As technology evolves, associations are pivoting to digital means for more and more of their operations. From spreadsheets evolving into comprehensive AMS systems to eLearning technology revolutionizing continuing education, associations are relying on tech now more than ever.
Events are the next association effort to head to the digital sphere. Associations can host virtual events, provide a more widely accessible experience, and use fewer resources while doing so. They’re able to hold these events in times of crisis and times of triumph, and provide an innovative experience to members in the process.
At Web Courseworks, we’ve dedicated time and energy to perfecting the virtual event process for associations. Through this guide, you’ll explore the basics of virtual events for associations through the following points:
- Why do associations hold virtual events?
- What types of virtual events can you host?
- Essential Elements of a Successful Virtual Event
- Top Tips for Hosting a Virtual Event for Associations
Let’s get started.
Why do associations hold virtual events?
There are a variety of reasons why an association may choose to host their event on the internet.
Since one of the biggest perks of association membership is the corresponding events, a big reason to host virtual events is accessibility.
For example, online events allow associations to reach members across the world. With land-locked events, members either need to be local or willing and able to travel the distance. Further, in-person events can be exclusionary to members with disabilities that restrict their ability to travel for the experience. By going digital, any member with access to the internet is able to participate.
This same concept is also applicable to times of crisis when associations are unable to host the in-person events initially scheduled. Whether it’s a wildfire crisis or a global pandemic, associations that prepare virtual event capabilities in advance are able to continue providing experiences to stricken members. These members will greatly appreciate the continuity efforts.
Beyond accessibility, there are a few logistical reasons why associations may incorporate virtual events. For example, virtual events can be more budget-friendly than large in-person productions. And, they hold an opportunity to make the most of innovations in technology.
What are the pros and cons of virtual events for associations?
While these reasons are convincing, it’s important that you truly evaluate the pros and cons of hosting a virtual event before pivoting to digital means. While innovative and accessible, these events can also be a huge change from normal operations— so it’s important to make sure it’s the right choice for your association.
Let’s explore the pros and cons of virtual events, starting with the cons. A few challenges of virtual events are:
- Lack of in-person interaction.
- Disconnect with on-demand versus live offerings.
- Variation in member technology knowledge.
While these issues are understandable, it’s important to not let these cons deter you from holding an innovative event. As you’ll soon see, many of these challenges can actually be avoided by simply hosting a great virtual event.
The extra effort is especially worth it once you consider the pros of a virtual event for associations:
- You’re able to reach more members, near and far.
- They’re accessible for members regardless of physical ability.
- They’re budget-friendly.
- They’re not tethered to physical locations— so the show can still go on during a crisis.
Since the challenges can be overcome and the pros outweigh the cons, virtual events are a great option for associations of all sizes. With that, let’s explore the ins and outs of hosting this type of event.
What types of virtual events can you host?
Innovations in technology means there are more ways than ever to provide event experiences to association members through the internet.
Ranging in effort and coordination required, there are virtual events that serve associations of all sizes. Let’s explore four popular options:
A virtual conference is similar to an in-person conference, except all keynotes, breakout sessions, and networking events take place on the internet. It’s easily one of the most comprehensive fully-virtual event types, including comprehensive content and attendee engagement tools.
This type of event involves extensive coordination. To truly simulate a conference online, you’ll need multiple speakers, multiple sessions, and communication between members. However, while it takes more effort to plan, it’s also a valuable event type for associations.
A webinar is a video presentation of one or more speakers presenting content on a chosen topic. These presentations can be interactive by working with conferencing tools allowing questions from viewers.
There are two types of webinars: live and on-demand. Live webinars involve live-streamed speakers, while on-demand events involve a pre-recorded session. Even if you’re hosting a live webinar, it’s often helpful to record the experience and provide it to members that missed the broadcast and would like to purchase it on-demand to review later.
Hybrid events combine the power of in-person and live events. It’s a way to capitalize on the increased accessibility of virtual events while maintaining the traditional in-person event structure.
Essentially, you plan an in-person event (such as a conference) as per usual. Then, you livestream portions or all of the event so members near and far can chime in. Consider charging a smaller ticket fee for members that are unable to attend in person to livestream key speakers.
You can take this a step further by creating virtual event communities for your distance attendees, such as an online discussion forum. You can also create virtual event-specific elements, such as incorporating a virtual reality tour of the venue space.
Virtual Networking Events
One of the biggest criticisms of virtual events is the lack of in-person interaction they provide. Association events are heralded for the networking opportunities they provide to members, allowing members in similar fields to meet, speak, and trade tips and tricks on making it in their industry.
You can still hold networking events without in-person interaction. Set up discussion boards, or even large conference meeting calls, and allow members to join and network. Organizing members by topic interest and charging for entry is just like any other networking event— just on the internet.
Essential Elements of a Successful Virtual Event
Modern associations rely on software tools to manage operations more than ever before. To host your next association event through digital means, there are a few specific tools you’ll need to bring in for the effort.
Let’s explore a few of these elements further:
- Website. Your website is often the first place members look for information regarding your association. This will likely be the landing page that guides members to register and participate in your virtual event, so it’s an especially crucial resource.
- Virtual events platform. You’re going to need more than just your association website to handle all of the streaming and content you provide to members. Invest in an LMS or other virtual events platform to facilitate your event.
