Inside an Effective Governance Overhaul

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Once burdened with a top-heavy leadership structure, the Ontario Medical Association has successfully found a way to be more nimble and forward-thinking.

Sticking around for 138 years is a good sign of an association’s ability to endure. It’s also a signal that there are probably a few old habits that need shedding.

That was the case with the Ontario Medical Association in 2016, when a debate over physician fee agreements brought some long-simmering frustrations to a head. Divisions on the issue splintered the membership and prompted a majority to vote against the wishes of the OMA board. In the process, members spotlighted a governance structure that wasn’t just bloated—a 26-member board, plus a 250-person council of delegates—but insular.

You need to have some patience, you have to have a clear roadmap, and you need to recognize that democracy is going to be messy.

Member elections for board president, for instance, weren’t binding votes but instead were conducted as an “advisory referendum.”

“It seemed like the executive of the board wasn’t directly elected by members,” says Dr. Lisa Salamon, cochair of OMA’s governance transformation task force, which was created to address the issue. “There seemed to be a succession plan that was chosen by the members of the board. Theoretically, someone could run for president from the council, but it never really happened.”

Because the frustrations emerged from membership, says OMA CEO Allan O’Dette, the solutions needed to be made bottom-up, not top-down. “It had to be member-driven,” he says. “You need to have some patience, you have to have a clear roadmap, and you need to recognize that democracy is going to be messy.”

Late last year, four years after the need for changes became clear, OMA announced a new governance structure to address both size and transparency. Starting in 2021, the association’s board will be reduced from 26 to 11 members, and the council will be replaced with a smaller general assembly that’s designed to be more agenda-driven and report to the board more directly. And votes for board president are now binding.

One hallmark of the new structure is that three of the board members will now be nonphysicians. Salamon notes that under the new structure—cleanly and thoroughly detailed on a dedicated website—diversity is a key consideration for physician board members in terms of race, gender, areas of practice, and other areas. But making room for nonphysicians means OMA can recruit the kind of expertise that doesn’t necessarily come with an MD.

“You want to make sure that you cover skills that are important for a board, and that’s where the nonphysician board directors come into play,” she says. “Then you can say, ‘Well, we’d really like someone with some legal expertise, or some IT expertise, or some strategic planning expertise.’”

The priorities of the governance revamp were simple, says O’Dette: “Avoid groupthink and paralysis at the board level, and put the agenda-prioritizing ability back in the hands of members through the general assembly.” But that simple goal required a substantial investment of time. In addition to a full-time staff project manager and reshuffling of staff time, he says, “there were hundreds of hours of consultations with our members, hundreds of hours of group consultations, and iterative documents based on those consultations.”

Despite all that, some elements of the process moved quickly. For instance, the decision to cut board size by more than half wasn’t contentious, which surprised some. “That was actually the easiest sell,” Salamon says. “If you look at organizations that are revising their governance, by and large they were all making their boards smaller. And we could see that having a big board meant it took longer to make decisions.”

Salamon encourages organizations to be patient when undergoing a governance overhaul, and also to be confident—and ready to act on the promises made around the changes.

“I think a lot of people didn’t think a huge change like this was actually going to come to fruition,” she says. “It may see like a daunting process and a big ask of people, but we’ve seen with the pandemic and how our lives have been turned upside-down, I think people are ready for big changes. But if you’re going to embark on it, be ready to implement it when it passes.”

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Membership Pro Tip: Engage Members From the Get-Go

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Finding out what a member wants from your association as soon as they join establishes an immediate connection and creates a customized experience—for the member and the association. That’s a win-win.

How does it work?

When a member joins or renews membership with the National Asphalt Paving Association, they immediately receive an email thanking them for joining. In the same email, there is a request to address three quick items: their company listing, whether they’d like to join a committee, and if they would like to be connected with a fellow NAPA member to walk them through their membership. Each action item has a follow-up link for the member to click and add more information.

“The best time to activate a member is at the point of acquisition,” says Steve Shivak, NAPA’s director of membership.

Why is it effective?

This early interaction allows the membership team to learn about the member based on what they select and—just as important—what they do not select, Shivak says. The team introduces members to programs, committees, staff experts, and other topics of interest so they don’t have to search for them.

