Omnipress Introduces New No-Cost Print Service

Right now, it’s probably more difficult than ever to plan a conference. Just as we were all feeling relatively confident about a slow but steady return to in-person events, the Delta variant began to surge, causing us to re-think our plans yet again—including how we use print services to provide conference materials to attendees.

According to the latest survey results featured in PCMA’s COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard, meeting planners are once again shifting back to virtual or trying a hybrid format for the first time. Meanwhile, the planning window continues to get smaller while the outcomes (attendance, sponsor commitment, etc.) remain difficult to predict.

In response to all this uncertainty, Omnipress has launched a new print service option—EasyPrint™—that removes both the risk and burden of printing program materials. With EasyPrint, meeting planners can still provide a physical program or proceedings book to the attendees who really want it, at no cost whatsoever to the organization.

Here’s how EasyPrint works:

  1. Omnipress creates, hosts, and manages an online storefront to merchandise your printed materials available for purchase.
  2. You provide attendees with a link to our storefront where they order materials directly from us.
  3. You provide Omnipress with a print-ready file of your program materials.
  4. Omnipress will print, pack, and ship items to attendees at no cost to you.

Jonny Popp, General Manager of Omnipress explains why EasyPrint was developed. “We understand that it’s become challenging to estimate print quantities with any confidence right now, without knowing what attendance is going to look like. Add to that the fact that our customers are having to make significant adjustments to their events with less planning time. The last thing they need is one more task.”

Adds Popp, “At the same time, our customers tell us they have attendees who are print fanatics. They love to have that tactile piece. For them, it increases the value of the event.”

In addition to increasing value for both in-person and virtual attendees, EasyPrint also allows organizations to retain an important piece of their sponsor recognition package while removing the out-of-pocket costs.

Hybrid-Lite: A More Practical Hybrid Event Option to Consider

After spending the past year and a half attending virtual versions of our favorite conferences, we’ve come to terms with a very important dichotomy around events:

While in-person events offer important personal connections that are nearly impossible to replicate in a virtual environment, the virtual event format allowed many organizations to reach a wider audience of attendees than ever.

To harness the best of both worlds, some organizations are looking to hybrid events as a solution—not just for the now, but as a more permanent event strategy.

Hybrid Event: Two words, multiple definitions

At its core, a hybrid event is simply one where session content is being delivered to both an in-person audience and an audience who consumes the content online. Exactly how this is done can vary greatly, from a very simple format to one that is extremely complex. This means there is no one, universal definition of what “going hybrid” means.

Some organizations view the hybrid event model as one where both virtual and in-person attendees share the same live conference experience. The conference itself is held in a centralized location, with both on-site and remote participants joining sessions simultaneously.

While this does provide your virtual attendees access to the complete event experience (or, as much as practically possible), it’s also the most complex and potentially most expensive way to conduct a hybrid event.

Typically, these events require a high production value and additional resources—from an event emcee to dedicated virtual participant facilitators—to really make them work well. These events may also include special programming just for virtual attendees to compensate for on-site activities they can’t easily join, like networking breaks and social events.

One of the sessions at this year’s ASAE Annual Meeting profiled an organization that created a very successful global hybrid event that followed this shared-experience model. And while the details of the event are truly amazing, the session presenters even admitted that to get it done, it was an all-hands-on-deck scenario for all association staff, with other strategic priorities being put on temporary hold.

While it definitely paid off for them, not every organization can afford to go to these extremes for their annual conference.

The idea of live now, virtual later is gaining traction

Meeting planners recognize the benefits of offering both an on-site and virtual conference experience but acknowledge they may not have the time, resources, or budget to achieve this more conventionally. In a recent article, MPI—an association for event industry professionals—calls this practice of producing content for two audiences simultaneously “expensive and sometimes impractical.”

Instead, MPI recommends a “live now, virtual later” approach, where the on-site sessions are recorded and made available to a virtual audience after the event.

While this is a more practical approach, it still requires a high-caliber A/V setup to ensure both the speaker and their presentation slides, video, etc., are all captured appropriately and that the sound is sufficient. It may also require some post-production work to make it easier for the virtual audience to follow along with the content.

Hybrid-Lite: A hybrid event approach that is smaller in scale, but delivers big benefits

“Hybrid-Lite” events provide a way to deliver an exceptional on-site experience while at the same time opening up your conference content to a wider audience after the fact, in a way that is practical and affordable. We’re calling it “hybrid-lite.”

