What Makes a Successful Virtual Event?


Virtual events recently exploded in popularity, and they are definitely here to stay. Whether it’s a live streamed concert, a sports game, or a group-exercise class, it is now possible—even commonplace—to enjoy activities from the comfort of your living room. 

It feels impossible to discuss the rise of virtual events and their future without mentioning COVID-19 or the effects of the global pandemic. 2020 was a year that disrupted most of our lives. Due to lockdowns and the ensuing economic ramifications, many industries quickly adapted to remote work, and a lot of people moved their lives more online.    

While virtual events always existed in tandem with the rise of social media, they were mainly embraced by technology professionals and within more niche communities. This changed when a large part of the population started to work remotely, while also needing to get their entertainment at home.

Virtual events grew exponentially in a way that was not previously expected. However, it is PubNub’s opinion that the pandemic only sped up a process that was going to happen anyway. Virtual and hybrid events have always had their place in the future of technology—they make situations more accessible and connect people regardless of their physical location. In an increasingly online world, it was inevitable that more face-to-face interactions would expand to become available virtually. 

In the following guide, we will cover:

  • The success and the future of virtual and hybrid events

  • The benefits of hosting your own virtual event

  • Tips for making a virtual event successful

  • How PubNub’s platform powers virtual events

  • Examples from successful virtual event platforms

By the end of this post, you will appreciate the importance of virtual events across many industries. You will also be better equipped to decide whether hosting a virtual event is the right move for your business. Hint, hint: it probably is!

An introduction to virtual events

So, what is a virtual event? 

A virtual event can be defined as a gathering that takes place in a virtual space on the web, instead of at a physical location. Hybrid events combine in-person events with their online counterparts.

Virtual events can vary widely, ranging from a one-hour video webinar to a multi-day online conference. These events can be live-streamed or delivered on-demand. They can be entertainment-focused, like a music festival or sporting event, or they can be business-oriented, like a sales team kick-off or industry networking event. 

While these events can encompass a lot of different situations and scopes, the most important takeaway is that they should engage their audience. The best virtual events recreate the shared connections of their equivalent in-person experiences.  

A brief history

The first documented instance of a virtual event was a virtual trade show hosted in 1993. Since then, businesses have experimented with hosting them to increase engagement among their audiences, customers, and prospective sales leads. Over time, they have proven to be a very useful professional tool.

Virtual events experienced a boom during The Great Recession, when companies realized they offered an affordable and accessible way to engage with their customers. The late 2000s and early 2010s also coincided with the rise of smartphones and social media. A lot more people were online than ever before, which led to larger prospective audiences and increased interest in these online spaces.

Virtual events encountered another larger, more-recent wave of success because of the coronavirus pandemic. To help keep people safe, many live events were postponed or cancelled, with a lot of businesses electing to move their events online. Online events replaced many live events that were planned throughout 2020 - and their successes made the option seem viable.

This time around, people were also equipped with more collaborative technology, like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, that made video calls and group chats easier than ever before. The combination of increased technology and an unprecedented situation proved to be a perfect environment for virtual events to flourish. 

Virtual and hybrid events are here to stay

Virtual events are a great resource for marketing teams and industry professionals, and they are continuing to grow in popularity. Many tech companies have continued to value them as a marketing tool and as a meaningful way to spread their messaging to potential customers. 

As we begin to envision a future where in-person gatherings and physical events are the norm again, virtual and hybrid events will still remain relevant. They will most likely be used to complement and enhance in-person events, as opposed to replacing them. 

With relatively little additional cost, businesses can expand their event experience and include participants from around the world. It seems like an easy choice to make to increase brand awareness and customer reach.

It is most common for virtual events to be video-based, like conferencing, but you can also have success with an audio or text-based format. Just look at the recent growth of the social app, Clubhouse. Audio is a trending format with a lot of potential beyond 2021.

Benefits to hosting a virtual event

There are many different ways to host a virtual event and engage your community. Some popular types of virtual events include webinars, group classes, trade shows, job fairs, and more. The possibilities online are almost endless, so feel empowered to get creative and experiment with your ideas.

A few benefits of hosting virtual events at your company are hard to argue with. Here are some reasons to consider including a virtual event in your plan for 2021:

  • They are more accessible and inclusive

This is probably the biggest and most obvious advantage of bringing your event to the virtual world. Anyone can join your event, from anywhere in the world.

Virtual attendees are also not bound by the same time constraints as they would be at a physical event. If you have multiple concurrent speakers at an in-person fair, they would have to pick one. But when it’s a virtual event, they don’t have to choose. This brings increased value and learning opportunities to the audience members. 

  • Increase your prospects and sales leads

The increased flexibility and opportunities of an online event mean that it is more likely you will have a bigger audience. With a platform like PubNub, there are no concurrency limits, so you also can power huge audience chats. This lets you invite more active and engaged users than would even be possible at a live event. 

Offering your content afterwards and on-demand also opens it to a lot more people who may be interested in your company.  

