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The majority of these ideas were implemented at Swapcard’s virtual event, Evolve 2.0, back in February where 10,000 event professionals gathered to learn, share and engage. Networking, engagement and audience satisfaction were through the roof during the event, a testament to the ideas in this article.
Want more ideas?
Here are the 50 best virtual event ideas for 2021.
1. Get your community fired up before the event starts
The week before your event kicks off is a crucial marketing period.
Host a pre-event fireside chat on your platform, run Clubhouse rooms or LinkedIn live streams, schedule a webinar or a Q&A session - it doesn’t matter the medium, as long as you gather your community in the lead up to the event. Use this opportunity to create buzz around the schedule, introduce your speakers or get your community acquainted with the virtual platform by showing them how to use it.
2. Make the most of your event platform
Ensure your team undergoes training with the software supplier and gets to know the ins & outs of the tool. That way, you can create guides for your attendees, exhibitors and speakers, and you can help if anyone in your community is having trouble with the platform. You’ll also be more likely to boost your event ROI if you use the virtual features to their full potential. Customization is an important part of building your event, and without training you can’t create an immersive experience for your attendees.
3. Virtual: More than a webinar but not the same as in-person
4. Be a welcoming host
5. Make your event accessible
If you have several hours or days of content in your virtual schedule, chances are your audience will need a break. Leave space for calculated coffee, email and lunch breaks as well as some breathing room before and after sessions. You’ll not only relieve the production crew’s pressure of sticking to a tight schedule, but you’ll also improve the experience for your attendees as they’ll have time to take notes, meet up with other attendees and explore the platform at leisure.
7. Online roundtables for an authentic networking experience
The opportunity to show their face and have their ideas heard is one most attendees jump at after a day of listening to experts speak. It’s an even more lucrative opportunity if the expert speakers are in the meeting room! Online roundtables, the brand new feature recently released by Swapcard, are video (or audio-only, for those who feel more comfortable that way) meeting rooms with a limited number of participants where they can ask in-depth questions to experts, share their own experiences and meet new people. This session format breaks the schedule of staring at a screen and listening to speakers, and gives the audience a chance to connect in a more authentic, natural “face-to-face” environment.
8. Use MCs to achieve never-before-seen engagement levels
People identify with other people, so hire a pair of MCs to be the face/s of your event. Not only do they create a sense of familiarity that makes your audience feel comfortable and engaged, but they react and discuss the event among themselves in a very relatable way. By the end of the event, your attendees will feel as if they’ve been on a journey with the MCs and will feel very close to them. Make sure your MCs are trained to think on their feet, react in real-time to what’s happening in the schedule and reach out to your audience with all the engagement features you have available.
9. Implement multiple tracks & cater to everyone in the audience
If you have a content-heavy schedule, a great idea is to divide your sessions into different tracks. Think of a track like a TV channel - they run concurrently, cater to different audience needs and focus on a specific theme or format. Giving the audience options for how they consume your content makes them feel in control and catered to. In line with idea #8, have a different MC for each track to ensure consistent storytelling throughout the track and keep explaining the purpose of the track to newcomers!
10. Invest in audience engagement features for an immersive experience
One of the most basic but crucial features any virtual event platform needs is a tool for audience engagement. These features are still not being used to their full potential on many events, even after nearly a year of virtual-only content and webinars. Live discussions are where many of the natural and authentic connections are made between audience members. Live questions allow attendees to use their voice and feel acknowledged when speakers answer their questions. Polls are one of the most helpful, yet underused features that allow speakers to test the waters with their audience and see what they’re thinking before launching into their content.
11. Get a virtual DJ to give your attendees a musical break
For a truly fun, immersive experience that evokes emotion in your audience, find a time in your schedule where you offer them a musical break. Invite a DJ to play a set and ensure that your audience knows this is a moment where they can just enjoy the music and relax for a while. Even better if you do it at the end of the event to wrap things up in a fun way - people will have great memories of the parties they used to go to at the end of in-person events. There are many fun virtual event ideas that can evoke emotion, but music is a very strong tool to boost the mood and ambiance of your event.
