While it may feel like the entire world just discovered virtual conferences, they are not brand new nor are they limited to popping on Zoom to try and recreate each and every element of a physical event (which, as we are all learning, doesn’t work all that well).
In fact, while live video conferencing (aka – Zoom) is a key element of organizing an online event, we’ve researched a few virtual conference software platforms emerging in 2021 to help you decide which one is right for you.
What Makes a Great Virtual Conference Platform?
So, what did we use to judge what makes the best virtual conference software? We used three important considerations:
- A solution that enables a basic, familiar structure for a conference. Virtual conferences follow a set of best practices that you want to take advantage of. They include having a clear purpose for your conference, a schedule of events, “main stage” speakers and sessions, the option of “breakout” or small group interactive sessions, and the concept of attendees or people “attending” the conference.
- A solution that is stable and proven. You probably don’t want your virtual conference to be one of the first ones ever produced on a brand new virtual conference platform. These events are tricky to get right, and it’s your reputation on the line.
- A solution that goes above and beyond a standard conference structure to use the benefits of going virtual to fuel a bigger opportunity. While it may feel like the only reason to have a virtual conference over a physical one is because you are forced to, the early adopters of virtual conferences will tell you a very different story. It turns out that virtual connections and conferences allow for a better experience and deeper relationships for attendees, and therefore significantly more value, over time.
But this criteria was only the beginning of our research. From here, we asked a series of more detailed questions that included:
- Does this platform let a conference organizer structure ways for relevant people to meet each other?
- Can attendees see other members near them, members like them, or members who care about the same topics?
- Can this platform keep people connected before, during, and after the conference?
- Does this platform allow for long-term collaboration beyond the event itself?
After whittling down the list of established and emerging virtual conference platforms even further, what emerged were these finalists for the best virtual conference platform in 2021.
They’re listed below, in alphabetical order.
Accelevents: The Best Virtual Conference Platform for the Basics
Accelevents is a virtual event platform for virtual, hybrid, and in-person events. It’s an affordable-ish solution aimed at companies that are mid-sized and bigger, but it’s missing one big thing: a mobile app.
Pros of Accelevents:
- It’s affordable. Kind of. A lot of virtual conference platforms charge fees in the tens of thousands. Comparatively, Accelevents is affordable-ish, charging $500 per day of your virtual event. Still, there are plenty of other, more affordable, more robust options.
- Accelevents has a handful of super useful features. With a few robust features—from real-time chat and live streaming to virtual exhibitor booths—Accelevent makes a good home for virtual events like auctions.
Cons of Accelevents:
- There’s no mobile app. Accelevents’ biggest miss is that it just doesn’t have a mobile app. In 2021, that feels like a hugely missed opportunity for continued connection.
- There’s no way for attendees to maintain connections once the event is over. Accelevents boasts about its ability to build relationships among attendees with fancy things like A.I. based matching. But there’s no way for those attendees to maintain those connections once the event is over.
Aventri: The Best Virtual Conference Platform for Super Complicated Virtual Events
Aventri powers virtual, hybrid, and in-person events. Overall, they offer some key virtual conference features, but users often report inconsistencies in Aventri’s software.
Pros of Aventri:
- It’s one of the few virtual conference platforms that covers all of the bases. With Aventri, you’ll get some light tools to manage your event—from email marketing to attendee surveys—plus access to a website builder and a mobile app. It’s especially suited for super complex events.
Cons of Aventri:
- Aventri can get pricey. Aventri was made very much with big companies in mind. And when it comes to pricing, it shows. Rates are based on a subscription, the most basic of which starts at $3,000 a year.
- And it’s not exactly user-friendly. From our research, it looks like a lot of users find Aventri to be challenging to customize, especially for people without a highly techy background. Meaning, there is very much a learning curve when it comes to acclimating to Aventri’s tools.
Bevy: The Best Virtual Conference Platform for Big Corporations
Bevy is a platform that focuses on both in-person and virtual events, but it has only recently shifted its focus to the latter. In light of the pandemic, Bevy has upped its digital event management capabilities and is now helping big brands plan, promote and execute virtual conferences.
Pros of Bevy:
- Bevy has recently revised its features to make its events more digital-friendly. The virtual conference platform has added a few new tools to help brands create successful events, from premium analytics to custom forms.
Cons of Bevy:
- Bevy offers limited capabilities for connections. The majority of Bevy’s community building is based on emails, surveys, and in-event networking, the latter of which is only possible via Zoom. So not only do attendees miss out on connecting before and after the conference, but the way they’re able to connect during the conference is limited.
- Bevy is expensive. Bevy was created with big brands in mind, and its pricing reflects that: of their three tiers, their most basic option starts at $25,000 per event. Plus, pricing information isn’t easily available. Interested members have to schedule a demo before they can get a custom quote.
