Virtual Events: Practical Advice from an Attendee

Over the past few weeks, the conversation among meeting planners has shifted from whether to go virtual to how to go virtual with their conference.

  • How do you schedule your event?
  • How do you deliver the content?
  • How do you connect attendees?

These questions have meeting planners considering whether to design their virtual conference as a live (livestream) event, or to provide attendees with on-demand access to content. Or, a little of both.

Ultimately, we’re all trying to figure out how to replicate the best parts of an in-person event within a virtual environment. Hint: you can’t replicate it, but you can reinvent it.

Reinventing your in-person conference as a virtual event

To have a successful virtual conference, you need to truly understand what the life of a virtual participant looks like right now so you know what you can—and can’t—expect of them.

Normally, we don’t make our blog posts quite so personal. But this time, I’m going to get a little personal and share the first-hand wisdom I’ve gathered over the past week while my husband attended a three-day, all-day virtual event. Spoiler alert: while he absolutely loved the content and discussions with his peers, some of the logistics were both painful and funny (after the fact, of course).

A personal account of a virtual event experience

Typically at a conference, we’re more focused on the professional backgrounds of our attendees. But with so much of the population working from home, we must take into consideration their personal lives as well. Here’s what happened in my situation.

Both my husband and I work full time and have both been working from home since mid-March. We are lucky that we have the tools and tech that allow us to work effectively: multiple monitors, great bandwidth, dedicated working spaces. We also have two tween/teen children who, although self-sufficient, are starting to become emotionally spent from the new limitations that have been placed on their lives. We also have two large dogs who are continually confused by why we are all home and why we are not paying more attention to them.

So what did attending a 3-day live virtual event look like in our household?

First, technology was not kind to us

Do you have any idea what having one person participate in a live video event all day does to the bandwidth in the house? The effects were immediate and dramatic. I had to take my Microsoft Teams meetings from the app on my phone, not my computer, with the wi-fi turned off. The kids were booted out of their online schoolwork and from their Facetime sessions with friends. Admittedly, much cursing occurred.

My husband, who was both an attendee and a speaker at this event, was in the middle of his presentation when one of the primary internet service providers in our area had two routers fail. He wasn’t prepped for any backup plan ahead of time, so he was scrambling to get the live streaming app downloaded to his phone. 30 minutes later he was back online, with just enough time to give an abrupt wrap-up. Things happen. They really do. To prove this point further, this is the same week that, back at the Omnipress offices where only a small staff remains on-site, a squirrel took out the power and internet for several hours. No joke. And while this had no effect on my husband, it only illustrates that technology will fail at some point, for someone. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Tuning in (and tuning out) from a busy household

When you attend an in-person conference you’re away from the office, away from home, and away from the usual daily distractions, minus an urgent email here and there. With a virtual event, however, there is no mental or physical separation from work and home. You can’t delegate your spouse to deal with a vomiting dog, a kiddo who is frustrated with their math exercise, an impromptu 8th-grade graduation parade through the neighborhood (horns blazing, of course), or the UPS driver making his third delivery to your house that day, because she’s also on an important call!

The bottom line: it’s unrealistic to think that your attendees can dedicate significant amounts of focused, uninterrupted time to your event. As hard as they may try, life gets in the way.

A virtual group conversation is harder to navigate

Networking can sometimes be awkward, at best. Recently I’ve done several virtual happy hours with close friends and I find those to be more difficult and challenging than meeting up in person. Screens freeze up intermittently or people accidentally talk over each other which affects how naturally the conversation flows. But we manage because we know each other so well.

Now try doing the same thing with a group of strangers, especially if you’re more of an introvert, like my husband. Oh, he can fake his way through “forced” social events with the best of them, but he certainly doesn’t prefer it.

His event had several different networking opportunities built into the agenda. Some were unstructured happy hours and some were scheduled in-between sessions (ouch!). Others consisted of smaller collaboration groups, which he felt were the most beneficial and effective to establish a genuine connection with a group of people who rallied around a common set of challenges. It also helped when the virtual networking events were scheduled earlier in the day when his brain was fresh and he could absorb more of the educational content.

What did we take away from this experience?

I’ve lived in the association event space for more than a decade, so when I heard my husband was going to be participating in a three-day virtual event, I watched more closely than most spouses probably would. Putting on both my event planner and attendee hat, here’s the most important thing I learned:

An event that combines both live and pre-recorded content provides the best attendee experienceand the most room to get creative!

1. Making your content available on-demand is crucial

Give your attendees a way to access session content anytime. This not only helps to reinforce learning, but it also serves as a safety net if technology fails or life happens. Make sure all your presentations—even the live ones—are recorded and available in a way that is easy to search for and navigate, along with all related session materials. This also takes some of the pressure off your speakers and their tech.

