The Why and The How of Online Events and Conferences



In-person events such as seminars, conferences and conventions, have long been the staple of associations’ non-dues revenue streams. In fact, as much as 41% consider it their most valuable source of ancillary earnings, according to Association Adviser. Organized properly, they can certainly help diversify revenue, create necessary brand recognition and member loyalty. However, in-person events can also require massive time and resource investments, meticulous planning and execution, as well as relentless advertising in order to be successful and profitable. A clever way to increase the return on investment is to boost revenue from in-person events by selling merchandise, offering sponsorship packages, and so on. Nevertheless, the financial benefits of these add-ons are singular and often marginal, as in-person events cannot be recreated once completed. If ticket sales are less than expected, the association may even end up in a deficit situation.

There is, however, a more effective and simple way to tackle the issue: offering blended events, where in-person sessions are complemented with online offerings. This is exactly what the organization we discuss below did; they were able to increase conference revenue from $250,000 in 2017 to $300,000 in 2018. How did they get an additional $50,000? Keep reading to find out!

NOTE: It is important to point out that there are times when in-person events may not at all be possible. Having full on-demand events or blended on-demand events (live online and on-demand) can have similar results.

The WHY of Online Events

Offering online events that can be viewed on-demand allows for a level of versatility and increases in revenue that cannot be achieved with onsite-only events. It gives members unabridged access to content, and provides more opportunities to monetize in-person events. Once digitized, event sessions have many uses. For example, conference sessions can be sold as individual online presentations, grouped into thematic sections or sold as a package. Whatever you decide to do with the content, the key is to figure out what works best for your association.

A CASE IN POINT: How an association added 20% to their revenue by recording a single conference session and offering it online

Let’s consider the following scenario. Imagine an organization, let’s call it Association of Professionals or AP for short. AP is an association with a voluntary membership of roughly 10,000 members, offering professional services and events, along with an annual conference. The conference is used as a revenue stream, as well as an effort to engage members through networking and the sharing of ideas and industry insights. Like many associations, to entice members and increase attendance, AP offers professional development (PD) or continuing education (CE) credits as part of their conference. This type of incentive is especially pertinent to industries with mandatory continuing education or training requirements.

Every year the AP board sits down to discuss the upcoming event and review the previous ones for reference and improvement. This time around the procedure was no different, two of the past conferences—2017 and 2018—were compared and analyzed. There was just one caveat: one of the 2018 conference sessions had been recorded and available on-demand, so the revenues were no longer similar to revenues in the past. In fact, there was a significant difference in revenue between the two events.

Consider this: only 1,000 people or 10% of AP’s membership participated in both conferences. It was a two-day event with 20 sessions per day. The total revenue earned in the 2017 conference came up to $250,000 from all tickets sold, and the total for the 2018 conference rose to $300,000 with the additional revenue from the one recorded session.

The HOW of Online Events

AP was able to generate additional revenue in a one-year period after the conference. They achieved this by recording one session from the 2018 conference, and making it available on-demand for $50 using an online learning platform accessible through their website. In this case, only 1,000 of AP’s 10,000 members bought the video. Imagine what could be achieved with more than one session recorded and a good marketing strategy!

Now that you’re sold on offering a combination of in-person and online sessions for your conference, let’s discuss the different things that an association can do to take their in-person events online and broaden their member reach to increase conference revenue.

Some speakers are comfortable being recorded live, while others are not. Regardless, always consider pre-recording their presentations. Speakers can record their own presentations using the camera on a mobile device or a webinar platform. Ensure that the association conference team checks the recordings for best quality.

  • Develop a conference site for online conference registrations: keep it simple, and offer all-access passes that allow attendees to access all on-demand sessions.
  • On the day of the conference, launch the on-demand pre-recorded sessions on your conference site.
  • For live webinars or live-streamed sessions on the day of the conference, plan well with the speakers and have an online moderator. Remember to record these sessions and add to your on-demand conference platform.
  • Limit the number of live-streamed events on the day of the conference, especially if you have limited staff.
  • You may consider offering online access for an extended period of time to encourage exposure to your entire membership (for more on this, see our article on offering benefits to sponsors online).
  • Offer cost-efficient pricing online for broad attendance and consider matching with discount codes for membership renewal. For example, if a member purchases on-demand conference access, then they get a certain percentage off of their membership.
  • If you have a community platform, include this channel as a form of communication for the day of the conference and post-conference questions.
CONCLUSION: The sky’s the limit for revenue increase from on-demand events and conferences

Remember that only 10% of AP’s members took part in the conference. This means a huge chunk of 9,000 people or 90% of AP’s audience and its potential revenue remained untapped. Some of those members might have not been interested in traveling and paying for food and accommodation, others might have not wanted to take valuable time off work. Regardless of the reason, the costs of such inaction could be far too high, especially for associations with small non-dues revenue streams.

Moreover, let’s not forget about the non-members. Having a quality mandatory lecture or highly sought-after speaker at your conference could surely drive up traffic from outside of the member perimeter. In turn, this would create additional revenue as non-member fees are often higher. Having an online conference site also serves as a means to promote your events to both members and non-members.

Since scalability is truly limitless, such an investment can yield solid returns rain or shine. In fact, it’s a gift that keeps on giving as your conference, speakers and sponsors are constantly being promoted through the online sessions. With potential returns like what we described with AP, the benefits of offering event and conference content online are boundless, and the sky’s truly the limit.

In today’s dynamic environment, doing what was done yesterday is no longer a formula for success. The sooner associations adapt new technologies, the better off they are to respond to any external challenges and thrive in this new environment.


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