Towards the end of January, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global health emergency. Known as COVID-19, the virus was first identified in Wuhan, China and just a little over six weeks later, it has spread throughout Asia and more recently into Europe and its neighboring regions, with a few documented cases in the United States and Canada.
As the number of Coronavirus cases continue to grow, the concern around attendee safety during conferences has increased. Google already pulled the plug on its annual conference due to the virus and other events are following suit, creating a devastating domino-effect in the conference circuit.
How This Affects Associations
Associations are in a pickle if they have a scheduled conference or meeting convening in the next few months while the coronavirus spreads and dominates the news. An annual meeting can represent a significant income for an association. On the other hand, being concerned about the health and safety of its membership is and should be a top priority.
The flu kills thousands each year, but medical leaders and the media are telling us this new flu could get bad (and it might). Association executives need to sit back and take a deep breath because we are not at the point where human contact with others is prohibited. The US is not yet at a state of emergency where citizens need to refrain from human to human contact. Until public sporting events, concerts and the like are prohibited due to CDC recommendations, a set of criteria should be utilized on meeting decisions that takes into consideration the demographics of attendees, the location of the conference, the financial impact on the organization and so forth. Governing organizations need to advise on decision-making criteria so that clearer heads prevail, and we do not overreact.
.org Community is providing a free webinar titled “How to be Chief Calming Officer in the Wake of COVID-19″.
Virtual Options and Add-Ons
Delays, and even cancellations, have been the initial course of action for associations with Spring events. Most recently, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) announced the cancellation of its 2020 Global Health Conference and Exhibition, which was supposed to start Sunday, March 8th. The International Exhibition Logistics Association’s event was postponed until September 2020.
We’ve also seen associations adding a virtual option for in-person events. Virtual options can bring your members together in a way that’s convenient, cost-effective, and most importantly, safe. It’s a natural move for organizations that already host face-to-face events and according to Tagoras consultant Jeff Cobb, virtual conferences can be a great business model. Big tech companies are noticing the benefits of having a virtual option in place, especially during the Coronavirus outbreak. Adobe, the multimedia and creativity software giant, has cancelled its annual conference in Las Vegas amid rising concerns surrounding COVID-19 and is offering the Adobe Summit 2020 as an online event instead. Google has taken a similar route, moving its Cloud Next event in San Francisco, completely online.
Adding a virtual option for your in-person events is a great way to let your attendees make the decision themselves. Aside from giving them the flexibility to attend your event at the comfort of their home or office, you’re also ensuring their health and safety during a stressful time.
Here are three tips to help you and your association supplement your in-person event with a virtual add-on.
1. Be Transparent
Be sure to let your audience know any updates you have as your conference gets closer. If you need to cancel, be transparent and continue to provide updates on what you’re planning for virtual options. The Society of Interventional Radiology has this information front and center on their annual conference page.
2. Prime Your Audience for Success
Your audience may not have a lot of experience attending conferences virtually, so having a section in your website with useful resources will help guarantee a positive experience.
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners has useful information on their events page, from helping attendees to login during the event to checking their computers and making sure their systems work prior to the conference. They even have a virtual conference line that the attendees can call, should they experience any trouble logging in.
3. Leverage Your Existing Software Tools
Your association likely already has a webinar platform and/or a learning management system (LMS). These are powerful tools that your organization can use to complement or potentially replace your in-person events. Whether you’d like to add-on a virtual option to your currently scheduled in-person event or if you must cancel your in-person event and are looking for a way to distribute content virtually – these existing systems should be considered.
Live streaming from your in-person event
You can live stream sessions directly into your learning management system. This provides users a familiar environment rather than introducing a new software for them to learn. You’ll need to work with your AV company at the in-person event and coordinate with your LMS provider. If your LMS is integrated with your registration system for the conference and you have Single Sign On already enabled, your users will experience a seamless transition to watch your event live. By using your LMS, you can also get feedback on the sessions, and automatically award credit and certificates to those users that are watching live.
Using your LMS for a virtual conference
If you must cancel your event, you can still give registrants an option to attend virtually. We recommend coordinating with your speakers to have them present their session via an online tool (GoToMeeting, Zoom, etc.), recording the session, editing the session, and capturing into an .mp4 file. Once you have all the sessions recorded, you can use them in your learning management system along with other LMS features to host a virtual conference. To add a live component, you can use live chat and have the presenters available at designated times to answer questions. We’ve seen this work well because it allows the speakers to be more engaged with the audience since they aren’t trying to speak and engage at the same time.
If you haven’t yet embraced using existing technology to support live events, now is the time to consider it. We are inspired by the associations remaining calm, being creative with solutions, and moving forward in this challenging environment.
Web Courseworks has a live webinar on March 25 at 11:30 AM CT. We will highlight LMS options that allow for virtual add-ons to in-person events. Save your seat today.