Online one-on-one orientation sessions give the NAPA team an opportunity to learn more about the member, their company, and their challenges. After the orientations, members are often pleasantly surprised that the team wanted to spend time with them and not sell them something, he says.

What’s the benefit?

Members get an instant connection, and they feel like they have a champion in NAPA. “We’re a national association with a small-town feel,” Shivak says.

NAPA benefits as well: The information members provide guides topics for monthly member briefings, conference sessions, research, and advocacy. “It keeps our fingers on the pulse of what keeps our members awake at night,” he says. The early engagement is also an opportunity to identify the next generation of volunteer leaders.

Do you have a membership pro tip? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

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A Few Practical Realities for Post-Pandemic Events

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As the pandemic abates and even after it subsides, meetings are going to look a lot different. What should you think about now to make sure you’re offering the best experience to participants this year and beyond? A look at some considerations.

As I’ve written over the last several weeks, the return of in-person events will likely include many new health and safety measures, including contact tracing, onsite screening and testing for COVID-19, and an array of protocol documents.

But beyond these necessary elements and documentation, how else will events look different moving forward, and what will be required of meetings teams to execute them successfully?

Earlier this month, AYRE Event Solutions published “Events in 2021 and Beyond,” which outlined several ways that the pandemic will affect events and meeting professionals in the future. Here’s a look at three of them:

Cost. While hybrid is the likely format for many events, especially large ones, over the next year, producing them effectively will mean increased costs for organizations. “The demand is going to be so high, so production companies, venues, and general suppliers will likely increase their costs,” said Managing Director Chris Ayre. “On the other hand, production companies may also need to increase their costs because the technical labor (e.g., freelance technicians, crew, etc.) pool will be lower as many have now left the industry to work elsewhere.”

Confidence. “Building confidence will be the key driver in the return of the events industry in 2021 and beyond,” said Ayre. “You may have more control measures than a nuclear power station, and think your event is ‘COVID secure’, but unless your audience feels safe to return, they will stay away, no matter what you offer them.” To build that confidence, organizations will need to be proactive and transparent when it comes to health and safety.

Reskilling. Just as the pivot from in-person to fully virtual in 2020 required meeting professionals to acquire new skills, so will the transition to hybrid events. This means there may be a bit of a gap as professionals get comfortable with technology requirements and everything else. “One thing is certain, there will be a skills gap within the industry, but working with a production company who has experience can help smooth the transition,” said Ayre.

Convention centers are also recognizing that they will need to provide new resources to better help meeting pros execute future events. For example, some venues are introducing new cleaning and disinfection tools and staff roles, while others are building onsite broadcast studios that will help organizations host hybrid events more easily.

And just this week, Canada’s Palais des congrès de Montréal launched a new program that will help planners transform their events for a post-COVID world. The program includes 10 hours of one-on-one coaching, as well as several training sessions that cover areas such as new business models and funding sources and “focusing the experience factor on the human factor.”

“By launching this innovative program, the Palais des congrès de Montréal is providing an events industry that is being forced to reinvent itself with tangible support. The Palais is more than a convention center; it is also a solutions center, and the personalized training being offered here speaks firmly to our commitment to innovation,” said Robert Mercure, CEO of the Palais des congrès de Montréal, in a press release.

What do you think post-pandemic events will look like, and how is your meetings team preparing for it? Please share in the comments.

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Three Keys to a Better Post-Pandemic Culture

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All those Zoom calls have kept your organization running, but plenty of challenges remain. Two association experts share some keys for managing through the pandemic and beyond.

Remember all the concern in organizations about silos? Then along came the pandemic.

“If there were silos before, they’re canyons now,” says Maddie Grant, cofounder of the association and workplace consultancy Propel. Grant and Propel’s other cofounder, Jamie Notter, have seen that associations have been able to manage through the essentials of keeping things running. But remote offices tend to erode opportunities for collaboration, Notter says. So those silos are still standing.

“You can’t have informal, casual, spur-of-the-moment conversations, and I think people have underestimated the value of those,” Notter says. “They didn’t realize how much information they got passively by being in the office…. From a culture point of view, they’ve had to make a decision: Are we going to slow down our decision making, or are we going to include fewer people? That’s the choice, and you don’t get to do both.”

