Why Your Digital Event Shouldn’t Be Free

Author: Convene Editors       

virtual event

Worried about charging virtual event registration fees? A recent PCMA Catalyst conversation explores the costs — and value — of virtual events.

PCMA’s Catalyst community offers members a platform to ask each other questions, share ideas, or, as the website says, “communicate and collaborate.” Here’s a sampling from a recent Catalyst discussion.

Justifying the Cost of Digital Events

“As are most others, we are transitioning in-person events to virtual events and will be charging a registration fee,” Nicole Mattar, meetings specialist, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, wrote on the PCMA Catalyst forum. “Has anyone come across or put together any justification to attendees or stakeholders who ask why a registration fee is being charged for virtual events? Thank you!”


A virtual event isn’t “free” to produce. It takes time, an event platform, tech support, etc. The virtual event should still have content that is valuable, and in a digital format [that can] be archived and shared over a longer time period. If your F2F event was also a means of supporting the association/organization’s mission, you still need funds to do that. It costs less for the attendee to “go” to the event — [they] don’t need to drive, fly, book a hotel room, etc. I would strongly urge folks not to follow idea that producing a virtual event is free. Stop that idea in the tracks — now.

— Jan Haughey, chief executive officer and founder, Jan Haughey Enterprises


My approach to virtual events is like producing a TV show. How far you go with the production will vary from event to event, based on the type of event and budget you have to work with. Working with the talent/speaker side of things, I’m seeing more and more speakers take the TV production kind of approach. I have already seen a ton of speaker virtual promos and sat in some virtual sessions — some are creating great experiences for clients. Many presenters have or are in the process of investing money in creating their home studio, which may include multiple cameras, appropriate background, good microphone, sound board, digital platforms… and show videos/slides. I should preface that not all presenters should call for an extravagant setup. On top of the production — and more important — is the content/value. Whether it’s a single presenter or a Q&A session from an internal person, the content has to be relevant for the attendee. As you begin to justify the registration fee, ponder the cost of the following:

VALUE IN THE PRODUCTION (more tangible items):

  • Digital Platform
  • Microphone/sound board/cameras, etc.
  • What kind of production value does the overall event have? Is your virtual event a simple Zoom meeting or is it an event where the production expectations are high?
  • Are all the sessions live?
  • Are the sessions produced and pre-recorded videos? Even recorded content can sometimes be costly depending production.
  • Are you switching to multiple locations during the event, like a TV studio?
  • Is this a global event, regional, or local event? Do you need any translation for multiple languages?
  • How much engagement/interaction is there with the attendees?
  • What kind of production is the presenter providing?

VALUE IN THE CONTENT (this is short and to the point … less tangible, but more important):

  • What kind of content are you building each session?
  • How much content is internal (industry people) versus external (such as paid presenters, for which fees can really vary). For either, it takes time to develop and tailor content.

I know there are so many more elements, but as you can see, all of these items can become pretty costly. And this doesn’t even count for the marketing and people/time it takes to put an event together. I know I’m preaching to the choir with everyone, but no matter what the registration fee is, the attendee expectation is high and you have to deliver. We’re seeing this on the bureau side as clients want us to help them understand who delivers and how they deliver. The more upfront you can be with what they are going to experience, the better. While this is a challenging time, it can also be one of our most innovating times, limited only by our imagination. I hope some of this is helpful.

— Sheldon Senek, president, Eagles Talent Connection Inc.

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