With live events still on hold indefinitely, virtual events are starting to look really good to marketers— but also a little intimidating. For most, virtual events represent an entirely new function; a subject area we’re learning together as an industry.
With the rise of this new event type, 10 billion (wild guesstimate) new virtual event platforms have emerged to support them, leaving planners with a lot of options, a lot of questions, and a pretty small knowledge base to help narrow the field to their event needs.
More importantly, a lot of us don’t even really know what to search for, or what we’re actually looking at. What the heck is an event hub? What’s the difference between an online meeting and a broadcast? What exactly is a streaming provider?
In an effort to clear it all up and make comparing and assessing virtual event software less headache and more zen, we’ve compiled this glossary of all the most common virtual event terms floating around the Internet. Something we missed that you wish we would describe for you? Let us know!
Every virtual event needs a few basic components. These are the must-haves for online events— pieces of your virtual event software stack that are important to functionality, not just experience.
In the simplest possible terms, your streaming provider is the service that allows you to share live video with someone else; the meat and potatoes of your online event. All of us have probably used a service like this in the past, starting with Skype in the early 2000s and working our way through the more popular technologies of today, like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and GoToMeeting.
The added layer of complexity here is the difference between those popular streaming services. A search for “best video streaming tool” is essentially useless without first having an idea of what kind of meeting you’re trying to have; you wouldn’t use Google Hangouts for a thousand-person conference the same way you wouldn’t use Facebook Live to call your mom.
Hence (we just love saying hence), we recommend starting with the what before you get to the how when it comes to streaming. Think about what types of sessions you’re going to have— mostly small group workshops? Just lectures for a large audience?
Unfortunately, there aren’t different names for the best types of streaming services for different use-cases, so you’ll have to evaluate each; but hey, at least you’ll know where to start.
One of the questions we get asked a lot is what the difference is between a virtual event and a webinar; for us, it has a lot to do with the event hub. Where a streaming provider creates a video connection or the function, your event hub handles everything that happens around the video stream— the experience.
In a webinar, you sign on and watch someone speak, and then you leave. In a virtual event, you may want to meet other attendees, visit sponsors, chat with the event organizers, download and view written and on-demand content, etc.; and you may revisit those opportunities before and after multiple sessions, just like you would if you were attending a live event.
So, for the sake of providing a simple definition, an event hub is a virtual event venue; the digital equivalent of a show floor. The place where your attendees mull around before and after speakers and sessions; where they meet each other, you, sponsors, and interact with content other than speakers.
We’re not just saying this because event hubs are part of our own solution— event hubs are essential to running robust, valuable online events.
Registration & Landing Pages
Ok, you caught us, there’s nothing really new here. If you’ve run a live event in the past you’ve probably used software for your registration and landing pages, but we couldn’t skip an honorable mention; after all, you can’t run a virtual event without both components, and there are some important new needs that come with the virtual format.
Registration is how you’ll collect attendee information and decide who can get in on the day of. In virtual events, it’s important to “gate” your content; keep it out of the hands of non-registrants so you don’t lose value for yourself and your stakeholders. While most streaming providers have some registration functionality, it’s typically fairly limited and inefficient when it comes to actually gatekeeping at your event.
A good registration platform will allow you to set up your events so registrants sign up for the event as a whole, and then individual sessions. This lets you charge correctly by event or session, and protects your links from non-registrants by requiring visitors to sign in to their event hub before accessing your live streams.
Registration software does a lot of heavy lifting for you, so make sure to choose one that allows you to collect payments, customize your questions with conditional logic, integrates with your CRM, helps you communicate with your attendees, and allows you to continue your brand experience through your registration pages. And yes, we’re biased again here; Swoogo is our favorite registration software.
Your landing page is how you market your event to potential attendees; your chance to convince them to register. While how these look and what they contain are entirely up to you, we recommend using all normal best practices for landing pages in marketing and ensuring you can create landing, registration, and event hub pages all through the same provider.
Arguably the central pillar of any virtual event is video; sharing of content from one talking head to another. Not all video streams are the same, however, and what kinds of sessions you’re running will have a lot to do with what types of video you need.