2. If you’re going to livestream, be selective

While presenting sessions live creates a sense of excitement and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), it doesn’t work for all attendees, especially those in different time zones. And it’s definitely difficult to manage as an  all-day event. Save the live streaming for the most popular portions of your conference, such as a keynote session.

3. There are many effective ways to craft a successful live/recorded blended event

As one example, you can “fake” a live experience by releasing pre-recorded content on a timed basis and hyping up the countdown on your event marketing channels. Follow this release with live, small-group discussion sessions around that content to create a sense of urgency for participants to view the content.

This also helps to create those more structured and deliberate networking conversations among attendees that tend to be more meaningful. This blended approach also makes it easier to program natural breaks in the agenda for your attendees to address everything else that’s currently happening in the background of their lives.

How Should You Serve-Up Your On-Demand Event Content?

Join us for a live, 30-minute webinar on Thursday, May 28th, where we’ll take a tour of the Omnipress Virtual Conference & Event Platform. It’s a simple and cost-effective way to serve-up on-demand content for your conference. And yes, it will be recorded and available on-demand in case you can’t join us!

Turn Virtual Events into a Year-Round Learning and Engagement Strategy

With the cancellation of spring conferences and the fate of summer and fall events still up in the air, we’re tasked with figuring out how to turn in-person conferences into successful virtual events—whether that means live-streaming sessions, providing on-demand access to pre-recorded sessions, or a mix of both.

Whatever strategy you choose, we believe there is a broader consideration to make: how can you use this new opportunity to utilize the virtual event content you and your speakers create to turn your online conference in a year-round learning and engagement opportunity?

Event Content Must Serve a Higher Purpose For Attendees and the Organization

Our 2020 State of the Conference Industry Report, which was developed and released before COVID-19 became a major disruptor, indicates that to achieve growth and success in 2020 and beyond, the content sourced and shared at a conference will need to serve a purpose beyond simply marketing next year’s event.

There is a significant opportunity to re-purpose and re-package this content not just to reach new audiences, but to reinforce key learning concepts, facilitate ongoing peer connections, and provide more value to members.

At the time that respondents were surveyed in late 2019, more meeting planners indicated they were starting to re-use conference session content to promote learning retention. But they also stated this was one of their top challenges because many did not have the tools, platforms, or processes in place to fully support this strategy.

Reworking Your Conference Strategy for Virtual Events

While the sudden need to go virtual with conferences has created substantial challenges, it has also opened the door to new opportunities. A virtual conference may not carry the same perceived value to attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors. And practically speaking, it doesn’t work well being delivered in the same timeframe of the in-person event.

In order to retain registration fees and sponsor dollars, you already need to rethink how the conference is delivered. Why limit your timeframe to just a few days or a few weeks? Why not use this as a chance to create a must-see event throughout the year.

Here are a few ideas to help get the wheels spinning:

If your event is going fully virtual:

  • Use the initial timeframe of the in-person conference to feature live (virtual) sessions from keynote speakers and plenary sessions
  • Have your session speakers and paper or poster presenters pre-record their sessions, which you can then release on a timed basis over the course of several weeks
  • Create a series of both live (virtual) and on-demand follow-up sessions that attendees pre-register and potentially pay for. These sessions could allow them to dive deeper into a sub-topic, participate in a discussion group with the presenter, or even allow them to share challenges and on-the-job “a-ha” moments with each other as they attempt to put these learnings into practice
  • These sessions can be hosted by an exhibitor or sponsor; or, you can work with your sponsors to develop additional live and on-demand educational content

If your conference is a blended event (both live and virtual options):

  • Much of the same ideas still apply! Use your virtual platforms to deliver follow-up content and provide additional learning, networking, and sharing opportunities throughout the year

We hope this current pandemic will soon be a distant memory. But even when that happens, there is a good chance that the format of conferences will be forever changed, with more organizations creating a virtual component to a live event.

Don’t limit yourself just to the conference itself. Use this as a springboard to deliver year-round learning and peer connections, while creating potential new streams of non-dues revenue.

Now Available: 2020 Conference Industry Report

Our 2020 State of the Conference Industry Report is now available!

2020 marks the start of a new era, which, according to this year’s report, will bring new challenges and opportunities for meeting professionals.

For the past six years, Omnipress has conducted an online survey of over 100 association professionals and meeting planners to track the evolution of educational content and the changing role it plays at the annual conference and beyond.  The results have been compiled, analyzed, and published in our 2020 State of the Conference Industry Report.

Is Major Change on the Horizon for Meeting Professionals?

