types but is usually enabled through the use of computers and the Internet.
(This article reprinted with permission from The Virtual Buzz.)