H&E North explores the rise of cutting-edge virtual event software to keep your events live and kicking.

The majority of the industry’s biggest conferences, tradeshows and summits have either been postponed, cancelled or are hanging in the balance as countries across the world move to clamp down on the spread of COVID-19. The economic impact on its businesses has been bracing, yet there is one sector that may see a silver lining: virtual event platforms. While it’s tough to beat the tried and tested format of face-to-face, the coronavirus outbreak might be the spark that creates a game-changing market for dedicated event software that permanently revolutionises the way we host events.

While social distancing means it may not be feasible to host events in person, it doesn’t mean they can’t continue on a virtual plane. Digital event tools are becoming so sophisticated as to replicate the experience of attending conferences while providing a range of advantages – from streamlining networking, to accessing to in-depth post event analytics, not to mention the environmental benefits of avoiding travel and pollution. Virtual tradeshows can even enable exhibitors and event professionals to reach more people at a lower cost, creating massive online audiences for exhibitors to share their services with.

Many planners have found a way to rethink their strategy to continue with their programming while still preventing the spread of the virus. High profile tech summits such as Google Cloud Next 2020 are leading with innovation, announcing that attendees will be able to join from home as they shift talks, panels and discussions to apps and streaming platforms. In the music industry, after having to cancel all events up until May, Defected Records brought hundreds of thousands of house-lovers together worldwide via their 12-hour virtual festival streamed live from the shuttered Ministry of Sound club via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

While in the MICE industry, as the crisis broke, HBAA were among the first industry organisations to respond with practical digital initiatives to support its members. As part of its ongoing campaign to raise awareness and empower businesses to tackle the growing problem of work-related anxiety, it launched a series of webinars to help event and hospitality professionals protect their mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus crisis and beyond.

Leigh Cowlishaw, HBAA past chair and board member who is leading the initiative, believes embracing digital is the best way to help a bruised industry back to its feet: “It is now more important than ever to act quickly and support our members and the wider industry. We are all challenged right now, both personally and professionally, and we need to ensure that we have support and tool kits to look after ourselves and those around us. This situation is beyond us washing our hands.”

From video conferencing developers offering innovative ways of connecting via traditional videolink methods, to full-scale computer-generated replicas of tradeshows inhabited by digital avatars breaking the boundaries of simulation, the ways we interact over the internet have come a long way over the past few years. If they can weather the inevitable infrastructure storm as worldwide attendees on lockdown log into streams and software en masse, we might just see a long-term impact on the way the industry thinks about events, as planners begin to embrace this tech with open arms to fulfil their obligations to sponsors, advertisers and delegates during testing times.

Here’s our selection of virtual event platforms to keep your events going strong…

US tech startup Teooh recently pulled back the curtain on one of the most ambitious avatar-based virtual event platforms to date. Despite its developers hailing from a video game development studio famed for its virtual reality (VR) titles, Teooh focuses on mobile and desktop platforms, hoping to pitch an alternative to traditional meetup software to give participants the freedom to interact dynamically in a virtual event environment.

Where video conferencing platforms are primarily aimed at presenting content, Teooh allows users to meet and network in a personalised virtual event which can be monetised by selling tickets. Where it proves truly unique, is its real-life aspect of facilitating unexpected encounters. Your delegates can walk around as an avatar and hear speakers while socialising with others in a computer-generated venue, from a large-scale exhibition hall, to a cosy fireside break-out space. In short, if The Sims did events, Teooh would be it.

While many delegates may be sceptical about adopting a cartoonish approach to interacting online, Teooh is hoping that the accessibility and functionality of its platform can tempt event professionals into the virtual world.

Zoom, the video-conferencing app that has seen a huge rise in downloads since quarantines were imposed around the world, is now being used by millions for work and social gatherings. Prime minister Boris Johnson even tweeted a picture of himself chairing a cabinet meeting via the app.

The next best thing to hosting an in-person event, it lets you connect speakers, sponsors, panellists, and attendees, maximising face-to-face interaction. Whether you need to host a product launch or company training session, a Zoom Webinar is a great option for presentation-driven events. Designed for managing audiences, you can quickly promote an attendee to a panellist so they can interact live, with other interactive features including hand raising, Q&As, and polling enabling additional engagement, while PayPal integration even allows you to charge a registration fee for attendance.

Organisers looking for ways to quickly adapt and host tradeshows, conferences and other events online have a great option in Zoom, with an easy, reliable cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, collaboration and webinars across mobile devices and desktops.

Looking to throw your event headfirst into the virtual world? The 6Connex virtual events platform enables planners to host a virtual tradeshow, so exhibitors can showcase their products and services to attendees in the comfort of their own home. The platform recreates the feel of a physical event with virtual booths your exhibitors can customise for personalised, visually engaging environments. Exhibitors can market their products and services with real-time chat and messaging, streamable videos and downloadable content such as product demos to allow potential clients to learn more.

As the organiser, you can drive increased attendee engagement and sponsorship revenue by allowing attendees to compete for prizes, assigning point values for specific actions such as visiting exhibitor booths or downloading information about a product. Instant access to advanced analytics helps you to discover how your delegates are interacting with the event, what pieces of content generate the most leads, the value and number of transactions performed and more.

You can leave your event live for as many days as you like, or opt for permanent access to virtual booths, presentations and downloadable collateral so you can continue to generate leads even after the event is over.