Association Conferences: A New ‘Virtual’ Reality

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As the reality of a socially distant lifestyle becomes the world’s new norm, leaders from almost every industry are also coming to terms with a wave of professional event postponements and cancellations.

The impact of COVID-19 on conferences is truly unprecedented – thousands of hallmark venues empty and darkened, hotel rooms sitting unfilled, and people missing out on the ability to connect with their peers in-person.

In just a short period of time, however, associations have already proved their undeniable resilience by embracing diverse methods of delivering their programming. Here at MultiView, our VP of Partnerships, Chris Mazzon, has also heard success stories from dozens of our association partners who were able to move their annual conferences to an alternative format.

“In many cases, it takes months to plan the scheduling for a live meeting, and to see many associations that had to work against the clock in a matter of 2-3 weeks to convert everything virtually, has been nothing short of amazing,” he said.

Despite how this pandemic has changed our lives considerably, we know that the following statements hold true when it comes to the value and meaning created by conferences opportunities:

  • People are craving connection: Now more than ever, with many of us hunkered down at home and away from the office, we are missing the engagement that professional conversation delivers.
  • Learning is still a priority: With so many companies having to change their outlooks for 2020 and beyond, individuals at the forefront of those changes need access to trusted and relevant information to make the best decisions possible.
  • Technology is responding: Organizations embracing remote work are using tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack and GoToMeeting to bring people together in a virtual environment. With the overwhelming surge in popularity, the creators of these apps are rolling out new and improved features to foster collaboration, more rapidly than before.
  • Brand awareness remains key: Keeping your brand top-of-mind for customers also means communicating with them openly and regularly during this time. Highlighting the positive work, you are doing, and the novel ways in which your teams are adapting, remains critical to story of your brand.

If your organization is now faced with the challenge of no longer being able to hold a physical event, here are our top recommendations for ways in which you can continue to engage and inspire your networks:

Virtual Conferences
Some of the biggest conferences in North America have announced they are moving to an entirely virtual format. Big-ticket events like ASAE’s Annual Meeting, Destinations International’s Annual Convention, Gainsight Pulse 2020, Microsoft’s Build 2020, and Shopify (re)unite 2020 are now entirely accessible using your laptop, tablet or phone. The daily programming transfers over to live video-streams of speakers, founders and presenters, all spreading their message to thousands of online viewers. Virtual keynotes allow previously booked speakers to reach a captive audience, while digital break-out sessions group users together for live chats around timely industry topics. Moreover, digital advertising can be integrated into this format of content delivery, especially though video content, allowing attendees to gain exposure to the companies they normally would see as a session sponsor, or in the exhibit hall.

Webinars
If you’re looking to tackle individual topics in shorter spurts, a recurring webinar program is a great option to roll out. Usually about one hour in length, these online events are anchored to one specific theme and led by a moderator or small panel. Webinars can include screensharing, chat components, file-sharing and live-polling. We recently hosted a webinar with association executives around the topic of how COVID-19 is influencing the future of their organizations. This special online event gathered leaders from a few varied organizations for a frank and open discussion about what they’re facing and how they’re dealing with important association management concerns like events, membership and branding. Moreover, they also shared the different ways they are staying engaged with their members by transforming their events to be run digitally. Check it out here!

Podcasts
While webinars are great for an educational/instructional focus, podcasting often takes a more intimate and conversational approach to sharing information. At the heart of every great podcast episode is a captivating story, and the desire to tell it with passion and verve. Creating a podcast may seem daunting, but advances in audio recording technology and podcasting apps demystify the process significantly. When grouped together in a series, especially before a larger online virtual conference, they can be a great way for thought leaders within the industry to share interesting content. Creating engaging podcasts means tapping talent that thrives in a radio-esque environment. Be sure your podcast features talent that is comfortable both asking (and responding to) a variety of different questions. Having expressive and authentic conversations is the bread and butter of any strong podcast.

Learning Platforms
If you’re looking for a way that lets users explore content at their own pace, an online earning platform is your best bet. These digital platforms allow people to access educational modules that are relevant to their field of practice, and can include pre-recorded presentations or even live sessions. For fields that require professional accreditations to be earned, completing those requirements in an LMS allows people to stay up to date. MultiView’s Live Learning Centers continue to be a valuable tool for our association partners, bringing the content that matters to members to a centralized point that is accessible 24/7/365.

While in-person events may be out of the question for a while longer, these digital options prove there’s no need to wait to deliver your message to members. The time is now to maintain consistent communication and engagement – to showcase how resilient your organization can be even in these unusual times.




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