Stand out from the crowd with the 20 best virtual event ideas, including some from brands like Forbes, Adobe, and The New Yorker.
Virtual events are here to stay, even as the marketing world returns (closer) to normal in the second half of 2021. But some online events are better than others. Whether you’re trying to get away from boring webinars or wondering how to host a virtual event, this guide is for you. Because here’s the thing: 93% of event marketers plan to invest in virtual events moving forward. It’s time to freshen things up a bit.
Fortunately, evolving event software features and virtual event software have made it possible to host unique online experiences that can align with your goals and event strategy. Whether you’re planning a virtual conference or an internal sales kickoff, there are many benefits to hosting online events — and plenty of virtual event ideas to inspire you.
Below we cover the top 20 virtual event ideas for making your online event a standout experience for attendees, a great investment for your sponsors, and a natural fit for sales and marketing. We believe it’s important to take a look outside and see what others are doing to grow and evolve, so these ideas come from real-world examples in a variety of industries.
Virtual Event Ideas: Entertainment
1. Improv Comedy Performance
An improv comedy performance can be a fun way to engage your attendees at online events. Improv is live and can be interactive weaving themes from your event right into the performance making it personalized.
At our virtual summit, (Almost) HYBRID. We brought in North Coast, NYC’s Premiere hip-hop improv team for a live performance. To make it personalized and interactive, North Coast asked the audience questions about their favorite parts of events. Before the show even started attendees had a lot of fun reminiscing about special moments from their events in the chats. When it was time to perform North Coast delivered personalized improv hip-hop and pulled from the unique experiences attendees had previously shared.
Source: (Almost) HYBRID
2. Latte Art
During Monday Funday at Planet IMEX, panelist Michael Breach, Coffee Art Creator at BaristArt, created live portraits of attendees and other images as he shared the unique experiences that led him to this profession during his session “The Fine Art of Latte Portraiture.” Watching the artist at work added a layer of visual interest not typically found in sessions and kept attendees tuned in.
Source: IMEX Group
3. Magic Show
A magic show is an unexpected and engaging way to entertain your virtual audience. It can break up the event and create a sense of wonder. At (Almost) HYBRID, we included a magic show featuring Gary Ferrar. Gary put on a live virtual performance that was engaging, full of unexpected moments, and left the audience wondering “How’d he do that?”
Source: (Almost) HYBRID
4. Virtual Concert
This engaging virtual event idea is sure to make for a memorable experience. When planning a virtual concert it’s important to produce it in a way that works well in the virtual environment. Concerts should be immersive; don’t just stream a video feed. Instead, create something specifically for the virtual world.
A great example from the music industry is Billie Eilish’s “Where Do We Go? The Livestream” concert. After canceling her sold-out 2020 world tour due to covid, Eilish wanted a way to connect with her fans. The concert was exceptionally produced with multiple camera angles and a massive 60 by 24 foot LED stage. Throughout the concert, the LED stage was full of striking scenes taking viewers on a dynamic journey. The concert also provided a chat for attendees to interact as well as an online store for limited edition merchandise.
Virtual Event Ideas: Engagement and Gamification
5. Curated Session Tracks
With an average of 20 sessions per virtual event, event marketers must organize their content. Curated tracks allow attendees to easily navigate content and focus on what they are interested in.
For a great example of this virtual event idea, look no further than Forbes UNDER 30. In the image below you will see the event offered several tracks ranging from Artificial Intelligence to Finance & Investing. Attendees had the opportunity to focus on a track or jump between them to design the experience they wanted to take away from the event.
6. Leaderboard Challenge
A leaderboard is a great way to boost engagement and encourage attendees to experience many parts of your event. Attendees can earn points by attending keynotes, specific training, breakouts, and more. To incentivize attendees, the top winners receive prizes for participating.
Zenith Live 2020 created “The Zenith Live Challenge” where attendees were sent on a mission to rack up points for completing activities and select mission prizes or in-lieu of a prize, participants could donate to a Zenith-Live-sponsored Charity.