When looking at the data year over year, we typically see a slow and steady progression of change as associations begin to carefully implement and test the strategies that have been points of industry discussion for several years. And while this year is no different, we are seeing indications that we could be on the brink of a major shift in the role of the conference, and of conference content, that could fundamentally shape the future of meetings.

Here is a sampling of current and emerging trends to watch in the coming year, as discussed in the report:

  • Even tighter integration between peer connections and learning as part of the conference format
  • Increased emphasis on attracting new audiences from outside the core member base
  • Increased recognition of the conference as more than just a one-time-per-year event
  • Organizations allocating more time and resources towards re-using existing educational content for more than event marketing
  • More urgency around the need to not only attract young professionals, but to engage them as part of the content creation process

How does your organization compare to your peers? Are you experiencing the same challenges or thinking about the same opportunities? We encourage you to use this report—and the questions posed—as a discussion guide to help you leverage your greatest asset—educational content—to advance your mission.

Download the report to read the full results. And please share it with your colleagues!

3 Ideas to Turn Your Conference Program Book into a Learning, Engagement Tool

The conference program book has historically served as a useful on-site resource for attendees to manage their conference experience. Event-goers can quickly browse the schedule, note sessions of interest, learn about speakers, sponsors, and exhibitors, and find important event details. Today, however, many events also provide this information online and in a mobile event app. Rather than eliminating a printed piece altogether, some organizations have opted to give it a new role at the conference as a tool to support learning retention, facilitate peer connections, and increase attendee engagement.

Below are three examples of how the program book is being used in new ways, taken from and/or inspired by actual conferences that we’ve attended in the past year.

1) From Conference Program Book to Workbook

Meeting planners are always looking for creative ways to reinvent the conference format to promote active learning and collaboration. Your printed book can be used to support this strategy. Instead of including pages for notetaking at the end of the book, turn your entire program book into a hands-on workbook. Include activities from the speakers directly in the book, instead of as separate handouts. Pose questions throughout the pages, such as One new thing I’m going to try is… or Three things I need to share with my colleagues back home are… This will help attendees think about how they are going to apply their newfound knowledge once they get back to the office.

And don’t be afraid to get fun and creative. Many of us admittedly draw and doodle while sitting in a meeting—not because we’re bored, but because, according to some studies, it helps our focus and memory. So, give attendees a place to doodle. Leave some whitespace throughout your pages and let them know that’s what it’s there for.

2) Pass the Book

Small group activities and breakout discussions during a conference session are one popular way to get attendees talking to and learning from each other. The downside to this format is that not everyone in the group participates equally. There will always be those few who happily speak up, the few who hang back, and then everyone else lands somewhere in the middle.

The “pass the book” approach requires every group member to contribute ideas. During the small group activity, each member of the group takes a turn and poses a question, challenge, or situation to their group members they would like peer assistance with. Rather than providing ideas aloud, fellow group members take turns writing their answers in their fellow group member’s conference workbook. The discussion happens after all ideas have been captured. This is not only a unique way to facilitate small group activity, but it also gives each group member a more memorable take-home piece.

Want to inject some more fun into the conference? Take this same “pass the book” idea and give it a high-school yearbook spin that encourages attendees to sign each other’s program books and provide short notes and contact information. Done well, this can create a more meaningful relationships-starter than handing out a business card.

3) Supplemental Learning Material

Take learning beyond the conference by providing access to supplemental educational materials within the program book. Include QR codes (yes, they’re back!) that link to videos or related articles and session materials. You can also turn this into an opportunity to increase engagement with your organization by including videos from your association’s key staff promoting and linking to additional educational resources such as training courses, webinars, and publications.

If you’re looking to make an easier transition from print to digital—while still providing the tactile experience of print—add a companion digital program flipbook to your conference content offerings. Digital flipbooks have become more relevant in recent years, as it’s now easier than ever to incorporate dynamic content such as embedded audio, video, and hyperlinks within printed text.

As you’re thinking about how to structure your next conference to engage participants, create more networking opportunities, and facilitate better learning, think about how you can re-invent and re-imagine your existing tools—such as the conference program book—to play a supporting role.

Omnipress 2020: Continuous Tech Improvement for Meeting Planners

2019 was both an exciting and challenging year for both meeting professionals and Omnipress. Overall, the meetings industry saw steady growth, with many organizations reporting at least modest increases in attendance. Meeting planners continued to experiment with the event format to offer more collaborative and personalized learning for attendees. They also continued to embrace event technology to streamline operations, gather better data, and elevate the attendee experience.

While the growth of new event technology options provides tremendous opportunities for association conferences, it also presents some challenges—namely, how to select the best tech from the ever-growing list of options. Not to mention getting their tech stack to work together seamlessly,  making the most of a busy schedule with limited time.

