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.

The Lottery Effect

The Lottery Effect

This is a guest post written by Mallory Gott MA, CAE, founder + creative director of G+A | An Experiential Design Firm. Mallory has traveled the globe designing amazing experiences for people from all walks of life and across a breadth of industries and specialties. From product and brand repositioning to customer acquisition to organizational cultural restructuring, she helps for-and non-profit clients apply G+A’s proprietary design thinking framework to discover solutions to their seemingly unsolvable problems.  

What would you do if you won the lottery?

The Lottery Effect 

Really, think about it.  What would you do if you learned that you had just won the jackpot, that you were a newly minted multimillionaire?  Most of us could rattle off a series of replies as if we’d been rehearsing them in the mirror each morning for decades.  “Quit my job, travel the world, hire a private chef.” The list could go on ad infinitum.

Now, consider how doing those things would make you feel. Quitting your job? Most likely, that would evoke feelings of freedom and/or cheerfulness.  Traveling the world? Adventurousness, excitement, or giddiness. Hiring a private chef? Calm and relaxation.  

Yes, each of the things we’d dream of doing were we to win the lottery, we dream of doing because we believe they produce for us highly desirable feelings: freedom, excitement, relaxation, etc.  This idea, that solving an unsolvable problem, i.e., winning the lottery, produces specific outcomes, i.e., hiring a private chef, which enables us to experience desired feelings (relaxation) is what we call The Lottery Effect.  Interestingly, The Lottery Effect is not just restricted to fantasizing about the mega millions.

As event creators, we often fall prey to The Lottery Effect. We set ourselves up for disappointment believing the false paradigm that only in solving an unsolvable problem can produce specific outcomes, which in turn evoke the “right” feelings both for attendees and ourselves.  

Without realizing it and even with the best intentions at heart, we design one directionally: solve first, feel next, operating at a disadvantage from the jump.

Case in point, we ask ourselves questions like, “How can I create a virtual event that meets attendees’ needs and successfully replaces a place-based conference?” Upon closer inspection, however, this seemingly innocuous question falls squarely into Lottery Effect territory, sounding, to our unconscious minds, something like this: 

“Once we can convince attendees that we’ve created a virtual event that will meet their needs and they believe will adequately replace our annual conference, we will achieve our registration goals, better satisfaction scores, and an improved bottom line, which will make us feel more secure, confident, and satisfied.” 

Notice any similarities? 

Winning the LotteryVirtual Event
Unsolvable ProblemOnce I win the lotteryOnce I convince attendees that we’ve created a virtual event that will meet their needs and that they believe adequately replaces our annual conference
OutcomesQuit my job
Travel the World
Hire a Private Chef
Ample registration
High attendee satisfaction
Increased revenue
Resultant FeelingsFreedom
Adventure
Relaxation
Confidence
Security
Satisfaction

The Lottery Effect: A W(ere)wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Although the unsolvable problem questions that comprise the first portion of our Lottery Effect statements almost always seem important and worthwhile, they are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing, or, more accurately, werewolves in sheep’s clothing.  In reality, these seemingly crucial questions create an even more demanding series of implied requirements for success setting us on an extremely narrow path to victory.

When we begin with questions that so narrowly define success, we are forced to identify elusive answers to those questions, silver bullets if you will, as the only means by which we can generate outcomes that will enable us to experience desired feelings. Suddenly, the search for silver bullets, rather than the design of experiences that evoke universally recognizable feelings, drives everything we do. 

In the case of winning the lottery, the question “How do I win the lottery,” and the even more demanding requirements it implies (in order to win the lottery, I must identify the correct sequence of numbers from an enormous array of choices, pick the correct date on which to buy a ticket, and so on) may seem laughable, but when viewed through the lens of virtual event design, they are much more sobering for teams who hadn’t realized the sizeable, self-imposed roadblocks they are navigating. 

From the well-meaning question, “How do we convince attendees that we’ve created a virtual event that will meet their needs and they believe adequately replaces our annual conference,” springs forth a slew of nearly insurmountable, implied obstacles.  The question transforms into this unspoken statement:  

“In order to convince attendees that we’ve created a virtual event that will meet their needs and they believe adequately replaces our annual conference, we must:

  • Accurately identify and prioritize the needs of a wide variety of individuals;
  • Convince that same diverse group that we hold the monopoly on the definition of their needs and can simultaneously fulfill them via a single event;
  • Define “adequate replacement” for a divergent body of stakeholders and garner their universal acceptance of that definition; and 
  • Achieve attendance, revenue, and satisfaction goals.

Many groups never recognize how heavily implied, absolute truths such as these influence their evaluation and prioritization of the design of the million tiny touchpoints that create a virtual event experience.  They unknowingly dilute the potency of a feelings-led design approach, crippling their ability to create experiences which resonate with people on a much deeper level of emotions.   

