CommPartners Announces New Suite of Virtual Conference Features for 2021

CommPartners Announces New Suite of Virtual Conference Features for 2021

Columbia, MD – CommPartners, a leading provider of online education and event solutions to associations, is pleased to announce the next generation of Elevate Conference Platform features. CommPartners developed these updates in consultation with clients after producing several hundred virtual conferences in 2020. Organizations recognized that they could increase attendance and reach new markets with compelling online experiences by providing these events to their communities. This coming year, it will be important to continue the trends towards greater attendee engagement and positive learning outcomes.

New features for 2021 include:

  • Trade Show Improvements: With the new Exhibitor Module, plus new engagement features and advanced analytics, virtual trade show participants will have greater independence and return on their investment.
  • Reporting Tools: Use new tools like the Web Content Attendance Report to produce trackable data for more actionable analytics.
  • Networking Tools: Enhancements to the Connect Module and the addition of the Discussion Widget will provide peer engagement opportunities through topical conversations and direct networking.
  • Attendee Engagement: Interactive attendee maps, conference directories, and a schedule planner are just a few of the enhancements that will be available for attendees.
  • Visual Enhancements: New app-like designs will provide an attractive presentation of your event and allow attendees a simple way to navigate to program content.

The new features will be available for current users of CommPartners’ Elevate LMS or as a standalone site.

In a summary of this past year, Richard Finstein, CommPartners CEO, shared,

“It has been a year of growth as we were able to respond to our clients’ needs in 2020. It’s upon us now to continue to meet those needs for virtual and hybrid events as we begin this next year. We are excited to bring these new features to our client community.”

Some features are available now, and CommPartners will release the rest of the features throughout the first half of 2021. To learn more about the features and CommPartners Virtual Conference services, please contact Meghan Gowen at mgowen@commpartners.com.

About CommPartners
CommPartners provides online education and event services to the association community.  Our mission is to provide a well-planned and intelligent approach to sharing knowledge, with a core focus on creating positive user experiences.  Over 1,300 associations have selected CommPartners to manage their eLearning programs. The CommPartners team is diverse, and together they share a common passion: to be strategic thinkers, dedicated to advancing a client’s mission through exceptional education programs.

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2020: What We’ve Learned and How We’ve Grown

2020: What We’ve Learned and How We’ve Grown

2020 has been a year of great successes and great challenges for everyone. CommPartners is no exception. With the sudden closure of place-based events due to COVID-19, we had to quickly meet our Virtual Conferencing clients’ needs while still implementing LMS’ and providing event services. So I asked some CommPartners staff to reflect on 2020 to see what we’ve learned, how we’ve grown, and if any highlights come to mind:

Julie Ratcliffe, Content Production Specialist: What are some highlights from 2020?

Kendra Matarozza, Director of Online Events 

Kendra Matarozza, Director of Online Events: If I’m being totally honest, I think my favorite part of the year was getting glimpses into my colleague’s home life to see who is really running the roost. I’m going to fill you in on a secret—the toddlers and small children dominate, and it’s hilarious. I loved seeing them pop up on screen or doing crazy things in the background. They unintentionally bring levity to any situation and brighten the day.   

Jill Norris, Project Manager Virtual Conferences: A highlight for me was witnessing the emergence of new technologies and features for the deliverance of online education and networking. Existing platforms such as our own were put on a fast track to release new features to adapt to the abundance of events and needs for delivering education and replace face to face networking opportunities.

Rich Finstein, CEO: The primary highlight for me was seeing our entire team overcome personal challenges from the pandemic to meet a dramatic influx of client requests.  Many of us had to work 12 to 15 hour days.  One client, in particular, was Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, or LLS.  LLS produced six virtual conferences and will be doing six more in the spring. They were able to reach patients and those impacted by the disease with valuable research information and guidance from top clinicians in the field.  We received notes from attendees thanking LLS for making this information so accessible.   

JR: What are the tiny moments that made you smile?

JN: Haha, not sweating the small things like fur-babies or kids crying in the background when someone was presenting. Pre-COVID-19 that would’ve been a catastrophe to a live online event, and editing hours would need to happen in post-production. Now it’s just “human” and accepted. #2020

Jill Norris, Project Manager Virtual Conferences

JR: How do you think this year has shaped CommPartners as a company?

