Virtual Events vs. Physical Events: The Definitive Pro-Con List

With such powerful results, multi-sponsor marketing events that have always been predominantly physical are now turning into virtual summits. Companies are learning how to connect with attendees through virtual booths and sponsored sessions.


But all of this commotion begs the question… what are the real differences between physical and virtual events?


For those of you thinking about replacing a physical event with a virtual event, here is the definitive pro-con list of physical vs. virtual events from the perspective of a virtual event insider. 


For visual learners, here is a handy infographic summing it all up. If you need a more elaborate breakdown, scroll down a bit more.



Differences Between Running a Virtual Event and a Physical Event: Pros and Cons

In this section, we are going to breakdown the biggest differences between virtual events and physical events, weighing both the pros and cons of each difference. 


1. Cost-Effectiveness 

One of the best parts of an in-person event is coincidentally one of the most expensive: travel.


Traveling to a new city or stomping ground is exciting and can help employees shake the daily grind, but it is also extremely costly. Costs for physical events include the following:

  • Renting event space
  • Hiring staff and caterers
  • Booking live entertainment
  • Paying for employee travel costs
  • Putting speakers up in hotels

… you get the picture. 


There is definitely something to be said for changing it up and giving attendees a memorable experience in a new city, but it’s going to cost you.


Fortunately, there is a simple alternative.


Virtual event companies offer “virtual venues”, 2D or 3D event spaces that can accommodate all of your employees and guests, no matter where they are in the world (and if you have a battle-tested virtual platform provider like 6Connex, you can even invite the entire internet if you so please). 


But wait, it gets better…


In-demand speakers will agree to speak for a fraction of the price at virtual events because of the convenience. You can afford better speakers (and more of them) for the same price. 


What does that mean? For marketing events, more high-quality speakers translate into more potential leads.


Bottom line – virtual events are more cost-effective but do not have the benefits (or setbacks) of travel.


2. Flexibility 

Our workforces have gone global. Our employees are in every corner of the globe, and more and more of them are working remotely. 


How do we accommodate our growing workforce?


Virtual event solutions have emerged to solve the problem of different time zones and varying schedules.


As exciting as travel is for employees, the time it takes to plan, fly (often internationally), and drive to the hotel can amount to excessive “dead” time where emails pile up and calls get pushed – not to mention the time blocked off on the calendar for the conference itself. 


And what if some people can’t make it? 


Physical conferences sometimes provide access to the presentation decks after the event and sometimes offer recorded sessions for later viewing. But in general, once it’s done, it’s done. 


Smart companies run virtual conferences with the idea that attendees will come back again and again. 


Maybe there were too many great sessions playing at the same time, or attendees want to grab some collateral to share with their CEOs. Whatever the need, virtual event attendees can revisit the experience on their own terms, increasing the conference’s value for the attendee and its ROI for the summit producer.


The flexibility medal goes to virtual.



3. Mass Data  

At in-person events, whether internal or external, the extent of the data collected is usually a handwritten sign-in cheat. 


Virtual events, on the other hand, are master data-miners. 


Hot leads leave all kinds of clues into their buyer journey – what type of content they’re viewing, which sales reps they’re talking to, which attendees they’re engaging with, and what resources they’re downloading. 


The best part? All exhibitors can access this data, grow their e-mail lists, and nurture leads better than ever before.


If you want big data, go virtual.  


4. Networking 

The battle royale of Face-to-Face vs. Interface-to-Interface.


In a world where we spend so much time online, sitting in front of our laptops or staring down at our mobile phones, it’s nice (even special) to look someone else in the eyes when you say hello. 


Meeting people in person that you’ve only ever spoken to on the phone or via email adds an important layer to the relationship, allowing for a different kind of communication. 


Although virtual event providers have advanced chatting technology, making it exciting and engaging for attendees to chat within the event, the world still needs handshakes.
However, over in the buying experience department, networking can actually be easier virtually.


Let me explain.


Attendees are generally interested in seeing what vendors have to offer. There are tons of tools out there that we don’t yet know about, and by chatting it up with booth reps on a virtual events platform, we can learn a lot about what’s new and what’s possible, all without feeling the pressure of buying anything.


Finally, let’s be honest… we don’t REALLY want to chat with everyone. 


At a physical event, we often avoid eye contact or try to browse datasheets while dodging overzealous sales reps. In virtual summits, we can take our time and browse what we want when we want. It is a much more relaxing experience.


Bottom line – no chat box will beat a real handshake, but uninhibited sales inquiries are often better for business. If you’re curious about taking your next exhibition online, learn more about virtual trade shows.


5. Personalized Merchandise 

I admit it – even as a virtual summit veteran, I still pick up conference t-shirts and peruse booths for the best freebies to take home, even though the last thing I need is another water bottle.


Personalized merchandise is a fun and engaging part of in-person events, although when I think of packing that swag in my suitcase, I start to reconsider…


I can almost hear you thinking “Can’t virtual events create merchandise as well?


The answer? Yes, they can.


Although unnecessary, t-shirts are often shipped out to staff to wear in videos or given to speakers with the option of recording their videos in the personalized swag.


Some marketers even offer exclusive merch to All-Access Pass participants for a personalized touch.


Our conclusion? Everyone loves t-shirts. In-person events are king in merchandise.




6. Long-Term ROI Effects 

Long-term ROI is difficult to measure right away. 


Both physical and virtual events leave strong brand associations in the minds of the participants.


The difference is that virtual events are able to run longer, accumulate more leads, and reach more people. The big data acquired during the event also leads to a ton of revenue in sales as a result of lead nurturing. 


The victor? It depends on your company’s goals, but the possibilities with virtual events are virtually endless. 



Is Your Company Ready to Run a Virtual Event?

Will virtual events lead to the demise of physical events?


We’d say never. People are still people – at the end of the day, they want connection. But they also want convenience.


Many opt for a hybrid event that combines the two, with live streaming, repeat days, or any number of the many options that add value for physical attendees while extending reach to virtual attendees.


There’s a place for both in any marketing mix. When you’re ready to go virtual, give 6Connex a call to book a demo and discover how virtual event software can help grow your business.

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