Instead of trying to record an on-site conference session as it’s happening, have your selected speakers pre-record their presentation before the conference, and post those videos to a virtual event platform for on-demand viewing by your remote attendees. Your speakers can use their recording tool of choice. Or, to make it even easier, you can use an abstract management system with a built-in video capture and recording tool, like CATALYST, to give your speakers a centralized place to both record and submit their video presentations.

Some of the benefits of this hybrid-light conference format include:

  1. You don’t need to worry about the expense and logistics of on-site A/V to capture sound and video for a presentation that is being delivered in front of a live audience.
  2. You need fewer resources, as the virtual audience will be engaging with the session content on their own time (which also helps if you’re working with a global audience in multiple time zones).
  3. It can be easier for virtual attendees to view conference sessions in an on-demand format. At an in-person conference, we are physically removed from most day-to-day distractions, and we are less accessible to clients and co-workers. As a virtual attendee, it’s much harder to create that separation, and we often end up missing sessions or portions of sessions when they are delivered live. Plus, it removes any potential bandwidth issues that may occur while live streaming content for an entire day.
  4. You can still incorporate special content and engagement opportunities for your virtual participants that increase the value of the event, such as a series of scheduled online discussion groups around a specific conference topic or presentation. Think of it as a virtual book group.
  5. You end up increasing the value of the conference for your on-site attendees as well. Most of us can’t physically attend all the sessions we’re interested in on-site. By having an on-demand version of each session that is more robust than simply posting the presenter’s PowerPoint presentation, your in-person attendees actually get more conference for their money.
  6. This on-demand offering of event content can serve as a way to start building a year-over-year library of event content that becomes a valuable member resource.
  7. It increases value for your sponsors, who gain exposure in the virtual event platform with a wider audience, and for a longer period of time.

Things to consider with a hybrid-lite format:

  1. Make sure your speakers are on board with the concept. As you’re sourcing your speakers, you’ll want to be sure to gather their preferences and set expectations early on. As part of the submission process be sure to ask whether they’re willing to present in-person, virtually, or both. Also, make sure they know upfront that if selected they’ll be asked to also record and submit their presentation ahead of the conference, with a clear deadline.
  2. Make sure your selected speakers can provide a recording. This additional step of pre-recording their presentation should be accounted for in your speaker agreement, as should any distribution terms. For instance, can the recording be made available only to attendees, or will you be allowed to sell access to a wider audience? As such, understand that you may not be able to record every session, like a noteworthy keynote speaker. This can work to your benefit, as a high-profile speaker that is only accessible to in-person attendees may help boost on-site attendance.
  3. Think about to whom you want to grant access to the on-demand content, and how. Will all attendees (virtual and in-person) have access to all content? Will some sessions be viewable for virtual attendees only? Do you want to open an additional level of paid access to organization members or the general public? Having this structure mapped out ahead of time will make it easier to source and set up your virtual event platform as the content hub, while ensuring the appropriate access controls are in place.

Over the past year, we’ve learned how important it is to include virtual access to nearly everything—from simple team meetings to global conferences—if we want to increase participation. Gathering in-person isn’t possible or practical for everyone at all times, so providing flexibility to join at their convenience is going to become a standard practice moving forward. For the annual conference, this means allowing both virtual and in-person attendees the same opportunity to learn. But it doesn’t have to mean delivering the same event experience to both audiences. It can be just as beneficial and valuable to craft a simpler and more achievable version of the hybrid event.

How to Build a Conference Call for Papers That Is Flexible During Uncertain Times

Earlier this year, meeting planners indicated they were cautiously optimistic for the return to in-person events—either fully in-person or as part of a hybrid solution— by this fall. In fact, this Q2 survey of event planners by EventMB shows that at the time, 70% were planning an in-person event with over half of those events occurring before the end of this year.

But the newest data and health recommendations are causing some to re-think their event plans.

Facing increased uncertainty once again, meeting professionals may be forced to adjust their conference format and program not just because of potential local restrictions or changing attendee preferences but also based on the willingness and ability of speakers to travel to an in-person event.

If you’re using an abstract management system to conduct your call for papers, posters, or speakers, there are several steps you should take during your initial call that will make it easier to make future adjustments to your program schedule and session content if necessary.