RF: Since we have years of experience managing virtual conferences and livestream events, we were a company many associations turned to when COVID-19 hit.  We supported hundreds of virtual conferences from March to December. While moving from place-based events to virtual was a significant change for many organizations, we saw a secondary impact. Organizations needed to think more strategically about their approach to online learning. Due to this realization, we saw a dramatic uptick in Elevate LMS placements. The synergy between Elevate and online events helped our clients with a strategic approach versus simply an event to event type of offering.

JR: Virtual Conferences were a primary service CommPartners offered this year. How did it feel to provide this service during an uncertain time?

JN: Honestly, I felt very fortunate to be in this line of business this year as many others faced so many unknowns, especially in the events industry. And it was nice to be able to provide our knowledge of virtual education to so many who had never even thought about offering this for their organization. I think my friends and family members finally understand what I do for a living.

Rich Finstein, CEO

JR: What have you learned about yourself, your team, or CommPartners this year?         

KM: This year I was amazed at the resiliency of all of my coworkers. This was a challenging year professionally and personally with the madness, but it really highlighted the importance of our internal relationships. I also came to realize that there is this familial bond that forms when you see people on a daily basis, for years on end- it was nice to see how we all cared for one another and really worked to back one another up, jumping in wherever was needed.  

RF: CommParters has been around for over 20 years. We have built a reputation for excellent customer care and integrity in how we support our clients. When COVID-19 arrived, organizations were seeking a company they could trust. We received over 1,000 organizations reach out to us in March and April. This made me realize that our years of investing in our clients and the reputation we created made us an obvious choice during the initial months of the pandemic. We needed to match client faith in us with a successful conference experience. While you always look back and think of things you could have done better, as a whole, we feel we came through for our clients.   

CommPartners is ready to take on 2021 and continue meeting our community where their needs are, providing outstanding online education services. If you’re interested in learning more about CommPartners’ services, please contact Meghan Gowen at mgowen@commpartners.com.

Hybrid Events 101

Hybrid Events 101

Whether COVID-19 restrictions have eased in your area or you’re planning for the future, hybrid events are a great way to blend in-person and virtual events.

What is a hybrid event?

A hybrid event is a conference, tradeshow, webinar, meeting, etc., that brings together on-site and virtual elements into one event.

How to choose a virtual event platform:

For a hybrid event to be successful, identifying a user-friendly platform that parallels the in-person event for the online audience is just as important. Here are some features to consider when looking into a platform:  

  • Engagement Tools: Engagement and networking tools for your virtual audience are critical, be sure to find a platform that meets your interaction goals.
  • Event Management: Determine if you need assistance from an event production team. A hybrid event has many moving parts, and it’s sometimes helpful to have a team apart from your own who knows the ins and outs to manage this kind of event.
  • Customization Options: To present a clean and professional look, you’ll want to make sure your platform can be customized to your organization’s branding.
  • Broadcast Capabilities: Decide how you plan to broadcast your event. Are you streaming live? On-demand? Streaming to social media? Will it be a single session or a multi-room conference? Be sure your platform and multimedia team can handle it.
  • Registration and Analytics: Find a platform that can process registration and track key analytics all in one place.

How to create impact with a hybrid event:

Once you’ve chosen your platform, it’s time to plan an impactful hybrid event. Hybrid events are unique because you can reach larger audiences, increase engagement and ROI, and allow flexibility and creativity. As the event host, you can create an engaging event for your attendees with these tips:

