Editors Note: Virtual Conference platforms are not the same as a Zoom or Cisco's Webex video call. Although Zoom is popular in both spaces, virtual conferencing software and systems contain different features. As you'll see here, many of the big names in this space are not well known.
Virtual events were big business even before the challenges of 2020 made them a necessary addition to many marketing plans. Pandemic or not, event industry insiders have made it clear that virtual conferences aren’t going away for a number of reasons. Benefits range from lower overall costs for everyone involved to easier networking for attendees.
How can you know which conference platform is the best for your needs? Check out our list of the top virtual conference solutions to pick the best option for your business.
What is a virtual conference platform?
What is a virtual conference platform?
A virtual conference platform is the technology used to host and promote a virtual event, an event held entirely online for anyone in the world to access or view from their computer or mobile device.
Better virtual conference platforms offer a holistic setup for events. You can register guests and market the event online, as well as host speakers and create networking spaces for attendees.
The size of events varies, from smaller, intimate groups of just a few attendees, up to 1,000 people or more. What you need in an online event platform largely depends on the scope and size of your conference.
Best virtual conference platforms
Whether you’re learning how to host a virtual conference or you want to take a look at the available options, each one of these platforms has the tools you need to make your next event a success.
If any brand dominated the conversation for connecting professionals, students, and family members during the pandemic, it was Zoom. This virtual event platform works well for small teams but also features robust tools for connecting larger crowds.
Each event can host up to 100 speakers and 10,000 view-only attendees. With enhanced security, password-protected rooms, and the ability to record and collaborate through whiteboards, Zoom is a business event planner’s dream.
Cost: Free for up to 100 participants, with fees based on event size and features
Bonus tip: Many of the top online conference platforms don’t actually record and host their own video and may integrate with Zoom for the video portion. If you’re not already familiar with what Zoom offers, it’s worth knowing in case it pops up in another tool.
2. Microsoft Teams
Another top business solution, Microsoft Teams offers instant connections between small teams along with the potential to host large, global conferences. Through Microsoft Teams live events, you can choose between using a desktop or laptop to create content and stream it, or use your own external, professional production equipment via Microsoft Stream.
The event organizer can create the event, set attendee permissions, set up moderators or Q&A sessions, and create reports to display attendee activity during the event. The dashboard also shows live participation stats to help organizers see who’s taking part. If you already use Microsoft Teams, this is an easy addition to your workflow.
Cost: You must have specific Microsoft licenses and permissions
The Hopin platform is designed solely for virtual events, which is why it’s designed to look and feel like a traditional, in-person conference. With features like roundtables, breakout sessions, and networking, it's a great choice for those who want a simple, streamlined approach. It's reasonably priced, too, with a monthly fee pricing structure for up to 100 attendees per event.
If you’re looking to provide that traditional conference experience online, Hopin is a good option that has tools for hybrid and in-person events, such as badging and registration.
Cost: Free up to two hours and 100 attendees, with fees based on guest list and event length
4. Big Marker
For those looking for a white-label experience, Big Marker pulls out all the stops. As an event host, you get your own custom URL and microsite, where attendees can learn about the event, receive updates, register to attend, and view the event digitally. You can also use the registration and sales data to generate leads through integrated customer relationship management (CRM) and sales apps.
With a custom expo hall, virtual lobby, and custom touchpoints at every part of the event cycle, this is a powerful virtual party platform if you want to personalize every detail of your event.
Cost: Prices start at $79 for the event software. Request a quote for full features and white labeling
If you’re looking for a cost-per-participant model, consider Eventzilla. It comes with its own mobile app solution for attendees and pairs with video streaming partners like GoToWebinar and Zoom. You can also schedule and automate almost any part of the event lifecycle and customize the experience for each attendee type.
The self-service functionality is especially innovative, giving attendees control over refunds, cancellations, and registration records. Drag-and-drop design tools will help your event landing pages and promotions stand out – no design experience necessary.
Cost: Free for limited meeting features. Starts at $1.50 per participant for full features
Mid-sized businesses and colleges will get the most out of the vFairs platform, which is designed for job fairs, trade shows, and large online conferences. While it doesn't have a mobile app, it is mobile-compliant and boasts just about every other perk, including a fully immersive 3D environment.
From exhibitor booths to green rooms, you have the toolkit to recreate your most imaginative conference experience as a real-time digital event.
Cost: Pricing varies but you can request a demo
ClickMeeting is designed for both live video and pre-recorded events, and it can host up to 1,000 people and 6 panelists. Even better, this virtual conference software integrates seamlessly with dozens of apps.
You’ll find that it works especially well with YouTube Live and Facebook Live, allowing you to combine your favorite social marketing methods for maximum effect. Plus, you can access features like white boarding, file sharing, participation certificates, polls, and surveys.
Cost: Plans start at $25 per month
Previously well-known for managing face-to-face events and connecting event planners to vendors and hospitality brands, Cvent now offers end-to-end planning, hosting, and event management for every type of experience. That includes in-person, hybrid, or 100% online conferences.
Pricing for Cvent varies because it offers many a la carte services. But it’s absolutely worth considering for big brands looking for a white-label experience and the unique Attendee Hub feature.
Cost: Pricing varies
9. Convene Studio
If you don’t know how to run an online conference – and you don’t want to learn – Convene Studio may be the best option for you. Like other platforms on our list, this company shifted to hosting virtual events, and it can cover all the bases for you, from filming to website creation to promotion.
Convene Studio is an A-list approach to conferences, one that only those with the budget and concern for image will consider. If you are looking to impress and want a dedicated team to handle all of your event coordination, Convene is the one.
Cost: Contact customer service for a quote
If you’re only familiar with On24 for its sales pitch platform, you’ll be glad to know it has expanded into the virtual conference and trade show space. It lets you customize your event to match the aesthetic of your brand while increasing engagement through unique perks like P2P networking, buddy lists, leaderboards, and gamification.
If you’re ready to fully immerse your audience in your next online event, consider On24 and create a virtual conference experience like no other.
Cost: Pricing varies with live demos available
11. Mighty Networks
When the event’s over, will your attendees remember to stay in touch? That’s where Mighty Networks comes in. This platform serves to continue those participant relationships through services and tools designed to encourage collaboration before, during, and after your conference.
Mighty Networks is a particularly savvy choice for those interested in building a community, and it helps you to grow and monetize your event at the same time.
Cost: $81 per month
With three levels of functionality to consider, Intrado is a big brand offering that you can customize to your budget. It focuses on big events, expos, and tradeshows and it can create 2D or 3D worlds for your attendees to enjoy.
You can receive end-to-end services based on your pricing tier, which also includes a series of interesting, Intrado-specific features. These include unique offerings like gamification, a prize center, and an exhibit hall.
Cost: Request a demo on the homepage to get started with pricing
The 2020 pandemic changed the way we think about conferences, as many “in-person only” event services shifted to hybrid and online models. At the same time, many software companies upgraded their virtual offerings, allowing you to host hundreds of attendees, view in-depth analytics, and take full control of your online conference event.
Top picks across industries include:
- Microsoft Teams: This platform is already well-known and integrates with many of your existing business functions. It offers good value for those with the existing licenses.
- Hopin: With a pricing model friendly to even the smallest businesses, this platform has the smallest learning curve and even novice event planners can use it.
- Big Marker: If your company thinks bigger will be better, you’ll get a feature-packed experience with this platform. Its white-labeling features are particularly impressive.
Before you pick a platform, be sure to speak with their customer team to see if you can demo the software. This ensures you can make the most of the virtual experience and that it gels with your brand and culture.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP Tech@Work. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.