How to deliver a successful virtual conference for your association

These days, virtual conferences have become essential for many associations. They offer members and sponsors much of the same value as in-person conferences, with the cost-effectiveness and convenience of attending online. They’re an ideal way to stay connected with your members when getting together in person isn’t possible. And, they’re a great source of non-dues revenue.

So, let’s talk about four key components for a successful virtual conference:

  • Education
  • Engagement and networking
  • Entertainment
  • Sponsorship and exhibiting

There are a few differences when presenting educational sessions online versus in person. Here are some considerations:

  • Time zones – Your audience might be watching your event from different time zones. You can accommodate this by breaking up your event into smaller events by time zone. Or, record keynote sessions, which attendees can watch on-demand, and then present live discussion or other breakout sessions for each time zone.
  • Recorded versus live sessions – Recording sessions in advance can help accommodate speakers’ schedules. On the flip side, live sessions allow speakers to conduct live polls, answer attendee questions, and help attendees feel more a part of the event.
  • Attendee focus – Because attendees are likely watching your event from home or the office, they might become distracted by kids, co-workers, housework, and other interruptions. Keep this in mind as you plan the length of your event. Be sure to include multiple breaks. And, keep the event as engaging and interactive as possible.

Engagement and networking
Speaking of engagement, there are multiple ways to keep attendees engaged in an online event. Adding the following features to the event experience can help make attendees feel more involved:

  • Surveys – Ask for feedback during and after each session, just as you would at in-person sessions.
  • Interactive polling – Engage attendees and create a sense of community by asking poll questions and displaying the results to help attendees interact and feel a part of the audience.
  • Attendee chat – Virtual attendees appreciate opportunities to connect with one another. Offer a live chat feature during sessions so they can share insights and swap ideas.
  • Live Q&A – Incorporate questions and answers so attendees can interact with speakers.
  • Breakout discussions – Encourage collaboration and leverage chat functionality for online breakout sessions, networking, and knowledge sharing.

Keeping members engaged also includes providing them with entertainment. Just as you would with an in-person event, providing entertainment creates a shared experience that adds energy and excitement to your event.

Here are a few ideas for entertainment that lends itself well to online conferences:

  • Live streamed music performance
  • Performance art
  • Live cooking demonstration
  • Trivia hour competition with teams
  • Prominent speaker with live Q&A

Sponsorship and exhibiting
With a virtual conference, you can offer a variety of sponsorship levels at different price points to generate revenue. Here are some ways to incorporate sponsors and exhibitors during your virtual event:

  • Sponsor announcements – Allow industry partners to sponsor sessions and provide a one-minute sponsor announcement at the beginning of each session. This can include a visual image or quick demo of their product for the benefit of the audience.
  • Spotlight interviews or vendor demos – Record spotlight interviews or vendor demos with your sponsors and exhibitors play them during breaks in sessions.
  • Networking or breakout sessions – Allow industry partners to moderate or sponsor breakout sessions on certain topics. Sponsoring a virtual networking hour offers great exposure for companies as well.
  • Virtual exhibit booths – Offer a full exhibit hall online, complete with branding and live chat to connect exhibiting companies with attendees.

Take the next step
These are just some of the essentials for planning and executing a successful virtual conference. The Event Tech Group by Community Brands offers the virtual conference software and services you need to pull off great virtual events. The software integrates with NetForum Enterprise AMS, so you can drive member engagement, delight sponsors, and boost revenue within your association management software system.

Find out how Event Tech Group makes it easy to plan, promote, and host a virtual conference that engages attendees and gives sponsors and exhibitors the exposure they seek:

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