Follow these steps to create a requirements list, narrow down your choices, and pinpoint a solution that fits your event needs.
In online-only events, the event platform acts as a virtual venue where attendees gather and experience everything an event has to offer. With so many different kinds of events and organizations to service, it’s no surprise the category of virtual event platform software is jam-packed with offerings. Additionally, If you have in-house web development, you’re probably weighing the pros and cons of building your own microsite and leveraging low cost services like YouTube.
These tips will help you find a platform that aligns with your organization’s goals for attendee experience as well as your team’s budget, timeline, and technical skills.
Assess your resources
Choosing an event platform is a balancing act. Priorities for content delivery and attendee engagement get weighed against available time, budget, and technical expertise. A great place to start is by setting the targeted time frame for an event and the budget range for software & supporting technical services.
If you need an economical solution to quickly take an event online, there are out-of-the-box platforms with robust features that make it easy to deliver content and engage attendees. If you have ten weeks or more to event day and a flexible budget of $50k+, it’s reasonable to consider customizable environments with complex feature sets that deliver high volumes of content in many formats. With a budget of $100k+, you can hire a development team to build a one-of-a-kind virtual platform tailored to your exact event needs.
Outline event content and delivery requirements
Does your CEO want to broadcast a perfectly polished presentation? Do you envision interactive training with live attendee Q&A? Do sponsors or your own sales organization need to meet with prospects or demo products? To find the right platform, you’ll need a high-level list of your event content and how you want it delivered.
Popular types of online content to consider include:
Keynotes, education, or training
- On-demand video (pre-recorded)
- Live / interactive webinar
- Broadcast / live stream video
Sales & sponsorship
- Exhibitor directory
- Exhibit hall
- Brandable spaces
- Document & product downloads
- Lead retrieval
- Donor appeal /reporting
- Auction items
Consider attendee engagement needs
Strong attendee engagement means guests tune in to your online event longer and show greater brand recognition and loyalty when the event is over. Read more about attendee engagement strategy for online events, then make a short list of your “must have” and “nice to have” features to support your event’s engagement requirements.
Features that support online engagement
- Discussion forums
- One-to-one chat
- Group chat
- Hosted live video forums
- One-to-one video meetings
- Surveys & live polling
- Reviews of speakers & sessions
- Live Q&A
- Content downloads
- Product trials
- Auction bidding
Identify any other “must have” attendee experiences
Envision any other elements you need for the complete attendee journey on event day. Note any other high-priority items such as:
- How do attendees register and join on event day?
- What do attendees see when they join?
- Do they need to make choices between different content tracks?
- Will you need a virtual lobby to present content and activities?
- Does the event platform need to be a fully-branded extension of your organization?
- Is a unique event environment a high priority for your attendee experience?
- What other software/online platforms might you want to use as part of the attendee experience? (Social media channels, Slack, other in-house software)
Pick your preferred vendors
Armed with your list of requirements, you’re ready to identify a short list of three to five vendor platforms to consider. Start by looking at offerings from any vendors your organization already has a relationship with. Working with an existing vendor eliminates delays of establishing a new relationship/contract. It also leverages existing in-house technical expertise.
This is also a good time to share your requirements with any in-house web team to see if they can meet some or all of your needs with a self-designed microsite.
Organize your top platform choices into a simple decision matrix to track and prioritize key data points as you collect them. List platform options in columns and relevant decision factors/features as rows. Assign a weight to each of your decision factors based on its relative importance.
Contact your preferred vendors, share your list of requirements and request a demonstration of their platform.
Questions to ask vendors
In a demo call with a vendor, ask to see how the platform handles each of your requirements. Use your decision matrix to track and rank feature support based on the benefits and drawbacks you learn about. The demo should also show you sample events that are similar in style to what you are hoping to deliver.
Other important questions to ask include:
- How long does it take to get up and running?
- What areas are brandable/customizable?
- What assistance does the vendor include for event setup/configuration?
- Does the platform scale to your expected quantity of attendees?
- What training is included versus available for extra purchase.
- What technical support is included and/or available for extra purchase?
- Will you get a named account manager to help answer questions and resolve issues?
- How many user accounts are included?
- Does platform offer any needed integrations such as Salesforce?
- Does the platform meet your organization’s needs for data security and compliance?
- Does the platform offer the reporting and analytics you’ll need to track important metrics?
Finally, ask the sales representative to follow up with a written pricing proposal for their solution that best meets your requirements.
Finalizing a selection
After meeting with vendors and receiving their timelines and pricing proposals, you’ll have a good sense of the pros and cons of each solution you evaluate. Some platforms may lack an important feature. Others may be beyond your budget or timeline to build out. For a final quantitative ranking of platform choices, add up the ratings you assigned each important factor in your decision matrix.