How Long is Too Long for a Virtual Event

By redback

Attending a digital event is not only great for social distancing, it can be a huge time-saver. For a start, you can eliminate any time you would have spent travelling to and from the venue. You can also rule out getting there early enough to register, find your seat and wait for the event organisers to get going. And if you signed up to see one particular speaker or session, chances are you’ll quickly be able to find the content you’re looking for online.

Despite those time-savings, the average run-time for digital events is shortening. In fact, while 60-minute webinars used to be very common, the most recent Redback Report into the trends shaping Australia’s online event activity indicates the most popular length for a virtual event these days is 45 minutes.


The most popular length for webinars was 45 minutes in 2019


People are time-poor and can access valuable information with a simple click. So if you can keep your content short, snappy and engaging — and give people some time back in their day — you’re onto a winner.

They’re also attending more virtual events than they ever have before — data from the Redback Report shows 93% of respondents attended between one and five webinars or online events a month, while the remaining 7% attended even more. So the chances are, your audience knows what good looks like.

So what are the recommended run times for different virtual events?

While there are no hard and fast time limits, there is one rule it pays not to break: your webinars need to be succinct, get to the point and remain engaging the whole time you’re on the air. Your audience is always only ever one click away from digitally ‘walking out’ — and if they’ve already tuned out anyway, they’re far more likely to leave an online event early than to stand up and physically exit your face-to-face event part-way through. In fact, two-thirds (66%) of respondents to the Redback Report said they have left a virtual event part-way through.

That said there are some guidelines to keep in mind when it comes to virtual event lengths:


1. Lead-generation webinars

For a marketing webinar, designed to generate leads or move your customers through your sales funnel, 45 minutes is a good rule of thumb. Be ruthless about the content. If you have an inspiring presenter, whatever can be said in 60 minutes should be able to be said in 30 – 45 minutes, so try for 30 minutes of presentation time, followed by a 15-minute Q&A.


2. Educational webinars

Online events that have an educational purpose — such as shorter industry association professional development and training courses — should generally also keep to a 45-minute presentation timeline, with some time for questions. Definitely avoid going over the 60 minute mark.


3. Complex Topics or Formats

If your topic is complex or involves a multitude of speakers — more than 4 plus a moderator — you may need to schedule a longer event. Hour-long webinars are still quite common but if your Q&A will push you over the hour, be sure to communicate this in advance to your audience.


4. Half-day Courses

Many Continuing Professional Development (CPD) webinars that people attend to maintain or improve their formal qualifications or amass industry accreditation points run for half a day. These are usually split into a couple of sessions, so be sure to schedule a break in between. Not only should you use that time to run a test ahead of live-streaming your next speaker, but it’s good practice to give your audience a break, or some time to check emails — just as you might expect in a face-to-face event.


5. Full-day Conferences

Would you sit in front of your computer all day for a full-day conference? Unlikely. Neither will your audience. To translate these into a virtual format, consider pre-recording some sessions and intersperse these with your live streams. For example, you may wish to broadcast your opening keynote live, follow it with two pre-recorded sessions and then kick off the afternoon with a live-streamed panel discussion incorporating a live audience Q&A. Schedule some afternoon sessions organised into key conference themes using pre-recorded video your attendees can view at will, and perhaps follow these up with some break-out discussions in virtual chat rooms. Be innovative when it comes to creating interactive elements such as quizzes, competitions and giveaways to keep your audience engaged throughout the day.

Watch our on-demand webinar for tips on taking conferences online here.


6. Two or Three-Day Annual Event

Two-day conferences — or longer — should be converted into a blend of live-streamed and pre-recorded sessions and offered over a week or more. A dedicated conference website or page will help you keep everything in one place and complement your speaker content with blogs, product demos, trade or exhibition halls and other formats to keep your audience coming back for more. Don’t forget virtual networking sessions if these are important to your event and your community.

With any length, if you are running over, make sure you keep your attendees informed so they can manage their time and other commitments, or perhaps choose to watch the end of your session on demand.

Redback Connect runs managed virtual events for a variety of companies, professional associations and not-for-profits every month. Contact one of our sales representatives if we can help with your next digital event.