12. Provide a virtual photo booth and watch attendees get involved
Want your event to go viral? Partner with a virtual photo booth, where attendees can take a snapshot of themselves with their pets, kids, or event swag. They can then post it on social media with your event’s hashtag. This not only creates a community in different social spheres, but also serves as free marketing for a wider audience - the network of everyone posting photos will see how much fun the event seems to be! A photo booth is one of the best virtual engagement ideas to make your audience feel like they’re part of a community by giving them the opportunity to share a piece of themselves with their peers.
13. Work hard, play hard: leave space for fun & wellness
An educational schedule is a great motivator for people to attend virtual events. In this day & age, people want to learn and online learning is easy! But if you’ve ever sat through a full day of educational sessions, you’ll know it’s hard to stay focused and absorb all the content. So break up your schedule with short, fun pauses that have nothing to do with the content or theme of your event. At Evolve 2.0 the intermissions were surprisingly popular - so many people registered for yoga and mediation, that the team had to duplicate the sessions at the last minute to give the audience more opportunities to participate! You can get instructors to guide the audience in psychology, productivity or stress management, cooking, get an inspirational storyteller, a trainer to do a workout, or a magician to bring some fun to your schedule. People appreciate the opportunity to take a break and try something new.
14. Group chats increase networking and open feedback
On a virtual event platform there are many “places” where the audience can interact and network, even finding serendipitous connections. A group chat is a conversation with a specific topic where people can post messages, respond and meet like-minded people. Think of creative subject lines like “Share your best & worst experiences in (choose your topic)” to bring people together around a common theme. You can also create a group chat specifically for feedback about the event. This creates a sense of transparency and trust, and shows your audience your team is open to hearing what they have to say. Bonus points if you respond quickly and make suggested improvements during your event!
15. AI-powered matchmaking saves your attendees and exhibitors valuable time
Some people believe that serendipity is impossible when attending an online event. They miss the chance meetings around the coffee machine or at the cocktail party during in-person events. But with artificial intelligence these meetings can be engineered and are even more guaranteed to work. Platforms like Swapcard have smart AI algorithms that analyze attendee and exhibitor data, both demographic and behavioral, and pair people up who are most likely to have business interests in common and become valuable connections. AI can save your attendees and exhibitors a lot of time as they no longer need to scroll through infinite lists of people to meet. The algorithms can also suggest the sessions, products and booths that users would be most interested in based on their data, making for a customized event journey for each attendee.
16. Hands-on learning during workshops
Studies show that the main reason people attend virtual events is to learn. People learn in different ways - some by watching and listening, others by doing. Educational sessions with the opportunity to ask questions are great for the former learners. But for those who learn by doing, workshops are an effective alternative! Get some experts to run interactive workshops during your event and you’ll see the engagement skyrocket. You can even offer certificates that participants can post on their social media after the workshop, another way to increase visibility of your event and brand.
17. Incentivize networking with competitions & prizes
Nothing gets people engaged like telling them they can win a prize! Get a sponsor to pledge prizes and encourage attendees to schedule meetings with exhibitors, to connect with other attendees and to reach out to speakers. Call it the “Best Networker” or the “Most Active Attendee”. Whatever the motive is, they are still opening themselves up to a whole group of people who could turn into business leads. Use this tactic to increase the responses to your post-event survey or the prompts for session feedback. People will have fun being in competition with each other and you’ll have a truly engaging event.
18. Creative games engage your audience
An innovative and effective way to ensure people store the information they’re learning is by incorporating games. There are many virtual event platforms out there that have endless gamification opportunities, or you may choose to partner with a specialist tool. True/False games during sessions help the audience stay engaged and keep learning, while a musical quiz with the DJ during a cocktail party ensures everyone has fun and feels like they’re part of the community! Get your sponsors in on the fun by asking them to donate prizes - this also helps them gain more visibility and gives your attendees an incentive to participate.
19. Fuel the spirit of competition with a leader scoreboard
Create a button on your event’s homepage showing the frontrunners of your challenges and competitions in real time. Participants can refer to the scoreboard when they want to check who’s in the lead and motivate themselves to work even harder to win!
