Q&A: Pivoting to a Virtual World

COVID-19 has forced associations to re-think how they offer educational and networking opportunities. While in-person events have been a traditional fixture for associations, today virtual and hybrid (part in-person, part-virtual) events are becoming the new norm. To adjust to these necessary changes in the virtual world, associations were quickly forced to adapt by transitioning conferences and other programs to a virtual format. Read some thoughts from RGI’s Kim Paugh, CAE, who provides tips below on what to consider when pivoting from an in-person to a virtual event.

Q: With in-person events becoming virtual, how do you go about converting content to a platform that all attendees can view successfully?

A: Before selecting a platform, it is important to understand the purpose of the virtual event. The platform you select for a group should be determined by the attendees’ needs. For example, the needs for an educational event will look very different from those of a social event. It is also important to consider why you are converting to a virtual event rather than simply cancelling. What aspects of your meeting can your members not live without? Once you have your core values and attendee needs defined, you can vet that against the features of the various meeting platforms to further adjust to the virtual world.

Q: How does an organization show its sponsors that a virtual event is still worth their time and money? What facts would be most helpful to present to those sponsors?

A: During the pandemic, there were no in-person meetings. Knowing this, our pitch to sponsors was that we still provided them a way to get in front of their clients. We presented our sponsors with a specific outline of their original event sponsorship confirmation and adapted it to tell them what we could no longer deliver, along with what new features we developed to replace those aspects. It turned out there was very little we could not offer (i.e. signage, exhibit table) and we were able to replace those things with opportunities to connect with members at new virtual events that didn’t exist before the pandemic. Now, as we slowly reopen and in-person events return, it will be more difficult to market the events we decide to keep virtual. We are relying on good relationships that we reaffirmed during the crisis and an annualized sponsorship package to get us through this gray area.

Q: What is one thing you have learned while converting in-person events to virtual that was unexpected and is helpful for organizations to keep in mind?

A: Training is key for our virtual world. We created demo videos and step-by-step instructions for attendees to get them from registration to completion of the event. It wasn’t a difficult system to use, but because we had people participating that were not comfortable with technology, we needed to meet them where they were to create a good experience.

Q: How should associations approach future events now that they have the ability to host both virtually and in-person? Is it worth continuing a virtual or hybrid approach?

A: The pandemic forced everyone to get comfortable with technology and change, so there will be more openness to try new things in the future. We are planning a hybrid event in 2021 with the goal of using our in-person time for networking and creating meaningful connections, with the education split between online and in-person.