Fortunately, after the first shock of the pandemic isolation and the necessary move to virtual interactions, attendees no longer expect a virtual conference to be free. They understand that virtual conferences have value and they have associated costs.
The negative value perception of “free” needs to be taken into account when considering pricing your event. Few things in life are free, and this idea may cause your potential audience to become suspicious that their registration info will be sold, that the conference is just a sales pitch, that the speakers and production will be sub-par, etc. Potential exhibitors and sponsors will also suspect that the content will be poor, that decision makers will not attend, and that the number of no-shows will be high.
There are a number of factors that you will need to take into consideration when pricing your event. When calculating pricing, consider the following from the standpoint of your company or organization:
- How important is conference revenue in your overall budget? For some, the conference needs to be profitable, for others at least self-sustaining, and some can take a loss;
- Is the virtual conference replacing an in-person conference? Does it need to generate the same revenues?;
- What are your total costs for the virtual event? Be sure to take into account any extra staff, training, additional bandwidth, and equipment and software rental/purchase you will incur with the move to the virtual environment;
- What will your speaker costs be?
- Sales taxes – while in-person conferences are charged by the geographic locations sales tax rates, rates for virtual conferences are more complicated. States have “economic nexus” rules – guidelines that dictate how much activity a business must have in a given state in order to be expected to pay sales taxes there. Most small virtual events won’t meet the economic threshold for annual revenue to be legally obligated to collect sales tax. The Sales Tax Institute FAQ has answers to questions related to the sales tax nexus for different states.
Also, consider the following factors from the viewpoint of your attendees:
- How has your industry been affected by the pandemic? Have budgets been reduced? Have many in your industry been laid off or furloughed and are searching for work? Have professional development budgets been slashed? Importantly, do you – as an organization – feel called on to offer special pricing to help those most in need?;
- What are your audiences’ key demographics? Younger people are generally more accustomed and comfortable with the virtual world, and will probably be more inclined to pay to attend;
- Are you offering Continuing Education Units (CEUs)? Offering attendees the chance to earn CEUs automatically adds value to your event.
- What experience will your attendees receive? Whether real-life or virtual, attendees expect a well produced event, with high quality that is relevant and timely, engaging sessions that come in a range of formats, and the chance to network. Be sure this value is conveyed to your potential audience!
After deciding on your price for attendance, this basic charge can be adjusted through the use of varying pricing options. These options can include: a day pass; group discounts; discounts for students; freemium registration – where attendees may only visit exhibitors and/or only have access to keynote speakers; subscriptions and packages; and, a premier rate that might provide access to the entire program, plus exclusive sessions, Q&A’s, whitepaper downloads, and unlimited on-demand viewing.
Hybrid meetings – while combining elements of both real world events and virtual events – do not necessarily double the costs. Costs do need to be assessed, however, for the two different formats.
Many organizations will first set the ticket price for the live version of the event, and then charge a percentage of that price for the virtual version. This can be done through package sales – with so many virtual attendees being allowed to attend per live attendee. It’s also possible to create an “a la carte” option, where attendees can pick and choose what content they wish to receive.
Some event organizers are including an explanation of their pricing rationale on their event websites. This transparency gives you another opportunity to define the event and reinforce its value in your attendees minds.