A word we’ve been using our whole lives, now with a whole fresh context. In virtual events, a meeting is a type of session where you want all participants to have the opportunity to share video and speak; not just one presenter giving a lecture. These are best for sessions of 50 attendees or smaller and are run on streaming platforms like GoToMeeting, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. You’d also use a meeting platform to host 1:1 conversations between attendees, or between attendees and sponsors.
Note: You probably won’t call these “meetings” to your audience; they’ll be workshops, roundtables, focus groups, breakouts, etc. The word meeting will mostly come up when you’re talking about/assessing streaming providers and your needs for a session type, i.e. “I’m running a series of workshops and need a virtual meeting tool.”
Another one we’re mostly familiar with, but now with some add-ons. By definition, webinars are video conferences where one speaker delivers content to an audience, where that audience can sometimes interact via chat and polls, but can’t use video or microphones. These are best for sessions of 50 attendees or larger, but depending on your provider you’ll pay through the nose for scale above 500 attendees or so (we’ll talk about what to do for those sessions next). Some familiar webinar providers are Zoom Webinar, ON24, GoToWebinar, webinar.net, and BlueJeans.
Another note: Again, you probably won’t call these sessions “webinars” to your audience. These will be lectures, keynotes, and other types of less interactive sessions.
Best for your largest events and sessions, broadcasts are a great way to reach a (pretty much) unlimited audience. Broadcasts allow a speaker to deliver content to their audience, but don’t always include chat and polling, and never allow the audience to use video or microphones. Think about common social media services like Facebook and Instagram Live— those are broadcast platforms.
When it comes to virtual events, broadcasts are a great way to handle sessions of 500+ attendees without going bankrupt paying for expanded audiences on webinar services. And don’t let the lack of audience interaction scare you away; you can always add chat, polling, and other engagement services alongside your broadcast video in your event hub. It’s kind of like cheating… but in a good way. Some common broadcast tools include YouTube Live, Vimeo Livestream, and Facebook Live.
It’s important to note here that if you’re going to use a broadcast service, it’s pretty essential to use an event hub that allows you to embed the video; otherwise your audience will just be on regular old YouTube, getting distracted by the “other videos you might like” section and leaving your keynote to watch makeup tutorials.
And, of course, the ever-present note: You’ll almost never call these sessions “broadcasts” to your attendees. Broadcasts are generally keynotes, event-wide sessions like welcomes, and other large lectures.
On-demand video is, essentially, any video where the presenter is not live. Think, every video on YouTube, or Netflix.
Most of the time on-demand is used as supporting content for virtual events, versus the core sessions that the audience is signing up for. On-demand is also a great format to offer historic sessions in; if a registrant missed a session, you can link to its recording from your event hub as an on-demand content piece. You can also use on-demand to continue “running” your event outside of the times it’s scheduled for; registrants can even come in after event day and watch your content on their time, extending the longevity of your event.
That being said, it’s not out of the question to use pre-recorded content for your “live” session, but that falls under a slightly different category…
Simulive is what you call replaying recorded content to a live audience as if the content itself were happening live as well.
Many event marketers choose to use this type of video for a lecture itself, then switch to live for Q&A. Another great option is to stream that on-demand content, but stand by live in the chat to answer questions as it rolls. Either way, think of simulive as On-Demand+; pre-recorded videos with a live component.
Engagement is another big piece of what makes a virtual event different from a webinar. Allowing your audience to interact with you, your speakers, your sponsors, and your content adds a ton of value for everyone and ensures your attendees will stick around through your whole event.
1:1, or one to one, is just what is sounds like; a meeting between two people, typically outside of a lecture or other official session.
In virtual events, it pays to have an event hub that allows attendees to browse opted-in audience members, your company’s sales people, your sponsor’s representatives, etc. and book individual meetings with them directly.
Depending on your event hub, 1:1 meetings will either stay within your event or redirect to a streaming provider. With Swoogo, 1:1 meetings happen directly from the event hub, and every time a 1:1 meeting is created (by anyone) the system spins us a Swoogo Virtual link for them to meet at. Keeping meetings within your event hub helps with audience attrition; when you redirect attendees elsewhere, you risk not having them come back.
