Social distancing has become the new normal as we all try to limit the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). To do their part, businesses have translated in-person events into digital ones. However, the transition has posed a challenge for associations. While associations in particular rely on events as a critical revenue source, they remain committed to providing value to their members through digital events. To support our clients in providing value, we have brainstormed ideas for them on how to plan and host engaging online conferences and events.
Organizations now have a unique chance to connect with members or customers in empathetic new ways that strengthen relationships while respecting social distance. In this time of uncertainty, bringing events fully online offers expanded flexibility for an audience to engage on their own terms.
Based on conversations with our clients about COVID-19's impact and our two decades of expertise creating innovative digital experiences, we've developed the following ideas for how to create more engaging online conferences and events. While these ideas were born out of problem-solving for our association clients, we designed them to be applicable for any organization that may be facing this new challenge of planning virtual events.
Velir's Ideas for Creating Engaging Online Conferences and Events
1. Design Digital Experiences That Are Inclusive for All
Design an inclusive digital experience by making it accessible. Leverage the digital aspect of your conference or event to ensure people of all abilities can consume your content. Offer robust accommodations for a wide range of mobility, hearing, and vision needs. Establish an online tone of inclusivity by being welcoming and warm, and providing ways to socialize. Encourage participants to be more active than they would in traditional in-person conferences. Provide ample opportunities for them to participate in session content or give them options to interact more with their peers.
Read more about creating accessible digital experiences.
2. Use Pre-Recording to Your Advantage
When possible, pre-record large keynote sessions for your events instead of running them live. This allows users to access your content across time zones. It also gives you time to make your videos completely accessible. By pre-recording, you can edit sessions, add quality captioning, and create memorable graphics for transitions or visual aids.
3. Plan Ahead for Live Q&As
Configure advanced registration for your events. This will help organizers better plan their sessions and factor in the right amount of time for Q&As. If you let registrants submit questions in advance, instructors can ensure that they answer basic ones in their content. This allows them to focus on only the most impactful questions at the end of each session.
4. Foster Digital Communities
Create spaces for digital communities, since in-person communities are unavailable. Cater to attendees’ specific interests in your field. Offer channels where they can talk to others with those interests and form bonds. This can include special Slack channels or breakout rooms in Zoom during an event. The more you provide ways for members or clients to connect with each other, the more likely they'll want to stay connected with you.
5. Incorporate Fun Elements Usually Reserved for Physical Events
Determine how to send attendees useful swag like pens and notebooks with sponsors' logos ahead of the event. When they receive these items, they'll feel like they would if they were handed a welcome bag at check-in. Swag isn't everything though. Create digital ice breakers and virtual happy hours that inspire networking. Not only will participants have more fun, but they'll get valuable networking opportunities.
6. Offer Meaningful Sponsorship Opportunities
Don't forget about your event's sponsors. Encourage sponsors to participate in swag packages (mentioned above) so they can continue getting their name out there. It will remind participants about who they are and what they do throughout the event. Create opportunities for your sponsors in other digital conferences or event activities. Allow them to sponsor sessions, help present, answer questions at Q&As, or join digital happy hours. Sponsors can also provide free content to members/attendees that typically costs extra to establish positive relationships with attendees.
7. Create a Secure Place to Store Content
Create a secure place to store conference and event content, so that it still feels exclusive. If it's not open source, attendees will feel like they're getting value and will be more inclined to pay an entrance fee. To help drive registration and attendance, advertise that they can access this content after the event, too. This will deliver added value and nurture goodwill long after your event.
8. Track Participation and Measure Success
Leverage the analytics provided by digital systems to track your conference or event to measure its success. Use surveys and analytics to understand attendee engagement and satisfaction. Take the insights you gather from these sources to improve future events, so attendees are incentivized to come back.
9. Bonus: Embrace Smaller Groups
After seeing larger events go digital (like Comic-Con and DrupalCon), we've recognized the importance of small to mid-sized groups. This best simulates breakout groups in any sort of larger event but most importantly, it gets people off mute and encourages conversations. Without necessary and scheduled interaction, events risk enforcing a passive experience for attendees—one that is likely to be less memorable than an event with strong conversations and connections made in small groups.
At Velir, we work with a lot of events-minded organizations and associations. We think a lot about how to craft the most effective digital solutions for these organizations, which is why we decided to publish these ideas. We want to be a valuable resource to help our clients navigate this difficult time to the best of their ability. Whether you’re in the association space or not, we’re happy to help you, too. If you have questions on how to improve your organization’s virtual events or overall digital solutions, let’s talk.