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The 7 Biggest Virtual Event Trends of 2021

Updated

How to host even more impactful virtual events—and maintain your edge—in the New Year.

Seems like every company, every ad, every tweet is telling you that everything changed in 2020. Nowhere is that more true than in online events. 

The COVID-pandemic and transition to remote work has resulted in a 1000-fold increase in demand for virtual events, as well as significant innovations in virtual event experiences themselves. Far from one-way lectures, these immersive experiences now feature multi-person panels, 3D product demonstrations, matchmaking networking sessions and 1-to-1 video chats… and hosts can leverage audience interest to generate leads more quickly and effectively than ever. 

Marketers have seen those advantages and responded. According to a study by 614 Group, 51 percent of digital advertising and marketing professionals expect their all live gatherings and events to have a virtual element post-pandemic going forward. So as the world evolves in 2021, you need to create a virtual event strategy that responds to those shifts. 

So keep these trends in mind so you can host the best virtual events in 2021:  

Hybrid events 

Did you transition your IRL event online this year? If so, your digital events probably picked up new attendees that wouldn’t have been able to attend the IRL equivalent. In 2021, stay connected to those new viewers (and prospective leads) by hosting hybrid events. In a recent survey of 20,000+ brand marketers, 78 percent agree that in-person events will pivot to hybrid models following the pandemic, making hybrid events a must-have for marketers looking to stay competitive. 

The startup costs are relatively minimal since you’ve already onboarded to a virtual event software, while the potential upside of retaining and growing an engaged international user base is enormous. 

But when you’re already managing an IRL event, it’s easy to just stream the sessions live to your online attendees and call it a day. But this leaves out the interactivity that separates online events from YouTube video—and makes your hybrid viewers feel short changed as a result. 

Keep your online audience engaged with some of these tips:

  1. Enable interactive features: If your online guests can’t be in the room, at least treat them as if they are. Assign a digital producer to produce the online event to answer guest questions, distribute offers and handouts and moderate in place of the live presenter throughout each session. 
  2. Proactively engage the virtual audience: The easiest way to make your online guests feel seen? Acknowledge that they’re actually there. Encourage each of your presenters to address the virtual attendees at the beginning of sessions, and have your co-host filter questions from virtual attendees to the presenter to answer for the whole crowd. Your online guests are more likely to stick around if they know they can shape the discussion—and that they’re as visible as the live attendees. 
  3. Facilitate online-specific networking opportunities: Networking is one of the biggest value adds of any professional event, so online event hosts should continue offering networking opportunities for the online crowd. On BigMarker, you can create a full virtual Networking Center,, or enable live chat in each session, and provide access to the speakers/presenters and encourage group discussion.

Create global communities of experts 

More than anything, this year’s health and social challenges showed the interdependence of our global community—and the need for international coordination on pressing, globally relevant issues like climate change and public health mitigation. Connecting thought leaders and policy makers across the globe in minutes is crucial, and virtual events are uniquely positioned to facilitate those exchanges in meaningful forums. 

Marketers have recognized and responded to this need. In the same 614 Group study, marketers were asked what types of virtual events would regularly occur in the future. The top three formats are different ways of meeting the same goal: establishing regular high-level discussions with global experts and audiences, with a scope and frequency that wouldn’t be possible through other channels. This includes: 

  • Global virtual events with live video feeds from headliners speaking about big issues (62%)
  • Virtual events designed to foster community and share thought leadership among defined groups of experts/specialists (59%)
  • Global virtual gatherings of country and regional experts to foster global communities of those experts (51%)

Your company may not want or need to host events with that kind of scope, but you can apply these insights on a micro level. Since your speakers don’t need to travel to your event, or commit more than an hour of their time, you can source a wider, higher-quality pool of thought leadership from locations you hadn’t previously considered at price points that may have been out of originally scoped speaker budgets.

More cross-promoted events 

According to Ad Week, brand collaborations will become even more prominent in 2021. And why not? In the online event space, joint-venture and co-hosted events are the single best way to double or triple your audience size—and in turn, your email list and lead pool—with minimal extra marketing effort. 

Numbers aside, cross-promoted events also enhance the host and guest experience: With two companies involved, presenters can cover more topics and provide a richer array of knowledge. That diversity gives your audience valuable thought leadership they wouldn’t have heard from your company, while also attracting previously untapped audience members.   

More importantly, when you partner with another company, you can leverage their audience’s trust in them and transfer it to your own brand. It’s a simple recipe: If you actively follow a company, you trust them and their decision making, so you’re more likely to trust the companies they choose as partners. 

But unless you’ve got a Travis Scott Burger collab in the works, you’ll still need to do legwork to make the most of your partnership. Start with these steps:  

  1. Pick a complementary but not identical partner so each of you can reach new audiences.
  2. Create a coordinated promotion plan to ensure your event’s messaging is aligned with one another and with your overall goal. 
  3. Ensure that all team members from both host companies have been onboarded to the virtual event software in the weeks before the event—and have a uniform plan for resolving issues quickly. 
  4. Once you’ve earned those new viewers, send a follow up email a few hours after the event, along with a trial or discounted service exclusive to new attendees. This paves the way for new audience members to become new customers. 

Want to learn more? We went deep on cross-promotions here

Increased action on social issues + representation 

2020 demonstrated the interdependence of our global community and our mutual responsibility to make things better for everyone. This has major implications for any virtual event host, regardless of their industry. Some companies have a greater mandate toward the greater good than others, but everyone can model a more inclusive society through a more diverse speaker panel at their virtual events. 

