If you’re having trouble deciding between live vs. virtual events for your next big corporate affair, you’re not alone. The decision to host either an in-person or virtual event is not one that should be made lightly, because the success of the entire operation may be determined by its format.

Some things work better in a virtual format, some things work better in person, and each option comes with its own set of cons, too. It’s important to have a holistic view of each type before moving forward with event planning.

This guide can help you make the right decision by explaining some of the most pertinent considerations about each event style, helping you plan a successful event.

What’s the difference between a live and virtual event (and where does hybrid fit in)?

While the difference may seem obvious, there’s a bit of a misnomer here. When people say “live event” in the corporate world, they almost always mean an event that takes place in person. This can be confusing because, by definition, the word “live” describes something that’s happening in real-time.

But in reality, virtual events are typically broadcasted live as well (perhaps with a little bit of pre-recorded event content blended in). Therefore, “in-person event”, or “physical event” is a much more accurate name for any type of gathering where attendees are congregating in person.

On the other hand, we have hybrid events, which are a combination of both of the aforementioned formats. It usually means that live events – such as conferences, trade shows, and workshops – also have an online or virtual component.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s solidify those meanings:

  • Live event: Traditional, face-to-face, in-person events that happen at a physical location.
  • Virtual event: An event that is hosted entirely over the internet. Virtual attendees participate in the event experience by tuning into a live stream that’s broadcasted through a virtual event platform.
  • Hybrid event: A combination of live and virtual. Most often, hybrid events will have live attendees with virtual speakers or performances, or vice versa.

While some examples of popular in-person events can be carried out successfully in a virtual environment, that’s not the case across the board. So, here are a few event ideas that are ideally hosted via the respective format:

  • Conferences
  • Trade shows or Expos
  • Workshops
  • Product launches
  • Webinars
  • Training sessions
  • QA sessions
  • Online classes
  • Virtual keynote speakers

Event factors to keep in mind

Event professionals should consider a few things when determining which format will best suit the intentions and context of their next event. Some of those items include the following:

Target audience

Who is the event intended for? Identifying the target audience early can help you decide which format will be optimal for that specific audience, and help you plan activities accordingly.

Event goals

What do you hope to achieve by hosting your event? This could be any number of things, such as:

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Generate more revenue
  • Position your organization as a thought leader

…or something else entirely.

No matter your objective, follow the S.M.A.R.T goals framework. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s what it means:

  • Specific: Use numbers, not phrases. You want to increase the percentage of newsletter signups, sure, but by how much? Be specific!
  • Measurable: Ensure that your goal is able to be measured so you can keep track of your progress or even celebrate milestones.
  • Attainable: Make sure that your goal is practical. It should be challenging, but you should still be able to achieve it with reasonable effort.
  • Realistic: You should have a good understanding of what you (and your team) are capable of. Make sure that understanding is reflected in the goals that you set by not overestimating your capacity.
  • Time-bound: Set a deadline. This will provide a sense of urgency and importance that can help you achieve the goal — and it holds you accountable.

Event type

What kind of event are you planning? Different types of events are better suited for certain formats. If you’re devising an event with lots of keynote speakers, there’s plenty of potential for a successful virtual event, which offers greater accessibility. However, if your event is all about networking and vendor interactions, such as a trade show, an in-person affair might be your best bet.


What is the ideal engagement strategy for this event? Something like event app gamification is a great engagement strategy, but the approach may differ depending on whether it’s an in-person or virtual event.

Event technology

What technology do you require to facilitate a successful in-person or virtual experience for attendees? Depending on the format, you might need access to a virtual platform with specific capabilities. Your event technology stack, when housed under a comprehensive platform, can help your event run smoothly.


How long do you have to plan your event? If you’re running on a tight schedule, trying to put an in-person event together at the last minute is challenging. The sooner you’re aware of the intended event dates, the better you can plan. And the better you can plan, the greater your chance of event success.

The pros and cons of each format

Another important point of consideration when deciding on your event format is looking at both sides of the proverbial coin. Both a virtual and physical event come with their share of disadvantages, and you have to make sure, based on the context of your event, one of those cons isn’t going to break the experience.

We’ve put together a short list of pros and cons for both physical and virtual events. Take a look:

Pros and cons of live events

There are lots of examples of things that work great for in-person events. After all, it’s what many people are used to. However, now that we’ve introduced an alternative option, the cons have become a bit more clear. That’s not to say that, now, all in-person affairs should be moved online. They shouldn’t. Instead, it has given us a better understanding of each option, which allows us to weigh opportunities and outcomes, based on your objectives, more fairly.

Face-to-face interaction
Encourages networking
Easier to maintain engagement
Ecological impact

Pros and cons of virtual events

Virtual events are here to say — and that’s a great thing. They are often more accessible and cost-effective than their in-person counterparts — however, they can be limiting. Whether you choose this option or something else, you should only make a decision after considering your options from all perspectives.

Faster to organize
Easy to evaluate performance
Heavy reliance on technology
Can be limited in terms of interaction
Limited control over distractions

Hybrid events

We’ll save the table here because all you need to do is examine each of the above charts and combine them. If you’re looking to satisfy as many people as possible, optimize the event’s accessibility, and enjoy the benefits of each format, consider hybrid.

Live vs virtual vs hybrid: Choosing your format

So, it’s time to finalize your decision: Live, virtual, or hybrid for your next event? We hope that you have a better understanding of each format and that you feel more comfortable making an educated decision between the options.

If you’re still feeling unsure about which is the right path for you, fret not — because you can have the best of both by opting for the hybrid model. But to ensure success, it all comes down to choosing the right event partner. With the right platform, technology, and expertise, you can make the most of your future events — no matter which option you choose.

Getting started with the right event partner

With an end-to-end event platform, you can have the best of both worlds. Having a flexible and engaging event management platform in your corner enables you to maximize the benefits of either format. It takes the pressure off making the decision, and you can rest easy knowing that either choice is supported by the right technology.