  1. Proactively manage your speaker preferences

    As part of your submission form, be sure to ask potential speakers whether they are willing to deliver their session content in-person or virtually, and/or whether the content being delivered works best for an in-person or virtual audience. That way, if things need to change, you already have reportable data on which speakers you can ultimately select based on the final conference format, rather than going back and collecting this information after the fact.

  2. Collect all speaker assets early, and in multiple formats

    As part of your initial call, include a place for session presenters to supply everything you will need for your final event materials, including headshots, bios, and other supplementary materials. Ask for these files to be provided in formats that will work well across print, online, and mobile. That way, regardless of how attendees access the conference schedule and session information, you’re already covered.

  3. Consider video as part of the initial submission process

    Abstracts and presentation proposals are used to judge the quality and relevance of the suggested topic. But it’s also important to know whether the speaker can present the information in a compelling and engaging way. It’s also never a bad idea to use video to “audition” your speakers—even for an in-person event. However, this audition process becomes even more important in a virtual setting where it can be harder to hold the audience’s attention.  Have your speakers submit a short (1-2 minute) video of themselves delivering a portion of the presentation during your initial call for presentations. Some abstract management platforms even feature a built-in video recording tool to make the process easier.  And later, if you do need to offer pre-recorded, on-demand session content as part of your virtual or hybrid event, speakers can use this same tool to record and submit their final presentations.

  4. Leverage the built-in scheduling tool

    Many meeting planners use a series of spreadsheets to build their conference schedule which makes changes to speakers or sessions extremely time-consuming. If your abstract management software includes a built-in electronic scheduling tool, now is the time to take advantage of it! Using this tool, you can easily pull in accepted papers, posters, and presentations, drag-and-drop them into the schedule, and see flagged conflicts at a glance. Not only does this make it significantly easier to build an initial schedule, but it also saves a lot of time and potential errors if you need to manage last-minute changes.

The current pandemic, it appears, will continue to affect conferences longer than many of us anticipated. Just a few months ago, a return to in-person events in the fall and winter, even in a modified format, felt like a relatively safe bet. But may meeting planners have started to take pause and reassess the best way to proceed without knowing whether and how health and safety guidelines will continue to change.

Given this uncertainty, it’s even more important to take steps early on in the conference planning process—including during your initial call for presentations—that provide greater flexibility down the road.

3 Reasons to Use Your Virtual Event Platform as an Online Library of Conference Content

2020 is going to be remembered for many things, not least of which will be the sudden surge in demand for products that became much more relevant during the global pandemic. From food delivery services to hand sanitizer, hair scissors, floor clings, and webcams, COVID-19 caused an almost overnight disruption to how we live and work. The meetings industry was no exception.

While gathering restrictions caused organizations to cancel or postpone their in-person conferences, meeting planners jumped on the opportunity to find alternative ways to deliver their events. Google reports that online searches for virtual event platforms increased by 1,977% in just one month!

At the time, these platforms were being used as a substitute to the live event experience—either to deliver livestream or on-demand session content. But as meetings begin to re-emerge as in-person events, is there still a need for a virtual event platform? Absolutely!

Rather than focusing so heavily on delivering a live or time-based event experience, the next generation of virtual event platforms will allow meeting planners to offer an evergreen library of on-demand or asynchronous conference content that delivers more value for the organization.

Goodbye “One-and-Done” Model of Conference Content

It wasn’t that long ago that attending a conference in person was the only way to access the educational content. While most organizations have been providing some form of online information, education, and other resources for at least the past two decades, conferences typically followed a “one-and-done” philosophy. Session presentations and other educational content may have been posted online after the event, but only for a short time. After that, the focus would shift to promoting content for the upcoming event.

It wasn’t until recently that more organizations have started recognizing that the value of this content extends well beyond the event—whether being held in-person or virtually, live or on-demand.

Transform Your Virtual Event Platform into a Year-Round Event Library

Conferences, by their very nature, are time-based. Regardless of how your event is being delivered—whether live or asynchronous—the content is typically going to be accessed by attendees within a specific window of time. If meeting planners can extend this window, they can increase the overall value of the event for attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors while potentially increasing revenue for the organization.

This is where the concept of an online library of conference content comes in.

Instead of using a virtual event platform to deliver a live or asynchronous event to virtual attendees, it can serve as a centralized place to deliver evergreen educational content to all stakeholders—conference participants, organization members, and industry members—long after the conference ends.

