During our webinar, “Revenue Retention with Virtual Events,” we covered a lot of ground to help you move from in-person events to online models. Read on to learn more from our event professionals, Ragan Cohn and Liz Klostermann.
Q. What people consider “creativity” can be subjective — how did you get stakeholders to align on certain elements of the virtual experience?
Ragan Cohn: In March and April of 2020 when we were making our shift from in-person to virtual, nothing was “normal” for anyone. That meant people were more accepting of experimentation and more open to creative approaches to things. That certainly worked in our favor!Today, a few months later, I think we’re largely still in that same mental space. Everyone knows things are still different and recognizes that you – like them – are still working to figure out how to move forward in new ways. It’s a good time to experiment. Just invite people along for the journey. Be transparent: “Join us for our first-ever XYZ event! Let’s create something new together!”
Also – when experimenting – have a “plan B” at the ready. We went into each of our meetups and happy hours with a plan and a back-up plan in case the engagement activities fell flat. We knew how we’d handle participant introductions if the group was small and how we’d handle them if the group was large. We were ready to be flexible and creative in real-time.
Liz Klostermann: For exhibitors and sponsors, it was quickly finding avenues to showcase their involvement with the tools we were already using. We pivoted and didn’t have time to explore all options, but we knew we had a strong set of products we already managed that could serve this function.
We then reviewed the sponsor packages that already sold and evaluated how we could still leverage those commitments and fulfill the needs. Ultimately, we needed to know the goals of our sponsors with the live event and how they would translate virtually. It was a lot of moving pieces.
Q. What platform was used, and how did you decide on the times offered for the event?
RC: For the OATUG event, we leveraged what we had. That saved a lot of time and required no new investment in technology – two big wins for us, right from the start.
For education delivery, the client already had four GoToWebinar accounts and borrowed a fifth from Meeting Expectations. That allowed us to run five concurrent sessions in every time slot and gave us the opportunity to have educational tracks in the virtual event like we would have had in person. The Meeting Expectations IT team was able to integrate our membership database (Aptify) so that session selection and scheduling were all managed there. That was key to keeping this as seamless as possible for our attendees.
We used Zoom for our meetups and happy hours.
We leveraged the online community functionality of our Higher Logic website for online discussion, pre-session engagement, post-session Q&A, and networking. We also used the community’s library feature as the place to provide the session recordings and PPT files, easily allowing us to limit their availability to registered attendees.
LK: Our mantra at Meeting Expectations is that every event we create is customized for the client’s needs – this is no different when it comes to selecting a virtual event technology platform. For the trade show, you truly have to consider the experience: are you a show that does a lot of branding, do your exhibitors create experiences on a show floor, or, are you lifting and shifting traditional booths into a virtual event? All of this determines what the best tools are for you.
Q. How did you handle refunds and was that part of your revenue projection when designing virtual?
RC: For our conference registrants, we waited until we had the most pertinent details to share about the virtual event before offering details on a refund process. As I mentioned in the webinar, we communicated often about this and asked for patience. Our audience was very gracious throughout that period (which took about 2-3 weeks).
When we published the dates, content, and pricing for the virtual event, we let them know they had “automatically been registered for” the virtual event, and a portion of their conference registration fees had been applied to that with the rest now available as a credit for future use. Then we gave them options (e.g., opt-out of the virtual event and get a full refund, opt-out and leave the full amount with us as a credit, remain in the virtual event but get a refund of the credit amount). We used our conference registration system (IPReg by Avolio) for all of these communications with attendees.
LK: For exhibitors and sponsors, it was helpful for me to understand all of the options: could we use these funds on virtual fulfillments, look at year-round opportunities or apply it towards a future event?
Knowing where in the fiscal year those elements would hit gave a better sense of revenue projection, but we also acknowledged that there were going to be companies who needed a refund regardless of how they would have utilized those dollars with us.
Q. How did you strike a happy medium with sponsorships to avoid a deluge of sales pitches?
LK: Legwork! One element not discussed in the webinar was the opportunity for sponsors to introduce session speakers and give their elevator pitches at the beginning of the session. We had the sponsors identify their top five sessions and then worked with the speaker so that there wasn’t any conflict of interest or surprise. We also received their promotional slides ahead of time, so we knew what was going to be shown on screen.
The other thing that worked to our advantage was our long-standing relationships with sponsors and exhibitors. We knew our audience and how to engage them in a way that was beneficial for both parties.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries if you need to, creating distinguishable areas (e.g., meetups, happy hours) or session slots for them to purchase for their pitches. Communicate ahead of time what the consequences could be if those boundaries are broken but trust the relationships you’ve built. Your exhibitors and sponsors are pivoting just as much as you are, and the connection with your audience is paramount for them.
Q. The community page that you leveraged, was it engaging? Did attendees understand this was for your event only?
RC: We got great engagement in our online community with many participants joining in as first-time posters even though the online community platform was launched almost a year earlier. It was a great opportunity to introduce more people to the benefits of that part of our website! We’re working now to bring that engagement over into our all-member community forum and maintain the momentum we gained from the online event. And yes, I think it was clear that the particular event community was only for our event registrants. We branded it for the event and controlled access to it; there was no way attendees could bring non-registrants in.
Meeting Expectations is a full-service event and association management company and we would love the opportunity to speak with you about your challenges and successes regarding events or associations. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with us on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.