Source: Zenith Live
7. Virtual Photo Booths
Photo booths have always been a staple at events, so naturally, they have evolved to fit the virtual event landscape. Virtual photo booths can fit any event’s needs. Images are easily customizable making it easy to create engaging, shareable and branded content. To take this virtual event idea a step further, turn all of your attendee’s photos into a virtual mosaic.
8. Award Badges
Award attendees for completing tracks or courses with digital badges. Advertising Week 2020 allowed attendees to earn recognition by completing courses. To receive the badge participants had to complete the course work and watch full sessions in areas ranging from content marketing to company culture. The attendee with the most badges was recognized as the AW2020 MVP. This encouraged attendees to fully watch sessions and explore tracks while rewarding them through gamification.
Virtual Event Ideas: Sponsorship
9. Virtual Exhibition Hall
Virtual expo halls highlight sponsors and allow attendees to browse virtual booths much like an in-person expo hall. At World Employer Branding Day 2020, they had an expo hall set up on a web page with custom graphics that appear to be branded booths. Attendees could click into the booth and be brought into a custom sponsor page. Inside the sponsor page, they could watch videos, chat with exhibitors, read more about the company, book meetings, and more.
Source: World Employer Branding DayDataRobot also used virtual exhibitor booths at their worldwide virtual event series to give their sponsors a best-in-class experience. Sponsors created their landing page within the event website where they could upload documents and images to recreate the experience of a booth virtually. DataRobot also used Bizzabo Interact to provide sponsors with a way to broadcast live within their pages and even host one-to-one breakout sessions with their audience. These broadcasts and virtual meetings allowed them to successfully interact with attendees and deliver sponsor value.
To hear more about how DataRobot offered best-in-class virtual sponsorship opportunities in their online events, watch their webinar on-demand here.
10. Sponsored Sessions
Sessions are an essential part of most virtual events. Allowing sponsors to create sessions with content that will be in line with their messaging can be an extremely effective way for sponsors to reach attendees.
Collaborate with your sponsors when creating your sessions. Help sponsors craft a message that resonates with the goals of your event and highlights the sponsor as well. This will ensure the sponsored session is beneficial to all stakeholders.
Below is an example of a sponsored session from Digital Banking 2020 showcasing Verizon, which is sponsoring the session.
Source: Digital Banking 2020
11. Sponsored Giveaways
A great way to get sponsors involved and improve audience participation during your online events is by holding a sponsored giveaway. At Avionté CONNECT 2020, attendees had the opportunity to win amazing prizes like an iPad and Ring Doorbell from sponsors like Adobe, ADP, and Equifax. To increase engagement and add an element of excitement, they also announced the winners in the closing session.
12. Branded Videos
If you’ve watched a free video online, you’ve probably seen sponsored content that rolls right before the video. You can leverage pre-roll videos the same way and showcase your sponsors while you have your attendees’ undivided attention with a short sponsorship video right before the session starts. Most companies have a short brand video readily available, meaning less time creating content. It’s common for these videos to typically be 30 seconds to 1 minute long.
Here’s an example of the video Bizzabo used for 1-minute promotion spots in other virtual events.
Immersive Virtual Event Ideas
13. Custom Avatars
Having an avatar creates a way for attendees to feel present and engage in a virtual space. Participants can interact and see themselves via the avatar on the screen. At INBOUND 2020, attendees were able to customize their virtual avatars. Participants could choose their hair, outfits, and more making for a more personalized experience.
14. 3D Immersive Virtual Environment
When it comes to virtual events, Fenty broke the mold with their 3D immersive experience. For the launch of Fenty Skin, they created the Fenty House where attendees could party with Rhianna virtually. Within the ‘house’, there was a spa room showcasing the new skincare line, a virtual bar with the recipe to make your cocktail at home, a virtual photo booth, and more.