Omnipress Expanded Event Technology Offerings in 2019

In 2019, Omnipress continued to invest heavily in product development to provide event technology tools that integrate seamlessly, while providing an exceptional experience for meeting planners and end-users. Some highlights from the year include:

    • Launched a new role-based user dashboard for our CATALYST® Abstract Management Software that provides more useful at-a-glance information for submitters, reviewers, and event administrators
    • Increased the functionality of the conference scheduling tool within CATALYST to make it even easier for meeting planners to create a complete conference agenda that manages speakers, sessions, and schedule conflicts
    • Expanded our external integrations for CATALYST, including YourMembership® and Abila® association management systems, Attendify® mobile event app, iThenticate® plagiarism detection software, and the IEEE Xplore Digital Library®
    • Enhanced the integration within our own tech stack so meeting planners can easily publish their conference schedule right from CATALYST to an online event schedule and the mobile event app.

Take a 30-minute tour new product features

Sign up for our Omnipress January 2020 Product Update Webinar

In 2020, the momentum will continue with even more product updates to help meeting planners access and leverage meaningful data to make even better decisions, streamline operations, and enhance learning before, during, and after the conference.

We will also maintain the ongoing investment in our people and processes so Omnipress can continue to provide unrivaled one-on-one guidance and support from experts who have worked on thousands of conferences.

Omnipress has always been more than just an event tech company and print provider. We’ve been working alongside associations for more than forty years. We understand the important role education plays in fulfilling your mission. This is why our mission has always been to make it easier for you to deliver educational materials to your members, attendees, and learners—regardless of the tools being used. In 2020, we will continue our commitment to providing products and services that meet the evolving needs of association professionals.

Meeting Planners: Weigh in on the Future of Conference Content

Our annual State of the Conference Industry Survey is now open, and we need your input!

2020 will mark the sixth year that we will be publishing our State of the Conference Industry Report, based on data we collect from association conference and meeting professionals like yourself.

Our goal with this report is to provide peer-to-peer benchmarking, identify trends and generate ideas you can use in your planning sessions around the educational content provided at the annual conference, including:

  • The role content plays before, during, and after the conference
  • The importance of this educational content to an association’s strategic goals
  • How changes in attendee and member demographics are affecting the delivery and use of this content
  • The current and potential impact on associations

The survey takes just 5-10 minutes to complete. All responses remain confidential. As a thank you for your time, you can choose to be entered into a drawing to receive a $100 Visa Gift Card.  The drawing will take place in December after the survey closes.

We look forward to your feedback this October and November. The survey deadline is November 30, 2019.

Please take a moment to complete the survey and pass it along to your colleagues. We will share the results with you in early 2020 in our annual State of the Conference Industry Report.

If you haven’t yet seen it already, please download the 2019 Report.

To Overcome “The Forgetting Curve,” Re-Use Educational Content

 

For those of you who recently held a conference or training course, your members are about to forget everything you just taught them (if they haven’t already). It stings just a bit to hear that, doesn’t it? But unfortunately, science tells us it’s true. The good news, though, is that associations can (and should) combat The Forgetting Curve phenomenon, at least to some extent, simply by re-packaging and re-purposing this educational content. A little cross-departmental collaboration goes a long way, too.

The Forgetting Curve: Effects of time on learning retention

Educational content is by far the top value your organization provides to your members. But its value is only realized when it can actually be applied in real-life situations. Unfortunately, from the moment a course or conference ends, we find ourselves battling The Forgetting Curve—a term coined by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus to describe the effects of time on learning retention.

Within the first few days after a conference or training course, the forgetting curve is very steep. What Ebbinghaus found through his research is that providing “spaced repetition” of learning material can soften this curve, helping us to retain more information for a longer period of time.

In other words, your educational content needs to have a life after the course or conference.

In both of our annual reports—the 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report and the 2019 Training Trends Report—we asked respondents whether they re-use their educational content from the conference or training course for any purpose, and if so, how. The infographic below illustrates their responses.

forgetting curve association training pros meeting planners reuse educational content infographicMeeting Planners:

• 55% re-use conference content
• 26% use it to reinforce learning after the conference

Training Professionals:

• 77% re-use training materials
• 55% use them to reinforce key learning concepts after the course

While a majority of those surveyed are repurposing their educational content, fewer are using it to help promote learning retention—particularly in the case of conferences. This is not only a disservice to your participants, but it also diminishes the value of your program.

How can associations better leverage their educational content to help make learning stick?

1. Refresher courses and mini-events

Look at your most popular conference sessions and create short “refresher courses” on these topics. Add them to your training course roster or deliver them as a series of smaller, regional conferences. Not only does this increase your portfolio of programming as a member benefit, it can also create additional revenue opportunities for your organization.