  • Blend your audiences: Find ways to combine your in-person and virtual audiences. If your in-person audience engages directly with the presenters, be sure your virtual audience can respond virtually through chat, social media, or any other tools your platform offers. You may need special moderators to ensure your online audience is seen and heard. Consider a live and/or virtual emcee to create personal connections with both audiences
  • Present Creatively: Use a myriad of presentation options from live presenters to videos, demos, PowerPoints, and screen sharing. Switching up your presentation style will keep your audiences engaged in your content, whether on-site or enjoying the event from their own home.
  • Sponsors, Sponsors, Everywhere: Your hybrid event opens the doors for lots of sponsorship opportunities. Offer both in-person and virtual expo halls, ad spaces before livestream and pre-recorded content, and create visibility packages that put your sponsor’s logo throughout the place-based event as well as your virtual site.
  • Turn your event into on-demand content: Turn your event evergreen by recording sessions and repurposing them later. If you have an LMS or Learning Management System, you can store event content within the LMS as a non-dues revenue source.
  • Don’t forget to market your event: Understanding your audience and marketing your event is an essential step to creating an impactful hybrid event. Don’t stop at email and social media campaigns before the event. Livestream the most exciting parts of the event to your social channels to encourage engagement. Try providing your virtual attendees a newsletter directly to their inbox so they know what to expect each day of the event. There is a lot of opportunities to market your event, so get creative!
  • Ensure your in-person audience is safe: Every state has different guidelines for in-person gatherings. If you decide to have an in-person audience, be sure you follow all the health and safety guidelines for your area to keep your audience safe. If your organization isn’t ready for a hybrid event just yet, there are entirely virtual options.

To plan, execute, and deliver an impactful hybrid event, it’s important to find the right solution that meets your organization and event’s goals. Learn more about CommPartners’ hybrid solutions and contact mgowen@commpartners.com for more information.

Pivoting In-Person to Virtual: Event Logistics to Keep

Pivoting In-Person to Virtual: Event Logistics to Keep

This is a guest post written by Jordan Schwartz, president, and co-founder of Pathable, an event app and website platform for conferences and tradeshows. He left academic psychology for the lure of software building and spent 10 years at Microsoft leading the development of consumer-facing software. Frustrated with the conferences he attended there, he left Microsoft in 2007 with the goal of delivering more value and better networking opportunities through a next-generation conference app. Jordan moonlights as a digital nomad, returning often to his hometown of Seattle to tend his beehives.

A lot goes into event planning and management. From the conception of the event’s big idea to everything leading up to the day of the event (and even after), different event logistics are deployed to make the event a success. 

When you have put all the required logistics in place but then a disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic strikes, you can either choose to cancel your event or look for an alternative. Thankfully, many event organizers are finding pivoting to virtual events as the best option to save costs and retain their audience.

When you have decided to pivot, you have to go back to the drawing board to restrategize and decide which of your event logistics will be relevant to your virtual event production. The following are some ideas of what can stay or can be adjusted in order to have a seamless pivot:

Continue reading to learn more.

Event Technology Requirements

Technology is required to produce any kind of event and your technology requirement depends on your event type and budget. Some solutions often deployed for events include:

  • Event planning software
  • Registration automation
  • Facial recognition and check-in apps
  • RFID badges for audience verification
  • Credential Management and Payment Integration
  • 3D Projection and displays with spatial augmented reality
  • WIFI-Speakers
  • Live streaming and On-demand event video platforms
  • Chatbots
  • Live translation
  • Lead retrieval, etc.

Whatever technology plans you have made for your event will require an overhaul when pivoting. While you might still retain some of the solutions mentioned above if you had them in your plans already, an all-in-one software is most appropriate for pivoting. 

Event Stage Reservation and Production Management

You will need an event stage if you do not plan that your speakers will live stream from their own base. This might be an actual stage in an event hall or a studio from where you can produce and live-stream your event. 

This will also include other things you need for your stage set up such as decor, background (if not using a virtual background), seats for speakers, a podium (if necessary), screen, sound production, and any other requirements that suit your event plan. 

If you have chosen to use a live stage, you will also need the services of your onsite production crew. The team will include people managing the stage, audio-visuals, and other support required to produce and live stream high-quality content.

 

Registration and Credential Management

You will have to retain some of your registration logistics such as your online registration platform. However, some other aspects of credential management strategy such as on-site check-in, etc will have to change. Your registration data should be integrated with or migrated to the virtual event platform to facilitate easy attendee login and use of attendee data that will be required on the platform. These features can be used to create community and facilitate networking.

