We sat down with Blue Sky eLearn for a live presentation and Q&A on how to get creative with your upcoming virtual event. There were some great ideas shared in the presentation (video link shared below) and many more ideas that were shared from the audience chat, made up of close to 400 association and technology professionals.
To share some of the key takeaways from this discussion, we decided to write a recap blog post to summarize many of the great ideas that were shared. Thank you to everyone that participated live and for anyone that missed it, keep reading for our top 10 takeaways on getting creative with virtual events:
#1 Focus on outcomes first, and then figure out technology
We discussed how it can be helpful to first decide on the core purpose of your conference. Rank what factors are most important, including things like networking, education, sponsor time, or other specific considerations you have for your event.
Once you have a clear purpose and goals for the event, you can start to focus on which technologies will help you be successful. By starting first with the outcomes, you can be sure the technology you choose will enable you to meet those goals.
Some organizations will require enterprise solutions to help them meet their needs, while many other organizations will want to take advantage of the many free or low cost tools that your team can leverage right away.
#2 Leverage technology partners to support staff
If you aren’t sure how to manage the event or decide on the technologies to use, you may want to consider finding a partner that can help your staff manage the event.
Keep in mind that event planning gets complex fast, with many details and considerations. Just like you would hire vendors to help you plan the logistics of your in-person meeting, you may also want to look for vendors that can help you ensure the meeting is run smoothly.
You should be able to work with a vendor to customize the service to what you need. For example, you might want someone to help you coordinate the production of webinar sessions and handle the post-production process.
The partner you choose should then customize the services they provide so that they are adding skillsets or bandwidth in areas that your team needs the most.
#3: Leverage the data you already have
We discussed how data can help to improve the event experience for members and sponsors. Although virtual events may be brand new for your business, it’s likely that you know already know a great deal about your members.
Here are some ideas on the data sources you can use to help make your event more successful:
- Transactions: Look at previous member transactions as an indicator of future spend
- LMS Data: Members that already take courses online may be more likely to participate in an online event
- Website engagement: Pages, blog posts, and resources on your website that are getting the most engagement can tell you what topics are going to be relevant to use at your event
- Online community discussions: Identify trending topics and active thought-leaders who can be potential speakers at your upcoming event
- Social media posts: Check to see what frequently asked questions your members have on Twitter or Linkedin to use as ideas for content and sessions
- Industry and Demographics: Understanding the data can change how you market to members, particularly if certain segments are more impacted by COVID-19 than others right now
- Surveys: On-going surveys can be a rich source of data to quickly get feedback from your members
Take advantage of the data you already have or can easily find. Use it to optimize how you market the event by narrowing down which members you should be focusing your efforts on getting to register.
You may want to investigate the profitability of your past events and use that as a benchmark for your virtual events. Your overall revenue may go down, but your virtual event may be more profitable because the cost to produce it is much lower than an in-person event.
#4 Consider different formats for content
We discussed how there are several options for producing the event content. While we tend to think of events as being “live”, that doesn’t necessarily mean a fully live event is going to be the best experience for members or the easiest to produce for your staff.
Here are some options to consider when producing sessions:
- Live stream: Best for keynote speakers or other important sessions you want to highlight
- On-demand: Pre-recorded sessions that allow your staff and presenters the time and flexibility to get their presentations done right and on their own time. One benefit is that people generally prefer the ability to watch something on-demand.
- Mock-live: These are pre-recorded sessions from panelists, but the panelists are also in the meeting live to answer questions from the audience. This format makes it easier for the panelists to interact in the live Q&A discussions.
- Webinars: A traditional webinar is held as a live presentation by a speaker or panel of speakers. The audience can interact with questions, polls, and other forms of engagement.
We also discussed how many associations are also considering changing the format of the event itself. While an 8-hour conference in-person can be exciting, it may be less desirable for online learning.
Consider spacing out the event over the course of a week or a month, allowing members to view content when they can and have dedicated live events or networking opportunities built-in to the schedule.
Considering alternative formats can make it easier for people to stay engaged and interested. Without the physical constraints of an event venue and travel dates, virtual events are an opportunity to test out something new.
#5 Think outside the box with sponsor opportunities
Much of the discussion focused on how to come up with creative ideas to keep event sponsors happy and provide them value.
Consider asking sponsors what their goals are for the event, and then tailoring your sponsorship package to their needs. For example, one sponsor may want to participate as a general speaker, whereas another partner may prefer to host a sponsored zoom breakout discussion with a small group of people.
It’s important to remember that there are additional opportunities to take advantage of now that the event is virtual.
For example, you can track engagement data to see things like who attended which session. This can be valuable business intelligence that a sponsor may be willing to pay for. Consider using this type of data to determine which members are interested buyers, and then find ways of connecting them with the sponsors.
Other ideas discussed were creating sponsor opportunities that are on-going or happen after the event is over. Several associations also discussed using digital gifting platforms as a way for sponsors to send swag or provide lunch.
By opening up a dialogue with sponsors and finding out their goals, you should be able to creatively come up with some new ideas that leverage technology to add value for sponsors.
#6 Breaks for networking
Another theme that came up is that virtual events can benefit from having breaks set aside for networking.
One idea is to group Zoom rooms by topic, so that people can self-select which topics they want to join. Or you may have data (collected in a survey or demographic data) that will help you to match people based on similar interests.
We have also seen effective online directories that allow people to search or say who they would like to connect with.
Consider having moderators in some of these discussions to help guide the conversations with seeded questions and make it easier for everyone to connect virtually.
#7 Offer training and best practices for participation
Another important topic we discussed was how it’s a good idea to incorporate training for the virtual event that offered best practices for the audience to use when participating.
This could be a video on how to use the virtual tools, or a tech overview at the very start of the event.
Consider creating a type of virtual code of conduct with tips for etiquette to follow while communicating virtually.
The technology you choose should make it easy for members to participate, and your team should be ready to offer guidance and best practices for how to participate in the virtual event.
#8 Quality of production for sessions
Some associations will have the budget to create high quality production of videos, that leverage professional video production teams. If you can afford to do it, your attendees will appreciate the high quality production.
However, if you have a small staff and limited resources, the good news is that there are small things you can do to optimize the production quality of sessions. At the end of the day, no one is expecting everything to be perfect and less produced events can feel more authentic to the audience.
The goal for speakers is to limit the disruptions and distractions, but we are all used to being on Zoom calls now where an occasional pet or family member is visible in the background. The sessions don’t have to be perfect, so embrace the authenticity and do the best with the resources you have available.
Below are some additional resources and tips for presenters:
#9 Re-purpose content for additional revenue or member benefit
We discussed that content from virtual sessions can be another way to drive additional revenue after the event or add value for members.
That one session can live as not just a video recording, but also as a blog post, a social media post, a website page, and any other medium your team can think of. See which sessions have the most engagement and re-purpose the content into assets that other members can take advantage of. These can be free resources or assets that can be accessed from behind a paywall to drive revenue. Some organizations have offered limited content at a discounted rate, so that more people can take advantage of the content at a more affordable price point.
#10 Use the event as a learning process
The final takeaway we had in our discussion was that people are excited to experiment with virtual events.
Virtual events are an opportunity to think of new ways to interact with members, and not just directly replace an existing program. It’s an opportunity to expand your reach with members, and associations that embrace the challenge will find an additional revenue source to tap into, even once i