Here are just some of the benefits of providing a year-round library of conference content:

1. Creates additional value for registered attendees

One of the downsides of having concurrent sessions at a live event is that an attendee can’t physically attend all sessions they may be interested in. Using your virtual event platform to provide this same content after the event means your attendees have access to more content than ever before, for the same registration fee.

The amount of content you can feature at a live event is also restricted to what you can fit within the confines of the venue and the schedule. But if you use your virtual event platform as an on-demand library, the amount of content you feature is virtually limitless. You can add bonus content that is only available online to complement the live conference, such as short videos on a popular micro-topic, educational presentations from sponsors or exhibitors, and follow-up Q&A sessions with speakers.

Offering continued access throughout the year also supports deeper learning, as content can be accessed for as long and as often as necessary.

2. Increases value for sponsors and exhibitors

When you provide a year-round library of conference content, the exposure your sponsors and exhibitors pay for doesn’t have to end when the conference does. Because users will continue to access the platform for on-demand content, you’re also increasing the opportunity for year-round brand visibility.

You can also provide additional opportunities that may not be possible at the live event, such as bonus on-demand educational videos or pre-recorded webinars created by your sponsors.

3. Provides an additional source of revenue

Access to your library of conference content doesn’t need to be limited to registered attendees. Consider creating a paid subscription tier for members and/or the general public as a new source of non-dues revenue for your organization.

Expand from Single Event to a Multi-Year, Multi-Event Resource

If you are considering keeping your event content online and accessible on a year-round basis, here’s, even more, to think about: this library doesn’t have to be limited to a single event. Some virtual event platforms offer the ability to feature content from your entire roster of annual events, and across multiple years, all from one, centralized hub. You can even set controls to limit access by year or event, so you protect the value of that content.

4 Ways to Use Video to Enhance Your Virtual Event

Many conference organizers have historically relied on third-party tools such as an abstract management system to collect, review, select, and schedule papers and presentations for an in-person event. What’s not as widely known is this same software can also be used in non-traditional ways to better support your virtual or hybrid event.

If your abstract management system features a built-in video recording and submission tool, like our CATALYST abstract management software does, you can easily collect pre-recorded session videos to be included in your event schedule. What’s more, these same video capture capabilities can be leveraged in other ways to enhance the event experience for your speakers, attendees, and sponsors.

Here are four ways meeting planners are using video that go beyond just capturing session content:

1. Audition your virtual speakers

Giving a presentation to a virtual audience requires a very special skill set. Understanding how to present the material in a way that is engaging without being able to use movement can be challenging. Some presenters really rely on audience feedback—eye contact, smiles, laughs, nods—to maintain their energy level and enthusiasm.

To ensure that your speakers are not only presenting relevant, high-quality content, but that they can carry a 30-to-60-minute virtual presentation, consider having them use your abstract management tool to record and provide a short audition video as part of your initial submission process, and include them in your review criteria. You can even provide the ability for your reviewers to leave feedback for submitters so they can make improvements before the final presentation.

2. Perform a presentation test-run before the event

Ask your selected speakers to create a test recording of a short portion of their presentation in your abstract management system to confirm their A/V setup is sufficient. Items to check include quality and sharpness of their camera, whether the audio works and is loud enough, lighting, and background. That way, they can address any potential issues well ahead of the event.

3. Gather videos for event marketing

At some point between when your speakers are selected and when you prepare content for your virtual event platform, you’ll need to collect additional information from your speakers such as headshots and bios. This is also a perfect opportunity to have your speakers and session leaders use your abstract management software to record and submit short intro videos that can be used on your website and social media channels to promote the event.

4. Gather videos from sponsors and exhibitors

Your sponsors and exhibitors want as much opportunity as possible to get their message in front of attendees. Pre-recorded videos are great to feature on your virtual event platform and to promote premier sponsors and exhibitors on your website and social media channels. But not all sponsors and exhibitors will have a pre-produced video. If this is the case, a company representative can easily use your abstract management system’s built-in video recording and submission tool to record a short message that is personalized to your attendees. It’s an easy, low-cost solution that provides increased exposure and value.

While the format of events has changed, the need to source high-quality content hasn’t. But in a virtual setting, that definition of “quality” extends beyond the subject matter. The presentation style of the speaker and the technical quality matter too. Pre-recorded videos can help you minimize issues for your virtual attendees before the event begins. They can also provide opportunities to create a better experience for your speakers, sponsors, and exhibitors.

