If you’re new to hosting virtual events, you might be wondering exactly how to budget for one — and understandably so. Navigating the costs of hosting a virtual event can be tricky, especially if you’re following an outdated playbook tailored to in-person events. While you may not need to secure a physical venue or lock in a caterer, you do need to plan for unexpected, new elements.
On top of that, event planners are dealing with rapidly-evolving expectations: they need to snag shorter attention spans while working with ever-shrinking budgets. They also need to prove the return on investment (ROI) of their events, and they’re largely expected to drive the same type of engagement that you’d see at an in-person event virtually.
Below, we’ll cover how to budget for your virtual event, which line items you can strike from your spreadsheet, and how to track the success of your event — so you can get a bigger budget for the next one!
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In this article
Why you need an event budget (especially for virtual and hybrid events)
In many ways, virtual events can be far cheaper to host than in-person events. After all, there’s no need to rent an event space or chairs, print materials, sort accommodations, or set out charcuterie boards.
However, setting a budget can help you make strategic decisions about your virtual event — from where to cut costs to finding potential sources of sponsorship and cash flow.
When you budget for your event ahead of time, you can decide which line items are mission critical, which can be slashed, and where you can get creative in surprising and delighting attendees.
Average cost of hosting a virtual event
The average cost of hosting a virtual event depends on a number of factors — from the length of the event to the number of speakers and attendees involved.
Later on in this article, we’ll break down the different costs involved in hosting a virtual event, so you can more closely estimate the cost of hosting your own event. But for now, here’s what you can expect as the ballpark cost of hosting a virtual event:
- For a shorter webinar with up to 500 attendees, you can generally expect to pay between $2,500 and $10,000.
- For a single-day virtual conference, complete with presentations and virtual breakout rooms, expect costs to range from $4,000 to $25,000.
- For a multi-day virtual conference that features multiple sessions, breakout rooms, discussions, and recorded content, you can expect to pay between $50,000 and $150,000.
As you can tell, that’s a pretty significant range.
Let’s dig into the different line items to consider when budgeting for your virtual event, so you can estimate costs more accurately.
Cost breakdown for virtual events
|Line item||Estimated cost|
|Microphones||$40+ per speaker|
|Video cameras||$24+ per speaker|
|Ring lights||$30+ per speaker|
|Green screens||$18+ per speaker|
|Event hosting software|
|Up to 100 attendees||$50 to $250|
|500 to 2,500 attendees||$625 to $8,000|
|3,000+ attendees||$25,000 to $40,000|
|Other software (as needed)|
|Landing page hosting||$39/month – $469/month|
|Event registration form||$39/month – $720/month, or expect to pay a ticketing fee (and payment processing fee) per ticket|
|Email management software||$3/month – $150/user/month|
|Audience engagement software||Starting at $8/month – $1,000/month|
|New expert||$2,500 to $5,000|
|Keynote speaker||$7,500 to $10,000|
|Thought leader||$10,000 to $30,000|
|Celebrity||$20,000 to $75,000|
|Well-known celebrity||$100,000 to $200,000|
|In-studio pre-recording||$375 to $500/hour|
|Remote pre-recording||$125 to $200/hour|
|Post-recording edits||$100 to $200/hour|
|Custom tote bag||$3.99/tote|
|Plain mailer bag||$0.87/bag|
What you need to pull off a successful virtual event
Technically, you could run a virtual event with little less than an online meeting space, a camera, and a microphone. However, if you want to create a seamless, successful virtual experience, there are a few expenses that you might want to consider investing in.
It doesn’t take too much equipment to make online speakers look polished and professional — but it does take some.
Make sure your presenters look and feel their best on event day by equipping them with the tech they’ll need ahead of time. If you rely on your presenters to simply use their laptop speakers and microphones, you may run into tech problems or have variance in how they present (nobody wants to be the one speaker with grainy video or choppy audio).
Instead, get presenters set up ahead of time with the following:
If you’re running an event with a tighter budget, you may be able to skip some of the items above — just make sure that you’re checking speakers’ pre-existing setups ahead of time, and coaching them on how to optimize their lighting and levels of background noise during the event.
Read more about gear
Virtual event hosting software
You can think of event hosting software as the virtual venue in which your event will take place. And just like physical venues, different platforms offer you a range of different features.
According to Markletic, here’s what you can expect to pay in virtual event platform costs each month:
- Between $50 and $250 to host small virtual conferences with up to 100 attendees each.
- Between $625 and $8,000 to host larger virtual events with 500 to 2,500 attendees.
- Between $25,000 and $40,000 to host larger events with over 3,000 attendees.
Most virtual event platforms will charge per user, and charge different pricing tiers depending on your virtual event needs. (Think number of attendees, marketing and promotion features, and security controls, for instance.)