20. Leave room for a little improvisation!
During Evolve 2.0 the audience noticed that one of the MCs, Sean Patrick, wore a new super colorful, stylish and classy jacket every day of the event. By the end of the second day, it had become somewhat of an inside joke - thousands of people were in the live discussion every time SP was on screen, asking him to showcase his jacket collection! It was good fun and the Evolve team decided to capitalize on the momentum. They came up with the idea of a jacket auction overnight and started marketing first thing the next day. SP’s favorite jacket would be auctioned off to the audience and all proceeds would go to a charity being supported by the event. This idea not only surprised and delighted the audience, but also showed them that the organizers were listening to their voices all along, creating a sense of trust and closeness within the community. This is just one example of how you can improvise during the event when you see an opportunity. Make sure you leave space for that magical, on-the-spot idea and show your audience that you’re open to spontaneity!
21. Use your platform (literally) to help those in need
With the global reach your virtual event can undoubtedly attract, it’s an opportunity to support those in need with this virtual fundraising idea. Partnering with a charity organization can get them much-needed visibility, doesn’t cost you more than a button on your platform, and can give your community the opportunity to do something good while attending your event. You can even get the organization to upload videos of what they do or host a Q&A session for audience members who want to help more.
22. Moderators make content-rich sessions easy to absorb
How can you ensure your audience is really absorbing all the useful information your content team has put together during the educational sessions? Bring aboard a moderator who can break the content of the session up into bite-sized, digestible chunks and insert engagement activities such as Q&A or polls at strategic points. They can also summarize the main points of the speaker’s presentation and ensure the audience has grasped everything, making for a happy speaker and an informed audience.
23. Dedicated networking sessions get your attendees interacting
Leave some space in your schedule for people to network. When they click on the “Live” button during this time, let them be redirected to a screen that encourages them to go network, reminding them of any engagement competitions you have going on, and giving them tips on how to best meet people. Leave an hour or two per day for dedicated networking and you’ll see the number of meetings and calls between attendees and exhibitors increase.
24. Create hype with a live countdown for each session
There’s nothing like a countdown to get the anticipation building! Platforms like Swapcard have a live countdown in the session page that gets the audience excited and engaged starting before the session even kicks off.
25. Assign chat engagers to keep the conversation going
Assign a person from the organizing team to the live discussion of each of your sessions. This person is responsible for getting the chat going, answering any platform or tech questions and reminding the audience how to use the chat function. It’s a small detail and it’s free to implement, but it can make a big difference in the attendee experience - having someone with know-how in the chat is a great reassurance.
26. Transport your attendees with online tours
There’s one virtual conference idea that will give your audience a sense of traveling far away from their home or office. Depending on the sector you work in, your sponsors or speakers might work in interesting places. Why not propose 360 degree virtual visits of factories, farms, galleries or other unique spots?
Most people are still unable to travel or go on vacation due to COVID-19 restrictions and taking a tour, even if virtual, is a fun way to feel transported for a brief moment.
27. Bring life to educational sessions with a live sketch artist
Here’s a virtual engagement idea you might’ve seen over this past year: a live illustrator drawing the session in real-time. It’s a wonderful way to aid the visual learners in the audience with absorbing the content and it keeps attendees engaged as they watch an illustration unfold before their eyes. A good tip is to show the progress of the illustration every 5-10 minutes during the session, and then to add it to an online gallery within the event platform after the session. You can also encourage the speakers of the session to share it on social media, thereby creating more brand awareness and attracting a larger audience to watch the content on-demand afterwards.
28. Virtual art tours offer a cultural pause
If you have a creative theme at your event, why not get in touch with local museums or art galleries to do virtual tours for your audience? It could be done in the form of a cultural intermission to give attendees a break from learning and immerse themselves in history or art. Many people miss visiting museums and galleries as they’ve been closed for months, so take them on a journey back into the world of exploring.
29. Don’t be afraid to go live
Many event organizers and speakers err on the side of caution and go pre-recorded for their content to avoid the risk of mistakes or technical issues. But the real magic lies in live and if you want your audience to be fully engaged, there is nothing like a conversation happening in real-time. During a live session your speakers can answer questions from the audience and send shoutouts to them on a whim. Attendees remain alert in case their question is read and therefore, much more likely to retain the lessons and key points of the session.
30. Communicate often so attendees don’t miss out
Content is king at a virtual event, but even so, it’s easy for online attendees to get distracted when working from home. They can jump tabs and check their email or start preparing lunch. To ensure they don’t miss the top sessions in the schedule, prepare reminders in the form of emails, notifications, ads, and MC check-ins.
