Measuring Virtual Events

Partially due to corporate sustainability reasons and partly due to old-fashioned cost savings, I’ve been thinking a lot about virtual events lately. The idea behind virtual events is pretty simple – rather than flying thousands of people to a single destination to discuss a series of topics, you have these discussions on-line. While simple in concept, in practice this leads to a number of non-trivial questions:

  • How do you (re)create the concept of tracks/physical breakouts in which participants gather to learn about specific areas of interest?
  • While it’s easy to simulate keynote presentations which are largely one-way communications, how do you allow attendees to interact with each other?
  • How do you encourage spontaneous discussions without disrupting the primary flow of the events?
  • If the speaker can’t see the attendees, how will she get the visual clues needed to adjust timing/tone as the presentation goes on?
  • Are attendees more likely to be distracted by email/phones/etc without the implied enforcement of the presenter seeing them?

Like most things, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If the primary objective for the event is to educate an audience on a series of topics, virtual events are a natural supplement (or even replacement) for physical events. Companies have successfully used on-line learning and Web seminars for a long time.

However, most events are more than just educational opportunities; they try to foster networking and communities. While on-line communities are also common, many organizations struggle with using them because they are more difficult to control than traditional communication vehicles that are primarily one way.

Not only are they difficult to control, they are difficult to measure. Traditional success measures like # people enrolled/attended are less relevant when the objective is to stimulate community involvement. Instead, we need a measure such as % of community with active involvement. Depending on the infrastructure used, the calculation of active might be based on time spent, number of posts and questions, or demonstrated recall of the subject matter.

After many years of fine-tuning Web seminars, I expect 40% of people that register for an event will attend and 40% of those who attend will request follow-up information. As I get more experience with virtual events, it will be interesting to see if a similar pattern emerges. If so, 40% of the community will attend and 40% of attendees will be actively involved.

Engaging 16% of the community in a virtual event might not be a bad target. What do you think?

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5 Responses to Measuring Virtual Events

  1. Mike Dulaney August 7, 2008 at 5:36 pm #


    I read this article and found it quite interesting. I am creating and producing
    a new event for Supply Chain Technology. Like anything new, people are skeptical and need proof that it will work.

    Do you have any addtional statistics on virtual events.

    Mike Dulaney

  2. Steve Hannsen November 14, 2008 at 3:00 pm #

    We’ve run 100’s of Web seminars over the last few years and have seen similar trends. We get about 40% of the people who register to attend (about 50% if the event is internal for employees). We also have a proprietary engagement index that we track. As we’ve added online polls, quizes, and live voice chat, we’ve seen it go up to nearly 70%. We find a fairly dramatic variance among speakers as well. Style matters.

  3. aditya452010 February 13, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

    All great ideas but I would also add another item to it: consider doing a virtual event/meeting. Virtual events and meetings are a great way to stay in front of customers, generate new leads and help close business already in the pipeline. These solutions are being deployed so rapidly by companies that the market is projected to exceed $18 billion by 2015. If you are interested in how you can use virtual environments attend the Virtual Edge Summit Feb. 22-23 (virtually or in-person if you are in/near Silicon Valley). There is no registration fee if you take a short survey.

    Virtual Edge Summit 2010 is the only event that focuses exclusively on providing education, training and solutions for planning and producing virtual events, meetings and communities. Over 2 days, 80 experts will share their experience with you, and be available for one-on-ones. The event also offers a rich program for featuring experts from Cisco, Stanford, IBM, Disney SAP, Oracle, Intel as well as top virtual technology and service providers like InXpo, ON24, 6Connex, Stream57, CGS VirtualEvents365, George P. Johnson, Unisfair and Digitell.

    When: February 22-23, 2010 8am until 6pm

    Where: At the Santa Clara Convention Center in California and virtually in browser based virtual environments offering 2D and 3D experiences.

    Register at


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