Take careful stock here of exactly what features your event platform provides you with. While some platforms may — at the surface level — seem more expensive than others, they may come with extra features that actually make them more affordable in the long run.
For instance, some platforms will literally only host your event. In that case, sending event reminders, running polls, building a landing page, and getting attendees registered will all require separate software. Others, however, have these features already built in, which can save you from spending on those features elsewhere.
Any other software needs
As we mentioned above, some event hosting platforms — including us here at Vimeo — will include advanced features like a landing page builder, event registration forms, automatic event reminder emails, and interactive elements like polls and Q&As in their pricing.
If you opt for a platform that doesn’t include those features, however, make sure you include the following costs in your budget as needed:
- Landing page hosting: starting at $39/month for a landing page with your own domain. Enterprise plans, for companies hosting multiple large-scale events, can cost up to $469/month.
- Event registration forms: free for free events, otherwise expect to pay a ticketing fee (for example, $0.99 and 2% of the ticket cost) per ticket or a monthly subscription starting at $39/month.
- Email management software: starting at $3/month to send 500 emails per month. Premium and enterprise plans typically cost between $36 – 150 per user per month.
- Audience engagement software: starting at $8/month for audiences of up to 50. Enterprise plan pricing ranges from $199/month to $1,000/month.
Since virtual events require less time and travel than in-person events, most keynote speakers will charge about 50% of their in-person fee for virtual events. Exactly how much a speaker will charge you, though, will usually depend on their experience and how well-known they are.
According to Big Speak, you can expect to pay:
- $2,500 to $5,000 for a relatively new expert in the space
- $7,500 to $10,000 for an established keynote speaker
- $10,000 to $30,000 for a thought leader with a large following or published books
- $20,000 to $75,000 for celebrities
- $100,000 to $200,000 for well-known celebrities
If you’re pre-recording any content for your event, you’ll need to factor production costs into your budget.
For example, to pre-record in a studio, expect to pay anywhere from $375 to $500 an hour for filming. If you’re pre-recording remotely, this cost should drop to $125 to $200 an hour.
Either way, warns Zephan Blaxberg, CEO of video production studio ZMBMedia, expect your production costs to be about three times higher than what you’d initially expected. For post-recording edits, budget in $100 to $200 per hour.
“Keep in mind a 1:3 ratio for pre-event recordings: for every minute of recording, there will be approximately three times as much time being billed. Although your presenter may be speaking for a mere 60 minutes, your livestream technician will be arriving one hour early to set up the studio and prepare. They will also be staying at least one hour after the recording to backup footage and begin the editing process.”
Advertising and marketing
It can be hard to estimate the cost of promoting your virtual event, since many companies use their existing resources for marketing. However, you can get a better sense of what you’ll spend on marketing by coming up with a virtual event marketing plan.
Ask yourself (and your team!):
- How much time will our marketing team spend on this event?
- How will we promote this event to potential attendees?
- Will we spend money on social media promotion?
- What will our email marketing look like?
- Will we work with influencers to get the word out about our event?
- Where will we host event information and registration?
- What about virtual swag and gifts for attendees?
- What will our post-event marketing look like?
Keep in mind that marketing and advertising can be some of the costliest portions of hosting a virtual event.
“The biggest spend we have is on advertising and the thought leaders/experts we bring on as speakers,” says Miles DePaul, Director of Demand Generation at Superside. “This is where the value of the Superside brand comes in. As people become more familiar with our brand, and learn from our content, our participation improves, and the event budget can start to regress. We save on advertising since our cost-per-click goes down with better brand awareness, and more organic promotion pays off. We save on speaker fees because great speakers want to partner with us or are willing to offer discounts.”
Once you’ve come up with a plan, you’ll have a better understanding of where you can use your existing resources (such as your marketing team and existing email marketing software), and where you may need to spend extra (for instance, on influencer partnerships or landing page hosting).
Gifts or swag
One way to add a fun, in-person touch to your virtual event is to send attendees a swag bag ahead of time. Receiving a swag bag in the days leading up to your virtual event can boost attendees’ anticipation, boost social media buzz, and help you stand out from other events.
The cost of putting together a swag bag really depends, of course, on what you put inside of it. We’ve collected a list of 30 virtual swag bag ideas for you, but for the purposes of budgeting, let’s pretend your swag bag includes the following classic items:
- A branded notepad for note-taking ($4.66)
- A pair of custom socks ($9.78)
- A custom tote bag ($3.99)
- A plain mailer bag ($0.87)
While shipping will vary greatly based on attendee location, the materials within each of these swag bags would cost you $19.30, or just under $20.
Fortunately, this is an area where you can deduct costs from your virtual event budget. (We love to see it.)