31. Invest in a keynote speaker and watch your audience grow
One big name can create a viral marketing campaign to attract attendees to your event. Locking in a keynote speaker who’s famous in your industry is worth the often large budget, but only if your marketing team builds a strategy around the session. Make sure you advertise on social media, in newsletters and in a blog post. Create visually appealing banners to promote the session on the platform during your event and make sure your MCs hype your audience up for it. Then, of course, ensure that the speaker’s talk goes hand-in-hand with your event’s storytelling and give it an inspirational, motivational spin.
32. Send out swag bags to raise brand awareness
“Stuff We All Get” (swag) has long been found at in-person events in the form of free pens, tote bags, coffee mugs and other goodies that made fun gifts for the kids back home or served to remind you of the good times you had with each sip of your morning coffee once the event was over. Virtual swag is a whole different ball game and some truly original ideas have popped up onto the scene. Delivering swag to attendees’ homes before the event starts is a fun way to engage them from the get-go and to get your brand out all over the world! Think of the fun attendees could have at home with badges, tote bags, or “thumbs-up” signs, and don’t forget about technical equipment for speakers and MCs.
33. Visualize your audience’s learning journey
If you’re running a content-heavy event with lots of educational value, consider a learning path to map the learners’ proficiency levels. You could create a color-coded visual graph showing what they’ll learn over the course of the event and what their final destination is, and display this visual on your virtual platform. You could also get attendees certified in a specific field by the end of an event by partnering with educational institutions in your domain.
34. Design your stream like you would a stage
Your live stream is your stage during a virtual event. Stages at in-person events have posters, branding, lighting and screens to create a spectacle. Don’t skip this part when going virtual! Use a streaming tool or a virtual platform that can customize your session screen and be creative with branding, speaker names and titles, and banners scrolling across the bottom with housekeeping or showing audience questions. A dynamic live stream is bound to hold your audience’s attention and keep them engaged throughout the session.
35. Invite attendees to browse a digital library
Build a gallery with all the products, services, tools, demos, resources, books, slides, vouchers and every other document available on your event platform. In the organizers settings of a platform like Swapcard, you can create filters for users to search by category, type of product, price, and any other relevant information. Advertise this as the one-stop-shop for all your attendees’ needs in your event platform. It’s a great way to display exhibitor content and to give them networking opportunities.
36. Be creative with a virtual cocktail party!
It might sound impossible to have the same kind of fun at a virtual cocktail party than the in-person ones your colleagues and peers are used to from pre-COVID-19 times, but it’s within reach. After an event where everyone learned, networked and shared, attendees are generally tired of concentrating too hard. Bring on board a DJ, dancers or singers and get your community moving and dancing! Even if they’re at home alone, the energy from the music will put them in a good mood. You can also create small networking rooms with fun topics to get people to relax and chat about something other than work!
37. Keep sessions short to avoid screen fatigue
Studies show that human beings have an ever-shortening attention span, impacted drastically by this past year of digital overload. So don’t make them concentrate on one topic for 45 or 60 minutes at a time. Shorter, more impactful sessions could help avoid online fatigue and keep attendees engaged and energized.
38. Repurpose content and benefit from year-round marketing material
Bite-sized clips showing the most insightful or funniest quotes from your live sessions can be repurposed and used for promotion and marketing during the year. If your content is available on-demand, it can be a tool to keep growing your community 365 days a year. Just make sure you get your speakers' consent first!
39. Be authentic & transparent with your community
This was one of the Swapcard team’s key takeaways from the original Evolve event back in May 2020 and it's still relevant today. Organizers shouldn’t hide from their communities, but rather share openly with them. This creates a safe space where trust and open feedback is more common than complaints or misunderstandings. As mentioned earlier in this article, a feedback group chat with an employee from the organizer team responding to each request is a great way to start.
40. Go mobile and give your attendees freedom to move around
Give flexibility to parents and other busy attendees by allowing them to follow the conference using their phone on the go. Many virtual event platforms offer mobile apps and this avoids keeping your attendees chained to their computer all day long.
Audio-only online roundtable rooms are another feature that make the event accessible to people on the move because they can participate from the car, during their run or even when out grocery shopping.