Virtual Event Platform Comparison: A Needs Assessment

While the calendar shows that 2020 is behind us, uncertainty surrounding the timing of in-person events is not. The common belief is that in-person conferences could return at some point during the second half of the year. But exactly when, and at what capacity, is still unknown.

As meeting professionals plan for either a full or partial virtual event in 2021, they are faced with the daunting task of assessing and selecting a virtual event platform in a marketplace that has expanded tenfold since the pandemic began less than a year ago.

Got Demo Fatigue From Virtual Event Platform Comparison?

According to one association-based meetings manager, “I’m completely overwhelmed by the options, and honestly, the demos start to blur together.”

Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Demo fatigue is real, especially when you’re trying to select a platform that fits within your budget, is manageable for your team, and meets the needs of a diverse set of attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors.

Identify Your Organization’s Platform Needs With This Worksheet

To make it easier to narrow in on the best solution for your event, we’ve created this handy Virtual Event Platform Needs Assessment Worksheet.

Before you schedule any product demos, take some time to think about and document your answers to the six questions outlined in this worksheet. Taking this time will accomplish several key things:

  1. Completing it ahead of the demo not only gives you a more finely tuned checklist of requirements to evaluate but also ensures the rest of your planning team is aligned early in the process.
  2. It’s easy to be “wowed” by features that are fun and interesting but provide minimal added value to your event. Our worksheet will help you separate and prioritize must-have vs. nice-to-have features.
  3. Providing this information to your potential vendor partners helps them deliver a more personalized and relevant product demo so you can spend your limited time on features and functionality that actually matter to you.

Download the worksheet

Whether you’re thinking about featuring a simple agenda with a few session links on our own website or are looking for an end-to-end, immersive virtual experience, using our worksheet to organize and prioritize your needs and requirements will make it easier to navigate your options.

Now Open: Annual Conference Industry Survey

It’s time for the annual State of the Conference Industry Survey, and we need your input!

This is the seventh year we are conducting this survey of meeting planners and association professionals, with results being published in our State of the Conference Industry Report in early 2021.

Our goal with this annual report is to provide peer benchmarking, note upcoming trends, and identify future opportunities for not just the conference in general, but the educational content delivered at the event.

Needless to say, 2020 forced us all to change course quickly. Will this change the future trajectory of meetings and events? Take the survey and help us all find out!

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

We look forward to sharing the results with you in March 2021!

If you haven’t seen it already, please download the 2020 conference industry report.

Why Virtual Attendees Need Conference Welcome Kits More Than Ever

Several surveys indicate that most conference attendees still prefer in-person events and look forward to the day they can safely resume. However, a recent report released by PCMA tells us that virtual events—in one form or another—are here to stay for the foreseeable future. As we become more accustomed to doing nearly everything virtually, we’re going to expect more from virtual conferences. It won’t be enough to deliver great content through easily accessible technology. We also need to think about how we deliver a more human event experience in this now-virtual world.

Virtual Event Welcome Kits & Swag Bags

Cue the conference welcome packet. Or welcome kit. Or swag bag. Whichever you prefer. We once felt they were an important part of an in-person conference—important enough to spend the wee hours of the morning stuffing tote bags! Why? They set the tone of the meeting, made our attendees feel important, created sponsorship opportunities, and provided key information for navigating the event.

A welcome kit mailed to virtual attendees ahead of the event provides some much-needed return to normalcy.

Common Challenges for Virtual Attendees

It’s possible your attendees are not going to experience the same level of excitement and anticipation leading up to your virtual event as they do for the in-person version simply because there is less to get excited about. No new city to explore. Fewer opportunities to meet and truly connect with old friends and new acquaintances. Fewer of those “surprise and delight” moments that make the meeting fun and memorable.

More attendees run the risk of feeling anonymous and less important at a virtual event—both to the organizers and to other attendees, especially if they are newer to the organization. The perception can be that it’s easier to become lost in a sea of Zoom faces or duck out of a session without anyone really noticing.

Virtual conferences can also be more difficult to navigate. For example, if you have a logistical question or don’t know where the next session is at an in-person conference you simply ask someone—event staff, volunteers, or fellow attendees. But for a virtual conference, you need to understand the schedule, technology requirements, login URLs and credentials, how to use the platform, and any important details and expectations, like how to connect with the speaker. Or, what do I need to know for Happy Hour Trivia again? In the days leading up to and during the conference, it can be too easy for important instructions and information to get lost in the abyss of email.

