CREATE A VIRTUAL CONGRESS
Go digital: how to create a Virtual Congress
COVID-19 has turned the exhibition and congress world upside down. Knowing that meeting is an inherent human need, as we are social animals, we continue to look for creative solutions. Since physical events are prohibited almost all over the globe, a virtual congress or exhibition might be a good solution. Let’s briefly dive into what to consider when managing a virtual congress. We will look at strategy, the right format, resources, measurement and key success factors.
This article is an abstract of an MPI guide about all sorts of virtual meetings, we will focus on organizing a digital congress.
Before you organise a virtual congress
Organising a virtual congress or exhibition has its upsides and downsides. Not all companies are suited for organising this type of event. It is a big plus if you are already familiar with virtual meetings, whether that is internally (e.g. video calls between offices) or with clients (e.g. online demos). Besides that, organising any virtual event takes a similar amount of effort as organizing a regular event. It has many organisational requirements, such as time, budget, a dedicated team, and marketing and sales effort. It is something you cannot do overnight.
On the other hand, virtual events are likely to reduce travel costs, are more sustainable due to fewer pollutants, and will decrease out of office time for employees and more.
To strategise your virtual congress there are four steps to take. First, you have to assess the current IT environment. How big is the discrepancy between your current IT solutions and the required ones for your congress? Network capabilities, budget and digital infrastructure are all important factors to consider. What resources are available to you? Answers to these questions are the basics before you can start planning.
Next, establish a vision for the future. What would your ultimate virtual congress or exhibition look like? How should the stakeholders view the event? How do they benefit?
Thirdly, make sure there is leadership support. A senior executive has to make people believe this can work and ensure there is funding to make it happen.
Lastly, identify the gap between where you are now and that future vision. Look at your people (skills and team), at the process (work method, costs, metrics etc.) and the technology (sourcing, security and more).
Find and select an approach to bridge that gap.
To repurpose your exhibition or congress to virtual, a webcast is the best option. There are other formats for virtual events, but none as applicable to exhibitions and congresses as webcasts. Similar to physical events, there are a ton of vendors for virtual events; all with a different value for money, system possibilities and support options. For webcasting you could consider: InterCall Streaming, XPOCAST, Webcasting Platform 10 or Mediasite 6 (read the full MPI guide for details about each product). Be honest with yourself when choosing: e.g. you might want to go cheap, but if you have no experience with virtual events, that 24/7 customer care package will come in handy.
Depending on your company size and the maturity of your program (have you done virtual events before or is this completely new) you might already have all the resources you need for your virtual congress or none at all. Your event manager(s) will have many of the skills required to organize a virtual event. Most likely ‘new’ skills are knowledge of HTML, digital-user interface and additional online marketing. You might need to look externally to make this work or establish a new collaboration between your event- and the IT department.
One of the advantages of a virtual congress or exhibition is that there are many tools and opportunities to measure (among other things) ROI. As with a regular event you can track your costs. But, additionally, an input of hard numbers is available: the number of registrations, number of live attendees at any given time as well as tech failures, length of time anyone visits a certain section of the platform, and much more. During virtual events, you can easily track who visits which stand or session and for how long, whereas at live events this is hard to track.
Furthermore, determining attendee satisfaction is much easier to track. For example, a feedback button can be integrated.
Last but not least, you can learn from the number of connections participants make.
All these factors combined can show very accurately the effectiveness of your event: attendee target vs. actual attendees, conversion rate, cost per person, and of course ROI.
What will aid the success of your virtual congress?
- Make sure you have that internal leadership support to keep moving forward.
- Have an internal support team with all the required skills or an external point of contact on your side to cover weaknesses.
- Listen to feedback. Gauge with clients (supporters) what they expect of this event and use those comments.
- Make sure your content is snappy. In a virtual environment where everyone is behind a computer screen, the focus is short. Capture and hold your attendees’ attention.
- Stay close to your business objectives and create a matching service level.
- Make sure to come up with attractive solutions to commit sponsors and exhibitors to your event (read more in our next post)
- Share measurement data with your stakeholders, exhibitors and sponsors.
Common mistakes to keep in mind to avoid:
- Not everyone is as tech-savvy. Make sure there is a little training or virtual tour for visitors, speakers and other stakeholders. This way people can understand how to work with the system. Make sure to have helpdesk support available.
- When departments within your company start working in a new dynamic (or you will work with some new external party), make sure to identify who is the driving force. Not doing this can cause miscommunication and divergence between departments(parties).
- There are limitations to technology and remote working, make sure you know these and can work around them. IT should be able to help with this.
- Make sure your actual congress is not the first true trial of your system. Test, test and test some more. Keep the event simple the first time to prevent bad experiences. Start simple and give people time to embrace the program.
- The virtual technology market is in constant flux: mergers, no standards in services and costs, etc. These factors make it a difficult market to navigate or to create long-term relationships. Take your time for the RFP process.
- Consider the size of the event and audience and put this against your budget and resources. For example, participants will never pay the same participation fee for a virtual event compared to a physical one. As well as, you cannot advertise for 10.000 attendees when you can only handle streaming to 1000.
- Do not close your platform immediately after the end of your virtual event. It can be used as a knowledge archive. It might even attract new participants (for a lower fee of course).
We all hope of course that sooner rather than later we can all meet in person again. But until that time, we hope this will help you to find an alternative way to share your event with your participants.