Polling is nothing new; but where you used to raise your hand or, in ~fancier~ events, answer polls on an app to connect with a speaker, polling is often built into the streaming provider you’re using for your session.
Now, because we’re calling this a glossary it is our duty to define polling for you; feel free to skip this next sentence if you already know. Polling is asking your audience questions and having them respond, usually anonymously. Polling helps your speaker get to know their audience, helps your audience guide your speakers to talk about information that’s important to them, and helps you collect data that may be helpful in your sales in marketing later on. All in all— yay polling!
While many webinar services do come with polling built in, if you want to add polling to your meeting, broadcast, or just to your event hub you can always do it through an embedded third-party, like PigeonHole Live.
Q&A is a place for your audience to leave questions, and for you to provide answers. “Why not just use the chat box,” you’re thinking. We hear you. While chat can function as Q&A, Q&A specific tools can help you organize and manage your questions when you have a lot of them. You can mark what’s been answered, acknowledge that a question has been seen, designate questions for written answers or live responses from the speakers, and archive them once they’ve been answered so your team isn’t inundated with volume.
This is another area where a third party, like Glisser, can help!
Ah, chat. Something we’ve been doing since AOL chat rooms and AIM. The chat is a place for your audience to have conversations; add their thoughts on something a speaker has just said, introduce a thought-starter, and talk to each other about what’s happening live. Basically, chat is how your audience does anything but ask questions, and it’s a great way to create community within your event.
While chat is built into pretty much every streaming provider you can think of, there are third parties that will deliver chat for you, like PigeonHole Live and Glisser mentioned above. Some event hubs may include it as well; Swoogo’s native chat is in development now.
Another word we’ve been using forever, booths look a little different in virtual events. In the past we’ve thought of them as physical stands where attendees could meet exhibitors, and in virtual they’re kind of… exactly the same; just online instead of in-person.
A booth is typically a sub-page, or sponsor page, in your event hub. Attendees are able to click into them and begin interacting with sponsor content, from videos to downloadables and images. Your event hub should also make it possible for your attendees to interact with sponsors directly, from chat to instant 1:1 meetings to contact forms.
Other good things to know
The words above represent the components of a virtual event, but there are a few other terms that get tossed around with them that can strike fear into the hearts of non-technical marketers. Luckily, none of them are actually all that scary. Here are some good things to know:
Embed / Embedding
To embed something means to put it on another page on the Internet. If we embedded a video on this page, you’d be able to click play and watch it right here, without opening any new windows or tabs. Embeddable content and features are important for creating a unified, easy-to-navigate experience, so make sure all your providers— especially your event hub— allow for easy embedding.
Sadly not a reference to pancakes, your stack is the collection of technologies you use to enable a single objective. For example, a marketing stack might include a CRM, a publishing tool, social media platforms, landing-page software, and a host of other things. In order for your stack to reach maximum efficiency, it helps to also understand…
Because virtual events tend to come with a lot of different pieces of software (your stack), it can be beneficial to create API connections between them so you can easily send information, like registration data from one to another. And that’s exactly what an API is; it’s a connection between two different pieces of software that tells them how to interact with each other. A great example is integrating your registration software with your CRM— instead of downloading your data from one and uploading it to the other (with your fingers crossed that it maps right), an API connection can sync that data for you automatically.
When you talk about integrations, you’re most likely talking about API connections. A great event hub will have lots of built-in integrations, and will allow you to create more of them easily. Swoogo, for instance, has an open API, giving planners the ability to connect pieces of software we don’t already work with.
The Wrap Up
Virtual events don’t have to be daunting, despite all the techy people on your team talking about stacks and APIs and HTML. In fact, none of the things mentioned above require you to be tech-savvy in the least: just a smart shopper. We hope we’re sending you back out into the wilds of the Internet feeling a little more comfortable with what you’re looking for. If you’re still feeling a little lost, check our downloadable Virtual Event Planning Workbook, which walks you through all the steps for planning your virtual events, including choosing technology and staffing correctly.
And if you’re looking for a short answer about something we didn’t cover? Just let us know at [email protected]; we’re here to help.