Proven Strategies for Associations to Run Successful Online Events: Part 1
Live stream, on-demand video, webinar, learning management system, virtual conference, hybrid conference…and the list goes on.
It is no secret that more in-person events shifted online in 2020 than anyone could have ever predicted. Based on common principles of economics, the significant increase in demand consequently led to a significant increase in supply. With all the different online platforms available on the market, how can you ensure that your association makes the right decision?
Well, look no further. We recently interviewed our Vice President of Professional Services, Dr. Laurelle Jno Baptiste, to learn some proven strategies that associations have used to run successful online events. At Vocalmeet, Laurelle leads the implementation team that helps associations shift their courses, events and conferences from in-person to online.
Below is a snippet of Part 1 of 3, where we focus on the key factors that associations must explore before choosing an online platform.
Q: From your experience helping associations shift their events online, what would you say are the top 3 things for associations to consider when choosing the online platform to use for a specific event?
A: First things first, we advise our clients to avoid trying to mimic every aspect of their in-person events virtually. This includes, for example, following the exact schedule and timing of in-person events, assuming that all attendees want to be seen via video, or attempting to make attendees feel as if they are walking through a real exhibit hall. It’s important to understand that online events are different from in-person. When we work with clients, we need to first understand how we can help them emphasize the key benefits of their online events.
To do so, we ask our clients to explore 3 key factors that will determine the type of online platform that would best fit their goals and needs:
- Target Audience – Who is the main audience for your event? How comfortable are they with technology? Are they typically flexible with their schedule and able to attend an event at a specified time, or do they prefer accessing content at their own convenience?
- Level of Interactivity Required – What is the level of engagement expected from attendees? Are attendees looking to have a discussion or is it simply a presentation where they are able to ask questions? Is the content more informational and attendance is voluntary, or is it a mandatory requirement for the profession (e.g. ethics training, workplace safety training or continuing education)?
- Resources Available – How many staff members do you have dedicated to plan and execute the online event? How much time do you have before your event? What is their comfort level with technology? Will you need additional tech support on the day of?
The answer to these questions will determine whether you offer more interactive on-demand content vs. live webinars, whether you find a platform that is browser-based and easier to use for attendees, whether the platform can track progress and attendance for continuing education purposes, whether you work with a vendor that can provide a “white-glove” service, and so on.
Q: Speaking of resources, we understand that budget is a primary concern for many associations. Could you explain how the different online solutions and the different scenarios you mentioned affect cost?
A: Yes, as a rule of thumb, the 2 key factors that impact costs when it comes to online solutions are the number of hours of content that will be offered and the number of users on the platform. Additionally, live events tend to be more costly than pre-recorded on-demand programs. This is because live events require more bandwidth and resources on the day of, including a full tech support team to manage the event and troubleshoot any issues.
That’s just a general guideline. Additionally, be very mindful of scalability and the number of users a platform can support. Some solutions are optimized for a limited number of users, and may start running into issues when you exceed that number of users. My advice would be to have these in-depth conversations with potential vendors as each vendor has different features and packages, as well as different pricing models that would impact scalability.
So, the key takeaway here? Focus on your members and the primary goals of your courses, events and conferences. Avoid trying to mimic every aspect of your in-person events virtually; your members and other attendees will only be frustrated as they compare their online experience to past in-person experiences.
Online events provide different benefits for attendees, and different online platforms serve different needs. By exploring the 3 factors outlined above – target audience, level of interactivity required and resources available – your association can choose an online platform that best fits the goal of your event. This will not only allow for a positive attendee experience, but also help your association be more cost-effective.
In Part 2 of our conversation, we will discuss the different hybrid formats and how associations can offer hybrid events without breaking the bank. And in Part 3, we will share best ways for associations to increase online attendance and sales, as well as proven selling points for sponsors.