41. Social media marketing is key in fostering community
Don’t forget that engagement doesn’t only happen on the platform, so bring in social media with an official event #hashtag. Get attendees to share their event experience on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with your hashtag and like or share the best posts from your organizer accounts to give attendees a VIP feeling.
42. A viral marketing campaign can grow your attendance
You naturally want to grow attendance to provide more value to your exhibitors and sponsors. Partner with a marketing team who can make it easy for attendees, speakers & exhibitors to share when they sign up for the event. When each person’s entire network sees the event, it leads to a domino effect of new registrations and you’ll soon realize your marketing partner is an invaluable resource for growing your community.
43. Customizable booths give exhibitors & partners visibility
One of the most valuable aspects of a virtual event for any exhibitor or sponsor is visibility. There’s no better visibility than their booth, and making it customizable can be a very profitable tool for organizers. Allow exhibitors to add videos, branded backgrounds, logos, links to their website, upload products & services and stream live demo sessions. All of these options and more are easy to authorize and restrict depending on the level of sponsorship agreement on platforms like Swapcard. When attendees visit a fully branded booth, they feel like they’re stepping into a different “room” or “lounge” and immerses them in the exhibitor’s world.
44. Help exhibitors to help themselves
There’s one thing exhibitors want when they buy a virtual booth: leads. In order to obtain new business, they need visibility. Many of them don’t know that they can help themselves by offering discounts, vouchers, free trials and other incentives to attendees for visiting their booth. They can pay for an ad on the platform to raise awareness about their offers and increase their chances of meeting the right people. Organizers just need to ensure the tools are available to exhibitors and provide them with platform training to boost leads and deliver a high ROI.
45. Offer VIP-level attendees concierge service matchmaking
One innovative idea for a virtual corporate event is to build a list of VIP attendees and give them exclusive rights and access. This is a great marketing tool to elevate your event and attract high-level decision makers from your industry. Within virtual event platforms like Swapcard, you can customize the rights and access of certain groups, meaning that your VIP group would see sessions, networking opportunities and buttons that nobody else sees. Why not get your team to analyze the VIP attendees’ profiles and match them with similar people in small groups? They could schedule VIP online roundtables where these people could meet and connect, giving them exclusive access to new business leads.
46. Customizable exhibitor packages boost ROI for everyone
Each exhibitor might have different needs, so create customizable packages with add-ons and varying access, rights & visibility. There has been a misconception in the industry over the past year that exhibitors cannot make a good return on investment at a virtual event, but you can show them why it’s worth it when you give them options. You can sell a basic package with anything from year-round subscriptions to email communications as add-ons to exhibitors. Allowing them the option to upgrade halfway through the event or during the year is another virtual event sponsorship idea that can show great returns.
47. Become data-driven and boost ROI for your event
The amount of detailed data the event industry has come to know thanks to virtual events is proof that technology is our friend. If you’re using the right platform, you should have a dashboard of data analytics coming out of your event. Swapcard’s organizer and exhibitor dashboards show data in real-time and help organizers make quick decisions on communications and advertising. Train your team to analyze data and choose the best platform to accompany your event with data-driven objectives.
48. Filtered search saves your exhibitors valuable time
When an exhibitor at a virtual event is looking to make new connections, they will head to the attendee list to scope out potential leads. Create advanced filters for targeted reach for your exhibitors, allowing them to search by job position, sector, decision-making power and more.
49. Give your exhibitors maximum visibility in a digital marketplace
Similar to an exhibition hall, the online marketplace is a page full of customized, colorful and visually appealing booths where sponsors can share product & services, job boards and other resources. Encourage your exhibitors to upload videos and images, both of which are more engaging than plain text, and use your MCs and ads to direct attendees to the marketplace during their free time.
50. Virtual or augmented reality immerses your attendees into a new world
Some virtual events take the challenge of immersing attendees in a virtual world literally. They reconstruct a show room or venue in a virtual environment and have audience members walk around as avatars, like in a video game. This is a bigger budget idea that takes long to prepare, but for the the right community it offers a truly unique experience.
With any combination of these 50 virtual event ideas you’re sure to pull off a successful, engaging event. Interested in learning more about Swapcard’s platform and how it can boost your events?