Imagine you’re weeks away from your biggest event of the year, potentially a huge portion of your association’s budget, and COVID-19 hits, bringing with it stay-at-home orders across the globe. What do you do? Most associations find themselves in this exact situation right now. With little hope that live events will begin anytime soon, the association world is finding ways to adapt. Today we’ll look at two associations and the success they achieved from converting their in-person meeting into a fully virtual meeting.
Within a week of the official start date for the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians’ (ACOFP) annual meeting, it became very clear that having an in-person meeting was not going to be possible as lockdowns popped up across the USA due to COVID-19. Following some quick internal strategizing, ACOFP staff developed a plan to completely virtualize their event including many of the steps we outlined in Thinking of Hosting A Virtual Event.
For ACOFP, it was key to first determine how to record their sessions and provide access to live streaming and recorded sessions. Then, using the MOSAICÔ app they were able to provide links to live and recorded sessions for all registered users. Some other helpful tips ACOFP discovered in their virtual event are:
- Make sure you have an experienced moderator available for all virtual sessions. This will not only give your sessions that extra professional feel, but also ease the pressure on your speakers.
- Build in time for session prep work like confirming all technology is ready to record the session and practice sessions for the speakers. Spending a little bit of time before the event will give you peace of mind while ensuring your attendees have the best experience possible.
- Consider partnering with related organizations to produce even larger, can’t-miss virtual events. With partners, ACOFP anticipates being able to offer additional tracks for future virtual events, yet another draw for registrants to want to participate.
- Be prepared that most attendees of virtual events expect to have sessions on-demand after the event is over. ACOFP noted that a majority of their users spent less than two hours in their live-streamed sessions leading them to believe most users’ main intent was on-demand access.
The result: of the 1,800 individuals ACOFP had signed up for their annual conference, 49% continued as virtual attendees. This far outreached what they anticipated. In fact, they had an additional 100 new attendees sign up for the event once it was switched to virtual. ACOFP was happy to call this meeting a success!
The American College of Osteopathic Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOOG) found themselves in a similar situation this past March. With social distancing orders striking down the possibility of having an in-person event, ACOOG decided to virtualize their annual conference a mere three weeks away from its start date.
ACOOG began by regrouping with their session streaming vendor to make sure they could not only live-stream and record the sessions, but also provide links for virtual attendees to watch from the safety of their home. Next, they developed a communication plan so that all attendees knew what would be available and where. Taking advantage of the tools they already had in place, Andrew Crim, Director of Education and Professional Development, explains:
“The MOSAIC App was certainly one of the assets we used to successfully switch. It provided a central location for all the information about the conference, allowed us to communicate quickly with participants through alerts and messages, and was easy to update sessions when we received the links to the recorded presentations. Additionally, we used it as a platform where participants could watch the presentations, ask speaker questions and complete evaluations. We pushed people to the app because the evaluation process was easier to access and the session information (objectives, handouts, speaker info) was contained in a logical flow”
Additional helpful tips from ACOOG’s experience include:
- If CEUs are typically an important part of your conferences, do everything possible to make sure you can still offer them at your virtual event. ACOOG was able to keep their CEU process in place by merely swapping live-streamed and recorded sessions for in-person sessions.
- To minimize any loss of expenditure, carefully review all event-related contracts. ACOOG was able to exercise the Force Majeure clause in their hotel contract and took the conference to a virtual-only platform which saved them thousands of dollars in onsite costs.
- Even though it may not seem necessary for a virtual event, include some breaks in your virtual event schedule. You’ll appreciate the time to switch technologically from one session to another and it will give your attendees a short personal break too.
- Don’t forget to include opportunities for attendees to virtually network if possible. Your goal is to provide as many benefits to your virtual event as you do at your in-person events.
- If possible, find virtual ways to include other pieces that users would typically see at an event: an exhibit hall, recognizing sponsors, conducting poster sessions, committee and membership meetings, etc. The more you include a full conference experience, the more likely you are to draw attendees into your virtual event.
The association world will always be intertwined with live events, but as we move into our new normal, virtual events will start to become a larger part of all event-related efforts. Take advantage of the current situation and the captive audience that comes with it by trying out virtual events today.