Sponsorship opportunities may look different for virtual events than they do for in-person events, but they absolutely exist. Before the event, sponsors can be highlighted across all of your pre-event marketing, including your event landing page, social media posts, company newsletter, and reminder emails. You can also send registrants emails detailing any special offers from partners or sponsors.
During the event, you can feature sponsor branding on transition slides, run sponsored polls for them, host a discussion with your sponsors, or feature their short-form videos. If they’d like to send sponsored products to attendees, you can include these in your swag bags.
Finally, don’t forget to feature sponsors in your post-event content — including on-demand footage, post-event emails and social media posts, and video snippets. This way, you’re actually providing extra value to your sponsors, since they continue to receive airtime long after the event has wrapped.
More event resources
How to measure the success of your virtual event
As you can probably tell by now, there are plenty of expenses that go into hosting a great virtual event. To prove the ROI of your event and secure funding for future events, it’s critical to track and prove the success of your event.
A few metrics you might consider tracking include:
- Brand awareness: measured through event registrations, website traffic, event impressions, and social media engagements.
- Leads and customers generated: tracked through event sign-ups, responses to event surveys, and any actions taken by new leads (such as starting a free trial).
- Audience education: measured through the average number of sessions attended by guests and the level of attendee engagement in discussions, Q&As, and chats.
“Our events strategy is at its best when it is delivering value across the full funnel, influencing buyers to not only become problem-aware but also to influence more sales engagements and, ultimately, revenue,” says DePaul.
You can use Vimeo’s platform’s event- and viewer-level analytics to see exactly who attended, how many sessions they watched, and how they engaged with any audience interaction tools. You can also import registrants directly into popular marketing platforms like Marketo, HubSpot, and MailChimp to help convert leads into buyers and track the actions they take after registering for your event.
Include human touches to make your virtual event feel IRL
When you’re running a virtual event, it can be easy to forget that real people are sitting behind their screens in the audience, making it easy for attendees to lose interest or get distracted.
DePaul and the Superside team understand the importance of thoughtful, even personalized elements as they plan their virtual events. “Throughout this entire journey, we increasingly try to add a human touch through things like direct mail, gifting, user generated content, or videos,” he says.
Here are a few ways to help your audience feel more connected to the event, other viewers, and your speakers:
- Use audience engagement tools — like a live chat, interactive polls, and Q&A sections — to make sure your event is a two-way conversation rather than a monologue.
- Let attendees meet one another and chat in breakout rooms, and create a LinkedIn group so that attendees can connect with each other after the event. This helps bring a networking component (and extra value!) to your virtual event.
- Send out swag bags, and use a giveaway to encourage participation. These small elements can help foster excitement and keep attendees’ energy up throughout the event.
“For example, our largest summit of 2022, Momentum Summit, was promoted heavily with short selfie videos from our speakers, which we used in both ads and personalized 1:1 emails. When readers come to the landing page, we’d have videos from the speakers and from our team talking through the problems we want to discuss at the event, not just a static text-heavy landing page.
We encourage some of our more VIP registrants to attend and invite their colleagues with things like snack boxes, or offer to buy their lunch on the day of the event. At the event itself, we prioritize peer-to-peer connections through discussion in the event chat, smaller executive roundtables, or inviting them to our Superside Community, where conversations continue well beyond the event.”
FAQs about budgeting for a virtual event
Have a few lingering questions about budgeting for your next virtual event? Below, we’ll tackle a few commonly asked questions and link you to further resources to help with your planning.
What’s the average budget for a virtual event?
According to Statista, 34% of marketers say they spend between $500 and $1,000 per participant on a virtual event.
Overall, most businesses report spending over $10,000 on live events. To learn just how many respondents spend more or less than $10,000 on their virtual events, check out our 2022 virtual event statistics.
How do you budget for a virtual event?
If you’re looking for a detailed, step-by-step guide to help with your budgeting, our Live Streaming budgeting guide covers the specific software, hardware, features, and equipment you’ll need to run a live virtual event.
How does hosting virtual events make money?
For many companies, hosting a virtual event is mainly about increasing brand awareness and driving leads. Others, though, hope to turn it into a revenue stream. To learn more about how to monetize your events, check out our guide to popular event monetization tools.
What should I look for in a virtual events platform?
Every business is different — and so is every virtual event. If you’re not sure exactly which features you’ll need to pull off the virtual event of the year, check out our Ultimate guide to live streaming, which covers everything you need to know to get started.
Time to get event planning
Planning a virtual event can be plenty of work — but it also offers unique opportunities to grow your audience, partner with creative sponsors and speakers, and delight attendees. Aside from hosting, Vimeo’s platform makes it easy to build a gorgeous landing page, automate event reminder emails, engage your audience, integrate with your marketing platform, and dig into post-event analytics.