You might be imagining, and it’s a good thing to imagine, what your next virtual summit is going to look like, and trying to recall various virtual event session ideas you might have gotten from other events you’ve attended. Because it’s important to build a virtual conference agenda that is diverse both in presenters and in format.
And it’s true, there are many different formats for virtual event sessions. From full-on presentations to networking round tables, virtual event planners and organizers have a lot of options to choose from. Even hybrid events that are combining in-person elements with virtual elements for remote attendees can think strategically about when to employ different kinds of sessions.
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Let’s start by defining what we mean by “session” particularly as it pertains to a virtual event.
A virtual event session is a scheduled period of structured activity. While this can include presentations, table talks and more, it would not be applicable to registration periods, networking breaks, and other totally unstructured and loosely scheduled parts of a virtual conference agenda.
All of the virtual event platforms that you might consider using have their own definitions and nomenclature. Some virtual event platforms refer to everything you can schedule as a “session” while others might use that label for a specific kind of session where there’s a designated speaker. Other solutions use labels like “activity” or “room” and you’ll simply need to take a moment to consider how each platform’s labels align with the different ideas for sessions you have.
One other distinction is whether the session is live or pre-recorded.
Live Stream means that the entirety or vast majority of the session takes place real-time, whether it’s with one or more presenters or a more general group discussion.
Pre-Recorded, also referred to sometimes as Simulive, obviously means that the entirety or vast majority of the session was recorded previously and is either available to watch on demand or is streamed at a designated time by the platform or virtual event host. It’s a good idea if you’re simulating a live stream by having recorded content stream at a designated time, to make it clear that the session was recorded or perhaps event have a live introduction from the host, presenter, or an MC (master of ceremonies).
In the following list of virtual event session ideas, we’re going to group them by Presenter, Collaborative, and Networking. It’s also fun to realize that any one of these session formats could easily be an entire virtual event idea. While a virtual conference implies multiple sessions, you could easily host a virtual event that’s just one or two of the following formats.
Presenter sessions have one or more designated speakers who are providing the entirety or vast majority of the content and leading the session for all other participants.
Collaborative sessions have two or more participants who are generally equal in their participation, without a designated speaker or presenter.
Networking sessions have opportunities and format designed specifically to encourage attendees and participants to meet and converse with each other.
Virtual Event Session Ideas – Presenter
Presentation – A presentation is the most common and basic of virtual event sessions, and one that, to most people, is simply synonymous with the word session. Whether an actual presentation of slides is used or not, the idea is the same: one or more speakers present information and opinions on a predetermined topic to an audience of passive attendees. Virtual event presentations can include slides, screen sharing, camera feeds from the speaker or speakers, and any combination of the above. Most virtual event platforms today provide a virtual event studio that the speaker would join before their session, set up screen or slide sharing, and have the ability to adjust what the audience sees. There may also be host or remote producer capability which allows the speaker to focus on their performance while someone else monitors and maintains the overall presentation, including potentially changing “camera angles” so that there’s fluid shifts between full screen speaker, full screen presentation, or a combination of both.
Keynote – A keynote is a virtual event session idea that’s similar in many ways to a presentation. There’s typically just one speaker and she may or may not have slides, but a keynote differs fundamentally in that it should be the only scheduled activity at that particular time. Furthermore, keynotes are typically scheduled at the beginning and/or end of an event and reserved for the top speakers and most thought-provoking content. While a multi-track virtual event may have multiple presentations happening at any given time, there should only ever be one keynote scheduled and that would be the only session of any kind, in fact. This is an important distinction because while presentations may reach fractions of an event audience, the expectation of the keynote is that virtually all attendees will be present, making the keynote speaker and topic most prominent. It is considered an honor and privilege to deliver a keynote address, and experienced keynote speakers command a higher value, whether virtual or in-person. From a technical perspective, most virtual event platforms will not differentiate between a presentation session and a keynote session – both would likely be created and managed identically in the backend. HeySummit is one virtual event solution that has an actual keynote designation that’s used to callout the keynote speakers on the home page.