CVent: The Best Virtual Conference Platform for a Hybrid Event with Just the Fundamentals
CVent is a virtual conference platform that lets users create hybrid and—more recently—virtual events. It has some decent potential, but many organizers say that it’s difficult to learn and its features aren’t intuitive.
Pros of CVent:
- CVent has a few of the essentials. With CVent’s Virtual Event Hub, creators can build a website for their event where attendees can register and pay for their tickets. You’ll get a few necessities: minimal event data, the ability to create interactive, personalized content, and a one-on-one feature. But for anything more robust, you’re likely better looking elsewhere.
Cons of CVENT:
- But it’s also missing tons of features. That being said, CVent doesn’t offer much in the way of flexibility. You won’t get any customizable branding, real-time chat, or access to analytics. You’ll also be missing out in terms of video: don’t expect the capabilities for live streaming, recording, or playback.
- CVent isn’t intuitive either. Past users say that CVent is hard to learn, glitchy, and unintuitive. For most people, that will be a dealbreaker: Virtual conference platforms are supposed to make your job easier, not harder.
Convene: The Best Virtual Conference Platform for Splurging on a One-Off Virtual Event
Convene started out as a fancy place that helped creators choose in-person venues for meetings, events, and conferences. Since the pandemic, the company has expanded to hosting virtual events. Since they’re pretty new to the virtual events game, it’s too early to tell exactly how much they deliver what they say they will.
Pros of Convene
- Convene offers aesthetically pleasing, hands-off virtual conference solutions. Hosts will get all the standard virtual conference features, from live polling and questionnaires to breakout rooms and one-on-one chats.
Cons of Convene:
- There just aren’t enough reviews. Because there aren’t a ton of reviews of Convene’s virtual conference services, it’s hard to say whether it’s a platform worth investing in.
- All signs point to Convene being super pricey. Convene is full-service, and can be especially tempting if you’re hoping to not break a sweat, ever. You’ll get a dedicated producer and live operator for your event, plus a full tech rehearsal too. We can’t find a definitive set of pricing for their services, but with all of those extras, it’s certainly not cheap.
Hopin: The Best Virtual Conference Platform for Building a Replica of an In-Person Event
Hopin is a virtual conference platform that lets users host live events in a digital venue. Though Hopin is fairly new, it can be a decent option for the cost-conscious organizer who wants more of a traditional conference structure.
Pros of Hopin:
- Hopin provides lots of opportunities for people to connect during an event, at an affordable-ish price. Hopin gives attendees a few different ways to get to know each other. It has a connection discovery tool, virtual roundtables, group breakout sessions, and more. Plus, as long as you’re hosting a small or medium-sized event, Hopin is pretty affordable. Pricing starts at $99 per organizer, per month, and is good for up to 100 attendees.
Cons of Hopin:
- Hopin focuses on copying the experience of an in-person event. The bulk of Hopin’s features focus on rehashing conference dynamics you’d find in the real world, from a “reception” space to a “backstage” area. By approaching virtual conferencing this way, Hopin misses out on some of the things that make virtual conferences better than their in-person counterparts (including the ability to connect members before and after an event).
- Hopin is brand new. Hopin is still in its early access stage, and there aren’t a lot of reviews out there to establish whether or not the brand is the real deal. For some people, the lack of testimonials—and established goodwill—will make it hard to take a chance on the virtual conference platform for now.
- If you want to host over a thousand people, Hopin can get pricey. If you’re looking to register over a thousand people for your virtual event, or if you want premium features like custom branding, expect to pay $18,000 per year.
Run the World: The Best Virtual Conference Platform to Run a Single Event
Run the World is a new virtual conference solution that hosts live, digital events. Its timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous, launching its beta service at the end of February 2020 right before so many of us were introduced to the new normal of virtual conferences.
Pros of Run the World:
- Run The World hits the basics. Run The World makes it easy to create and run a single virtual conference. It’s got sessions, panels, breakouts, and more. It’s thoughtful about making a conference work virtually, including adding virtual happy hours and Q&As.
Cons of Run the World:
- Run The World is brand new and in beta. Given how new Run The World is, it means there aren’t a lot of successful conferences using it yet. With scant reviews and all the blessings (and curses) of being a new service, the fundamental question you have to ask yourself is whether you can afford to have your event be a learning experience for a new platform. For most people, the answer is no.
- With Run the World, it’s only a virtual conference. Unlike a Mighty Network where you can build a community before, during, and after your conference, Run The World assumes everything starts and ends with the virtual event. This limits your ability to make your event as valuable as possible to your attendees, and make the kinds of connections that more than make up for the lack of physical proximity.
