In April 2020, I attended the two-hour special "ACM Presents: Our Country". In my pajamas with a bowl of popcorn, I was able to watch Miranda Lambert, Thomas Rhett, and Florida Georgia Line perform from their own living rooms.
And, while the show didn't have the same top-notch special effects as past country awards shows, it still managed to deliver exactly what I wanted: live country music.
In 2020, many companies have needed to pivot to virtual conferences. HubSpot is no exception — for the first time in nine years, INBOUND, an event hosted by HubSpot, will not be held in-person. Instead, it will be a two-day immersive online experience.
More than likely, we'll continue to see a rise in virtual conferences over the coming years. It makes sense: Virtual conferences enable you to lower set-up costs as well as cost of admission, and increases the opportunity for people across the globe to attend.
Whether you're planning on pivoting your own in-person conference to a virtual experience, or simply want to attend a virtual conference in 2020, you're in luck.
Here, we've cultivated a list of seven companies hosting amazing virtual conferences. Best of all, these examples range in size from 50,000 attendees to a few hundred, so you can find inspiration regardless of your budget.
1. SaaStr Annual
SaaStr Annual is the largest SaaS conference in the world, with over 50,000 SaaS executives, founders, and VCs in attendance. This September, SaaStr will still happen virtually, with over 200 live, handcrafted sessions and featured speakers ranging from Founder and CEO of Zoom to Chief Technology Officer at Shopify.
The immersive experience will include speakers, AMAs, mentoring sessions, and one-on-ones with SaaS CEOs and leaders across the globe, with the goal of helping attendees scale their businesses faster. And, despite being virtual, the conference will still include opportunities to network and learn from peers in the industry.
Fortunately, attending a virtual conference is much cheaper than attending in-person (especially since your company doesn't also have to pay for travel expenses). In fact, you can attend SaaStr's event for free with a two-day digital pass to access select live content.
Alternatively, you might purchase the VIP Startup Founders & Execs Pass, or the Investor Pass, for full access and opportunities for networking and mentorship.
2. Venture Café
More than 200,000 people have attended Cambridge-based Venture Cafe's free networking, learning sessions, and office hours since 2010.
The company enables small business owners and entrepreneurs to connect with industry experts, offers open mic nights for entrepreneurs to pitch their start-up ideas to the community, and hosts conferences that aim to connect entrepreneurs with investors and mentors.
Ruth Saunders, Venture Cafe's Vice President of Partnerships, told me Venture Cafe pivoted their in-person weekly Thursday Gathering to virtual on March 12, and have since hosted 12 virtual weekly Thursday Gatherings, four virtual conferences, and two pitch events.
Their virtual conferences (including SheConnects, FinTech, and Digital Health) have amassed over 4,000 attendees.
The company uses Remo, a virtual networking tool, to showcase startup demos and host networking events and clinics.
Saunders says, "Every week, we try something new, and we're constantly learning from our community and from other Venture Cafes globally."
Ultimately, it's a good idea to assess how one virtual event performs before planning another — especially since you can use that information to iterate on your processes and find greater success in the future.
3. Penguin Strategies
Penguin Strategies, a marketing agency focused on generating quality leads and improving conversion rates for B2B Tech companies, was planning a HubSpot User Group meet-up in March of 2020. Realizing an in-person event was no longer feasible, the agency pivoted to an online event in just three weeks — and secured over 1,000 attendees.
Writing about the agency's strategies in this blog post, CMO Shoham Eckhaus notes the company knew it was vital to give the marketing community an alternative platform for sharing ideas.
Additionally, she shares four key takeaways for creating a virtual conference — "Deliver the right topic at the right time; share high-quality content from experts in the field; stay focused; and engage influencers to share with their networks."
Penguin Strategies' event, which was aptly called "CMOs Surviving in a Panicked Economy" with featured speakers Kipp Bodnar (HubSpot CMO), Tyler Lessard (Vidyard CMO), and moderated by Penguin Strategies' CEO, had an attendance rate of over 75% — greatly above the average webinar attendance rate of 44%.
4. Future For Us
Future for Us, a platform dedicated to advancing women of color in the workplace, has seen massive growth in one year, quickly creating a community of over 10,000 women of color and allies across the U.S. as well as globally. The platform has been recognized in major publications including People Magazine, Vogue, and Forbes.
