The Intersection

How to Craft the Perfect Virtual Event Strategy

When Virtual Edge Institute (VEI) Executive Director Michael Doyle polled attendees at an education session during PCMA Convening Leaders this past January, he discovered that about 60 percent of planners were already utilizing virtual meetings.

This meant 40 percent still needed help getting their hybrid events off the ground. But it’s not necessarily because they’re not ready or willing.

Pam Ballinger, vice president of meetings and events at Association Headquarters, thinks planners are excited about the benefits of virtual and hybrid meetings, but it’s a matter of convincing association leaders. “There’s fear that adding virtual, or adding a [livestream], would decrease registration or decrease attendance,” said Ballinger, who along with Doyle is featured in “Complement Your Face-to-Face Meetings With Virtual Events,” the latest video in The Intersection Series: Where Technology Meets Inspiration, presented by PCMA and PSAV Presentation Services. “Whereas what we’re finding is, it’s actually increasing. You can use it as a marketing tool for people that have never been to your meeting. They can get a taste of what it is, and then they want to come back next year for the whole package.”

Planners should work with program committees to decide what sessions could best utilize a hybrid component, Ballinger said, and who would be the best moderator for the job. “Selecting the moderator is very important,” Ballinger said. “You have to let your program committee work with them, so that they’ll be actively involved in bringing in the remote attendees.” It’s also important to involve speakers, “to let them know there’s a world out there beyond the room that’s listening to them.”

There are many benefits to live streaming an education session, including facilitating immediate engagement with those attending virtually. “Those people have an opportunity to be a part of it,” Ballinger said. It’s also important to archive and promote your content after the conference, to reach more people and attract more attendees for next year. “If you just take the content and put it on your site,” Doyle said, “they won’t consume it. It’s a matter of continually marketing and pushing that content out to people and getting them to engage.”

Ballinger advises that whether planners go with a full-service production company or handle things in house, it’s important they have a hand in all hybrid and virtual elements. “I think the planner has to be actively involved and stay on top of it,” she said, “no matter whether you’ve got a company that’s taking you from soup to nuts.”

For the remaining 40 percent of planners who haven’t yet incorporated virtual components into their events, Doyle said, “It’s better now to get started and build up your experience.” And if you’re having trouble convincing the higher-ups of the value of virtual, Ballinger suggests collecting data and bringing strong statistics to their attention. “The best advice I can [give],” she said, “is: Don’t be scared, just do it.”

Sarah Beauchamp

Sarah Beauchamp was formerly assistant editor of Convene.