Virtual conferences: Four ideas to run your own in 2021

Chalk up another victim of 2020’s pandemic: conferences. For those who managed to squeak one in before March, good on you! For the rest of us, who had been planning (so much planning) and had to either cancel or postpone, all is not lost. If you’re planning to ramp your conferences back up in 2021, consider a virtual conference. 

 According to research from Wild Apricot, a whopping 84% of organizations that had already run a virtual event in 2020 reported that they spent less money on virtual events than in-person events. Besides these lower costs, virtual conferences can have a huge impact on your organization. Many of your peers—and competitors—have already jumped in. Here are some ideas to consider. 

Set goals

Just like an in-person conference, you need a “why.” Is the conference to build your brand, generate leads, create awareness, or build community? Set measurable objectives (e.g. “we want to capture 100 leads”) so you can plan on building content and attracting the right audience. What content resonated with your attendees? What did they like or didn’t? In a digital world, you can ask them online and use that feedback to improve and hone your content for next year.

Choose your technology (wisely)

The bad news: A virtual conference isn’t just using your free web-based video conferencing software, then inviting people to watch. It can be, but your attendees will expect more from you (especially if your conference costs money to attend). Like a real-life conference, you will need an agenda, keynote speakers, breakouts, and handouts. Zoom does provide powerful tools to do some of this, and Facebook Live is getting more robust with its technology, but also consider platforms like CIA Omnigage or Whova that allow all-in-one solutions for session streaming, video replay, virtual booths, attendee engagement, and networking. 

Live or on-demand conferences

Should your conference be live or offered on-demand? Better yet: How about both? A live virtual conference offers a more real-life experience, more engagement, and the ability for interaction (like “raise your hands if you have any questions”). However, capturing the presentations also provides an extended conference for those who couldn’t attend or for those who like to watch on their own time. And, with all that great content you captured, you can repackage and repurpose for social media to re-promote the conference and your company or services. 

Promoting your conference

In a post-Covid world, your customers will meet differently, buy products differently, and use their time more efficiently. There are many ways to approach them and promote your conferences to them. You can reach possible attendees through numerous channels including social media platforms or on your website by creating a landing page, but let’s not forget the humble email! According to Markletic, 76% of marketers say that email is the single most effective way to drive registrations.

What’s next

In 2020, the number of organizations planning a virtual event doubled according to Wild Apricot. That means 2021 might be the year of virtual conferences. Though there is light at the end of the tunnel (we’re seeing in-person conferences optimistically being promoted for summer 2021) consider migrating your conference into a digital, virtual version. And, if you’re launching one for the first time, there are powerful tools on the market to help you plan and build an engaging and successful conference not only next year but beyond. 

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