Welcome Kits Create Anticipation, Build Connections, and Provide Information

A welcome kit can be used to capture the spirit of your event, help facilitate attendee connections, create sponsorship opportunities, and provide important information. It also makes your attendees feel appreciated and part of something important before the first session even begins.

Here are some ideas of what to include in your welcome kit:

  • Branded promotional items that align with your event’s theme
  • Items that make it easier to participate from home, such as snacks, water, coffee, earbuds, a mi-fi, fidget toy, and even a themed “Do Not Disturb” sign to hang on their home office door
  • Items that help create conversation and bring attendees together during a fun social or network event, such as t-shirts, silly sunglasses, an item for a virtual scavenger hunt, etc.
  • Helpful, informative materials such as happy hour drink recipe cards, tips for looking your best on webcam, etc.
  • Sponsor and exhibitor materials that help attendees connect with the products and solutions they need.

Include a Printed Program Book in Virtual Event Welcome Kits

Believe it or not, the printed program book still plays an important role in the virtual event. It serves as a guide to navigating the schedule and provides a centralized place for all participation instructions. It can also be used as a handy place to take notes, which can be harder to do on a computer or other device during a virtual meeting, especially if your attendees don’t have the benefit of multiple monitors. And, of course, it provides an opportunity to showcase your sponsors and exhibitors. Pair the printed book with a digital conference flipbook to give sponsors even more exposure such as embedded videos, virtual callouts, and web links.

When our conferences shifted from in-person to online, we lost the tactile component of the meeting, which is proving to be an important part of a virtual event. Meeting planners should consider a physical mailing to attendees that contain promotional items and printed materials to bridge the gap between the in-person and the virtual event experience.

Need help printing, stuffing, and mailing your attendee welcome packets, swag bags, or other pre-event materials?

Contact us to receive a quote!

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.

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.

Pre-Conference Reading List: Articles to Prep for ASAE Annual

 

For most people, summer means warm days, sunshine, beach time, fireflies and lemonade. For us, it means it’s time to get ready for our favorite event of the year—the ASAE Annual Meeting!

We’ve already started browsing through the conference schedule to plan which sessions we’re going to attend. There are a few that caught our attention because they’re covering topics that we’ve had our eye on this year as well, including:

  • A Method to the Madness: How to Strategically Use and Reuse Your Content
  • The Annual Conference as a Year Long Engagement Tool
  • Don’t Just Learn It, Do It! Developing Microlessons for Practice & Application
  • Reimagining an Innovative and Collaborative Conference
  • Four Steps for Growing, Engaging and Retaining Your Membership

In fact, we’ve written blog articles that address some of these same themes.  So, we went back and re-visited these articles to get the “thinking gears” moving in preparation for the conference. And then it occurred to us—maybe others will find these articles helpful as well.

We’ve prepared a list of suggested reading to kick-start your thought process and help prepare you for an engaging discussion at ASAE Annual.

Six Articles That Will Help Get You Ready for ASAE Annual

 

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Associations are sitting on a goldmine. Unlike most for-profit organizations, associations are in the business of content. You source it for your conferences. You develop it for your educational programs. And you produce it for your publications. You have no shortage of knowledge and ideas to share. But what many don’t have is a well-defined sharing program, both internally and externally, which prevents associations from using that content to its full potential. Here are some ideas on how to overcome internal obstacles and develop a sustainable content marketing process. READ MORE

Association Growth: Conference and Membership Teams Must Collaborate Better

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Apply Micro-Learning Concepts to Your Printed Course Materials

The discussion of mico-learning is typically centered around online and mobile-based training programs. Recently, however, some organizations have started looking at ways to redesign existing print content to implement and test micro-learning without the need for additional resources. Here are some ideas to consider for your micro-learning programs. READ MORE

Get Your Training Courses Ready for Generation Z

Today, many associations are thinking about how to remain relevant at a time when access to free knowledge is just a click away. But there’s good news: Gen Z will find tremendous value in the opportunities that associations provide…if you can adapt to their needs and meet them on their terms. Here are some things to consider in your next conference strategy session. READ MORE

We’re very interested to gain additional industry perspectives and learn more about where these themes are headed in the coming year.  And, we look forward to joining our association friends and industry partners for several days of great insights and even better conversations.

Be sure to stop by and visit us at Booth #1423. See you soon!

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