That distance has consequences. I and others have written a lot during the pandemic about how associations have struggled to preserve their cultures remotely, and some data suggests that boards have effectively remained in a holding pattern through the past year. Grant and Notter have their own take on the matter: Late last year, they published Association Apocalypse, an e-book that drills into some current cultural challenges and some thoughts about what the post-COVID landscape will look like, and much of it involves getting smart about leading with data. To that end, they shared some thoughts about some of the actions leaders should take to adapt their organizations.

We don’t do that dot-connect thing.

Get savvier about goal-setting and the data you need to do it. Association Apocalypse quotes from leadership pro Verne Harnish’s “Rockefeller Habits,” the second of which is “everyone is aligned with the #1 thing that needs to be accomplished this quarter to move the company forward.” That shared sense of purpose would go a long way toward improving an association’s culture. But, of course, that’s easier said than done—people can gather reams of data and talk about strategic goals, but understanding the value of both across the organization is difficult.

“I find that data-gathering and strategy conversations miss a deeper understanding of what drives the success of an association,” Notter says. “I should want to know what members are experiencing and fill a gap for them. But we’re not making connections around experience, internal capacity, and then exceeding expectations with something amazing. We don’t do that dot-connect thing.”

Stop thinking about data as somebody else’s job. Notter and Grant write that “if everyone is doing something to gather data, you’ll end up with a more nuanced and accurate understanding of the problems you should be solving for them.” Problem is, organizations don’t tend to make gathering and understanding data something that everyone takes part in.

“There’s a culture in the association industry, I think, where the people who know about data are the data experts, and everybody else doesn’t touch it because they don’t know enough about how it works,” Grant says.

Build that understanding around actionable goals. Notter says that associations, like any business, ought to have clear targets for success. But too often, they tend to develop goals that are as wide-ranging and unspecific as their mission statements. “Make it a binary-outcome target,” Notter says. “If you’re asking people if they liked a conference, then the target should be something like ‘go from a 4.1 to 4.3 [rating].’ You either did it or you didn’t. What that forces is learning conversations when you don’t hit it.”

Staffers can naturally be anxious about what it means for their position at an organization if those targets don’t get hit—for many, a “learning conversation” can feel a whole lot like blame. All the more reason, Notter says, to get savvier about data.

“If you want to reduce the anxiety, then you need data points that tell you before you fail that something’s off track,” he says. “We’re not as good at that, but I think this is something that you grow into and learn over time.”

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Give Your Members Safe Spaces to Connect

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What do you do when your members have too many choices for online engagement? Don’t add to their options. Instead, help them find a safe space to connect on platforms where they already are. Here’s how one association did it and saw engagement spike during a challenging time.

The pandemic has made the community element of association membership especially valuable over the past year. But what’s the best way to help members find each other when there are so many options?

The Michigan Veterinary Medical Association had tried to engage its members with formal online communities, but members said they were overloaded with similar offerings from veterinary specialty associations they belonged to. So MVMA took a different tack: It made a strategic decision to engage with members through a private, members-only Facebook page, since they preferred that platform for connecting with one another.

Understanding where members want to get their information and how they want to engage with each other is essential, said John Tramontana, MVMA’s CEO.

A Private Community

MVMA’s private Facebook page is a place for members to talk freely, ask advice from other members, and share opinions and practices. “It really took off,” Tramontana said. Right now, for example, there is a lot of discussion surrounding where veterinarians are in the rollout plan for COVID-19 vaccinations. Members are comparing notes, sharing personal experiences, and helping each other navigate complex information from state and county health departments.

“People are thirsty for information and trying to figure out what they need to do and what the next steps are,” he said. The private forum has helped strengthen the bond between the association and members, but also member to member.

“People are really looking at each other as colleagues and friends and looking for ways to help each other, rather than looking at each other as competitors,” he said.

Mutual Support System

To offer another venue for private conversations, Tramontana began hosting informal Zoom coffee hours and happy hours for members when the pandemic began. The events are free, and members can preregister until about an hour before the video call starts.

Anywhere from a dozen to 20 people participate on the calls, which attract different members most of the time. “It really helps us as an association to understand the profession and some of the issues that are going on much better,” he said, making MVMA more responsive to members during a challenging time.