  • Attract exhibitors and sponsorships effortlessly

On first examination, it might seem like the virtual space is harder for traditional vendors to navigate. They don’t have traditional trade booths or a physical presence. However, they can benefit from decreased costs, direct communication channels with their desired audience, and dedicated time to advertise their brand live. 

  • Save significant time and money

When planning a fully virtual event, businesses save on the costs of a venue, staff, travel, accommodation, and more. These savings can be used to improve your production value, upgrade your event platform, and reward your attendees, while still saving significant costs over a traditional event.    

  • Track and improve audience engagement

Virtual events allow companies to gain valuable information from their audience. User contact information and activity logs can be maintained, and there is real-time data to show their engagement and analytics.

It is also very simple to get direct feedback from attendees when an event is online. You can easily offer exit polls, surveys, reactions, and ranking systems to gauge the success of your event in real time.

Tips for planning a virtual event

  • Content is key 

This is true everywhere in your company, but especially for event planning. Determine your budget and the quality of production that you can realistically achieve in your timeline. 

The bottom line is: virtual events take just as much planning and preparation as in-person events. Make sure you are putting as much effort and resources into developing the materials as you would be if it were in person.

  • Encourage audience engagement 

Encourage engagement among your virtual attendees with group chats, reactions,and other real-time communication options.

One of our customers, LiveLike, gets creative when engaging their audience. They use PubNub to power interactive content like quizzes and polls in real time.

  • Bring in industry experts 

Guest speakers are often one of the main attractions of a virtual event. Consider bringing in a keynote speaker, and also offering panel discussions with different guests. 

  • Live-stream the event

You will have to decide if you want to live-stream your event, or only offer it on-demand. An on-demand event can be downloaded at any time after the initial recording. We encourage offering your event in both formats. Live-streaming promotes engagement in real-time, and offering the material on-demand opens it to people who may have been interested, but were unable to attend originally.

If you choose to live-stream your event, make sure to take time zones into consideration. Where is the bulk of your audience located? Will there be a global reach? 

  • Promote your event with social media and email marketing 

This tip will pay off with increased attendance. Make sure to provide your team with as much time as possible to get the word out about your event. 

  • Offer networking opportunities

Make sure to present ample networking possibilities like virtual meetings and breakout sessions. This allows attendees to network similar to the way they would at an in-person expo or trade event. If the event is internal, make sure there is time for team-building.

  • Be prepared for challenges 

As much as we can hope or pray that things will run smoothly, it is important to acknowledge that something will probably go wrong. Arrange to have tech support on-hand and ready to step in if issues arise.

It is also important to note that attendees’ will never be as familiar with your specific platform as you are. It will make your attendees feel more comfortable if you prepare them ahead of time by including instructions on how to access and navigate the event. 

  • Send a follow-up email 

Provide your attendees with a summary of the key points. It’s a great idea to include a post-event survey, which will help you measure your audience’s engagement and satisfaction, and will assist you in building a seamless roadmap for events in the future. 

Most importantly, make it fun! 

Your main goal is always for the experience to be enjoyable and memorable for your attendees. Here are some unique virtual event ideas that you can incorporate into your next event:

  • Make a drink 

Whether it’s coffee or a cocktail, bring in a barista or bartender and have them teach the audience how to make a creative drink. This is a fun way to diffuse any awkwardness or tension from interacting virtually with new people.   

  • Turn it into an activity

Cooking class. Paint night. An exercise group. A murder mystery? The options are endless. Encourage engagement and connection among the audience by turning it into an activity they can participate in.

  • Gamify it

Add some friendly competition to the event. Introduce some trivia questions with rewards. Award points for audience connections and responses. Start a social media challenge with a unique hashtag. 

  • Offer gifts to attendees

Everyone loves free stuff. Consider enticing attendees to join by arranging lunch, giving gift cards, or providing them with other useful items. People will come for the gifts, but they will stay for your content.

  • Incorporate virtual reality

Some of the most successful virtual events of 2020 were immersive experiences. VR is only getting better. If you have the option, incorporating VR into your event will ensure the experience is unique and memorable.

How PubNub powers virtual events

Event technology is extremely innovative, quickly changing, and always improving. At PubNub, we have embraced virtual events as the future of entertainment and live events. 

Our platform allows companies to build and host successful events. We power real-time connection and encourage audience engagement, through features like chat, presence detection, leaderboards, and live reactions.

Building engaging online experiences:

PubNub has helped many virtual event applications improve their audience engagement , grow their user base, and host successful events.

We have helped event platforms, like vFairs, increase their active members by 40x. Using real-time, in-app chat from PubNub, vFairs hosts creative, engaging virtual events that let people network like they would at an in-person conference.

One of our customers, LiveLike, has even credited our platform with helping them secure their partnership with Turner Broadcasting and the NBA. The NBA’s adoption of live-streaming has been noted as one of the success stories from 2020’s pivot to the virtual event space.


The virtual events industry has proven to be resilient and adaptable to change. The global effects of the pandemic may have ushered in the rise of online events, but their viability and accessibility have secured them a place across many industries. We can be sure that virtual and hybrid events aren’t going away anytime soon. 

Are you interested in letting PubNub power your next event or your virtual event platform? Contact our team here.