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: 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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com for more information.
Going virtual doesn’t mean that you lose everything that an on-site event has! A lot of what you had planned for your on-site event can still occur online, it just may look a little differently.
Here are six ways you can maximize sponsorships and attendee revenue in a virtual platform:
In your conference website, a virtual exhibit hall can be built out to house all the resources a sponsor wants to distribute to attendees. In each “exhibit booth”, the sponsor can upload PDFs, videos, company descriptions and links, and other resources. The exhibit hall will be open 24/7 – giving even more exposure for the sponsors that originally intended. The “exhibit booths” can also be upgraded to allow chat room style discussions between attendees and staff from the sponsoring organization. Your sponsors will get maximum and continual exposure to your attendees and will serve as a resource for attendees throughout the conference with having to have a booth “maned” the entire time.
Branding and Logo Opportunities
Because you are building this virtual conference site from the ground up – you have the ability to make an al a carte sponsorship of nearly any page on the website. Have a poster session? Offer this page a sponsorship add-on, with their logo in a prominent location on this busy web page. Giving an option for boosted exposure on commonly used pages on the virtual conference exposure is another way the sponsors can ensure they are getting ROI.
Commercials or Pre-Produced Videos
Sponsors could upgrade their commitment level to include a commercial or pre-recorded video to play before or after a session in the virtual conference. All the sponsor needs to do is provide the video ahead of time and it can be queued up! This gives the sponsor the attendees undivided attention, as they are preparing for or concluding a session. You can also chose to have that video as a permanent part of the archived recording, which means evergreen exposure for the sponsor!
Session and Speaking Opportunities
There are numerous ways to offer speaking opportunities to your sponsors in exchange for financial support. You can offer an entire session to sponsors, or you can create a while section of your agenda dedicated to sponsors giving presentations! Allowing the sponsors to present gives them the feeling that they may miss of being in front of human people. It give a human interaction to a virtual setting.
Attendee Access Fees
Just as you would charge a registration fee for an on-site conference, you should be charging a registration fee for access to the virtual event. You can also break the access into per day or per session registrations if that suits your conference model better. You can also charge for access to various, high-profile discussions or resources. Attendee fees should not necessarily be less for a virtual conference, because while you are eliminating food and venue costs, you are now gaining hosting and technology costs.
Allowing your content to live on in an LMS is a smart move. You are able to continually add to your archive through the years of events and house more resources for 24/7 access. Just because an attendee paid for the conference does not necessarily mean they should receive access to the archives for an undetermined amount of time. You could restrict access to archives and other resources to those that choose to purchase subscriptions to your LMS platform. Entice your attendees to subscribe by offering exclusive content in the subscription model only.
Whether you are going virtual from the onset or rescheduling an onsite event, the conversation about monetization is important and necessary. There are many ways to drive revenue for a Virtual Conference, and these six options are only scratching the surface! Have any other ideas on how to boost revenue in a virtual format? We would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click HERE to see all the episodes from Going Virtual with Kate!
Before you begin your marketing efforts, you must know what you are selling. This should always be the first step of a marketing team, asking the questions. Below you will find a few examples of things to consider, be sure you are exploring your offerings from a micro and macro level!
Are you offering on-site and virtual attendance options or, is this a strictly virtual event?
When the attendee registers for the livestream, what do they receive? Is it access to (1) individual session, or will they receive the whole conference?
Will there be access to slide decks or other resources for all attendees?
Will attendees have the opportunity to receive credit or certifications?
Would you personally register for this conference? Do the pricing and offerings match?
After you have defined all of the offerings, you can now begin identifying goals. Your goals can be as simple as a registration or monetary goal, or as complex and long-term as return registrations or ongoing community discussions. Your goals should follow the SMART guidelines. They need to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. The goals you set should also be organization specific. For example, your organization may need to make a profit off this livestream or it may need to build membership. Your goals will be used to measure success. Remember – success is not a one size fits all model; it is fluid and ever-changing!
Now you know what you are offering and how you define success, next you need to create your plan! When developing your marketing plan, it is important to consider, once again, macro and micro perspectives. Start by looking at the “bigger picture,” i.e., how much time do you have, what marketing platforms and methods are you planning to use, what resources do you already have, etc.?