Tramontana hosted the calls weekly at the start of the pandemic, but he was mindful of members’ time. Veterinarians are busier than ever because more people getting new pets—and observing their existing pets more closely—now that everyone’s home. That means more calls and visits to the vet.

The forums are held about every four to six weeks now. “It’s an outlet for members to just talk to us and know that we’re here for them,” he said. It’s been a stressful period, so keeping the mental health and well-being of members central has been key.

“It’s really important that they know they have the support of their association during this time,” Tramontona said.

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How a Canadian Group is Fighting COVID-19 by Battling Online Misinformation

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The Canadian Association of Science Centres joined forces with other groups to launch #ScienceUpFirst, a social media campaign designed to combat online misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccination.

With misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccination running rampant in multiple countries, many organizations are also seeing bad information circulate in their own realm and wondering how to stop it. The Canadian Association of Science Centres realized that communication could be its tool in the fight against this insidious problem.

“The World Health Organization has declared what is happening an infodemic,” said Marianne Mader, Ph.D., executive director of CASC. “We got together and asked, ‘What can we do about it?’ And our solution was to focus on social media channels.”

CASC partnered with COVID-19 Resources Canada and the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta to create the #ScienceUpFirst. Launched in late January, the initiative aims to fight online misinformation with information.

“There are some outdated theories that people with information bias won’t pay attention when you put the facts out there,” Mader said. “There are studies showing that—contrary to what some people might believe—putting accurate information out there makes a difference. If you leave a gap, that’s when it is going to get filled with misinformation.”

The campaign aims to fill the gaps with accurate information produced by the nation’s leading research organizations. Mader said it was important for the organizations involved to join forces because it helps address a nationwide deficiency in disseminating science information.

“In Canada, with research that’s done, there is no clear mandate that it needs to be communicated to the public and no clear funding to help do that,” Mader said. “As a result, we have a disconnect often between scientific studies and sharing the results with the public. The longer-term legacy of this initiative will be that it’s creating a framework, which doesn’t really exist in Canada now, to create strong bridges between the science communication sector and our research sector.”

While #ScienceUpFirst is initially focused on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it will be deployed over a wide array of channels over time.

“The intent is to build a movement, where this hashtag, ScienceUpFirst, has a life and people are proud to use that and identify with it,” Mader said. “People will say, ‘Yes, I want to share accurate information and be part of this movement to pass on this information.’”

Once the campaign builds some traction, CASC also hopes to offer a targeted approach using its many member science centers. “I would say one of the key functions we are looking to do—a little bit down the road—is create resources that community organizations that communicate science to their audiences can use themselves and remix in a way that’s appropriate for their audience,” Mader said. “When we get to the stage, when we can create these information kits for community partners, they will also be going out to our members.”

While CASC hopes to expand its reach and be more targeted, Mader acknowledges that there are limits to what the campaign can do. “I don’t think we can claim this campaign will affect deep deniers, but certainly people who already trust science information, or those who are unsure about what is true, it can help,” she said. “There are studies showing the majority of the population of Canadians want to share true information. … For that audience in particular, I think ScienceUpFirst will be really helpful.”

In addition, Mader said the campaign is poised to be effective because CASC members hold a unique place among the nation. “Public trust surveys have shown, in Canada, where people go to seek reliable science content. Number one, they trust universities. Number two, they trust science centers and science museums,” she said. “Knowing that the community organizations they trust are sharing accurate information, we think will make a difference.”

How has your organization used communication to combat a problem in your field? Share in the comments.

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Membership Pro Tip: Keeping Members in Business—Virtually

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A system designed to connect members to in-person business opportunities morphed into a way to connect virtually.

How does it work? The Biotechnology Innovation Organization launches its BIO One-on-One Partnering system at its events—both in person and around the world—to help companies in the life-science community find potential collaboration partners and investors.

The system, a web-based platform, has existed in various forms for more than 15 years. Then the pandemic hit.

“We realized very quickly that we needed to adapt it, to help people meet virtually,” says Willie Reaves, BIO’s director of partnering products and services.

The system provides a searchable database of companies and investors across a wide therapeutic area, which allows conference participants to message each other, share files, exchange contact information—and now schedule virtual meetings.

