Dr. Chris Gray, CEO at Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society shares his organization’s journey in converting their planned live annual conference into a virtual experience. Of the many recommendations, the idea of a live command center during the virtual event really made the difference in quickly resolving challenges as they arise.
Laura Farr, Executive Director
American Association of Naturopathic Physicians
300 New Jersey Ave NW, Suite 900
Tips to Share
- 93% fewer expenses
- 79% less exhibitor income
- 55% higher registrations
- 7% higher registration income
- Usually a 3 day conference
- Modified to Day 1 started at 4:00 – 7:00 Mountain
- Day 2 & 3 were 10 – 6 Mountain
- Day 4 Post-con was 10-1 Mountain
- Usually have ~350-450 physician registrants + 40 speak
- Asked to waive their honorarium; gave them free conference registration (per usual). Almost 90% of speakers agreed.
- Worked our butts off to get speakers, exhibitors, participants logged into the platform in the week before the event.
- Sent reminders daily to people who hadn’t claimed their profile yet
- Had <20 “freakouts” on Day 1 of people who couldn’t login.
- Also meant that the week before was more frenetic than usual providing customer support.
- 1 keynote each day with 2 on last day
- 4 concurrent breakouts after keynotes of 55 min each
- Each agenda item was staffed by a staff facilitator (tech support) and a board member moderator. Both were needed. Board member welcomed everyone, made announcements, introduced speaker, moderated the chat room and asked questions from participants to the speaker. Facilitator prepped everyone in a green room before broadcast, launched and recorded broadcast, provided tech support to participants through the chat, and played video commercials from sponsors before or after the speaker.
- 37 speakers, all but 2 did their presentation live. Moderators/board MC were also live, reading live announcements that were modified in real time. Created a sense that this was really a live event, that there was active participation and response, not just watching a bunch of pre-recorded webinars.
- Goodie Bag sent to first 400 participants with accurate addresses. Sponsored by an exhibitor who had previously wanted to sponsor an elevator cling. Corporate partners were able to include a brochure and/or sample. Cost ~$9 to ship. Also included props for the gala and “welcome to the convention” note from us.
- Morning kick off movement (African Dance, Yoga)
- Tutorial at the beginning before keynote on how to use and navigate the platform (15 min)
- Social Sessions during breaks – set up as mini zoom rooms
- One movement or meditation
- One roundtable discussion (What Keeps you up at night, Tech desk for tips on how to be successful at video conferencing 1:1 support)
- Encouraged visits to exhibit hall
- Country Pop-Ups
- 10 minutes
- Part tutorial on how to use your zoom controls of mute/unmute and scroll to see people
- Part helping the community know we’re all together, we’re all at a conference together
- Called on different demographics to unmute (with moderator’s help) when called on and say “Hi,” or “Congratulations,” or “Hooray,” etc and wave or clap.
- Called on all regions in the US; Alum from different schools, New Grads
- Happy Hour speed dating the evening of Day 1
- Welcomed as whole group
- Split into breakouts of 10-12 people. We did 15 min, should be ~12-13 min.
- Had ice breakers available if needed
- People loved seeing friends, but newcomers were invited to introduce themselves and got to participate & meet people that they would normally not ever feel comfortable entering a group with these people
- Came back to group, scrambled into different breakouts x3
- Had ~ 85 out of the total of 280 who attended live participate 30%.
- Hired DJ who broadcast from a studio with “lobby welcome jazz music,” 5 minute dance/music break in between major sections of program (recommend 3-4 minutes), and 15 minutes dance at end.
- Modified (greatly shortened) version of awards – didn’t give awards to any individual but to “groups” – state chapter leaders, new graduates, Committee Chairs, etc. Unmuted everyone and asked them to cheer to recognize each group. This eliminated individual speeches.
- Did a Founders video – 2 minutes – Was a lot to prepare (collecting pictures and quotes of founders) but really well received.
- Fundraiser – 2 short speakers who laid out the problem, 1 member who does improv on the side did the fundraising pitch. Made it fun, called on people as challenges, people who pledged $1k or more were asked to text the MC who broadcast their name publicly and generated a little competition.
- Almost 75% of those who attended the gala contributed.
- 30 exhibitors, option to have an open zoom line all day so people could Enter Tradeshow Booth and speak to someone, although virtually no exhibitors opted to do this.
- Corporate partners got to include something in the goodie bag.
- Corporate partners got to do a 60 second “commercial” and got to choose which sessions they wanted them aired in. Exhibitors got a 30 second commercial that we placed where we wanted.
- Scavenger Hunt Trivia Quizzes – each exhibitor asked to provide us with 1-2 questions for the hunt, we set it up in Kahoot. Title of each quiz had the exhibitor names who were part of that quiz so people would have clues of where to go look for answers. People would earn points. Staff had gotten 15 prizes pledged from exhibitors. ~100 people participated in some way.
- Approximately 70% of people said they visited the exhibit hall.
- Found that exhibitors DID NOT KNOW how to manage their booth. The system can track who visits, how many visits, how many leads (who requests information). Some exhibitors told us they were on standby to have conversations, but nobody came by their booth. They didn’t look at their statistics to see that actually these 55 people clicked into their booth. Exhibitors need to be taught how to manage the analytics in real time, and then reach out to those people to offer to set up a meeting, remind them of show discounts, answer any questions.
- Also needed to encourage exhibitors to interact in the lectures and social sessions. One exhibitor came to the Happy Hour, said they got more face time during the breakout speed dating rounds to connect with doctors than at some shows and then sitting in the virtual exhibit hall.
Things we’d do differently
- Schedule longer exhibit / break times – we did 15 minute. If a session ran over, didn’t give people much time to get to next session.
- Goodie bags…meh. If you go through the hassle of soliciting content, producing the bags, and shipping them, the content better be super wow.
- Make sure you have the “magic keys” to quickly get speakers and participants into the system who can’t log in or, for speakers, who are running late. Our system had a direct zoom link that you could send 20 minutes before the agenda started that would let people bypass having to log into the platform.
- Train your speakers before hand – make sure they know how to use the equipment they will be speaking on!
- Have clear instructions on how to help participants troubleshoot audio and visual.
- Train your exhibitors on how to be successful virtual exhibitors. DO NOT RELY ON EMAILS OR PRE-RECORDED CONTENT. 1:1 walk throughs may be best
Convert your event from live to virtual and double meeting attendance in 6 weeks. Dawn Tiura, CEO & President at Sourcing Industry Group, a membership association of over 400 Global 1000 companies…representing an annual spend of $11 Trillion, shared her success in converting her live meeting to virtual in 6 weeks. With only 19 employees, the staff worked 80-90 hours a week over 6 weeks to make the conversion. This meeting exploded from 350 live attendees to 1151 virtual attendees. Learn about the platform, marketing, keeping sponsors, gamification, keynotes, breakouts, fireside chats, shipping swag/promo kits, and much more. https://www.sig.org/