- Content. This includes both static and interactive content, such as an educational video and an open discussion board. Because you can’t rely on in-person interactions, the content has to be especially valuable to keep members engaged.
- Registration strategy. Event registration is historically a headache for associations, and that doesn’t change just because an event goes digital. Make sure your association has a digital plan for handling registrations, whether it’s through a virtual events platform or your website.
- Marketing strategy. This will likely be a new event type for your members, so it’s important that you have a strong marketing strategy to spread the word.
- Communication strategy. With technology can come technical difficulties, so it’s important that you have a strategy in place to communicate with members. Whether that’s members reaching out to you with tech questions or your association communicating registration and access details, it’s important to first iron out how this will function.
If your association is pivoting to virtual events for the first time, ensure you’ve accounted for each of these tools and you’ll be off to a great start.
Top Tips for Hosting a Virtual Event for Associations
If your association has never hosted a virtual event, you might feel out of your comfort zone. Incorporate the following tips in your strategy to ensure you’re starting off on the right foot.
Prepare attendees to make the most of your virtual event.
You can create the best event possible, but if your attendees are unable to engage with it— the effort is moot.
If you think adapting to new tech will be a big adjustment for your association, understand that your members likely feel the same way. Prior to your event, ensure each member understands how to interact with your new tech from initially entering the virtual space to accessing key content elements. This could mean simply providing informational content with step-by-step instructions or opening an email line to address tech concerns ahead of time.
It’s important that members have a positive experience with your digital event, and that starts with accessing the event to begin with.
Leverage a variety of media.
When you host an in-person event, it probably includes a variety of experiences for attending members. Whether it’s keynote speakers, educational materials, video presentations, or even virtual booths to explore, this variety is essential to keeping attendees engaged.
Similarly, it’s important to use a variety of media experiences in virtual events. This includes text, videos, photos and graphics, and even gamification elements— whichever media will best represent your event.
When you’re not in-person with members, it’s important to make sure they’re engaged through other means. Using a variety of interesting media types is one easy way to do so.
Encourage attendees to communicate.
As mentioned previously, one of the biggest perks of an association event is the networking opportunities for members. It’s essential that you preserve that communication with virtual events, as well.
There are two key communication outlets to provide:
- Two-way communication between your association and members.
- Communication channels for members to communicate with one another.
First and foremost, it’s important that if a member has any questions or issues, they have an easy and reliable method to elevate that concern to your association’s leadership.
Further, it’s important that members can contact each other en masse as well as one-on-one. Discussion boards, live messaging, and even virtual meeting services are a great place to start.
Collect data on the effort.
The nature of virtual events means that all interactions happen with the use of technology. From webinar views to discussion participation, each of these interactions can provide a wealth of information to improve your events going forward.
Collect data from your virtual event for post-event analysis. The easiest way to do this is to integrate the platform hosting your virtual event with your AMS, so data flows seamlessly between the two systems.
Paying attention to what members engage with (for example, specific speakers or eLearning courses) and what members struggle with (for example, specific tech difficulties that arose) will be valuable going forward. You can optimize popular experiences while fixing common issues, ensuring that each time you host a virtual event, it’s even better than the last.
Be prepared for technical difficulties.
When you’re hosting large-scale events entirely through technology, such as a virtual event for associations, you must be prepared for technical difficulties.
With both the incorporation of new technology and the fact that many members will be tuning in all at once, there’s a decent chance there will be growing pains when you first power-up. Make sure that you’ve created an infrastructure to field any issues that arise, and that your staff is well-versed in your chosen platforms to alleviate problems.
This is one reason why it’s valuable to pair with a company to facilitate the creation of these events for you. With professional help, you can rest confident that your software systems will operate as planned— and if not, that there will be another team on your side to help out.
Work with a virtual event platform.
Hosting a virtual event for your association requires careful coordination of many moving parts, including your members, your content, and the technology itself.
Working with a handful of piecemeal solutions adds more confusion to the process than is necessary. When working with a virtual event platform, such as the platform and services offered by Web Courseworks, the entire planning and hosting process is pulled under one umbrella. The planning processes are united under one platform and members only have to access one portal to participate.
Web Coursework’s virtual event platform and services include:
- Virtual event hosting. It combines live and pre-recorded sessions, live chat, and more in one platform created specifically for association use.
- Webinar conferences. Whether it’s a small group discussion or an association-spanning presentation, Web Courseworks can produce your association’s virtual event webinars.
- Virtual meeting coordination. Managing the technical aspects of virtual meetings, your association can focus on the member interactions while Web Courseworks will handle the technology.
- Virtual conference creation. Provide sessions, discussions, sponsor information, and keynote information with their virtual conference portal. Further, with social collaboration tools and virtual tradeshow features, it will truly feel like a conference for members attending.
Working with a virtual event platform can drastically ease the planning process for your staff and decrease attendee confusion. Consider working with a platform designed for associations to ensure it can address your organization’s unique needs.
For more information about hosting virtual events for associations, explore the following additional resources:
- Virtual Event Solutions. Explore Web Courseworks’ virtual event platform and services here.
- Leading Learning Podcast Features Virtual Conferences Information & eLearning Trends. Explore two podcast episodes on topics relating to virtual events.
- Software for Associations | 15 Platforms to Consider. Explore popular software solutions for association use, each aiming to improve operations digitally.