Prepared for “Virtually” Anything

Posted by Lauren Schoener-Gaynor on June 3, 2020 7:12:06 PM

The following blog was compiled and written by TMG Director of Meetings and Events, Heather Seasholtz, CMP

These challenging times are forcing planners to shift our methods of engagement with our attendees and our sponsors, but with the same goal to provide value for all stakeholders. I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed on the Miracle Workers: A Podcast for Meeting Planners, Episode 08 and shared how to adapt events from “live and in-person” to “virtual and through a computer.”

As a supplement to that conversation, I think it’s important that we keep three things in mind when planning for a virtual event or adapting a conference to a virtual event.

  • Content
  • Sponsors and exhibitors
  • Engagement

The Background
The meetings that we are transforming to virtual events were not one-track meetings but rather one conference consisting of a plenary and up to 14 breakouts. Additionally, most of our attendees would attend from outside the United States. Doing the entire program online would be “virtually” impossible because there is too much content. Multiple resources would have been needed to handle this as a virtual event. Also, our presenters are global so we do not want to assume they could be on their computer at any given time that we would require them to be.

Content Organization
As soon as we started the discussion to move toward a virtual program, we advised our client that we should streamline the event. While we can offer all of the content that would have taken place in these 15 rooms, we should not do all of that live. First, we know the attention span for people is small.  Would someone sit at their computer for 8-10 hours digesting content in their office or home? No. We suggested ways to maximize the time commitment and offer flexibility to the attendees with scheduled live virtual presentations and a pre-recorded library of presentations that can be watched at leisure.

Timing Is Everything
Because our attendees are global and in different time zones, we wanted to be conscientious about someone watching the live presentation at 1:00 AM local time. Due to timing, we wanted to offer smaller pieces live to avoid committing someone to watch long presentations during non-ideal hours. Further, we want and need, to allow our attendees to have the flexibility to maximize their registration to the event and their professional duties. Even though an attendee may have been holding the time to attend a meeting, once travel restrictions were put into place, we could not expect them to still be committed to full days of content. By moving to virtual, offering smaller segments of live sessions that can be recorded and watched later, and adding pre-recorded sessions, we can now elongate the time attendees have to digest the content over weeks, months, or years.

Once we worked through the streamlining of the content, our programming committee was tasked to identify the most relevant and hottest topics, along with the keynotes, and do them live in a virtual format. Then the remaining sessions can be pre-recorded and still put in tracks for attendees to view virtually. Continuing education credits can still be offered in a virtual format for those offering attendees CEUs.

Sponsors and Exhibitors
Further, we already have the commitment from sponsors and exhibitors who invested in the meeting and have an expectation to be in front of our attendees. With a virtual meeting, our attendees will now be global, and we do expect a larger attendance than what we would have had in person. Not all attendees will engage at once or at the same time, however, we want to offer a virtual exhibit hall experience. Our virtual platform can be branded with our sponsors’ logos and we also plan to have a product showcase for our attendees to interact with partners during and after the virtual event. Gone are the days when the meeting ends. The virtual platform and recordings can be live for weeks, months, years and the sponsors and exhibitors can have visibility longer than they would for those watching the content at their leisure or referencing back to it.

Engagement
For engagement, the virtual platform we will be using has both chat and Q/A functions to engage attendees together and with live speakers. We are also going to use the mobile app we would have had for the in-person event. Using the meeting app will facilitate engagement as well because attendees will be able to view the speaker bios/headshots, engage in the app, and message each other as they would have in person, engage sponsors, and our program will be listed there. Also in the app will be e-Posters to allow our poster presenters to showcase their research as well. Engagement is very important as we want our attendees to feel their registration fee is providing them value and that’s why attendees choose to meet face-to-face at in-person events. Networking is one of the key drivers in meeting attendance. While there is no replacement for eye-to-eye engagement, we can offer any and all solutions to facilitate human connections.

We’ve got this – and we’re in this together
Thankfully, we have existing partners already working with our clients on their events who have systems and platforms in place that we can move to. We have been fortunate because we haven’t needed to start from scratch or recreate the wheel. These are vendors who already know us, know our clients, and know the value of providing excellent education to our members and attendees.

As planners, we strive to improve and enhance our clients’ events. This is no longer an environment where planners can get away with “doing it the way it has always been done.” While disruption has been a hot topic for some time, we are now living it and we are forced to address it. Meetings can still happen. Research your options, get references, engage your vendor partners, and seek information and best practices from those who have moved to the virtual forum.

The TMG Meeting and Event Management team looks forward to engaging with our client partners or anyone needing assistance in the virtual arena and navigating this new world of events with you!

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