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Our Top Tips for Virtual Conferences

We're currently working alongside the International Foundation for Integrated Care on a 4 week series of Virtual Conferences, replacing this year's Annual Conference which was due to take place in Sibenik, Croatia. We have incorporated a lot of our key learning's on Virtual Conferences into this event and wanted to share them with you! Below are some of our top tips to consider when organising a Virtual Conference:

Meeting Design As meetings will have changed completely, how we design the experience for attendees will also change. One of our KPIs on any event is the overall delegate experience and we need to give careful consideration as to how we do this, particularly if there is social distancing or a virtual/hybrid element to the event. The key question we always ask ourselves is how to we want the delegates to feel? This does not change whether they are onsite at the venue or on a laptop at their kitchen table. We want delegates to believe that they have had a positive experience, enhanced their learning and knowledge, made new connections, learned about new products and crucially feel part of a community.

When designing a meeting for a virtual audience it’s important to consider the person behind the laptop screen. It’s unlikely they will stay engaged for a 3 day conference from 9-5 each day so how you structure the programme and deliver the content should change. Perhaps consider 2 or 3 90 minute blocks of content per day over a number of weeks? This also allows the opportunity to market the event during these sessions.

Delegate Analytics In recent year’s analytics has played an increasing role in Abbey’s day to day conference management and we always put a large focus on analysing delegate registrations against anticipated numbers, registration types, sectors and regions. For any events being held virtually, we need to analyse previous attendee lists and identify where our delegates are based. This may impact the timing of certain sessions, e.g. if a conference typically has a large US audience, we cannot host sessions at 09.00 GMT as US delegates are unlikely to participate.

Engage your Audience One of the big challenges with virtual conference is how to keep your audience engaged. Again this links back to meeting design. We need to structure the virtual conference in such a way that delegates remain engaged throughout the event. Elements such as Q&A Sessions, Interactive Polling, Gamification and Networking Rooms are vitally important to ensure that delegates get to ask the question and make the connections that they would expect to make at a physical conference.

Prepare your Speakers Speaking at a conference can be a nerve-racking experience at any time but with the added pressure of delivering this online to a virtual audience, it brings another challenge. It is vitally important that speakers are fully briefed in advance of their presentation. Where possible, trial runs should be conducted with speakers to ensure that their internet connection is stable, lighting is correct and that there are no issues with their presentation slides and/or screen sharing. Detailed preparation with your speakers will ease the nerves on both sides!

Pre Record Presentations As a safety option, many virtual conferences will choose to pre-record speaker presentations to ensure that things run smoothly. It is recommended to have the speaker available during and after the presentation so they can participate in audience Q&A sessions and interact with attendees.

Have a Strong Chair Your chair is the glue that holds everything together. In a virtual meeting, the chair has an even more important role as they act as the transition between speakers. A key role of the chair is to keep the audience engaged when moving from one speaker to the next. If there is a delay between session transitions, you could lose delegates so having a good chair who can keep the conversation and the flow of the meeting going is crucial.

Marketing & Promotion On the marketing side, if the event does go down the virtual/hybrid route, there will be the potential to market the sessions after the conference itself and make them available to purchase afterwards for those that cannot attend. In addition, should the conference be run virtually over several different days, we can use this gap in the programme to market the remaining sessions to potential attendees?

Social Media will be key to not only the marketing of the event in advance but also the audience engagement and interaction during and after the event. A strong social media presence as part of an overall digital marketing strategy is vital.

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