This type of virtual event idea will work particularly well for brand activations and product launches. It’s an effective and memorable way to create a great ‘in-person’ experience at online events.
15. 360-Degree Tour
The key to successful online events? Interactivity. A 360-degree tour can help showcase your business or school from anywhere in the world virtually. When hybrid events come back, virtual 360-tours could play a role in merging the in-person and virtual experiences.
The example below is from Virtual Applicant Day at The University of Warwick. This virtual applicant day allowed prospective students from across the world to tour the university, have coffee chats with current students, and additional activities to help get a feel for what campus life would be like.
Source: The University of Warwick
Virtual Event Ideas: Production
16. Pre-Recorded Sessions
Pre-recorded sessions of your keynote speakers and sessions can elevate your virtual event. Having your sessions filmed ahead of time allows for enhancements such as editing or adding in graphics. This virtual event idea helps you produce the highest quality broadcast, reduces room for error, and sometimes can make online events less stressful to plan and execute.
A great example of this was at Adobe SUMMIT. The event was fully pre-recorded, executives and celebrities alike filmed their sessions ahead of time. To find the best filming locations, Adobe had its presenters take producers on a tour of their homes to find the best setup and lighting for the event. Adobe also sent out training documents to help presenters make the best recordings from their homes, the documents included tips on camera positioning, what to wear, and how to choose recording locations. The result was well-produced pre-recorded videos for their virtual event.
Source: Adobe SUMMIT
17. Professional In-Studio Session Recordings
If you are looking to elevate your sessions, consider recording them in a studio with your production team. Professional recording sessions rival the quality of news broadcasts and can bring your event to the next level.
Below you will see the team at Endless Events producing a high-quality broadcast for one of their virtual events. With the use of LED backgrounds and professional equipment, they were able to bring their client’s virtual event to life.
Source: Endless Events
18. On-Demand Sessions
This virtual event idea will allow you to maximize your event long after the live show is over. On-demand sessions allow attendees to tune in when it is convenient for them and catch the session replays. It is especially helpful for tackling time zones when hosting a global audience. Additionally, by keeping content available you can provide lead generation well after the event is over.
At Bizzabo, we make sure that all of our virtual summits and webinars are available on-demand. By registering for the event, anyone can tune in and watch.
Source: (Almost) HYBRID
Virtual Event Ideas: Graphic Design
19. Motion Graphics
Graphics with movement create interesting designs and draw in attendees. You can use motion in your graphics in everything from the main page of your event to subtle motion in the background during sessions. The New Yorker Festival brought moving graphics to the home page of their event website. This was a great way to immediately brand the event and create excitement.
Source: The New Yorker Festival
20. Branded Virtual Backgrounds
Branded Virtual Backgrounds are a way to bring cohesiveness to a virtual event. Everyone may be recorded from different areas of the world, but by using the same backgrounds it gives a cohesive look. At our first virtual summit, (Almost) In-Person we created virtual backgrounds for speakers and hosts alike to use during the show. The result was a well-branded and unified experience.
Source: (Almost) In-Person
The Sky’s the Limit for Your Next Online Event
Virtual events will continue to become more prevalent in 2021 as organizations reconcile with the impacts of COVID-19 on events. Fortunately, the 20 ideas listed above will help you host a virtual event that attendees will love. Here are the main takeaways:
- The best virtual events mirror in-person ones in many ways. The right virtual event tools allow you to transform many parts of in-person events into a digital environment.
- Do your best to provide memorable experiences with entertainment and gamification, and personalize the attendee experience through session tracks and more.
- Make sure each of your sessions is recorded and available on-demand. This will allow people to access the content well after your event is live.
- With virtual events, partnerships are important to the success of your event. You don’t need to create your virtual event all by yourself. Virtual event production teams can help you elevate your experience. Sponsors can add value to your event.
- Comparing event software can save you hours and provide a great user experience.
- Look outside your industry for inspiration, many industries went virtual before events and can provide great virtual event ideas that attendees may have not seen before, making your event more engaging.