association virtual eventsFor professional associations, 2020 has been anything but routine—over the past year, they’ve been forced to quickly pivot from “business as usual,” to becoming digital-first, online communities. As a result of this sudden shift, associations of all types have been forced to master the art of executing virtual events. After all, annual meetings and social events are among the core offerings for an association’s members. In this step-by-step guide, we’ll show you how to conduct a first-rate association virtual event and lead your members forward in this transformative digital era. 

Step 1: Choose Your Virtual Event Platform

The first step in your event planning checklist, whether virtual or in-person, is to select the platform to host. While we all miss the warmth of in-person gatherings, virtual platforms have the luxury of no venue deposits or catering bills.  Zoom and Google Meet were popular for virtual gatherings prior to pandemic, and they’ve hung onto their spot atop the food chain. You’ll need to individually explore each of the available virtual platforms to determine which one is the best fit. However, it’s widely agreed that Zoom is best for large gatherings, while Google is best for smaller quicker gatherings.  Zoom offers the following features:
  • A free Basic Plan with unlimited meetings
  • Gallery view of up to 49 participants
  • Up to 10,000 attendees with Webinar Add-On
  • Small breakout rooms for sidebar discussions between participants
  • Accessibility from mobile devices
  • Monetization of live streams
  • Ability to view analytics in real time
Once you’ve selected your virtual event platform, it bears considering how you can maximize that platform for an optimal attendee experience.

Step 2: Integrate Your Virtual Event Platform with a Mobile App 

Engaging attendees who are physically separated demands more creativity, but also new technology, like mobile event apps, to have true impact. Should you choose Zoom as your virtual event platform, you’ll be able to seamlessly integrate a MobileUp event app into your association virtual event experience. MobileUp event apps offer the following features to support virtual events:
  • Interactive tools for speakers & attendees: Connecting with audiences at a virtual event is rapidly becoming a pain point for sponsors/speakers, who may feel like their investment doesn’t have the same ROI as in-person events. You can rectify this by using interactive tools in your MobileUp event app to facilitate communication between the speaker and audience. This will help you nurture the essential revenue stream of event sponsorship. 
  • Full web view of the event: All event information can be viewed through MobileUp’s comprehensive “web view,” providing a complete event experience from your members desktop.
  • Virtual sessions: Within the event agenda, attendees can access detailed information on virtual event sessions, including presentation materials & speaker documents. They then click to join the virtual sessions of their choice.
  • Mobile check-in for attendees: In an upcoming event, the Professional Pricing Society will use the “Forms” feature in their MobileUp app to allow attendees to “Check-In” to their virtual conference. Their check-in will place them in an attendees directory, enabling other attendees to see their check-in status and find their contact info (LinkedIn, email). 

Step 3: Develop Content for Your Association Virtual Event

Because networking is inherently limited, it becomes even more important for the content of your event to excel. Beyond the usual creation of an event agenda, complete with keynotes, workshops, sessions, and breaks, there are a few unique considerations of virtual event content planning. It’s important to develop a plan for how you will position your sponsors and speakers into your virtual event. For example; will they play an active role, offering speeches and virtual booths throughout the event? Or will they be a passive partner, displaying ads and offering sponsored merch in the background? The key is to ensure both parties are seeing a benefit while improving the attendee experience. 

Facilitate Attendee Engagement 

Whether gamifying digital content or unlocking social elements via chat rooms, your association can formulate a variety of fun ways to facilitate engagement and spark delight in their audiences. A mobile app can prove incredibly useful for fostering engagement in the following ways.
  • Host discussions: Discussions in sessions are an important component for many attendees as it gives them the opportunity to ask questions. There are options to do the same virtually. For example; The Coalition for Physician Well-Being hosted a virtual conference in July with the help of MobileUp. They utilized the “discussions” feature to create Q&A’s for each session, aggregating questions and feedback for event speakers.
  • Include games: Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and get creative with your virtual event. Games and contests are a great way to engage attendees and improve participation. In an upcoming event, NAVREF will use daily contests within its MobileUp app’s discussion board to help incentivize competition and engagement among its attendees. 
  • Add networking capabilities: Connecting with peers and colleagues is an important draw for in-person conferences. That’s why virtual events should include robust chat and networking tools to unlock similar benefits. Brainstorm creative incentives for attendees to reach out to one another in the course of the event, seeing as they won’t physically encounter one another.

Step 4: Train Your Speakers and Team for Going Virtual 

Change is hard. That’s why you should be proactive by training your team on the differences and (sometimes) challenges they might encounter going virtual. As this is new territory for most, you can expect to have many speakers and attendees that are unfamiliar with how virtual events operate. Be sure to conduct virtual platform training with your speakers and internal team members to ensure you don’t hit any snags during the event.
  • Conduct dry runs: Prior to the event, rehearse the event to give your team time to get familiar with the software and settings.
  • Plan for potential glitches and interruptions: Provide troubleshooting options and set up a support line for technical issues.
  • Set clear team objectives and expectations: Ensure your team members can consistently instruct attendees on event protocols such as; using the public chat, unmuting microphones, and asking questions. 

Make Your Event Accessible

It’s important to realize that attendees may not be able to attend every session of a multi-day event. For this very reason, organizations should take advantage of one of the main benefits of virtual events— the ability to create on-demand sessions. You can pre-record content, scheduling it to be released on a specific day, or host playbacks and highlight reels for content streamed live during the event itself. By providing a variety of options for engaging with your event, associations can increase the shelf-life of conference content, maximizing the value of their investments over the long-term.

Step 5: Promote Your Association Virtual Event 

No matter how it’s hosted, the success of any event depends heavily on an organization’s ability to get the word out. Whether you plan to invite members only, or open the event to anyone in your industry, consider these promotional outlets:
    • Partner with podcasts focused on your association’s industry
    • Use free merch giveaways to incentivize attendees to share event info
    • Share previews of event content with your members
  • Publish a press-release to generate buzz and boost your search engine ranking
  • Encourage speakers and panelists to promote the event on their own social profiles
  • Use email marketing to bolster interest, share updates, and offer discounts codes to members
  • Send push notifications through your association app to update and inform members 

Improve Your Association’s Next Virtual Event With an App from MobileUp

The sudden, sweeping shift to digitization has caught many organizations off-guard, forcing them to completely reinvent their strategies for engaging with members and event-goers. With the right tools, however, associations of any size can make a seamless transition to virtual events.  MobileUp provides one of the most unique value propositions in the virtual conference space, offering an intuitive, cloud-based platform for building out highly-engaging digital event experiences. Building apps since the app-store first opened, MobileUp’s industry professionals are some of the most passionate creators you’ll encounter.  By partnering with MobileUp, you’ll not only be able to take your virtual event to the next level— you’ll unlock the potential of your organization’s digital strategy for years to come.