2020 has proved itself to be the year of virtual events, with the current pandemic giving rise to a prominent online shift for gatherings and conferences in nearly every industry. A recent study for Northstar Meetings group has found that this trend will continue in the future. While the move online has come with many advantages, including the removal of attendance barriers such as travel and expenses, navigating virtual conference technologies can still present a challenge for conference organizers. In this post, we will explore the key tips you should follow when hosting a virtual conference, gleaned from our work with some of the world's most prominent professional and scientific organizations.
The first step to running a successful virtual conference is finding the right software to host your event. In order to narrow down contenders, take the time to fully understand each platform in detail, including their differentiators. In the case of scientific conferences, it can be helpful to find a platform that offers end-to-end solutions, so you can go from abstract, poster, and presentation submission, to live-streaming, to a post-event content platform. This can help keep down the costs of engaging multiple providers and ensures your attendees have a seamless experience. When making your decision, be sure to look for references from other clients and seek out services that can be customized to your needs.
In order to attract the best attendees to your conference, outline the various benefits of the event in your online program. Discuss the opportunities for collaboration with experts within the field and highlight notable speakers. As an event planner, it is crucial to use social media to encourage registration for your conference. Use social media channels to underscore why your event is worth attending and make sure you're communicating year round, rather than just in the lead up to the event, to build up your following and increase the reach of your posts when it's crunch time. Find more tips on attracting talent to a conference in this post.
At the core of organizing events (both virtual and physical) is bringing people together to connect and collaborate. From networking, negotiating, understanding and adjusting to people’s needs, pitching ideas, and more, social interactions are an essential part of event planning. Ensuring that these interactions are positive and effective will only solidify your event’s success. Amidst the possible technological adjustments and complications that can come with planning a conference that is fully online, good social and communication skills are even more crucial. Flexibility, being an active listener, making sure that you bring a personable, engaging energy to each professional conversation, as well as taking part in polite formalities such as thank you notes for speakers are examples of small daily habits that will leave lasting, favorable impressions on everyone involved in your event, allowing you to build a strong support network for the future.
After specifying what messages that you or your organization wants to convey to your audience and clients through your event, it’s very important that you keep this message consistent. Keeping in mind the fundamental topics and values that your virtual conference will be built upon throughout each stage of its development ensures that you are drawing the right attendees, clients, and conversations to your event. Brand consistency, namely in the design and promotional elements of your event will help deliver a clean, clear message to all individuals associated with it even if they are logging in from different sides of the world.
As a conference organizer, you should try and understand how to navigate virtual conferences technologically before you run your own event. Attend virtual conferences yourself to see how some of these software services work in in action and see which is the best fit for your needs. Make sure to get references from different software providers in the form of case studies or actual discussions with existing clients, ideally reaching out to those that hosted a similar size or style event as your own. Read this post for more details on choosing your software. Once you've settled on a virtual conference platform, it is important to ensure your attendees and speakers are familiar with the software before the conference begins to troubleshoot any technical difficulties. For example, Morressier’s support team does a quick, 15 minute onboarding session with each speaker prior to the event and is on hand in the backstage area to gather speakers and implement any last-minute changes before each session goes live. This helps both organizers and speakers communicate efficiently and ensures that the conference runs smoothly.
While there is no way to replicate the tangible human interaction of in-person conferences, online conference platforms can include features to boost communication and increase attendee participation. Ensure your audience is given opportunities to participate in sessions by choosing an event platform that offers chat boxes and Q&A features that allow for a dynamic, two-way interaction between speaker and attendee in real-time. In the same vein, utilize social media platforms in order to drive audience engagement and a conversation outside the digital 'walls' of your event. Encourage conference-goers, partners, and sponsors to use your conference hashtag and participate in conversations regarding your event to build its reach and create a strong and well-connected online community.
Once the conference is over, you can still create a lasting impression on your intended audiences by choosing a platform that provides a conference repository to host all content and proceedings post (and potentially pre) event. This allows research to be given a longer lifetime online, where it can be shared, explored, and promoted after the conference is over. Another benefit offered by virtual conference platforms is the potential to analyze attendee engagement and gather key data-points about popular sessions, research, and presenters. Morressier provides powerful insights regarding attendee behaviors throughout an event, allowing organizers to best plan the conference program for the next year.
When it comes to organizing a virtual conference, it is important to remember that while the in-person experience cannot be truly replicated, both models seek to provide a forum for researchers, academics, and experts to connect and collaborate efficiently. Virtual events are not simply holograms of their canceled counterparts, and becoming aware of the habits and technological capacities necessary to successfully run an online conference will continue to be a pivotal skill for the foreseeable future. Looking beyond the pandemic, offering attendees the option to access live streamed or on-demand conference material remotely is a shrewd element to tie into an in-person event to increase the accessibility of your event and ensure the best experience for all attendees.
Photo by Austin Distel.