17 Engaging Virtual Conference Ideas & Best Practices

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October 18, 2020

Hi! You found our list of virtual conference ideas.

Virtual conference ideas are suggestions for creating engaging and memorable online events that attract significant audiences. Because virtual events are different experiences than in person events, you need to approach your seminar from a new angle.

Specifically, this list includes:

  • virtual conference best practices
  • virtual conference entertainment
  • virtual conference engagement ideas
  • how a virtual conference works

And more 🙂

So, here is the list!

List of virtual conference ideas

From social media hype to online shops to virtual lounges, here is a list of delightful and unexpected virtual conference ideas.

1. Virtual conference swag bag

From children’s birthday parties to Oscar after parties, goodie bags elevate any event. Online conferences are no exception to this rule. You can thank your guests for attending your event with a digital swag bag.

Virtual swag bags are collections of gifts you can send via email, no need to trek to the post office!

What to include in a digital swag bag:

  • Virtual gift cards, like Amazon or Starbucks
  • Trials for apps like Calm or Pandora
  • Subscription or access to a digital industry journal
  • eBooks
  • Podcasts
  • Online coupons
  • Virtual lesson on a site like Udemy or Coursea
  • Digital wallpaper

These sorts of special touches can convince guests that web conferences are every bit as valuable and fun as the in-person counterparts.

2. Multimedia program

One benefit to virtual conferences is that you will save a whole lot of time, trees, and ink by not printing paper programs. An added plus is that you can enliven your conference agenda incorporating multimedia elements. Unless you live in the Harry Potter universe, paper programs cannot feature moving pictures or shifting words. Apps and web pages allow you to create an interactive and convenient experience for your guests.

Virtual conference multimedia program elements:

  • Videos, such as livestream lectures or keynote speaker past performances
  • Links to registrations, meeting rooms, virtual gathering spaces, and resources
  • Polls and surveys
  • Embedded social media feeds
  • Social platform links
  • Podcast and audio live streams of events
  • Chat room
  • Email opt in form
  • Live updates & news

Creating a multimedia program can be as easy as building a web page or crafting an email. Digital platforms allow you to devise a more immersive and cohesive agenda for your attendees. These interactive agendas are one of my favorite ideas to make virtual conferences successful. Guests can access supplemental information, network with other participants, and navigate to events from one single user-friendly page.

3. Social media hype

Social media is one of the most useful digital marking tools, and one of the best ideas for marketing virtual conferences. You can build hype for your event by running special campaigns on your social platforms. Though online symposiums are still a relatively new concept, social media promotion is sure to become one of the key virtual conference best practices.

Virtual conference social media ideas:

  • Post a countdown clock
  • Host a contest, such as a raffle or a user-generated-photo contest
  • Create a hashtag for your event. This helpful guide from Whova can show you how.
  • Run a social media takeover with keynote guests
  • Use interactive elements to engage your audience, such as Instagram story polls or augmented reality filters
  • Reveal special guests and surprise activities via a guessing game

You can offer previews of conference offerings by posting videos and photos to your feed. Once the event wraps, you can use the generated media to advertise future conferences, #TBT (Throw Back Thursday) style.

Consumers tend to trust social media more than overt advertising because many online followers equate social posts with word of mouth from friends. By harnessing the hype of social media, you can develop more authentic and organic interest in your event.

4. Worldwide speaker selection

One of the most obvious virtual conference ideas is to widen your scope of presenters by scouring the globe.

Speakers may reject requests to appear at physical conferences due to travel issues or schedule conflicts. You may decline to even approach a guest because the cost of airfare and accommodation exceeds the budget. Virtual conferences open up a world of possibilities in terms of featured speakers. No longer do you have to limit your search to the surrounding region. Now, you can invite a guest from across the globe, and that keynote can attend via webcam. Virtual event attendance requires a much smaller time commitment, meaning you may be able to book an in-demand lecturer.

Of course, there are drawbacks to this approach. Watching a lecturer on video call does not have the same allure as occupying the same physical space. Prestigious guests may draw a smaller crowd compared to in-person appearances. Also, though virtual appearances demand less of a time commitment, you may face stiff competition from other virtual organizers. Plus, your speaker, preferring face-to-face contact, may not want to participate in a virtual event.

Once you book your virtual speakers, you should ensure that your guests possess the proper equipment and software and are comfortable with the programs. If you book a speaker that resides in a different part of the world, then you may want to provide the schedule in both time zones to ensure the speaker arrives at the proper time.