- Run the World is expensive. Run the World’s pricing depends on whether your event is free or paid. Free events start at $400 per event, for less than 100 attendees, and go up to $10,000 per event, for 5,000 to 10,000 people. If your event is paid, the pricing gets even steeper: Run the World will take a whopping 25% of your booking revenue. That’s bound to add up.
ON24: The Best Virtual Conference Platform When You Want Webinars and Stability
ON24 is a “webinar” platform that lets big brands deliver live audio and video presentations typically used for sales and marketing pitches. It’s a well-established platform that serves large companies with a very solid, conventional approach to streaming one or two people talking to an anonymous audience.
Pros of ON24:
- Established “enterprise” solution that’s stable and proven for webinars. If you have a mission critical event where you’re willing to trade off interactivity and attendee networking for a one-way presentation that just works, ON24 is your best bet. It’s not fancy or creative, which means that people may not stick around for long, but it will work.
Cons of ON24:
- It doesn’t feel modern. This may be fine for a corporate event that requires mandatory attendance, but for something that you’re looking to market to people who have a choice of where to spend their time, ON24 feels sterile.
- It doesn’t support networking and member connections. While Mighty Networks shines in its ability to connect attendees and Run The World offers a few ways to connect people, there’s nothing available on this front from ON24.
- When it comes to pricing, ON24 adds up. Because ON24 serves large companies, it’s not cheap. Expect to spend anywhere between $10,000 and $25,000 for a single event and much more for anything beyond that.
VFairs: The Best Virtual Conference Platform for Mid-Level Businesses and Up
VFairs is a fairly robust virtual conference platform that allows large companies and universities to host online conferences, trade shows, and more. It’s definitely made with a huge business in mind, but it’s missing some must-haves, like a mobile app.
Pros of VFairs:
- If you’re in a supersized company, and you’re looking for a place to host a virtual conference, VFairs will probably be a good fit. It has every virtual event feature you could think of, from real-time video, audio, and text chat, to global networking capabilities.
Cons of VFairs:
- VFairs lacks a mobile app. VFairs supports mobile compliance, but doesn’t have a dedicated mobile app. Ultimately, that means there’s no way to offer a fully immersive, super reliable experience for attendees unless they’re chained to their desktop computer.
- Lacking when it comes to user-experience. Lots of users report that VFairs offers limited customization, integration is glitchy, technical issues are common, and its support team is slow to respond.
Mighty Networks: The Best Virtual Conference Platform to Build a Conference and Community
A Mighty Network is similar to a Shopify ecommerce store and an alternative to a Wix website, but expressly designed to offer virtual conferences, community, online courses, and paid memberships all in one place, under your brand, and instantly available on every device–web, iPhone, iPad, and Android.
Essentially, that means that it can offer much more than just a single virtual conference. With a Mighty Network, you can connect attendees to each other before, during, and after your online events in unique ways not possible elsewhere. That means you can use a Mighty Network not just to deliver a virtual conference, but to bundle your event(s) into an extremely valuable set of broader benefits of membership.
Pros of using a Mighty Network:
- Provides the structure for virtual conferences alongside broader member benefits, all in one place, all under your own brand.
With a Mighty Network, you can run events with RSVPs and messaging (so you can remind members about an event beforehand); set up paid memberships and one-time payments directly in the Network; and tap community building tools like member profiles, direct messaging, comments, and posts to make instant and valuable connections between attendees.
- Offers multiple ways to engage before, during, and after a conference.
The community engagement features of a Mighty Network include three different kinds of polls, questions, live text chat, direct messaging, quick posts, and more. Taken together, these features will offer your attendees a better way to make connections with each other and get more out of your event.
- Cultivates an engaged community of participants you can reach at any time.
Better than a simple email list or letting your attendees just show up and leave, with a Mighty Network you have a home for your topic. Here are just a few ways that virtual conference organizers who have a Mighty Network use theirs: To publish speaker bios and tease Q&A ahead of the event; repurpose virtual conference sessions to create online courses, mastermind groups, and deeper breakout sessions; and offer replays and recorded notes and videos of sessions as another benefit of a more comprehensive (and therefore valuable) membership.
Cons of using a Mighty Network:
- Requires second service for live video. A Mighty Network integrates with Zoom, Crowdcast, Vimeo, or other video options seamlessly, but there isn’t a built-in video option directly offered in the platform yet. It’s on the roadmap for later this year and this limitation hasn’t stopped conference organizers from building valuable virtual conferences and communities quickly.
A Mighty Network offers the best combination of content and attendee connections for your virtual conference with the option to expand a single event into a thriving membership site, community, series of online courses, and more.