taxonomy of virtual event formats

Taxonomy of Virtual Event Formats

Which types of events have been moving to virtual environments?

As soon as COVID forced the world to socially distance, every live event format that was previously being done in person pivoted (or at least attempted) to being fully virtual. Facilitators, event planners, field marketers, trainers, grassroots mobilizers and activists, educators- every role, industry, profession, community- had two choices: i.) postpone indefinitely/cancel their in-person event; OR, ii.) quickly adjust/adapt/pivot the event to online.

To help understand the main types of virtual event formats that companies, organizations, brands are hosting, we looked at the broad event types that we’ve seen and organized them by features, both core and specialized.

Below, we classify the major types of online events, with examples of each, and touch on some of the features more critical based on the type of event. 

Our company is focused on those virtual event formats featuring many parallel breakout groups, each in active, purposeful, engaging discussions, whereas other platforms might focus on replicating a large conference environment (with parallel presentations and/or branded vendor areas) and/or general purpose conferencing more broadly.

What event types do you host?  Which feature areas are most important for those events? What distinctions did we miss?  

We’d love to hear your comments below.

By the way, we want to give credit to Helen Bevan with NHS Horizons for inspiring this post as we definitely used her analysis as input for this post as well.

Type of EventExamplesCore FeaturesSpecialized Features
General Business Meetings
  • Daily standup
  • One-on-ones
  • Weekly team meeting
Audio and/or video for participants; easy join access from mobileCollaboration tools; note taking
Presentation or Panel
  • Typical recorded webinar
  • Livestream event
  • Keynote speech
Streaming audio and/or video for presentersStreaming to Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, and/or Twitter; event recording and distribution
Presentation with Q&A
(Or training with no breakouts)
  • Typical webinar
  • Conference call
  • Press conference
  • Virtual classroom
Streaming audio and/or video for presenters; ability for participants to ask questions; ability for speakers/assistants to take and review questions in privateABOVE + host-participant chat; private green room; assistant or co-host roles
Presentation with Q&A
Formal Business Meeting with Voting
  • Board meetings
ABOVE + voting/polling features; secure, accurate vote tallying and savingABOVE + csv exports of voting results; data collection and security
Limited Virtual Conference
Multiple Presentations/Panels to choose from (no or limited side sessions)
  • Conference limited to several, concurrent presentations for participants to choose from
Streaming audio and/or video for presenters; ability for participants to select and move between roomsStreaming to Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, and/or Twitter; event recording and distribution; simultaneous translations; host-participant chat; audience chat
Full Virtual Conference
With vendor booths, side sessions, casual spaces to meet others
  • Online Summit
  • Annual Conference
  • Exhibits/showrooms
Streaming audio and/or video for presenters; ability for participants to select and move between rooms; peer to peer webcam within casual groups and/or with vendorsABOVE + custom registration options with full agenda details; vendor-area branding; contact sharing; 1-1 video breakouts for networking or other opportunities for side sessions
Open Space / Unconference
  • Unconference
  • Birds of a Feather
  • Hackathon
ABOVE + participants can choose to host and lead sessions; anyone can present (share screen); crowdsourced agenda; voting/polling featuresSystem to test the waters for session interest; features for helping to organize scheduling across time zones; audience chat
Virtual Roundtables
  • Industry-specific roundtables
  • Professional meetups
Peer to peer webcam within professional groups; moderation features; some facilitation, recorded and/or liveContact sharing; group chat; features for helping to organize scheduling across time zone; collaboration tools; note taking
Networking Mixers; Cocktail Parties
No-Host, Autonomous Breakouts (Casual)
  • Casual roundtables
  • Virtual watercoolers
  • Speed dating
  • Knowledge/world cafes
Automatically create random pairings and dynamically re-mix them; data-based pair creations; ability for participants to select and move between groups; peer to peer webcam within groupsABOVE + ability to host regularly, with or without a host; can run with minimal to no monitoring by facilitator
Interactive Trainings with Breakouts
No-Host, Autonomous Breakouts (Professional)
  • Academic classes with discussion
  • Corporate trainings
  • Sales training with interactive roleplay exercises
Features that allow host or facilitator to be able to:
  • create breakouts flexibly and quickly
  • send messages, instructions to groups easily
  • monitor groups
  • provide clear guidance to groups
  • allow groups to share/edit documents
  • provide crowdsourced input
ABOVE + ability to pre-record guidance for breakout groups; feature to allow groups to schedule, join and participate any time; options for groups to self-select and self-organize based on a role, department, interest, or other characteristics
Guided, Hosted, or Facilitator-led Conversations
  • World Cafe
  • Interactive offsites
  • Instructor-led training
ABOVE + Peer to peer webcam within groups; moderation features; options for pre-recorded and/or live facilitationAbility to pre-record guidance for breakout groups; collaboration tools; note taking; screenshare; host-participant chat; group chat; contact sharing

Features That Support All Meeting Types:

  • Browser-based (no download) vs. requires download
  • Recordings
  • Phone or computer options for audio
  • Prioritize audio over video
  • Hosts’ ability to mute all or selected participants at a time
  • Hosts’ ability to turn webcams on/off for everyone
  • Chat with all attendees
  • Social media event sharing (Facebook, Twitter)
  • Late registration for last-minute invites
  • Data capture
  • App integrations for data upload and activities in events
  • Call report (attendees, non-attendees)
  • Caller dashboard for mic status, breakout controls and real-time monitoring

To download a PDF version of the taxonomy table above, click below.

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