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

Virtual event planning software is clearly on the rise, and it is here to stay. With lead-generating virtual events consistently proving themselves as the most powerful weapon in the digital marketing arsenal. With such powerful results, multi-sponsor marketing events that have always been predominantly physical are now turning into virtual summits. Companies are learning to connect with attendees through virtual booths, gamification, and sponsored sessions.

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But all of this commotion begs the question… what are the real differences between physical events and virtual events? What are the pros and cons of virtual events? What are the pros and cons of in-person events?

For those thinking about replacing a physical event with a virtual event, here is the definitive pro-con list of physical events vs. virtual events from the perspective of a virtual event insider. This list of factors will help you decide on the format that will best suit your needs. For visual learners, shown below is a handy infographic summing it all up.

pros and cons of virtual events

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

In this section, we will break down 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 something to be said for changing it up and giving attendees a memorable experience in a new city, but it will 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). On-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, high-quality leads. The bottom line of the pros and cons of virtual events is that there are more pros than cons. Virtual events are more cost-effective but do not have the benefits (or setbacks) of travel as physical events.

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. Calls get pushed – not to mention the time blocked off on the calendar for the conference itself. What if some people can’t make it? Sometimes, in-person events give attendees access to the presentation decks after the event or offer recorded sessions for later on-demand viewing, but generally, the session concludes once it ends.

Innovative companies run virtual offices and conferences with the idea that attendees will come back again and again. There may have been too many great sessions playing simultaneously, or attendees would want to grab some collateral to share with their CEOs. Whatever the need, virtual event attendees can revisit the experience on their 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 Collection

At in-person events, whether internal or external, the extent of the data collected is usually thought of as a handwritten sign-in cheat. But not anymore. Mass data collection is possible at in-person events, and this is how. Organizers should invest in great event technology, such as Eventory by 6Connex, that allows for in-person events to be much more efficient in collecting data. Eventory provides digital ticketing and registration, attendee check-in on and off-site, reporting, metrics, lead generation, and ROI measures. It also gives your attendees a space to network and connect. Virtual events, on the other hand, are master data miners with no extra technology necessary. Hot leads leave all kinds of clues into their buyer journey – what 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 email 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-person vs. virtual events. 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. Networking is what really drives the pros and cons of virtual events versus in-person events.

Meeting people in person whom you’ve only ever spoken to on the phone or via email adds a critical 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 during the event, the world still needs handshakes. However, in the buying experience department, networking can be easier virtually. 

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. Virtual event networking can allow you to be more efficient due to the ability to filter the attendee list and speak to people that you are interested in, thus saving more time. It is a much more relaxing and efficient experience.  At in-person events, you often chat with people, not knowing who they are and what they offer. This can be time-consuming and, thus, less efficient.

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

5. Personalized Merchandise 

Even as virtual summit veterans, we still pick up conference t-shirts and peruse booths for the best freebies and swag to take home, even though the last thing we all 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…

We can almost hear you thinking, “Can’t virtual events create merchandise as well?” The answer? Yes, they can. A prime example of virtual swag is giving booth attendees virtual gift cards from Door Dash, Apple music, or even Starbucks. Another example of virtual swag is t-shirts. 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 personalized swag. Some marketers even offer exclusive merch to All-Access Pass participants for a personalized touch. Everyone loves t-shirts. In-person events are king in merchandise.

6. Long-Term ROI Effects 

Long-term event ROI takes time to measure. Both physical and virtual events leave strong brand associations in the participants’ minds. The difference is that virtual events can run longer, accumulate more leads, and reach a larger audience. You can also leave your event to become perpetual, giving attendees unlimited access to data, networking, and on-demand content. The big data acquired during the event also leads to a ton of revenue in sales due to lead nurturing. The victor? It depends on your company’s goals, but the possibilities of virtual events are virtually endless.

The Future of Events: Virtual or Physical? Why Hybrid May be the Answer

So, now that you know all the pros and cons of virtual events, 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 organizations opt for hybrid events that combine in-person and virtual events, with live streaming, repeat days, or any number of options that add value for physical attendees while extending reach to virtual attendees.  According to Markletic, 86% of B2B organizations experience a positive return on investment from their hybrid events seven months after the event date. With stats like this, it appears that hybrid events have a bright future and are becoming a vital component the events industry.

There’s a place for all event formats in any marketing mix.

In conclusion, both virtual events and physical events have pros and cons, and choosing one over the other ultimately depends on the event planner, attendee’s needs, and specific event goals. While in-person events offer a unique, personalized experience, they can be expensive and inflexible, and data collection can be limited. On the other hand, virtual events are cost-effective, flexible, and provide ample opportunity for data collection, but they lack the personal touch of face-to-face networking. It’s crucial to consider the event’s goals and attendees’ needs before deciding on the format of your event. Regardless of choice, virtual event planning software has opened up a new world of lead generation and marketing possibilities that companies should explore.

Infographic Hybrid events

Virtual Event Solutions - A 6Connex Digital Experience

As the world’s leading provider of virtual and hybrid event solutions, 6Connex has a secure, cloud-based platform that expands audience reach and drives in-depth content engagement for marketing, sales, recruitment, training, and HR communities. Our product portfolio includes virtual environments, learning management, and webinars. To experience the success of online events worldwide, request a virtual event demo from us today.

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Join us for our Upcoming Webinar

"Embracing AI in Events: Navigating Opportunities and Challenges"

Dive into the future of events with our insightful webinar, "Embracing AI in Events: Navigating Opportunities and Challenges," happening on September 26th, 10 am CST | 4 pm BST. Join our esteemed speakers: Dahlia El Gazzar - Founder of DAHLIA+ Agency, Stephen Kaufman - Chief Product Officer at Inriver, and Henry Tran - CTO at 6Connex

Explore the transformative potential of AI in event planning, and engagement, and the challenges it may bring. Stay informed and inspired as we navigate the thrilling opportunities and challenges that AI brings to the dynamic world of events. 

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