Narrative storytelling has been shown to spark empathy in listeners, which makes them more compassionate and inclusive toward others. And more than ever, people expect companies to promote these values. 

But that only takes place when we’re hearing from people with different life experiences, backgrounds, etc. than us. That’s why diversity, which is traditionally lacking in panels, matters more than ever. 

It’s not always possible to strike perfect representation in a single panel. But more than ever, online event hosts have a responsibility to create a panel diverse enough to speak to all sides of an issue, and to spotlight the range of perspectives within your industry. Your team can find speakers in their own networks and professional affinity groups, or partner with an organization like Change Catalyst to source diverse talent. 

Inclusion aside, this also gives your event a more well-rounded and textured range of content, while also attracting new attendees who, for the first time, are seeing and hearing someone like them. And when your business makes people feel seen and understood, it also gains their trust and continued involvement. 

For more about planning inclusive virtual events, check out our best practices here.

Being Kind 

Not every company can or should speak to every social issue, but let’s be real. Whether it’s an unexpected layoff, personal loss, increased stress or racial discrimination, people are struggling more than usual. And online event hosts should keep that in mind as they set their program’s narrative and tone. 

More than ever, hosts should proactively create an inclusive and accepting atmosphere, from welcoming guests by name and starting chats during sessions, to recruiting speakers who are comfortable addressing their own vulnerabilities and make audience members feel understood. Companies should strive to provide value and create strong camaraderie through acknowledging that behind each computer screen is in fact a living, breathing human.

These small tweaks have a huge impact on people struggling with an unexpected layoff or loss, which helps them build trust with your event and brand. The open, welcoming atmosphere also encourages more people to participate, which has a cascading effect among your newly excited and engaged audience. 

Repurposing Online Event Content 

Marketing teams are creating more engaging content with fewer resources, making repurposing not just a time-saver but a lifeline and we anticipate this trend to continue throughout 2021. Fortunately, online events generate a wide variety of rich multimedia content that you can convert into smaller pieces to hit other key marketing objectives. 

Each session can be turned into a podcast and/or split into five or six smaller videos and/or quote compilations. It’s a neat little trick on its own, but multiplied across an entire multi-day summit? You can create weeks of work in a few hours. 

Efficiency aside, repurposing content is an amazingly low-effort, high-reward marketing strategy. Not only does it introduce your content to people who couldn’t make the initial event, it gives you more time for deep work and doubles as free advertising for your next event.

After your event, turn your video content into:

  • Media Hubs: Upload videos from your sessions to a media hub, set it to “on-demand” and you’ve got a centralized, always-accessible source of content (and lead generation magnet!) for the entire Internet. 
  • Podcasts: Publish your session’s audio as is to your website, or optimize it for iTunes and Spotify by extracting the audio and editing a few pieces to smooth it over for listening.
  • 1-5 Blog posts: Using your audience’s Q&As, poll answers and chat, identify the topics that captivated your audience and incorporate them into blog posts. Some ideas are below, like recaps, how-tos, listicles or summaries of each session with the recording embedded. Bonus: each of those posts can be shared on social media, multiplying your reach again. 
  • White Papers/E-Books/Guides: If you hosted industry-leading speakers that contributed new research on their subject, condense their best 3-6 points into a white paper. Since white papers are usually gated (i.e., require readers to enter their email address before downloading), they’re great evergreen sources of lead generation. 
  • How-to videos: Trim the video from product demos to create a how-to video, then upload to Youtube or social media. If Youtube’s ever taught you how to work a piece of tech, you know how life-saving these pieces can be.
  • LinkedIn slide shares: Upload a PDF of presenter slideshows to LinkedIn, especially if your presenter has an engaged professional following

Bigger emphasis on 1-on-1, targeted networking: 

In a year marked by online interactions, we were forced to prioritize our closest connections over the rest. And when you’re stuck online all day, your patience for spam and phony connection requests plummets to zero. 

That’s why networking is shifting toward more streamlined but deeper networking opportunities—a mile deep over an inch wide. People are craving genuine connection and opportunity—and willing to invest time into deepening the right relationships. 

Marketers need to meet those needs through their virtual event’s networking opportunities. Fortunately, virtual event networking centers, whose functionalities have evolved in lockstep with the growing demand. 

For example, on BigMarker, your attendees can complete a Virtual Business Card containing their professional bio, social media widgets and calendar prior to the event, then scope out the cards of other attendees to zero in on their highest-value connections. Attendees can also sort Virtual Business Cards by company, title, and location to find the most valuable potential connections or just by scrolling the attendee list for a half hour, attendees can create a prioritized networking list.  

During the event itself, attendees can chat with one another publicly in event-related chat rooms or, conduct one-on-one video calls and one-on-one chats within the BigMarker Networking Center and schedule further follow up meetings. This way, attendees can identify people with similar interests, have a valuable face-to-face conversation in a comfortable setting, then cement the connection within an hour. 

What’s Next? 

This year redefined the virtual event experience—and with the new year will bring more even changes and opportunities. But by following these trends, you can host your best online events in 2021. 

  1. Convert your in-person events to a hybrid model. 
  2. Facilitate global communities and elevated thought leadership 
  3. Host more cross-promoted events
  4. Take concrete action on social issues through content and speaker choices
  5. Be kind and inclusive throughout. 
  6. Repurpose your online event content to meet your other marketing goals
  7. Offer targeted, ultra-specific networking opportunities 

Want to learn more about how the world's most innovative companies are using virtual events to drive business results? BigMarker's Account Executives are here to help! Contact us at sales@bigmarker.com to get started.

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