Last spring many organizations found themselves having to pivot their in-person conferences to a fully virtual conference in a very short time frame. In fact, in Community Brands 2020 Benchmark Report, Preparing for 2021 and Beyond, 94% of respondents said they held a virtual event or conference during the pandemic. For those association professionals delivering virtual events for the first time there was a steep learning curve for how best to translate the in-person experience online.
As we move into the Spring 2021 conference season and organizations look to continue virtual engagement with their members, now is the time to reflect on the lessons learned. Association professionals can take advantage of having more time to plan and leverage best practices to execute an exceptional virtual conference. Here are our tips for producing a successful event:
- Mix Up the Delivery Methods – Transitioning an in-person conference with concurrent sessions to entirely virtual can be a big undertaking. Leveraging rebroadcasts, a replay of a previously recorded event, can make the day-of experience less stressful as you already have the content recorded and don’t have to worry about live speaker technical difficulties. We have seen many clients produce an entirely rebroadcasted virtual conference or mix rebroadcasts in with live content to make the event more scalable. Also consider including on-demand recordings into your offering so that learners can watch the sessions they were not able to attend live.
- Incorporate Interactivity – No matter what delivery method you use, you want to ensure that you offer interactivity options to keep the audience engaged. Incorporate a chat during your education sessions so learners can network with one another and share best practices. Offer an option for submitting questions to the speaker so learners can receive real-time responses. Include polling throughout your event to give attendees a sense of community.
- Facilitate the Conversation – One of the best ways to stoke engagement and ensure a positive experience for your attendees is to have a staff member assigned to each session to oversee the chat and facilitate the conversation. Some ideas for conversation starters include:
- Welcoming the attendees to each session with the title of the program and reminder of the start time.
- Asking people where they are joining from or what they have enjoyed most about the conference.
- Advising on best practices for using the platform.
- Reminding people of upcoming sessions or other networking events.
- Customize the Event Experience – Within the viewer layout of each education session you can customize the look and feel to reinforce the conference branding. Incorporate your conference logo and coloring to set your event experience apart from your everyday learning offerings.
- Highlight Sponsors – Freestone offers a variety of ways to highlight sponsors within the education sessions. You can include a custom branded session layout, custom tabs highlighting one or all of your sponsors, rotating slides prior to the session start, recorded commercials, live demos and more. Talk to your partners about what opportunities give them the greatest return on their investment and create corresponding sponsor packages.
- Set Attendee Expectations – Leading up to your event maintain a consistent cadence of communication with your registrants to inform them of what to expect during the conference. Make sure they have clear instructions on how to access the learning content as well as any other features you may be promoting like a virtual exhibit hall, networking event or poster session. Include instructions on how they can test their system leading up to the event. Lean on our Freestone Learner Support team to assist attendees so your staff can focus on the content and engaging with the audience.
For more on best practices for delivering a success virtual conference check out our Checklist for Successful Virtual Events.