In 2019, Future For Us hosted their first Assembly and jam-packed a conference space with keynote speakers, fireside chats and workshops, and panel discussions with industry leaders. However, in early 2020 they were tasked with pivoting the Future for Us Assembly from in-person to entirely virtual.
Their virtual conference didn't disappoint. The day-long virtual experience included the same panels, fireside chats, and workshops that made 2019's Assembly so popular. Speakers included Tiffany Dufu, Founder and CEO of The Cru, and Minda Harts, best-selling author of The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table.
I spoke to Sage Quiamno, the CEO and co-founder of Future for Us, to learn the strategies she believes helped them successfully deliver a virtual experience.
Quiamno mentions a few best practices she urges other brands to consider when hosting a virtual event: "First, research different formats and technology tools that both big and small brands use to get their content out there and encourage engagement from their audiences. Second, I'd recommend hiring a technology expert in whatever platform you're using. For me, I had a one-on-one consultation for Zoom to understand the ins-and-outs of the platform."
"If you're a community-based company, and see attendees as a big value proposition for your brand, it's important you choose a platform that aligns with your brand and reflects your community."
Quiamno adds that she used Zoom's chat feature to encourage continuous engagement from the audience throughout the six-hour conference. Additionally, she also played music at the beginning of the conference and in-between speakers to create a more energetic, exciting atmosphere for attendees.
From their virtual event, Future for Us has achieved a 10% increase in membership per week, and doubled the attendees from their 2019 in-person event. Best of all, the virtual event enabled women of color from across the globe to attend, without cost of travel inhibiting anyone from partaking.
INBOUND has been hosted by HubSpot for over nine years and is one of the world's largest marketing conferences, attracting more than 26,000 attendees from 110 countries across the globe. The Boston-based event features powerhouse speakers, uproarious entertainment, and educational breakout sessions to inspire and educate professionals and help them grow.
This year, INBOUND will become entirely virtual and offer unique Q&As with breakout speakers, interactivity with keynote speakers, and creative opportunities to network and even "meet by chance" to mirror the real thing.
Kim Darling, VP and Executive Producer of INBOUND, says, "The audience has to be our hero — their energy, conversation, connection, and passion is what makes the in-person event so special."
"INBOUND aims to inspire a huge community of professionals who can learn and share so as they can go back to their jobs and take the world by storm. [Virtually], we have to find a way to create space for that energy to be created by them."
You can purchase a two-day Premium pass to everything INBOUND’s digital experience has to offer, plus perks, for $49 a day, or get a free Starter pass to attend limited events.
MozCon is an annual event hosted by SEO software company Moz, and is now entirely virtual on July 14-15. The conference aims to connect marketers with industry-leading experts regarding topics ranging from SEO to conversion optimization and more.
The virtual conference will include experts from Moz, WordStream, Backlinko and more, and enable marketers to network and share industry best practices.
Whether you need to sharpen your SEO and local SEO knowledge for clients or to increase conversion rates for your own business' marketing strategy, this is a great conference to consider attending, virtual or otherwise. Tickets to 2020's virtual event are $129.
7. DeveloperWeek Global 2020
DeveloperWeek Global, the world's largest virtual developer and engineering conference hosted by DevNetwork, enables thousands of developer professionals to connect with each other and learn from industry experts.
This year, in lieu of an in-person conference, DeveloperWeek will become the world's largest virtual conference series with over 15,000 attendees and immersive events ranging in topics from API, cloud computing, and DevOps. Featured speakers include Head of Engineering at Bloomberg Media and Principal Software Architect at eBay.
The virtual experience includes over 100 keynote and technical talks, demos on upcoming technology, exhibitor chat rooms, peer networking groups, and a global hackathon.
Best of all, if you're unable to pay for the Deve Leadership Summit Pass, you can attend the conference for free with access to live keynote, leadership, and technology talks, as well as the hackathon.
Hopefully, these seven examples can kickstart your own team's inspiration if you're planning on hosting a virtual conference in the years to come. If you need more help with the nitty-gritty of virtual conference planning, take a look at How to Run a Successful Virtual Event [+ Examples].