“We’ve just got to get through this,” becomes a common refrain and rallying cry once the Lottery Effect has created its false binary, which tauntingly jeers, “discover the solution to your unsolvable problem by navigating a difficult obstacle course of implied demands in the hopes that people will connect with what you create…or fail.


The Lottery Effect: You’re Already a Winner

Fortunately, the Lottery Effect problem is far from unsolvable.  In fact, it only requires a paradigm inversion.  In place of a “solve first, feel next” approach, G+A’s 4D experiential design thinking framework employs our unique “feel first, solve next” approach.  What do feelings have to do with virtual event design?  The same thing they have to do with good design of any kind: universality.

When we begin with feelings first, the difficulty, struggle, confusion, and other commonly accepted ‘realities’ inherent to virtual event design fall away.  Why?  Because feelings are universally understood on a level that needs no definition for attendees or producers, effectively creating immediate success and rendering decision-making and evaluation effortless.  

Returning one last time to the quandary, “How do we convince attendees that we’ve created a virtual event that will meet their needs and  they believe adequately replaces our annual conference,” we can see how a feelings-led approach truly shines.

  • In place of trying to convince attendees, we can ask ourselves:
    • Are we confident in the program we’ve produced?
    • Are we confident in our messaging about the program, both tone and content?
    • Are we confident in the level of innovation our program includes?  
  • Instead of grappling with how best to meet attendees’ needs, we can ask ourselves: 
    • Are we secure in our approach to assessing those needs?
    • Are we secure in our efforts to address them?
    • Are we secure in our communication about what we’ve done and why? 
  • In lieu of hoping to create an adequate replacement for an annual conference, we can ask ourselves: 
    • Are we satisfied that we have designed a high-quality virtual event experience that can stand on its own two feet? 
    • Are we satisfied with the experience we created for ourselves as a team while we planned and produced the event?
    • Are we satisfied that we’ve done the best we could, no matter the monetary outcome?

If and when we respond to a feelings-led question in the negative, we need only ask simple follow-ups to regain our footing and move forward confidently: How can we evoke desired feelings as we design this touchpoint?  How can we once again feel first and solve next?   

To learn more about the power of a feelings-led approach to virtual event design, and for an overview of G+A’s 4-step experiential design thinking framework, join Mallory for CommPartners’ next webinar Virtual Event Design Gotcha Flummoxed? Stop Thinking, Start Feeling, Design Differently on 11/18 at 1 p.m. EDT.

Click here to receive experimental design updates and upcoming learning opportunities from G+A and CommPartners.  

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2020 PEAK Virtual Bootcamp: Your FOMO Cure!

2020 PEAK Virtual Bootcamp: Your FOMO Cure!

This year, PEAK took the shape of a Virtual Bootcamp, an afternoon of rewarding sessions featuring the expertise of the CommPartners team and covering a topic that is top of mind: Virtual Conferencing.

While we specialize in eLearning and managed online events, we do enjoy meeting our community face-to-face at our User Group Conference, so we were disappointed we couldn’t be at Nationals Stadium this year to do just that. However, we were excited to adapt to a virtual event so we could demonstrate what’s possible.

If you’re experiencing some FOMO (fear of missing out) right now, fear not – we have a cure! Here is a run-down of some key takeaways from each session!

Session 1: Adapting with CommPartners + Virtual Conferencing Basics

      • Secure “Buy-In”: Before going virtual, show members of your organization what others in your industry are doing. “The trend is your friend,” as Maricela Arias-Cantu, Director of Professional Development, SOPHE said in the Client Panel.
      • Avengers Assemble! Create an event team with clearly defined roles.

Session 2: Session 2: Sponsorship, Exhibit Halls, Discussion Boards, Oh My!

      • What’s on the Menu? Create an exhibitor prospectus to ensure sponsor visibility.
      • Get Creative! Connect with speakers, sponsors, and attendees through discussion boards, photo or social media walls, Virtual Happy Hours, games, musical or comedy acts, entertainers, or celebrity appearances – the possibilities are endless!

Session 3: How to Make Your Virtual Conference Website “Pop!”

      • It’s All About UX: The goal of the conference website is to encourage engagement before, during, and after the event.
      • Redundancy in Navigation: Make sure your attendees know where to find essential information like sessions, FAQs, exhibit halls, resources, etc.

Session 4: Client Success Panel and Q&A

      • Be Flexible When Pivoting to a Virtual Event: GFOA narrowed their sessions down from 80 to 47 and spread them out over four weeks.
      • Find Harmony: Establish a balanced relationship between your event team and the Conference Producer.
      • Know Your Industry! AAWA was the first organization to go virtual in their industry and offered a discount to anyone who previously registered for a canceled conference.
      • Explore the Benefits of Pairing Your Virtual Conference with an LMS: Bundle your on-demand content or make launching your conference site a breeze with an LMS!

Thank you to everyone who attended PEAK 2020 Virtual Bootcamp, we hope you feel empowered and prepared to take on your next virtual event with confidence.