After months of prohibitions against large in-person gatherings, event organizers hope to move to the next level of virtual events.

Communications professionals believe virtual events will continue to dominate industry gatherings well into next year and will likely remain a factor indefinitely.

Earlier this year when organizations scrambled to move in-person conferences entirely online, they could mollify attendees with basic webinars and Zoom event rooms. People were more patient and understanding of event organizers’ predicament. But after clicking into virtual conferences and other online events throughout the year, communications professionals are raising their expectations.

Backed by experience gained this year, experts offer these recommendations for rolling out the next generation of virtual events.

Rethink everything. When event marketers first moved in-person events online, some simply copied in-person formats, writes Dee McCurry at Ex Ordo. For instance, some conferences hosted all panel sessions live – highly inconvenient for attendees spread out in time zones around the world. Consider a week-long virtual conference instead of a two-day one. Also consider shorter sessions.

Create immersive branding. Rather than generic registration links and basic Zoom rooms, virtual events should create attractive, fully branded pages and equally beautiful email invitations, confirmations, and registration, recommends Ben Hindman, co-founder and CEO of Splash, an event marketing platform. That will immerse attendees in your brand’s colors and visual elements that surround them.

Improve automation. In the next generation of virtual events, automated collection and organization of attendee data will bring potent marketing benefits, Hindman predicts. Tedious manual tracking of attendee data will fall by the wayside. New technologies will enable event organizers to not only track who attended but also to know when they left online meetings and sync that data to other systems. Next-gen tools will also sync data between in-person and virtual events, a valuable ability as in-person events gradually return next year.

Build better engagement and networking. Event marketers toss around the buzzwords “engagement” and “interactive experiences,” but engagement sometimes feels forced and awkward. Moving attendees into sub-rooms and trying to facilitate a meeting on predetermined topics falls flat, writes R “Ray” Wang, founder, chairman, and principal analyst at Constellation Research, for destinationCRM.

“Attendees need to meet and network without the pesky sales reps and sponsors in the same room,” Wang says. “The lack of private one-on-one conversations kills networking at all levels.”

Real Q&A sessions. Attendees also disdain staged Q&A sessions with their softball questions and canned answers. They want to see authentic questions, live reactions, and honest answers. “The intent of a Q&A makes sense, but when poorly executed, attendees will be turned off,” Wang says.

Build serendipity. Live event attendees want to network and meet others. Attendees want to replicate the experience of bumping into someone in a hallway and starting a conversation or turning to someone sitting next to you to share an experience, Wang says. To replicate that experience, investigate tools such as,, and

Release important announcements. Provide attendees something of value in return for their attention. “Make big announcements. Unveil products and services. Don’t be shy about partnerships and customer wins,” Wang urges. Provide real insight and learning, not just product promotions.

Bottom Line: Event organizers have learned much about what works and doesn’t work for virtual events during the past several months. It’s now essential to develop the next generation of virtual conferences to meet rising expectations of attendees.

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