Why is it effective? “Our system meets people where they are—whether that is in their home office or their living room—to bring business to them since we can’t do it the same way in person,” he says.

What’s the benefit? BIO has been able to engage an even broader segment of the life-science and healthcare community—especially startup biotech companies—who may not have been financially able to travel to conferences and events in the past.

During BIO’s healthcare conference last month, there were 62 percent more attendees than in 2020 and a nearly 400 percent increase in scheduled meetings.

“That really speaks to people’s need for business development and innovation to continue,” Reaves says.

Do you have a membership pro tip? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

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Six Ideas for Adding a Tangible Element to Your Virtual Event

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In the age of online gatherings, a physical gift or box of swag can help your association’s virtual event stand out above the rest.

While virtual events might not be able to dazzle attendees in quite the same way as in-person meetings, there is a tried-and-true tradition that can live on in the era of virtual conferences: conference swag.

A tangible gift or box of swag can help create connection and engagement to the virtual event. Plus,they can also benefit your association by boosting its brand presence if attendees show off their new swag on social media.

Want to offer your own swag to virtual attendees? First, make sure you have their current addresses—your records may have office addresses, but chances are attendees are working from home at the moment. Then, consider these six ideas.

Welcome box. A few days before your event, mail attendees a box of items that will either build anticipation—a note hinting at surprise guests or events—or help them get the most out of the event, such as pens, a notepad, and a schedule. For example, Sprout Social sent a physical event kit to the first 500 people who registered for Sprout Sessions Digital 2020. While there are companies that offer kit-making services, this could be a project that’s handled by your own staff as well.

Daily gifts. If your conference is spread out over several days, provide attendees with daily gifts to keep excitement levels high. Send a package containing separate envelopes to open each day—the envelope’s contents can hint at surprises to come or prompt attendees to check your website and social media pages at a certain time to get exclusive offerings.

Shared experiences. Bring attendees together by tying your tangible goodies to a group activity. For example, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers held a virtual wine tasting in June to build excitement around its annual conference in November. Attendees had the opportunity to order a virtual tasting kit, and on the day of the event, a sommelier guided them through a tasting.

Virtual snack break. In-person attendees are often treated to meals and snack breaks to help them regroup. Replicate these experiences with a swag bag full of snacks and refreshments to enjoy during scheduled downtime. For example, the Association of Consulting Foresters has sent attendees “virtual refreshment breaks,” which included small snacks, candies, coffee, tea, and a postcard with a message from a sponsor. “We wanted a special way to recognize a sponsor who went above and beyond, and a fun surprise for our virtual education series attendees featuring break items they’re used to having at in-person events,” said Lucy Firebaugh, ACF’s communications and membership specialist.

Local flair. Virtual events don’t have a location, but you can tap into the unique culture or flavor of your association’s headquarters location. In preparation for its 2020 National Conference—held virtually in June—ACF worked with a local coffee shop in Williamsburg, Virginia, to send small packaged coffee grounds to registrants along with other goodies.

Customizable items. Give attendees goodies that will let their creativity shine. For its two-day Hearsay Summit, Hearsay Systems sent a Summit Supply Drop Box, which featured a lightboard that attendees used to craft their own messages and share on social media. “Guests could not have been more appreciative and excited to receive these boxes,” wrote Senior Event Manager Becky Brewer.

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A Return to Meetings: COVID Protocol Document

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As associations start hosting in-person meetings again, they’ll want to develop a COVID protocol document that outlines the steps they’re taking to keep participants safe. Here’s a look at the components you should consider including in your documentation.

When in-person meetings resume post-pandemic, meeting professionals will need to consider several new elements of meeting execution, as well as develop additional documentation, including a COVID protocol document.

For an in-depth look at this, I spoke with Julie Ann Schmidt, CMM, CMP, a certified COVID compliance officer and founder and CEO of global events firm Lithium Logistics Group (who recently shared some details about digital contact tracing  and screening and testing at conferences).

“Your protocol document is your standalone document that states everything your association is doing to keep everyone safe,” Schmidt said. “It encompasses several elements—from cleaning, to screening and testing, to transportation, and everything in between.”