Panel – A panel session combines multiple speakers along with a designated host, centered around a particular discussion topic. The host may or may not have predetermined questions for the panelists, and there may or may not be slides. The key differentiator between, say, a presentation featuring multiple speakers, is that a panel of experts will not have planned, coordinated responses. The panel format is designed to elicit frank, authentic discussion around a topic, and is particularly well-suited for a small group of industry representatives sharing their viewpoints and perspectives. Most virtual event platforms allow event planners to set up multiple speakers for a session and create a panel experience, and may even allow as many as a dozen or more speakers. However, a good virtual event strategist will tell you that in order to successfully moderate a virtual event panel and allow for all participants to have sufficient time to share their viewpoints, most panels should have just three or four speakers plus a host who is guiding the conversation.
Table Talk – A table talk session creates an opportunity for a limited number of virtual event participants to be a part of the conversation, while still being led by a designated host, speaker or moderator. While the speaker may or may not have any prepared material to share, the majority of the session time should be devoted to freeform discussion and questions from participants, and it’s expected and encouraged that the answers and conversation can come as much from the other participants as the speaker. All participants can and should join this session like a group video call, and therefore the virtual event platform must support this kind of session. Because it’s a group video activity, participation is typically limited to 8 – 12 attendees, so it’s common to schedule many Table Talks simultaneously and allow attendees to choose which table and topic they’d like to join freely. Virtual event platforms that support table talks often place this functionality within a Lounge or similar space and give virtual event planners the freedom to label tables, control the number of tables and number of participants per table, and whether or not participants can create their own tables. For a formal Table Talk session, virtual event strategists limit the number of tables, determine table hosts and topics in advance, and label the tables accordingly.
Hot Seat – A Hot Seat session, also referred to as a Coaching, Mentoring, or Mastermind session, is when a designated speaker may provide a short presentation or teaching, but then the majority of the activity time is devoted to allowing individual participants to present their problem or situation and receive direct feedback and coaching from the speaker, while other participants observe and learn from example. The virtual event planner may choose to limit the amount of time each focus participant has to share their situation and receive feedback, to allow other participants to sit in the hot seat. And a savvy virtual event strategist will coordinate participants and situation material in advance so that the speaker or coach has sufficient time to analyze and organize their feedback. While every virtual event platform will allow a speaker to solicit volunteers from attending participants and respond to their comments, not every solution allows participants to activate their mic & camera during a session and join the speaker “on stage” for direct communication. Airmeet is one example of a platform that has a “grab the mic” feature which can be enabled for specific sessions and controlled by the speaker, which is well-suited for this kind of virtual event session.
Q&A – While any session with a speaker can have time at some point where the speaker addresses questions from the attendees, typically posted within the session’s built-in chat functionality, a Q&A session is where the majority of the time has been designated for whatever questions the attendees have. It’s different from a Hot Seat in that it’s expected that there’ll be many questions, and the speaker is not expected to perform a detailed analysis or personalized coaching. A common use case for Q&A sessions is a VIP session where select attendees are given exclusive access and time with a VIP speaker. While all virtual event platforms allow for sessions with a speaker where attendees can type in questions, not all solutions offer the ability to restrict access to sessions by ticket types, which is how a virtual event strategist would enable a VIP Q&A.
Workshop – A workshop session is similar to a presentation in that it’s led by one or more speakers and they may or may not make use of slides, but there’s also a significant portion of the session that’s devoted to giving attendees time individually to work on concepts that were presented. The session may include workbooks or other materials to help guide the participant activity, and they may be given opportunities to present what they’ve workshopped before the conclusion of the session or event. Typically, the standard virtual event platform session will accommodate this kind of session.