5. Virtual daycare

Virtual daycares are ways to engage the children of conference participants. Because guests will attend your conference from the comfort of home instead of the seclusion of an event center, there is a possibility that kids may crash the affair. For this reason, some organizers are advertising virtual conferences as children-friendly to encourage the attendance of busy parents. You can take this notion one step further by offering entertainment specifically for the kids.

Virtual daycare ideas:

  • Coloring pages
  • Interactive games
  • Video streaming children’s entertainment
  • Child entertainer or teacher
  • Parents & children mixer event
  • Bring your daughter or son to work day
  • Q&A session for kids

By offering activities for your attendees’ children, you can claim the parents’ focus and score reputation points for your brand.

6. Online shop

Online shops are web-based versions of vendor booths and exhibitions. These vendor areas offer sponsorship opportunities that help offset the cost of throwing a conference. You can set up an e-commerce shop via webpage or social media storefront and invite vendors to peddle products and offer demonstrations.

Virtual conference online shop ideas:

  • Offer event exclusive items, such as one-on-one’s with featured guests or rare and customized industry tools
  • Incentivize attendees to visit the shop by creating a shop-centric virtual scavenger hunt, offering special discounts or vouchers, or entering customers in a raffle
  • Attract high-caliber entertainment and keynote guests by offering space in the online storefront as part of the compensation package
  • Allow attendees to access the shop up to two weeks after the event
  • Advertise your online store by outfitting event staff in shop loot and including shop previews in the program

Optimally, you should open this shop only to event attendees, however, you can tease items on social media to generate buzz.

7. Virtual lounges

Schmoozing is one of the main draws of conferences. Guests attend these events in part to meet other industry professionals. Though much of the networking occurs in structured environments such as luncheons, cocktail hours, meet and greets, and panels, a good deal of socializing also occurs in spaces such as hallways and lobbies.

You can provide your attendees the opportunity to engage in casual, natural conversation with other guests by creating a Virtual Lounge. Virtual Lounges are digital spaces where participants can gather and chit-chat, relax, and bond.

Venues for virtual lounges:

  • Chat rooms
  • Online forums
  • Private social media groups
  • Video conference room
  • Virtual lobby
  • Digital whiteboard
  • Slack channel

This sort of real time interaction can mean the difference between attendees participating live during the event or waiting for a recap after the fact. By offering a virtual lounge, and perhaps including some icebreakers, you recapture the casual networking experience of a traveling conference.

8. Online rewind

Most video conferencing software like Zoom and GoToWebinar allows you to record meetings and lectures with the click of a button. With this technology you can easily offer a playback of virtual conference events to attendees. Perhaps Abdul intended on watching the keynote speech on mobile technology in medicine, but his son sprained an ankle at soccer practice and Abdul spent the afternoon at an urgent care instead. Or maybe Joyce found the panel on LGBTQ law so riveting that she wants a playback.

Online rewinds offer attendees the option to watch virtual conference events after the initial broadcast. You can set up an online rewind by uploading video of the virtual discussions onto your event website. This offering can drive more guests to sign up for your conference, since the flexible schedule affords overcommitted attendees leeway. If a prospective attendee was hesitant to register for fear of missing a main event, then unfettered access to a replay may convince that guest that enrolling is still worth the cost.

Of course, one of the main complaints about virtual conferences is that online guests may be flakier than real life counterparts. In-person conventions involve a financial commitment, while web conferences are easier to cancel. Knowing that the panels and lectures will be available anytime, attendees may fail to show up during the live stream, or may procrastinate signing up for the conference at all. To discourage this kind of behavior, you should seek to design interactive events that encourage real time participation. You should also clarify that your online rewind will only be available to registered attendees, and only for the duration of the event and a few days after.

9. eBook club

I love books. When I attend a conference, I always bring home a book or two, no matter how cramped my bookshelf may already be. Book nooks are a big draw at conventions, and online conferences do not need to skip this staple.

You can offer an eBook club as part of your conference. eBook clubs offer the option for attendees to buy or freely download digital books.

eBook club suggestions:

  • Titles by your guest speakers
  • Works from industry experts
  • Case studies and white papers
  • Short essays
  • Audiobooks and a free Audible trial

Adding original and exclusive content such as an analysis or companion piece adds a bit of prestige and entices potential customers.

Before selecting your titles, you can survey your colleagues or industry audience for suggestions. Professionals visit conferences to learn, and offering a digital library serves as a great reference and educational draw.

10. Online guest book

Conferences are more than informational events. These experiences are also a sort of collaboration. Interested and invested industry professionals unite to help each other learn and grow.

While certain paths may cross again, the same group will never gather in exactly the same way. Thus, you should commemorate the event with a collaborative and interactive element like an online guest book.

