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Tips for Hosting a Successful Virtual Event From a Group That Did It

By / Mar 26, 2020 (Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

After CoreNet Global postponed its Global Summit in Singapore due to coronavirus, the association created a free virtual summit. With a successful meeting behind them, CoreNet’s CEO shares some advice for those wanting to host a virtual event of their own.

Five weeks out from its Global Summit, which was scheduled to take place in Singapore in early March, CoreNet Global found itself  having to make a decision many associations have faced in recent weeks: Should it cancel the event due to the coronavirus?

Ultimately, the corporate real estate association postponed the event, which was expecting 800 attendees from more than 20 countries, until March 2021. But CoreNet Global didn’t want attendees to wait a full year to get some of the learning the onsite event had promised.

“We knew we wanted to offer something else to our members,” said CEO Angela Cain. “We also knew that the coronavirus had them dealing with issues they could have never imagined months ago, so we wanted to help address those needs as well.”

The result: APAClive, a two-day complimentary virtual event that took place on March 11 and 12. The virtual summit featured much of the same content as the scheduled CoreNet Global Summit, Singapore, but had an added emphasis on business continuity planning in light of the global crisis presented by COVID-19.

Cain said 1,000 people from 20 countries signed up for the event, and anywhere from 250 to 400 people popped in and out of the six sessions offered. “It was better attended than we expected,” Cain said. “We definitely intend to do more of these.”

With a successful virtual summit behind them, Cain has some advice for other association execs who are working on putting together a virtual event of their own:

Rely on the experts. CoreNet Global was seasoned in offering webinars and other small-scale online events and already had a platform in place that they could use to stream the virtual summit. But Cain said it was clear that internal staff didn’t have the depth of knowledge required to pull this off by themselves. “We really had to turn to our vendor to help us with preparation and execution,” she said. “There is so much more that goes into it than you would ever expect, so you need a partner you trust and can rely on to help you get the job done.”

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Before going live, the team spent hours rehearsing with the equipment, technology, and presenters to work out any kinks. “Most of our speakers weren’t used to presenting virtually, so we had to make them comfortable with that,” Cain said. “And since our speakers were located around the world, we also had to make sure they had the right equipment in their homes or offices. We actually sent them headsets.” The summit’s schedule was crafted with 20 minutes between sessions to ensure that connections were working and that speakers were properly set up.

Take your sponsors into account. CoreNet Global knew it wasn’t only attendees who would be missing out when the conference was canceled; sponsors would too. To bring these sponsors some value, the association automatically included them as sponsors of APAClive. “We wanted them to have a space in the virtual summit, so during the sessions, their logos appeared on a loop,” Cain said.

Post the content online. As many members were busy dealing with the immediate impact of COVID-19, CoreNet Global realized that attendance to the virtual summit could be limited. That’s why recordings of the sessions were made available online for people to listen to when it worked best for them. “We wanted everyone to have access to this information,” Cain said, “not just those who could watch from their laptop during a specific time of day.”

Cain said the experience created an opportunity for some major team bonding. “It was amazing to see our team pull together in this way,” she said. “Since we were broadcasting the event in Singapore local time, which was 12 hours ahead, I had a team of people in my office here in Atlanta at 3 a.m. who were determined to put out the best event for attendees. I’m extremely grateful.”

If you’ve transitioned an in-person event to a virtual one, what lessons have you learned? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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