Producing an online version of your association’s annual in-person conference has been a sudden and necessary change for most meeting and association managers. While the goals and objectives of an online and an in-person conference may remain the same (continuing education, networking opportunities, revenue source, etc.), the implementation is quite different. Here are five useful tips to consider when moving your conference online.
1. Pre-record for more control over content – Although there is a time and place for live presentations, they can be a highly stressful for both the presenter and the event producers due to the complexity and number of technical elements involved. What if your presenter’s internet connection cuts out? What if your presenter can’t turn on his microphone? Non-professional presenters may be just as anxious about presenting in an online format as they are presenting in front of a live audience.
Pre-recording a presentation can go a long way in reducing stress levels for everyone involved. Additionally, it gives you control over the end result (with the opportunity to make edits) and reduces the number of technical elements the producer must manage during a live event.
If audience engagement with the presenter is important, then consider bringing your presenter(s) in live at the end of the pre-recorded presentation video to make final comments or to take questions from the audience. Pre-recording works well with one-way communication style presentations; however, virtual meeting platforms are offering more opportunities for two-way communication between audience and presenter to make the experience more immersive for participants. For example, your presenter can be responding to questions from the audience live via a chat box during the recorded presentation.
2. Include a video editor on your team – If you choose to pre-record your conference sessions, a skilled video editor is a must have on your conference production team. A little bit of editing can greatly improve the overall quality of your videos. Editors can overlay graphics and slides over narration, cut out dead air, and even remove the cell phone bing that can be heard halfway through the recording. A good video editor is knowledgeable about the small things that can produce a cleaner, crisper video and improve your audio and video content.
3. Find the right Master of Ceremonies (MC) – Spend the time with your client or conference planning team to find the right person to act as MC for your online conference. Like the MC of an in-person conference, this person should be knowledgeable about the subject content, be a name/face that your audience members are familiar with (perhaps a board member), and be someone who has a strong, clear and confident speaking voice. The MC is different from a session moderator (which is also a vital role in an online format) and should be the same person for the duration of the conference.
Just as with an in-person conference, the MC helps the audience transition through the program components and clarifies what is happening next (‘We will now take a short 5-minute break’). This element is especially important for virtual events which lack the non-verbal cues that instinctively tell us what do to next.
4. Prep your presenters – Book time with your presenters in advance of the online conference to meet inside your virtual platform (i.e. Zoom, Webex, Demio, OnAir, etc.) for the purpose of preparing them for the on-line event. Giving instruction over email, no matter how thorough, doesn’t replace a one-on-one practice session where the producers can test the quality of the presenter’s equipment (and make adjustments) and also train the presenter on how to use the specific technical features of your software, like turning on/off webcams and microphones and how to use chat functions.
5. Preserve your sponsor loyalty – Sponsorship opportunities for online conferences go far beyond logo placement on a PowerPoint slide. Moving to a virtual format should not be a reason for your sponsors to lose interest or receive less acknowledgement. The virtual meeting room offers many opportunities for sponsor involvement and engagement. Talk to your sponsors about what their expectations would be to maintain their financial commitment for your online event and work together to find a solution they see value in.
For example, offering a 30 second commercial time slot that airs just prior to a popular session may be of interest. Or allow them to facilitate a networking game during a break. Many virtual meeting platforms now offer an appointment booking function which allows sponsors and exhibitors to request one-on-one virtual meet ups with key potential clients. Sponsors want to communicate their message to your audience with the goal of translating that message into face time with potential clients and making a sale. In most cases this can still be accomplished in a virtual format and often at a much lower cost to the sponsor, given there is no food and beverage, travel and other costs required for an in person meeting.
Whether we wanted it or not, virtual meetings are now the new normal for our industry. By adapting quickly and effectively, your association will move into this inevitable future stronger and better equipped to serve the needs of your members using online education formats.
Kazia Ekelund, CMP
Senior Project Manager