When the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) first considered livestreaming its 2016 National Conference, it was with trepidation. Like many groups that have never tried offering online programming, AAOHN was concerned that it might cannibalize live attendance. But unlike the old adage about a bird in the hand, AAOHN was also concerned about those in the bush.
“We think about 20 percent of our members attend, and the other 80 percent of our members don’t have the opportunity to attend, whether it’s because of financial reasons or their work or family situations don’t allow for the time off,” said Kay Campbell, AAOHN’s executive director. “So we really saw livestreaming as an avenue to open our educational program to all our members.”
Between 60 to 80 percent of people who participate in a conference virtually have never attended that event in person, according to Digitell, the Jamestown, New York–based multimedia development company AAOHN used to livestream its conference, which was held at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront this past April. Which suggests that not only does livestreaming not cannibalize attendees — it increases member engagement.
“Before livestreaming, the portion of your members you could actually service was all about who could physically attend your meeting,” said Steven Parker, Digitell’s vice president of sales and marketing. “So how are you going to educate the rest, and generate revenue? For most associations, livestreaming helps fulfill the mission statement — to educate the membership.”
The prime candidates for the technology, according to Parker, are groups with a historically low ratio of attendees to overall members. This is especially true for organizations that host international events, or have large numbers of international members. For example, one of Digitell’s medical clients livestreams its 20,000-attendee annual convention in Chicago; in its first year, virtual registration reached 7,000 doctors from 72 countries. “Many of its sessions had 350 to 500 people in attendance, and an equal number online,” Parker said. “So from a session standpoint, they doubled their attendance.”
The first step for a livestreaming debut is to determine how much of the event to capture, and the most efficient way to handle the pricing. AAOHN decided to livestream all eight of its general sessions, and record the rest of the educational sessions to be made available after the conference. To offset the cost of streaming, AAOHN took Digitell’s suggestion to approach an exhibitor about sponsoring the virtual component of the conference. Premise Health signed on, and in exchange received a unique opportunity to draw attendees to its booth.
“This was a program we’ve executed for several other clients,” Parker said. “All attendees get free access to all sessions we recorded, but have to go to the sponsor’s booth and fill out a questionnaire to get the access code. As a result, 80 to 90 percent of attendees showed up at the Premise Health booth and filled out a survey and gave contact information, where normally Premise might have gotten 15 percent of the attendees.”
Companies that provide livestreaming bundle their services in a variety of ways. Digitell’s model is to record all sessions and livestream select ones, an arrangement that costs most conference clients from $8,500 to $25,000. According to Parker, 90 percent of Digitell’s clients are breaking even or making a profit — in part because Digitell is a strong believer in charging the full registration fee for virtual and live attendees alike.
“Our expectation was that virtual registration would be low, because people don’t really even conceptually understand it. But we had about 100 [online attendees],” Campbell said. “The other good thing that happens with livestreaming is that when people have to cancel, we have the option to say, ‘Why don’t you just move your registration over to the virtual conference?’ It was a good alternative to their not being able to come and having to refund their money.”
Campbell says AAOHN plans to stream its 2017 National Conference as well, and has no concerns about losing live attendees. “My experience of conventions is that people come for the education, but they also come for the camaraderie, the networking, contact with people they only see once a year,” she said. “And you don’t get that off the computer.”
So You Want to Livestream?
› Make sure your early paperwork for speakers secures written permission to record and broadcast them live. You don’t want to have to get it later, or be surprised by a professional speaker who declines permission.
› Don’t be shy about marketing virtual registration for fear of turning away those considering live attendance. “One of our biggest challenges is getting the organization to do the necessary marketing well in advance, to make the virtual option a success,” said Digitell’s Steven Parker, noting that most organizations break even with 40 to 50 virtual attendees — and that data shows that 20 to 40 percent of new virtual attendees will attend in person in subsequent years.
› Stage all your general sessions in the same room, if possible, so you don’t have to move the recording equipment from one set to another.
› Arrange for a chat function to engage the virtual audience, and a live Q&A to allow them a direct connection to the presenter.
› Make sure your host location has a dedicated internet line for your event, and that your technology provider does a thorough diagnostic site visit before the program.
› Don’t livestream everything — it’s not necessary, according to Parker, unless you have different tracks going out to different markets. And it’s not worth the cost of so many concurrent streamings unless you have the guaranteed built-in audience for it.