2. Peer-to-peer learning sessions

ASAE recently published this article on the importance of peer-to-peer learning opportunities at conferences, recognizing the amount of collective expertise attendees bring to the table. What if you could take this one step further, and provide those peer-to-peer learning sessions after the conference or training course? Participants can have the opportunity to share their experiences and learnings as they apply the knowledge learned in the class or conference. Again, these could be developed as a series of smaller, regional in-person meetings, or as virtual events. Today, there are certainly plenty of tools and technology that can be used to foster face-to-face discussions such as WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Houseparty.

3. Develop post-event homework assignments

Looking to help learners apply knowledge in a practical way while also adding to your member resource library? We grew up doing homework in school for this very purpose, so why not add it as a component to your course or conference! Create a series of homework assignments for learners to complete at specific time-based intervals. If there’s an opportunity to have these count for additional CE credits, even better.

4. Create a post-event communications plan

Short, focused and frequent reminders of key points from an educational session or class is one extremely easy way to keep the material top-of-mind. Take a specific topic, session or chapter and break it up into a series of emails, each focusing on a single point or takeaway. This is not only a simple yet effective way to reinforce learning, it helps to keep your organization top-of-mind, which helps to boost retention, too.

Most of us recognize that learning is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process. But many organizations still deliver educational content as a one-time event—whether at a conference or in a course. Creating opportunities to provide this same content several times throughout the year will certainly increase the retention and application of the material. But there’s an additional benefit for the organization as well. By increasing your touchpoints with members, you can also increase member engagement and the value of your programs. It may require a little extra work, but it’s definitely a win-win.

Association Growth: Conference and Membership Teams Must Collaborate Better

 

Earlier this year, we published our annual State of the Conference Industry Report which tracks the evolution of conference content and the role it plays at an annual conference.  While there are several key takeaways and opportunities highlighted in the report, there is one that association leaders should take particular note of: to achieve association growth goals, conference and membership teams need to collaborate more.

The link between conference attendance and association membership

Since the report was first published in 2015, meeting planners have consistently indicated that their top goal for the annual conference is to increase attendance. However, the data also demonstrates that conference attendance trends and membership growth trends are closely linked.

For the meeting planner, an increase in association membership provides a larger pool of prospective conference attendees. Conversely, for the membership team, the annual conference provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate the association’s value to a prospective member before they make an annual commitment to the organization. The conference is often the primary way a member stays connected to and engaged with the organization, which helps to promote member retention.

As you’re getting ready for your next conference, consider ways to more tightly connect the value of the conference with the value of membership to increase conference attendance, grow membership and create more engaged members.

Here are a few ideas to help get you started:

  1. Experiment with creative pricing strategies

One local chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA) generated a significant spike in new memberships when their annual conference registration opened. The reason? They created a conference pricing structure that made it more lucrative to attend as a member, plus bundled the pricing with a limited-time discount on membership fees. Because the chapter has a strong member retention rate, the initial discounts created a long-term return on investment.

  1. Create unique member benefits through post-conference programming

The meeting planner looks for ways to extend the conference experience long after the closing keynote session. The membership team looks for ways to increase the value of membership. By providing exclusive access to post-conference programming, associations can achieve both.  One idea: host small, post-show virtual discussion groups for attendees to share ideas, apply learning on the job and connect with peers. Social platforms such as House Party, FaceTime, Workplace by Facebook and Google Hangouts are low-to-no cost tools that can help facilitate this.

  1. Use the conference as a forum to connect with members

Unless your association has local chapters or sections, you probably don’t get much face time with your members. And these individuals who are already inundated with email, direct mail and other marketing messages could be missing key information about your organization. The annual conference is the perfect opportunity to connect with members and remind them of the benefits of their membership. Find ways to include member touchpoints as part of the conference agenda and use them as an opportunity to educate (or, re-educate) on member benefits.

  1. New members: welcome them early and often

Many organizations provide special programming for new members or first-time attendees at the conference, such as a welcome reception. But walking into this reception can be a bit overwhelming and intimidating for a newbie. What if you could put them at ease and make them feel like an important member of the organization before the conference starts?  Consider hosting a pre-show virtual meet-and-greet with fellow peers. Introduce them to some of the conference speakers and key staff. Create conference liaisons to help break the ice and facilitate introductions while at the conference. This small extra step will go a long way toward creating a positive on-site experience.

There is a strong connection between a successful conference and association membership growth. The notoriety of your conference is what helps to attract new members, and it’s how existing members engage with your organization. Conference and membership teams need to work together to leverage this relationship to provide increase member benefit and attract new audiences.

