Members Want Great Virtual Events in 2021. Here’s How to Deliver.

Host events that inform and inspire with the right combination of creativity and tech.

When the pandemic sent the world into lockdown, association members received last-minute cancellation notices about highly anticipated annual conferences—sometimes as they were about to board a plane. Erasing these events was a massive hit to their ability to network and learn and a big blow to many associations’ biggest revenue stream of the year.

There was a mad scramble by organizations to utilize available technology to get something—anything—online, whether it came in the form of recorded webinars or live Zoom calls. Members appreciated those efforts, but as we progress into 2021 and technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, the truth is that members expect more. A link to a YouTube video just isn’t going to cut it this year.

In our study, Association Trends: From Disruption to Opportunity, which surveyed over 1,000 members from a wide array of organizations, we heard that a primary driver of new memberships and renewals is events that provide opportunities for education, career advancement and networking. For obvious reasons, these have come in the form of virtual events over the past year. But less apparent to some association professionals is that members have grown to like—even prefer—being able to attend conventions via their laptops. Virtual events require less time, less expense, and when done right, can be more impactful.

So the takeaway for associations that have merely dipped their toes into delivering virtual and hybrid events? It is time to dive in headfirst. This year, organizations will be focused on upping their virtual event experience and experimenting with hybrid, so it’s important for your events to stay with or ahead of the trends.

Create a true experience for members

Without question, one of the biggest drawbacks of virtual versus in-person events is that it seems hard, if not impossible, for attendees to experience those serendipitous encounters at a coffee station or bar that result in an unexpected partnership or valuable connection.

If your virtual event is essentially a glorified webinar that simply pushes out content in a one-way stream, then yes, those connections are not going to happen. But with the right strategy and technology to support it, you can create those seemingly serendipitous opportunities virtually, or even between in-person and remote attendees with the right hybrid event strategy.

Associations at the forefront are thinking about the expanded opportunities that virtual and hybrid events offer in the future. It’s no longer about offering a replacement for an in-person event, but about being where members want you to be, and the new opportunities available to drive engagement. There are dozens and dozens of other tech possibilities and permutations, but they all share one common goal: facilitate attendees meeting the right people so that they get the most out of their event experience.

Deliver value for exhibitors

Virtual and hybrid events have actually shown an uptick in attendance from in-person events. Pre-Covid conferences that saw 2,000 attendees are now seeing double or triple that. This is great news for sponsorship and exhibitor revenue, as virtual events have boundless opportunities for exposure and visibility. These include placing banner ads in the virtual environment, adding pre-roll videos before speaker sessions and giving members digital vendor guides, which highlight solutions and services that will help attendees achieve their work goals.

Virtual booths have become an extremely popular and efficient way to make high-value connections between vendors and attendees. It can be much easier and more cost effective to offer sponsors “signage” throughout an event. A brand’s logo can be placed throughout the event ecosystem with a click triggering a live video chat with a brand rep, a marketing video, a special landing page or some other action. Another tactic that has been successful is holding giveaways for larger prizes in lieu of swag bags. It builds excitement and also presents an effective way for sponsors to create an interaction with attendees.

An option for every level of member and association

Some associations have million-dollar budgets and, it goes without saying, some don’t. But smaller budgets don’t have to translate to smaller impact. If an association has limited personnel resources, for example, they can pre-record a keynote address, release it at 1 p.m. and at 2 p.m. stream a moderated live discussion. If content creation is an issue, associations can prompt members and exhibitors with an industry-specific problem and invite them to submit three-minute videos offering solutions. That user-generated content can then become the launch point for a virtual discussion group or Q&A session.

Moving forward

Technology has not only provided a way to keep associations functioning this past year, it has unlocked a future of effective and engaging events. By working with the experts at Community Brands, you can find the right tech to create those memorable and impactful moments that will help your members and your revenue grow.

This article was brought to you by Community Brands, the leading provider of cloud-based software to associations. Click here to read more about our Association Trends 2020: From Disruption to Opportunity.

(Community Brands)