Online guest books are collections of attendee contributions. Ideally, you should ask attendees to add an insight or effort as opposed to only a name.

Virtual conference online guest book ideas:

  • List of quotes
  • Short summary of conference takeaways
  • Missed connection section, for professionals who want to reconnect
  • Team mural or mosaic

You can transform your virtual guest book into a creative collaboration, a social network, or a fun and interactive game. You can also employ many mediums such as text, audio, photos, and pictures. You could also use the guest book as an opportunity to sign-up newsletter recipients and generate potential leads.

By tapping into your audience to add observations and creative flair, you can create a more permanent piece of lasting value from a temporary event.

11. Provide entertainment

Industry conferences involve more than panels and lectures and business card exchanges. These events also offer opportunities for professionals to unwind, network, and enjoy the entertainment. To captivate your remote audience between sessions, you can plan fun, high-energy, and engaging virtual team building activities.

Examples of fun online team activities include:

Part of the draw of these industry events is the ability to relax and build relationships with other professionals. Entertainment is an important but often overlooked aspect of virtual conferences. By planning activities that encourage active participation, you reclaim some of the interactive experience that you lose when conferences go digital. Online games are one of the easiest ways to keep virtual conference attendees engaged.

12. AskMeAnything

An AMA, or AskMeAnything, is an online interview format pioneered by social news site Reddit. Hosts reply via text to user questions and comments, and commenters can also respond to other posts. You can steal this setup to hold a question & answer session during your digital conference.

The upside to this kind of session is that hosts can acknowledge a wider range of questions instead of calling on a select few raised hands. Subjects can also answer the most interesting or beneficial questions instead of merely responding to the luck of the draw.

To host an AskMeAnything session:

  1. Select a digital venue. Forums work better than chat rooms since the movement aspect of chats make questions easy to miss.
  2. Recruit a moderator. Though participants will be professionals, debate can still grow quite heated. Appointing a moderator ensures discussion stays civil and enjoyable for all involved.
  3. Choose and advertise a timeslot. AskMeAnythings are not infinite events. Hosts agree to respond to questions within a certain timeframe. Let attendees know that the host will be active on the forum during this specific period.
  4. Ensure the host is comfortable with the technology. Provide the host with information of who to contact in case of any technical issues.

After the session concludes, you can create a list of highlights of the best questions and answers to provide to all attendees. With the host’s blessing, you can also repurpose the material into a post for your blog or a YouTube video, or at the very least, use the questions to inform your future content creation process.

13. Food on the go

I still sometimes dream about the blackened tilapia tacos, wine ice cream, and beer cheese pretzels I inhaled at conferences past. In terms of eats, the same rule applies at both conferences and weddings; the food may not be the main event, but meals are still memorable factors.

Sadly, virtual conferences mean no meals. While this fact alone may not be enough to dissuade interested parties, offering guests a bonus meal stipend may incentivize on-the-fence participants.

You can partner with delivery services such as GrubHub, DoorDash, or UberEats to offer attendees a credit redeemable for a no-cooking-or-cleanup-necessary meal. Professionals are busy. Providing a catered meal allows attendees to devote more time to conference activities, and services as a delicious additional perk. The upside to this option is that you do not need to commit time to choosing a menu and accommodating special dietary restrictions. Instead, the guest picks the dish, ensuring happy palettes all around.

You can even transform this extra into a communal activity by asking attendees to upload feasting photos to an online album or social media page. This activity provides a fun, social outlet for guests to share a meal from afar.

14. Artful avatars

Somewhere in the depths of my closet sits a shoebox containing name tags and branded lanyards from conventions I once attended. I hate to throw them out because someone went through an awful lot of trouble to make that badge. Even when the name reads “Angelina.”

In-person conferences involve printed and laminated name tags or those prominent “my name is…” stickers. At virtual conferences, attendees appear as a couple of lines of text on a screen. Which, to be honest, comes off as a little boring and impersonal.

You can also add a little fun and originality to your event through the use of more artful avatars. For instance, you may allow guests to choose profile pictures that fit an industry theme.

A few examples:

  • Museum curators = famous paintings or statues
  • Pharmaceutical engineers = chemical molecule
  • Translator = definition of a foreign word
  • Travel agent = destination or tourist attraction
  • Digital marketer = clever ads

You could even offer a custom avatar builder to guests as an entertaining and unique conference feature.

Personalizing a profile picture adds elements of fun, creativity, and originality to the affair. A custom avatar serves as a great conversation starter, too. Personalized avatars are one of the simplest examples of icebreaker activities for virtual conferences.