CATALYST® Abstract Management Software Updates and Exciting New Features

 

In 2016 Omnipress launched CATALYST® abstract and speaker management software, an extremely flexible, highly configurable and user-friendly event content collection tool.  Designed to remove the most common challenges and frustrations of managing a call for papers, CATALYST 1.0 combined customer input with decades of our own experiences and observations working with associations and meeting planners.  Since its initial launch, we have maintained an aggressive investment in product development to ensure that CATALYST continues to exceed the expectations of today’s conference planner.  We are excited to announce some of our latest enhancements.

CATALYST is now three event tools in one: Abstract Management, Project Management and Content Management

Simplify your workload. CATALYST offers meeting planners more than abstract management—it helps you manage all conference content—from your initial call for submissions to your final, attendee-facing materials. Newest software updates include:

  • A built-in content management system to serve as the central hub for all final digital and print conference materials. Your accepted digital content and event schedule can be directly published to your website, to offline digital materials such as a downloadable file or USB, or to your Attendify® mobile event app. Make real-time updates on-site if your schedule changes
  • Improvements to the scheduling tool, with an improved interface and enhanced conflict detection parameters
  • Payment collection, to generate additional revenue and ensure you’re receiving only the highest-quality submissions

Event Schedule Software

More software integrations and partnerships connect CATALYST to the growing event tech world

Each year we continue to build an ever-expanding network of cross-platform integrations and industry partnerships designed to enhance the value you get from CATALYST.  We now integrate with many of the major association management systems, as well as other third-party tools such as Authorize.net, Bluepay and iThenticate plagiarism detection software.

We have also formed partnerships with several industry-leading event tech companies to make CATALYST more accessible to organizations, including:

  • Community Brands: Tech Partner
  • ACGI/Association Anywhere: Gold Partner
  • Fuzion: Network Member
  • Conference Direct: Preferred Supplier

Continuous improvement is our standard

In addition to these enhancements, we are continually making improvements and updates to CATALYST based on customer input and new technology developments. Our investment in ongoing development supports our commitment to ensuring that CATALYST continues to provide an easy experience for submitters and reviewers, while simplifying your workload.

Interested in seeing what’s new? Schedule a personalized tour of CATALYST.

Event Technology Software Integration: Is It Really Needed?

 

Over the past several years we have seen a significant increase in the number of customers that ask us about integrating CATALYST® Abstract Management System by Omnipress with their Association Management System (AMS). This probably comes as no surprise, as event technology integration is a hot topic in the meetings industry right now. Meeting planners are looking for ways to simplify processes for both attendees and staff while gathering smarter insights about their event. At Omnipress, we’ve developed CATALYST to integrate with many third-party technologies, including your AMS, and are continually working to increase our software integration footprint. We want to be sure that integration is an option for our customers when necessary. But integration–not just with an abstract management system, but with nearly any type of cross-platform connection–often requires more time and resources than meeting planners are prepared for. Before embarking down the integration path, it’s extremely important to have a clear understanding of your objectives and desired outcomes, to evaluate whether or not integration is truly necessary.

Integrating Your Event Technology Planning Tools

The event technology landscape is overwhelmingly diverse. Corbin Ball, a noted event technology expert, states that he currently tracks, “nearly 1,500 event tech products in 60 categories” on his website, ranging from comprehensive all-in-one platforms to smaller, more specialized tools. The benefit of an all-in-one platform is that, in theory, all products within the platform seamlessly integrate with each other. But many organizations find that not all tech products available within a single platform meet their specialized needs uniformly. As a result, they opt to build a “tech stack” of separate, best-in-breed products that can (hopefully) connect data from one system to the other seamlessly.  Recognizing this need, more and more technology providers are building cooperative relationships to ensure their products “play well” together.

The case for integration makes perfect sense. As a meeting planner, why wouldn’t you want to have the option to choose tools that work best for your specific organizational needs, and the convenience of a streamlined way to capture, track and manage data between them?

CATALYST® Abstract Management Software AMS Integration Instances

Below are the most common AMS integration use cases we see customers taking advantage of with CATALYST:

Single sign-on

If a member already has login credentials to access their account details or resources based on their member profile and status, those same credentials can be used to log in to CATALYST. This makes the process of submitting abstracts more convenient and simpler for users.

Access and content control

With AMS integration, organizations can use data such as member level, member status or payment transactions to control access to online educational materials. Additionally, meeting planners and program managers can control whether a member has permission to submit an abstract, or even which questions they see on the submission form.

Data consistency

Pull member data from your AMS into CATALYST and simplify the submission process for an author, preventing them from having to re-type data that already exists in the system. With AMS integration there’s also less room for human data entry error, increasing data cleanliness and accuracy.

