There are several themes that are revealing themselves as association pivot their in-person events to virtual platforms, some good and others that call for our attention to improve. Here are some of the pros and cons of virtual events that we have seen thus far.
Pros of Virtual Events
I’ve had multiple conversations with association executives and the following are the upsides of virtual events and sponsorships that we all agree on.
There is an overall positive reception and feedback from attendees, they are having a pretty good experience when it comes to virtual events. One thing that they’re happy about? They’re saving the cash by not having to travel. The other? They are able to download information on demand.
The ability to track new attendees and new audience is a big pro. The opportunity is there to be able to connect deeper with our member companies. The events used to be a corporate decision. In the past, a member company may have sent two folks to the annual meeting. Now, they can have those two people and all of the people who report to them attend as well.
There is also an increase in opportunity for content delivery and the ability to include sponsor and vendor thought leadership. Associations are more liberal with the content that they’re providing based on the prospectuses that we have seen thus far. You can add additional sessions without anyone being upset because they have the opportunity to attend them all. This enables us to allow sponsors, vendors, and suppliers deliver case studies and thought leadership.
Archived and on-demand content is another major pro. And, if you structure it the right way, you can have shorter and tighter programming options – two to three hours a day has been a favorable mix.
A virtual event is less expensive to execute. We’re not flying everyone out and buying a bunch of $30 gallons of coffee. We can execute these programs for less.
Virtual Event Cons
Here are some of the cons, or areas where virtual events have yet to prove their value over in-person events:
We’ve seen uneven networking engagement with a wide variance of success. No doubt that, in networking forums that I’ve seen, there is a need to facilitate and lead those sessions. The ability to bring people together around a particular grouping – such as a topic or a specific subject matter – is really important. You need to cultivate these opportunities for your attendees, both members and sponsors.
Gross revenue – something that associations use to pay for the infrastructure back at the headquarters – is lower. In some ways, that gross revenue supported a lot of other functions. However, the net margin of a virtual event may actually be better.
The effectiveness and sustainability of virtual exhibit halls and sponsorships is yet to be known. I don’t know if people will continue to do this. I do know that there’s a lot more ability and flexibility for the sponsor to share new collateral materials, post case studies, and do other interesting and unique things.
Schedule adjustment is needed for the surge of programming because we have shorter attention span. Another way of looking at it is that we used to fill a room full of people in classroom style seating and the guy in the middle of the row had no choice but to stay for the entire session because it was difficult to leave without anyone noticing. People no longer feel like the have to show up if the content is not good or to sit through the entire session.
Innovation and flexibility are needed when it comes for awards, passing of the gavel, and other similar tasks. We’re probably not going to be able to replicate the awards and recognition – things that we’ve done so many times. Were these valuable and interesting in person anyway? Maybe for the person that’s getting the award, not sure it’s really that interesting for everybody else. This is something that we’re going to have to replace, or innovative, in terms of delivering this type of benefit.
The other con to consider is that speakers will require additional training on the virtual platform. We’ve heard from several associations that have had virtual meetings where a speaker messed up the delivery because they did not take the time to learn the platform or the association did not provide proper training and equipment. And, as the CEO or the lead of the meeting, you need to evaluate whether that speaker that used to be really good in person and is a legacy appearance at the annual meeting can still deliver the goods in a virtual format.
I hope this is helpful for you as you work on re-creating your events in a virtual setting. This is an incredible opportunity for innovation. It’s going to be different, however, I believe – in some ways – it’s going to be better! Best of luck!
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