 

Event Content Collection/Retrieval and Management

Whatever means or platform being used to collect, retrieve, and manage your event content such as PowerPoint presentations, keynotes, videos, ads, and other prepared content can be retained. This content should be readily available to feed into your virtual event platform anytime.

You can talk to both your content management platform provider and virtual event platform provider to work out modalities for data integration or migration.

 

Event Activities Scheduling

Your event activities schedule can be retained with some adjustments. Keynotes, panel discussions, and breakout sessions can remain as planned, but you will have to be mindful of timing. The activities should not be longer than an hour because of the short attention span of online audiences. 

The tea breaks and meal breaks can be retained. While there may not be actual dining, people can use the time to do whatever they like or even have a meal at their own location.

The networking and happy hours can also take place on the virtual event platform. Attendees can participate in the activities using your mobile event app.

 

Event Promotion and Marketing

Some parts of your event promotion and marketing plan will remain while some will have to change. You can retain your event website and sustain the momentum of your publicity on social media. However, additional promotional content should be created to portray the new virtual experience, so that prospective attendees can begin to anticipate the event.

In addition, rather than you or your partners producing branded items, the attention should be shifted to producing branded hashtags, images, and short promotional videos that can be publicized on social media. 

 

Your initial plan to give sponsors and exhibitors maximum brand exposure during your live event should be implemented for virtual. Your team should provide guides to sponsors and exhibitors on size and resolutions for branded images and videos. Your team should also work with the virtual platform provider to determine how and where to strategically place the promotional content from sponsors and exhibitors.

You can also create time slots on the platform for attendees and sponsors to manually book appointments with one another. This can be done when all attendee data has already been collected and integrated with the virtual event platform. You can set aside some time before the event when attendees and sponsors are allowed to log on to the platform to book such appointments.

There can also be a virtual exhibit hall where partners display video showcases and other promotional items that attendees can view. 

 

Event Customer Service

For in-person events, situations arise where attendees require assistance and there are standby customer service desk points to attend to such. This aspect should be properly preserved for virtual events as well. Attendees will certainly need assistance for a variety of issues that may come up while using your event platform. 

You can provide virtually manned customer service points on your platform or have chatbots to handle and resolve complaints. Your arrangement can also include dial-in numbers in case some attendees are unable to access the platform or are having issues navigating the mobile app.

In order to reduce complaints, you can take all your platform users through a tour of the platform by producing a video guide and sending it to them ahead of the event. You can follow this up with an imagery poll to test their familiarity with the platform.

 

Event Communication Channel

Establish your communication line of command and assign roles. Your event team should have a separate communication platform apart from the main event platform for planning, implementation, and resolving technical issues.

You can use an event planning and tracking tool so that your team can monitor in real-time how the transition progresses before the event. On the day(s) of the event, there should also be a line of command to designate the troubleshooting and fixing of issues that might come up.

 

Travel / Accommodation / Entertainment for Event Production Crew

This might seem unnecessary considering that the event is now virtual. However, when you need a site to produce or live stream the event and you require some or all of your speakers and team to be on-site, they have to be catered for throughout the number of days their services would be needed. 

So while you are not looking at having a large crowd, do have travel, accommodation, and entertainment plans for your team and your guests.

 

Contingency Plans

You should have contingency plans in case of disappointments that may come up during your event production. A common experience is poor network connection or outright network failure. Another one is absence; a speaker might inform you that they are not coming for reasons beyond their control (you can never predict what can happen during a health crisis). 

 A contingency plan might be to ask the speakers of all major sessions to pre-record and send their presentations even if you plan to bring them on live. Such content can be streamed when speakers don’t show up or if there is a network failure at their end. 

To reduce incidences of bugs on the virtual event platform, make sure you do multiple test runs to ensure that everything is working as it should. You can use event volunteers to test out your platform and report any issues.

 

Post-Event Logistics

This includes everything that has to do with lead retrieval, post-event surveys, and others. Your virtual event platform should have features for easy retrieval of data and actionable insights from your event. 

You can also use the event’s mobile app to send post-event surveys to attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, and partners to know their experience and measure the impact of your event.

 

For more virtual events tips and tricks, read CommPartners’ blog. For more information about Pathable, visit their website.