Co-author data entry

Many abstracts or papers are submitted by one author, on behalf of a team of co-authors who are also members of the organization. Data integration can allow that author to easily look up co-author information from the AMS and have it auto-populate into the abstract submission form, increasing convenience and data integrity.

While it’s clear to see the inherent benefits of integration, many associations don’t always realize is the ongoing investment of time, budget and resources that will be required for optimal integration—particularly if your requirements are fairly complex and custom. Sean Lawler, Product Development Manager at Omnipress, points out, “If we have already integrated with a particular AMS or other database provider before, it does simplify the process, as we are already familiar with their back-end environment.” But, he cautions, “The real wild card is that almost every client has their AMS configured differently, so every integration is somewhat unique and adjustments have to be made.”

Organizations also need to think beyond just the initial build. “It’s not a ‘one-and-done’ situation,” says Lawler. “The integration often needs to be maintained as you make changes to your database.”

Is Event Technology Software Integration Important to Your Organization? 

Unfortunately, there is no “simple button” to push to make integration happen, no matter how technologically advanced the product is, nor how experienced the provider. Given the resources required, the real question for meeting planners is whether the ROI truly makes sense.  To help in your evaluation, here are just a sampling of the questions Sean and his team explore with customers before settling on integration options.

1. What current challenges or pain points are you trying to solve, and why?

In some cases, we’ve found that data integration was not the core of the issue. Instead, we worked with customers to address and improve aspects of their submission and review process, which helped to reduce and streamline the work involved.

2. By solving these challenges, what is the estimated net gain to your organization—time, labor, financial, etc.?

It’s important to understand the true impact of integration to help calculate the short and long-term ROI for the organization.

3. How often, or how real-time do you need to access the data?

If there truly is a need to see data on an ongoing basis or in real-time, then integration probably is your best option. Sometimes, customers indicate they only need data at the very end of the project. In these cases, we can often provide the data they need, at no additional cost to them.

4. Where are you in the current lifecycle of your AMS? Are you planning on making a switch in the next 1-2 years or making a major change or upgrade within your existing system?

If you foresee any major changes on the horizon, then we recommend delaying the integration conversation until that time if possible, because the work that is done the first time will likely have to be done all over again once the changes are implemented.

There’s no doubt that increased visibility, streamlined processes and consistent data provide significant benefits to meeting planners. Integration of your organization’s event technology is one way to achieve this. But depending upon your true needs and goals, it may be possible to implement more practical processes that achieve the same results, without the necessary timeline and investment of integration. It’s important to ensure all stakeholders are aligned on objectives and outcomes and come to the table with an open mind. There is no doubt that integration will continue to play a large role in the future of event technology, including CATALYST Abstract Management System, but it may or may not be the best option for your organization today.

Download Our 2019 Conference Industry Report

 

We are excited to announce that our 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report: Delivering Educational Content has just been released! A new year is here and with it comes new challenges and opportunities for association and conference professionals.

For the fifth year in a row, Omnipress has tracked the evolution of conference content and the role it plays at an association’s annual event. While educational content continues to provide a significant amount of member value, this year’s report highlights some changes on the horizon: emerging themes, new challenges and increased opportunities for organizations.

Delivering Educational Content: Current Challenges and Future Opportunities

For instance, this year’s report indicates that meeting planners they are being asked to deliver conference content in more formats than ever before. On average, associations are providing content in 2.6 formats—up from 2.4 in 2018, and 2.1 in 2017. The most noted increase was in the number of respondents who are providing three and even four different content delivery methods for a single conference. The reason? Attendees have indicated this is what they want.

Conference demographics are more diverse than ever, with four generations now living concurrently in the workplace. Additionally, there are ways than ever for people to consume content, which is creating a diverse set of preferences that don’t always follow generational stereotypes.

While associations look for ways to provide device-agnostic content, budget does come into play—particularly with other internal stakeholders. Few meeting planners have the luxury—nor the bandwidth—to do it all, leading to some tough decisions.

Other conference industry trends from our 2019 report:

  • Association membership trends mirror conference attendance trends, which means membership and conference teams need to work together more closely to achieve organizational goals
  • While organizations are offering more content formats at the conference, there is still uncertainty on what the content mix will look like in the future
  • Emerging learning trends are starting to have an impact at the conference
  • Organizations have not yet fully addressed the needs of younger generations

The report compiles data from an online survey of 150 association and meeting professionals to understand how organizations use educational content to increase visibility, extend their value and reach new attendees.

The purpose of this report is not just to present the data, but to help facilitate a cross-team discussion on how to leverage your greatest asset—education—to advance your mission and achieve strategic goals.