Interview – An Interview session is when one or more speakers are interviewed by a host. Unlike a panel discussion, the questions are typically prepared and shared in advance, and it’s most common for a single expert to be interviewed. The format is flexible enough to work in any number of situations, and the guest can be chosen based on their expertise or perhaps their affinity to the target audience. This is also a great format to employ when you want to leverage someone’s expertise and make them part of your event, but they lack presenting experience. Since it’s a simple technical format of just a couple of speakers, the standard virtual event platform session type should suffice. Interviewees can include:
- Industry experts
- Business owners
- Book authors (let attendees know in advance and they can read the book and come with questions)
- Community Members
- Employees & Executives
Live Demo – A live demonstration at a virtual conference is a great opportunity to show, not just tell, attendees about a product or service. It could be your own product or service, a sponsors, or simply another brand that has a non-competing offering that’s of real interest and value to your attendees. If it’s a software demonstration, that would typically require just the standard virtual event platform session with a host or presenter who delivers the demonstration and is sharing their screen or illustrations on slides. If it’s a physical product demonstration, consideration must be made for necessary camera angles, and a remote live producer may need to be involved to facilitate multiple cameras.
Virtual Event Session Ideas – Collaborative
Breakout – A breakout session within the in-person event space is when portions of the participants of a larger session are broken out into smaller groups to work on and collaborate on discussion and projects. While some virtual event planners and platforms refer to presentation sessions as breakout sessions, we will make that distinction here. If all attendees are in the same session listening to the same speaker, that’s a presentation. If the session starts as a presentation or workshop, but then attendees are split into two or more groups, that’s a breakout session. Those breakout rooms will typically be their own video chat rooms, like Zoom calls, and some virtual event platforms support breakout room capability. Run The World, for instance, can have a session start as a presentation session with a speaker and when they’re ready, they can have the platform automatically divide and assign participants into a defined set of breakout rooms to discuss amongst themselves. While the host or speaker can typically join an individual breakout room or check in on each room, most of the time, the participants will be on their own, thus making this a collaborate session for the majority of the activity. This is a useful approach when the topic of the session can cover multiple areas, and it makes sense to divide the attendees into groups who can discuss those areas then report back to the lager group. It’s also great for workshops where the speaker might teach on a topic and then want smaller groups to collaborate privately on an outcome.
Office Hours – An office hours session is when multiple participants join a video call to work quietly on their own activities, but have the benefit of other people on the call with whom they can bounce ideas or questions off of, should the need arise. While it would not be common to see a session like this scheduled at a virtual conference, it is becoming more common at regularly scheduled virtual events like meetups and social networking, particularly where the virtual event platform supports a lounge or table talk format. It’s quite easy then to designate a particularly day and time of the week when attendees know they can log in and get some work done, and have or be a resource if needed.
Help Desk – A help desk session is becoming more commonplace, particularly in large virtual conferences with tens of thousands of attendees. What once might have been a static page with FAQs, has now transformed into a destination for real-time assistance from event staff and other attendees. Depending on the event, the Help Desk could be available throughout the entire event, or something scheduled for a specific time and purpose. From a technical perspective, the standard virtual event platform session would work for most use-cases, or a virtual table might also fit well. Platforms like Remo, which depict the virtual event venue as a two dimensional structure that attendees can move their avatars through, can have a designated space for a help desk that has visual cues.
1:1 Meetings – A 1:1 meeting is obviously whenever two participants hop on a video chat to talk privately. While many of today’s virtual event platforms support this capability, and attendees can agree to meet 1:1 with other attendees whenever they choose, I include it as a session type because some virtual event planners might actually incorporate 1:1 meeting time into their scheduled agenda. This is particularly true for internal company virtual events where there might be a mix of workshops, presentations, and meeting timeslots.
Virtual Event Session Ideas – Networking
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Speed Networking – A speed networking session is when, for a period of time, participants are matched individually with other participants and given a few minutes to get to know each other. After a few minutes, the system will automatically end the video chat and pair each participant up with a new random participant and repeat that networking process until the end of the session. Virtual event planners can determine how long the session lasts, how long each individual meet & greet lasts, can provide questions and prompts for discussion, and can also provide pairing criteria if it makes sense for their event (i.e. vendor vs. client).