It can help to create a timeline from now ending with your livestream event. Set benchmarks that will que you to check on your progress. You should ask yourself, “am I on target for my goals” regularly and then use you marketing plan to either maintain your current efforts or tweak aspects of the plan that are not working to successfully reach your benchmarks.
3. Know your audience and their preferred communications
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak your language and you don’t speak theirs? No matter what you are trying to communicate, the other person does not know the details, but rather only what they can surmise from watching your non-verbal communications.
The same idea is applied to marketing. If you are getting your promotions out on Facebook, but your intended audience primarily uses LinkedIn, you will find your audience may only be picking up portions of your message, and not benefiting from all the right information!
You also may want to take a look at your method of communication based on certain subgroups. For example, you may be trying to market to a specific organization that practices law in the United States, but that group has very specific sub-sets within itself. Younger age groups may get their information from Instagram, while an older age group may prefer email. Segmenting your marketing efforts and tailoring the messages to those sub groups will ensure that the right information is getting to the right people.
Livestreams offer a cost-effective and time-efficient way for attendees to obtain the same information without the hassle of travel and taking time off to be on-site. Many busy professionals prefer to multi-task during their day, and livestreaming your conference ensure they get the right content without turning they daily routine upside down.
Event recordings are a great way for registrants to re-watch the presentations later for a refresher, or they can visit the recording at a more convenient time.
Identifying your livestreams unique characteristics will help you market to attendees. Why is it important for attendees to register for your livestream? Is there credit associated for the presentations? Do they have to watch it live or can they still obtain credit watching the recording? Ask yourself, “why did we decide to livestream in the first place?”. Chances are you will find the reasons why your audience should register.
Once you have identified what makes a livestream different, market as you would for anything else, highlighting the products unique characteristics.
While a lot of your marketing efforts can be automated, that will make the messaging less personal and easier to delete or ignore. When marketing your livestream, it is important to make sure that you are offering a personal experience, because that is one thing potentially lost when an audience member is virtual.
When you are in-person at a conference, the whole experience is more personal because you are experiencing it with all your senses. A livestream takes away a certain personalization, and it is our job to compensate with catering marketing and course offerings to them.
A few ideas to make the experience more personal:
Ask for input: What does your target audience want to see, hear and/or learn? People love to know that their voice matters! How awesome is it if you ask to hear about a particular topic, and then it actually is presented on!
Ask for feedback: Again, people want to be heard! If this isn’t your first event, ask the past attendees for their feedback, and entice them to come see their suggestions in action! The main difference here is that you are receiving reviews based off what you’ve already done!
Create a Community: Learning online creates its own challenges, but luckily, technology can help. Allow your virtual audience to communicate with each other and their instructors through chat features in the course and discussion boards!
Create a personal email/phone marketing campaign: Provide your team with an email or script that has a few customization options. Those customization options could be a variety of reasons to attend or the session content/titles. When your team reaches out to attendees, they can pick from the provided options to personalize the message and make attendance more enticing.
Don’t be afraid to try new things! With the advances in technology, you can leverage so many more tools to make your event an exciting one to register for! Here are a few ideas
Contests with prizes: Using a variety of technologies and platforms, you can make a game or raffle contest online!
Harness the power of video: People love to see and feel excitement for the event; it makes them feel like they are part of it. Live broadcast on social media with your presenters, sharing excitement, or sneak peeks!
Use the voice of your partners: Create a human connection by using quotes from past attendees, speakers, and team members in your various marketing efforts.
In a recent blog post, Clear wrote: “Just because it’s not optimal, doesn’t mean it’s not beneficial.” Read another way, this is the old adage of don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Or don’t let perfection be your target, because you’ll always fail.
I see this very commonly when discussing the integration of systems with clients (e.g., AMS and LMS). The optimal situation is a real-time, two-way integration between the two systems so that data is shared immediately.
But this often proves to be very time-consuming and expensive to develop (and sometimes can’t be developed!). So rather than a two-way, real-time integration we opt for a two-way passing of data on a schedule (e.g., once per day). Optimal? No. Beneficial? Absolutely.
So when considering changes to process or technology within your organization, keep in mind that while the change might not be optimal, it can be beneficial, and that’s what we’re looking for.