If this approach feels too informal, then you can utilize a more practical “digital name tag,” by allowing attendees to link usernames to professional pages or LinkedIn profiles.

15. Online help booth

Whenever I attend a festival or a convention, my first stop is the information booth. I know I will find a friendly face ready to answer my questions, hand me a map, help me fix my malfunctioning event app, and share juicy panel previews.

Unfortunately, virtual conferences lack welcome tables and personnel in “event staff” T-shirts, but attendees still need help. Event guests might miss important instructions or experience technical difficulties. Attendees need to know who to contact for assistance, otherwise glitches may turn into missed opportunities, wasted time, and customer complaints.

Example of help booth issues:

  • Last minute registrations
  • Locked out of Zoom room
  • Audio malfunctioning
  • Password problems
  • Missed panel
  • Harassment from another attendee

You can include an Online Help Booth as part of your conference to avoid these kinds of frustrations. The easiest way to create an Online Help Booth is by using a chat bot. You can pre-program the bot with responses to common questions such as “Where do I sign up for events?” or “What time is this lecture?” The program can relay more complex questions to a human customer service representative. That staffer can either solve the problem or escalate the issue to IT or management if necessary.

Creating an online help booth for the event gives guests an outlet to vent or ask for help when unexpected happenings arise.

16. Digital buddy system

The Buddy System is a concept that pairs up two random conference attendees. This arrangement ensures that even shy guests get opportunities to network and connect meaningfully with other professionals in the industry. This approach can help attendees socialize outside of coworker clusters. The Buddy System can also function as a sort of mentorship program to pair newcomers with industry veterans.

A digital Buddy System can be a boon to your virtual conference since online platforms allow less opportunities for interaction.

To launch a virtual buddy system:

  1. Offer registrants the option during sign-up.
  2. Match attendees. You can use an app like Donut to randomly pair and introduce partners.
  3. Instruct participants to reach out pre-conference for a quick (or long!) video call.
  4. Encourage pairs to attend virtual events together and reflect and recap post-seminar

A digital buddy system guarantees that your guests will connect and reap the rewards of gathering with like minded professionals.

We have more ideas for large group icebreakers too.

17. Room with a view

At traditional conferences, guests may ask each other, “where are you staying?” to which the reply may be, “the Hilton downtown right next to the art museum,” or “an Airbnb lake house just outside the city.” If all attendees stay at the same hotel, the conversation may shift to, “what’s the view from your room?” In the case of my annual company meeting, I could only ever answer, “I can see the top of the parking garage from my window.”

A unique factor of virtual conferences is that guests attend from completely different locations. You can use this fact as a bonding exercise by introducing an activity called room with a view. This exercise asks attendees to share a glimpse of the outside world by uploading a window picture. For example, Jaque may post a shot of the Eiffel tower while Diane shares the sprawling Montana plains.

To incorporate room with a view into your event, simply create a collaborative online photo album either on your own event website, or through a shared photo hosting service such as Imgur or the cloud. Be sure to give all attendees access to the album and invite guests to upload pictures.

Alternatively, you could turn the activity into a social media campaign by inviting attendees to use a hashtag, for example, #xyzcon2020roomwithaview or #xyzconwhataview. This approach is a great way to obtain user created content and to generate event buzz.

Conclusion

Drawing interest and maintaining attention can be harder with a virtual crowd than with a physically present group. By embracing the advantages of an online platform you can attract a wider audience and achieve favorable results.

The world of digital conferences is largely uncharted territory, but with ingenuity and careful planning you can pioneer the platform and throw the kind of virtual event that earns rave remote reviews!

By the way, we offer virtual conferences as a service, too.

FAQ: Virtual conference ideas

Here are some common questions and answers regarding virtual conferences

What are virtual conference ideas?

Virtual conference ideas are activities and features that attract and engross telecommuting event attendees. Virtual conventions lack the traditional amenities of in-person events such as fancy accommodations and face-to-face contact, but you can draw crowds by taking advantage of your digital platform and offering inventive and attractive online event elements.

What are some good virtual conference ideas?

The best virtual conference ideas utilize the advantages of the web and meaningfully engage attendees. Some great virtual conference ideas are multimedia programs, virtual swag bags, and an AskMeAnything.

How does a virtual conference work?

To create a virtual event, first research and select the software and equipment you will need to execute your event. Once you choose your technology, you can begin recruiting and invite experts to present. You may also begin to plan virtual activities such as online cocktail hours, remote team building games, and other web extras such as ecommerce shops and digital book nooks. When your planning is complete, you can advertise your event online and open the registration process.

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Author: Angela Robinson

Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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