How to Host a Virtual Conference, What Really Matters

How to Host a Virtual Conference, What Really Matters

Now is a great time for conference planners to learn how to host a virtual conference.

There is growing evidence that online conferences are here to stay. We typically see virtual conference attendance increase 2-3x because hosting an event on a virtual conference platform is accessible for all participants.

That being said, running a virtual conference is no easy task.

The purpose of this article is to offer insight on how to host a virtual conference. You’ll learn to start by defining your goals and using them to pick the perfect virtual conference platform. Then, we’ll discuss how to consider how much support you might need to run the conference and provide an example from the Law and Society Association.

In 2020, OpenWater helped over 150 organizations pivot from in-person to virtual conferences. We’ve learned a lot from our experience!

What Does Running a Virtual Conference Entail?

Pulling off a virtual conference usually involves a lot of planning, for most large associations the planning cycle lasts year round. Planning is one thing, but making sure the conference goes off without a hitch is another.

Running a virtual conference for a number of days usually involves room moderators, sometimes called platform technicians and a help desk for both attendees and speakers.

At OpenWater our day of conference support is responsible for making sure that sessions start on time and speakers are following their schedules. Our room technicians communicate with your team over slack, while monitoring each Zoom room from dedicated dashboard using OpenWater’s Zoom automation.

Proper speaker training, room moderators, and a help desk are the three factors that will eliminate worry about technical problems during the day of the conference.

Define your goals

As a virtual conference planner, It’s difficult to know where to start. Our suggestion is to begin by thinking about what your goals are. What are you looking to get out of a virtual conference?

Below are some goals an organization might have as a result of running a virtual conference:

  • Build revenue
    • For example: an association’s goal for an online conference might be to gain non-due revenue from sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees at a virtual conference.
  • Increase attendance and/or brand awareness
    • For example: a company’s main for an online event might be to show consumers what products they have to offer in order to present their brand.
  • Increase member participation
    • For example: a society’s goal for a virtual event might be an opportunity for leadership to get to know new members and form a strong communal gathering.
  • Present work
    • For example: an academic organization’s goal for a virtual conference might be to show their member’s work so others can learn from it or critique it.

Defining goals ahead of time will make it easier to identify what virtual conference platform will be best to host a virtual conference on.

Choosing the right virtual conference software platform

Now that you have an idea of what your goals are for the conference, you have a good starting point for choosing the right virtual conference platform for your event.

The market is now saturated with an overwhelming amount of online event platforms.

Many conference planners are asking themselves the same question: How do I choose the best platform to host a virtual conference? First, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is this conference a one off event, or is your team seeking to build a virtual conference blueprint that can be utilized for annual events, or multiple events throughout the year? As time passes a central tool like OpenWater will reduce the administrative burden to create the next conference and your team dependency on support will diminish.
  2. How will I upload my conference format to the platform? Is the online platform tool DIY, does the company offer support and what partners are available for creating hybrid elements like in person panels, or opening remark videos?
  3. What support is offered by the platform provider to train presenters and what support is available the day of the conference. Support is a major factor to consider. At OpenWater our belief is that your association is our virtual conference partner. With that each year, or event we will determine the support your team’s needs.


Another important thing virtual conference planners should consider is how much support they need. Below is an example of how the Law Society Association (LSA) used OpenWater’s virtual conference support offerings to their advantage:

The Law Society Association had 30 concurrent sessions but did not have budget for 30 staff to oversee each room.

How LSA Staffed Support Worked

  • 2 OpenWater Senior Technicians
  • 6 Room Monitors (Graduate Students / Association Staff)

The Result

  • ~3 sessions per time block faced issues but were resolved before the start


  • 4 out of 400 sessions started later than 5 minutes after the planned start time.

How Much Support Do I Need?

  • A 5-1 ratio of floating technicians to concurrent sessions will result in a successful meeting.
  • The time needed to resolve a warm-up issue is around 5 minutes with a floating technician and 1 minute with an in-room dedicated technician.
  • We suggest a 30 minute warm-up period (break) in between sessions.

What’s next?

A successful virtual conference is goal driven, and has a lot of thought put into the choice of virtual conference platform and the amount of support that is needed. At OpenWater, we’ll work with you to make sure these steps are taken care of so your conference can go off without a hitch.

It’s worth noting that this is just the beginning. There’s a lot more to think about when hosting a virtual conference such as the organization structure of the conference, hybrid conferencing considerations, and networking options for your attendees. OpenWater is here for you in that regard as well.

We work to make the virtual conference planning experience as painless as possible. If you’d like to see a demo of OpenWater’s virtual conference platform, we can help you get that scheduled here.