Stephen Wynkoop, ConferenceOnline.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Face-to-face events – meetings, conferences and trade shows – are key to reaching, engaging and motivating members.
So how can an association reach and engage its members when they are sitting in their offices or homes?
Virtually. Think of a virtual “face-to-face” event.
While in-person meetings remain the standard, many associations are turning to virtual events to reduce costs, attract more geographically diverse groups of participants – or just inject a real change of pace.
New tools for these events include the virtual pieces of online communications and presentations: webcasts and webinars as well as online trade shows and virtual conferences all offer great leverage and can provide huge returns on investment. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome is fear of the unknown: just what does it take to hold one of these virtual events?
Virtual Event Basics…
At a high level, the steps to put together a virtual event are similar to those for an in-person event. The foundation is content: your presentations and speakers and the materials they’ll be presenting in the sessions. Other steps include:
- Marketing your event to your membership (“save the date,” registration information, etc.)
- Finding sponsors and partners
- Setting up session schedules
While you won’t be managing a physical location, the virtual event environment offers a variety of branding and networking opportunities.
Webcasts and webinars are pretty straightforward. These are a single presentation, usually about an hour, presented online using a broadcast tool. You allow people to register, then they attend the session and watch it in “real time” or after the fact, on-demand. These are great tools for presenting quick updates, single topics, or even an ongoing web-based series of presentations.
Now with virtual events in the mainstream, options are plentiful for producing online events that support current in-person work or that offer entirely new means of outreach. These virtual conferences include as many sessions as you’d like and often include virtual trade show booths. If you consider the elements of an in- person event, typically held at hotel or conference venue, those same aspects can be achieved online.
This gives your audience – those in your organization and those that you collectively support — options for interacting with you. Many times, associations are using these virtual events to provide session materials, interaction with associated vendors and resources and interaction with other members, to those who cannot travel, or don’t have the time for an in-person conference event.
… and Benefits
The result can be increased membership, due to working with and helping a more broadly available base. Another benefit can be more member involvement, through the use of chat technologies, online discussions, materials provided with sessions and more. This interaction creates friendships, business relationships and even can fuel new opportunities for online participants.
For you, the show organizer, it’s an opportunity to extend your vision and reach, and to provide services to people that may not otherwise be able to attend an event, or that want a refresher for your in-person events. There are many ways to weave the online and offline worlds together to provide a comprehensive set of resources. Examples include simultaneous broadcast of sessions from a live event, “best of” shows that recap the in- person event and even on-demand events that show the sessions captured at the in-person event. At the same time, the online events can be economical and even provide a new source of revenue for your organization.
You can offer access to your events for a fee to attendees, and you can provide certification and ongoing access to sessions as online courses, available for a fee to members as follow-up revenues.
Integrating Virtual Basics
Some ideas to consider for successful virtual conferences:
- During the main part of the day, run educational sessions that help your members in the topics that interest them and that your organization supports.
- In the evening, run “informational” events on the same platform, where members can invite others to participate to learn more about your organization. You could have “viewing parties” for prospective members and ask for donations to the association in support of the evening event(s).
- Offer a certification for session attendance — this helps with continuing education requirements by some employers or industries and, even if you don’t have a formal continuing education curriculum, your members get the benefit of a certificate, which demonstrates that they’re keeping their skills up-to-date.
- Online events are great tools to get the word out not only about a specific topic, but an association’s benefits and services. Use the interaction time to help convey your association’s benefits and goals and how attendees can get involved. Case studies or “success stories” are a good way to communicate benefits.
- Promote your presenters; they’ll promote your association. When presenters agree to speak, make sure everyone knows who they are, what they do, where their blog or book or website is, etc. Make sure the attendees know how to get involved with the presenters.
- How do you “sell” a virtual event to a new/reluctant audience? Many audiences are unfamiliar with the tools and environment of a virtual event. It can be helpful tostart with a webcast or two, then move forward into a more comprehensive event. You can also offer a preview of the event through the use of a simple video that shows your audience what to expect.
There are many ways to integrate virtual events into your association’s activities – it can be a great tool for educating, getting involved with, and adding growth to your membership and association constituents. It’s not nearly as daunting as it may seem, and with the right partners, you can focus on the events, outreach and benefits to your base, rather than the mechanics of the event.
For more information about vConferenceOnline.com and holding your own virtual events, please see vConferen- ceOnline.com – full event support, help with setup and options and a series of options are available to you for hosting your virtual events.