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Sept. 25, 2020

Conducting Virtual Conferences

It's officially unavoidable.
Virtual Conferences

Conferences and trade shows, like many industries and businesses, have taken a massive hit in a COVID-aware world. Huge events that have thousands of attendees and exhibitors are now left standing without the ability to rely on the one thing they always have: face-to-face interaction. However, that doesn’t mean these events need to be canceled.

Retailers, restaurateurs, and corporate offices have had to pivot quickly and frequently to meet health guidelines, comply with government-implemented restrictions, and provide safe and easy platforms for customers to support them in new ways. Conferences and trade shows can do the same by going virtual, all it takes is a bit more planning and a reliable technical support team.

Bring Your In-Person Event Online

Here are 5 considerations when bringing an in-person event into an online space:

1 - Define goals and objectives

2 - Optimize your own digital presence

3 - Virtual announcement blitz

Is it Time for Your Company?

Because trade shows and conferences rely on the participation and collaboration of many different companies, swift and decisive action is required to make a successful transition to an online experience. Not only will you be responsible for reorganizing the event and ensuring technical needs are met, you’ll also have to retrain the businesses who participate, provide additional support for vendors, and think creatively and strategically about marketing the event.

There are already a lot of (pre-COVID) virtual events with a track record of success, just ask the gamers.

Does that mean that because events CAN be online and some are really successful that ALL conferences can be transitioned to a virtual space? No. The truth is, some conferences are more effective in person. Some participating businesses won’t have the resources, time, or desire to become digitally-proficient, making the likelihood of a packed roster less likely. Events that require large product testing, food/beverage sampling, and other in-person activities are likely not worth the effort to transition at a large scale. That said, there are some types of events that seem unlikely which could actually benefit from the creativity that comes with going virtual. There are new and exciting virtual opportunities for fitness events, demonstrations, and even product showcases like furniture and fashion markets.



Case Study: Continuing Education Conference

Continuing Education Conference Site

southernspaandsalonconference.com

For those who don't know, the Southern Spa & Salon Conference (SSSC) is a continuing education, in-person conference annually held in Western NC and serving the Spa & Salon Industry. It offers the opportunity for industry professionals (estheticians, massage therapists, and cosmetologists) to earn all their state-required continuing education credits in one weekend (sometimes in one class). A full-blown conference complete with instructors, professionals, students, exhibitors, and sponsors. The solution? Extreme flexibility.

Live-Virtual Continuing Education

This particular sector (continuing education) can get very narrow given that requirements are governed by state boards, different for each profession, and require paperwork submissions from administration.

Given the factors above, the SSSC went with Zoom as the solution for hosting each class. Like the rest of us, the state boards are still trying to diversify and understand new guidelines to be added and restrictions to be lifted.

Zoom allowed this conference to keep the flexibility of classroom proctors, conduct classes that are face-to-face and live, provide a platform instructors are familiar with, and invest less in the first year to learn some lessons and buy time on how to make this transition in business model work.

Online Attendee Management

Given the extreme flexibility of Zoom, a stable online platform was needed to allow registrations, manage registrants, send reminders, process payments, and collect the needed information for the manual administration process that occurs after the conference.

A custom-built website was the solution. Another stroke of good timing: the conference needed a new site, and a platform to help diversify the model. This website + Zoom solution also allows for mixed events or online registrations to in-person events in subsequent years. The conference is not married to the online solution with the investments made thus far.

The process:

  1. Attendee selects classes from the schedule and pays a fee based on Course Credits signed up for
  2. An invoice email is sent
  3. 24 hours before the first class, email notifications are sent out to Attendees with all Zoom links to their scheduled classes
  4. Come class time, a proctor ensures all Attendees have signed up and paid for the course
  5. Zoom allows polls and quizzes to be conducted throughout the class
  6. After the conference as a whole, each Attendee must submit a course review of each class and their whole conference experience for State Board’s approval. This is sent via email.
  7. Consolidated reports are provided by the website, to the administrators of the conference to print needed forms and send into each Attendee’s respective State Board for license renewal.

Interested in diversifying your offerings? Brainstorming the options? Reach out, we love to chat.

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