Round Table Discussion – A round table discussion works technically like a Table Talk except in this case, there is no designated host, moderator or speaker. There may not even be a topic. Attendees are simply invited to join small group video chats and given an opportunity meet and talk to one another about whatever topics they are interested in. Virtual event planners can set up tables to join in advance, and may label them with topics to get conversations flowing and to attract attendees with similar interests or backgrounds, but can also allow attendees to create their own tables and conversations if they wish.
Cocktail Party – A cocktail party session is a group video call that’s much larger than a table talk or breakout session, and is typically designed to be purely for networking and social interaction, since the event organizer will have little control over who elects to speak when there are dozens of attendees participating. There may be fun engagement and interactive features incorporated such as filters or group selfies, and these sessions are usually reserved for the end of an event when all other sessions have concluded.
Other Virtual Event Sessions
Sponsored – It should be noted that virtually every event session type listed above could be a sponsored session. That could be as simple has having the brand name on the session title, or their logo placed on an overlay or introductory video, to having the sponsoring brand actually providing all of the content and material for the session. Experienced virtual event strategists create sponsor packages that tier available sponsorships and build partnership opportunities around all of these session types, from sponsoring a table talk to delivering a keynote, and everything in between.
Virtual Expo Hall / Virtual Trade Show – A virtual expo hall or trade show is an opportunity for an event to host brand sponsors and partners that may be of interest to attendees, and allow those brands to create virtual booth experiences. The style and capability of the virtual event will vary depending on the virtual event platform selected, but many solutions today not only offer a booth option, but also tiered capabilities so that the virtual event planner can sell different levels of sponsorship. This can include branding and customization of the booth, video playback, playlists, live video, meetings, downloadable assets, contact forms and information, and of course analytics on attendee engagement with the booth. Most virtual event platforms, if they support sponsor booths, will have a designated virtual expo hall that attendees can visit at any time, but a good virtual event strategist will also have scheduled session time during which attendees are encouraged to explore the trade show.
Entertainment – While most virtual events are focused on education and engagement, there are opportunities and uses for incorporating entertainment into the agenda. An entertainment session could be musical performance, comedian, magician, dancers, or anything else that can be streamed over video. The standard virtual event platform session type would typically suffice, and most virtual event planners would schedule an entertainment session at the start or end of their conference.
Mindfulness – Another virtual event session idea would be to offer attendees a mindfulness session that helps them physically or mentally, such as yoga or improv or meditation. These sessions are particularly valuable during longer virtual conferences that span a couple of days or more, and might utilize a standard session format, table talk, or even a breakout approach, depending on the content and participation needed.
Awards – An award session is when one or more recipients in categories that have been pre-selected, determined and judged, are awarded recognition from the event organization and industry. These are particularly useful for highlighting standout members of the community as well as creating buzz around the award and event itself. The virtual event planner will need to consider what the agenda will be for this specific session and select a virtual event platform that can accommodate the need and offers the correct session format. While some awards might be a simple presentation from a host, others might anticipate allowing the award recipient to “come on stage” and give an acceptance speech.
It should be clear by now, not only are there many different virtual event session ideas, there are also a lot of options when it comes to virtual event platforms and the session formats they support. If you’re planning your next virtual event and have very specific session requirements, make sure you fully understand the needs of those sessions before you select a virtual event platform.
If, however, you have or are about to select a solution, and do not yet have a complete agenda built, I recommend choosing a platform for your virtual conference and then building an agenda around the strengths of that tool. If, for instance, it doesn’t offer speed networking, that’s OK. Do not try to force a cobbled together solution that doesn’t quite fit the requirement. Focus on what the virtual event platform does exceedingly well. Revisit this list from time to time and since so many of the session ideas still end up following the same basic format, you may find other ways to create a diverse schedule for your event even without features offered by other tools.
Have you been to a virtual event that had a kind of session you liked that we haven’t listed here? Let us know your favorite virtual event session ideas in the comments!