Nowadays, it seems like everything is going digital - including events. More and more companies and organizations are hosting virtual events and more and more people seem to be attending those events. But does that mean your organization should move from a traditional in-person conference to a virtual one?
If you’ve been pondering the idea of hosting a virtual conference at your organization for a while now, 2019 may be the year to give it shot. But before doing so, we encourage you to ask yourself the following four questions:
1. Has attendance at our in-person conference the last few years been declining?
If you’ve been hosting the same event for a while now, take a look at your year-over-year attendance numbers. Have they steadily been declining? Now the keyword here is steadily. If attendance has, for the most part, been good, but you had one off year, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that you need to flip your conference on its head and go virtual. It could just be the result of some other factor: the economy that year, the time of year you hosted it (if it was any different from other years), the location, etc. But, if attendance has consistently been declining, then that’s a good sign that something needs to change.
2. What are the reasons people say they haven’t attended or may not attend again?
Hopefully, after every conference (and every event, really), you send out a post-event survey asking for attendee feedback. Now’s the time to really dig into some of those responses. Did people say they’re likely to attend again? If not, what are the reasons people give for that? If it has anything to do with cost or having to take time off work, those are good reasons to at least consider a virtual event. (With a virtual event, people wouldn't have to pay for flights and hotels, and they could essentially attend while at their office.)
But don’t just limit yourself to attendee feedback. It’s important to ask your other members who didn’t attend why they didn’t attend. (You can get that info via a survey as well.) The type of responses you get will help you decide whether or not virtual is the way to go.
3. What is the primary reason people attend our conference?
Now this is a VERY important question to ask yourself. Hopefully, in those same post-event surveys, you ask attendees what their primary reason for attending is. (Note: It’s critical that this is based on actual feedback and not just an assumption.) If the primary reason people give for attending is networking, then a virtual conference may not be the way to go. In-person events typically yield better networking opportunities than virtual ones.
That said, networking can still be done via virtual events. Many conference-hosting platforms have a chat box and a Q&A box that allow attendees to engage with each other and with the speaker.
Does that equate to the same type of networking that can be done in person? Not quite. That’s why it’s important to analyze what’s most important to your organization’s membership and make a decision from there.
4. If we decided to host a virtual conference, would we have the kind of staff support we need?
Often, a large barrier to virtual conference experimentation has to do with support. Virtual conferences require at least a few people to have the technical know-how to set up and launch a virtual event (and quickly handle any tech-related problems that may arise - sound issues, connection issues, etc.).
Before fully deciding on whether or not to host a virtual conference, it’s important to at least consider what type of support you would - and could - have. Note: If you don’t currently have that kind of support on staff, do know that with some conference-hosting platforms out there, staff support is included. (But do your research to ensure that really is the case with the one you choose!)
Still not sure whether or not you should host a virtual conference? Or maybe you’ve decided that yes, now is the time...you’re just not sure what to do next. If either of those apply to you, check out our free guide, How to Plan a Virtual Conference at Your Association!