Download the free report to read the full results, and use it to spark a conversation within your own organization.

Tips for Designing an Inspiring Conference Program Booklet

 

Your annual conference is so much more than an agenda of sessions, speakers and networking events. It’s an exciting, energized community of attendees, where innovative ideas are shared and new relationships are forged.  You go to great lengths to convey this excitement and energy on your event website and in your marketing and promotional materials. But the program booklet—as one of the last items checked off a meeting planner’s to-do list—often takes on a more practical and utilitarian format. This may be a huge missed opportunity.

One of the first interactions attendees have with your conference is with the program guide. This booklet, while providing all necessary logistical information for attendees, also sets the tone of the meeting, and helps the attendee prepare for what’s to come. How are you hoping to engage attendees at your event? Do you want them to actively participate in sessions and interact with the content? Collaborate with speakers and each other? Do you want to challenge them or pull them outside their comfort zone? The design of your program book can help promote and facilitate these objectives.

What Inspired Program Book Design Looks Like: An Example from ASAE

asae xdp program book 360 live media
Photo credit: 360 Live Media, www.360livemedia.com

We’d like to give a shout-out to ASAE’s newest conference, Xperience Design Project (xdp). This event for meeting planners focuses on helping attendees re-think their own meetings and find new and innovative ways to deliver educational content.  The branding and promotion of the event certainly communicated this. But as an attendee, I didn’t realize just how different this event was until I started paging through the program book when I first arrived.  I could tell immediately this was meant to be a fun, energizing meeting. This extraordinary program book, designed by 360 Live Media, included design elements such as non-linear text, bold typography, graphic cues and on-page interactive elements, the xdp program book made it clear I was being expected to actively participate in my own learning. I was excited to be there even before the first speaker took the podium.

The takeaway: it’s not just about delivering relevant information to attendees, it’s HOW that information is delivered. Challenge yourself to think about how you can present the schedule, session descriptions, speaker bios, etc., in a way that really makes a lasting impact on attendees and sets the tone for the event, getting them fired up before the first session.

Six Design Pro Tips for Your Conference Booklet

First and foremost, your program book needs to be easy for any attendee to navigate. Think of it as user experience (UX) for printed materials. Beyond that, here are six aspects of your booklet design to consider.

Font and Typography

There is a documented psychology behind font choices and how they trigger ideas and emotions. Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, convey a feeling of class and heritage, making them appear formal. Sans serif fonts, like Arial and Helvetica, convey a straight-forward, simple and no-nonsense attitude. Modern fonts, like Futura, convey feelings of intelligence and chic style and have been reported to attract the attention of Millennials. The font choice you make throughout your program book should support the overall “vibe” of your meeting.

Also, don’t be afraid to go big and bold with font size in unexpected places. This is a great way to provide an assertion of key ideas and themes that attendees will expect to hear, gaining their buy-in before the meeting starts.

Color and positioning

Within your brand palette, do you have any secondary colors that provide an interesting contrast?  Use these colors to highlight key aspects of your meeting content, make a statement or direct attendees.

Iconography

Icons have emerged as a popular element of design, particularly on the web, because they provide quick and sometimes complex visual cues quickly while minimizing the amount of text needed. Incorporating iconography into your conference program booklet provides consistent visual cues throughout the book that help direct the reader.   Depending upon the icon style being used, you can interject a bit of whimsy to make a more formal-looking program book feel approachable and conversational.

Interactivity

One of the top trends in meeting design for the past several years has been providing a more interactive and collaborative approach to the learning process. Conferences are no longer a place for attendees to simply consume learning; they are active participants. Your conference booklet can help facilitate and promote this approach as well. Sure, providing dedicated pages to take notes is always handy, but can you take it a step further? Provide thought-provoking questions and space to answer them. Include short workbook-like activities in your program book. Or, give them a specific place to take notes about people they’ve met.

Maximize Branding Opportunities Wherever You Can

cesse conference program bookletOne of our own fan-favorite program books features a simple, but impactful change from the previous year—we happen to know this because they are also one of our customers. The Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives (CESSE) incorporated tabs in their book to make it easy for users to navigate. Taking it a step further, they used what is often blank space to extend their event branding. The flood of bold color and graphics on what is traditionally a blank page helped to reinforce the perception that this is a high-quality, professional conference.

Find Inspiration Outside of Your Industry

Some of the most cutting-edge event designs come from cutting-edge conferences, such as Adobe’s 99U and the Facebook Developer Conference. Take a look at how they are presenting program information and then see how you might be able to scale the execution to fit your audience.

Your conference booklet can—and should—do more than simply provide logistical information. By incorporating a more inspirational design you can help shape the attendee experience well before the opening session begins.