While the document will likely be something that your meetings team consistently refers to, Schmidt said it’s also good information for all participants and adds a layer of transparency to your meeting. “If you post it on your website, you’ll likely give people peace of mind by showing them that you’re keeping their safety top of mind,” she said.

Schmidt recommends starting the document with an executive summary before diving into the details. “This basically lays out what this document will cover and why it exists,” she said. “From there, you can break it out into how COVID protocols will be applied to different segments and sections of your event.”

While each event’s protocol document will be unique, here are some sections that Schmidt recommends:

Cleaning procedures. “This would include what the conference venue and hotels are doing, as well as how vendors—like your audiovisual and tradeshow services companies—are handling cleaning and disinfection,” she said.

In addition, it’s important to decide before the event who is responsible for what cleaning. For example, Schmidt said, if you’re hosting an expo and you have a contractor who has brought in counters and chairs, “is it their responsibility to clean them, or does the exhibitor or your association have to do it?”

Screening, test, and contact tracing. “This section should lay out in detail how you will do screening and testing for your meeting,” Schmidt said. “For example, does everyone get their temperature taken daily, or does everyone have to have a negative COVID test within three days of arrival onsite?”

She recommends including a grid that shows screening and testing protocols for different groups—staff, volunteers, contractors, exhibitors, and attendees. “For example, one line could be a signed code of conduct, and you would put a checkmark under each audience it applies too. Other items could include a daily screening questionnaire or temperature check,” Schmidt said. “It’s an easy way to lay out who has to go through what.”

This section should also address what your screening thresholds are. “At what temperature do you kick people out or not let them enter the venue?” she said. Additionally, you need to lay out what you are going to do if people get sick onsite or after they get home, which rolls back into your contact-tracing process.

Onsite personal protective equipment. “This covers what you are bringing and what you are requiring,” Schmidt said. “For example, do people need to wear masks at all times? Will you be providing everyone with two masks upon check-in?”

Floor plans. “Show where all your signage is that speaks to COVID, how you’ll have tradeshow floor traffic work to maintain social distancing, and all the opportunities that there are within the building to find hand sanitizer,” Schmidt said.

Transportation. “If you have buses shuttling people between hotels and the convention center or to venues for evening events, make it clear what you’re doing to keep them safe,” Schmidt said. Examples may include keeping buses at 50 percent capacity or putting stickers on seats where people cannot sit.

Contacts. “You want people to know who they should contact for COVID-related stuff,” she said. “You need to have at least one point person on your team who is knowledgeable and can answer questions.” Put their contact information in this document.

Appendix. Schmidt suggests including an appendix with COVID documentation that comes directly from all the hotels, venues, and vendors. “This will outline in more detail what they’re doing in all of the areas the earlier part of the document covered,” she said.

Finally, Schmidt recommends accessing the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and adding it to the appendix the night before your event kicks off. “Then you have a timestamped ‘this is what the CDC said the day before my event’ piece of information,” she said. “So if it’s a month later, and there’s a complaint that you didn’t do something you were supposed to do, you can refer to this.”

Ultimately, the goal of the document is to lay out expectations for all participants, especially if they’re used to your meeting being designed and executed in a certain way. “You don’t want people to be surprised or disappointed,” Schmidt said. “You want them to have the experience they expected when they left their house.”

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Lessons From the Front Lines of Virtual Event Planning

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COVID-19 has changed our ability to get together for the foreseeable future. Here’s how to thrive in the new event landscape.

By Mark Kats

The pandemic has presented a remarkable set of professional challenges for event marketers. With almost all of last year’s events canceled, organizations that still rely heavily on events have been forced to rethink how to meet their business goals in 2021.

Simply repurposing what your organization would have done in person in an online format won’t capture your audience’s attention in a now-congested virtual world. A better strategy: Unearth the intent of the event and the reason for the marketing investment in the first place. With the right virtual event plan, it is possible to trade in-person for virtual in a seamless, well-thought-out way.

As with all good marketing, the best path forward is to hone in on the audience needs you’re aiming to meet. Matching event types to objectives is your first order of business.

Event Types and Objectives

  • Industry events from trade associations: The objective is to facilitate a marketplace where buyers and sellers can exchange ideas, make connections, and do business in a concentrated fashion.
  • Product launch events: The objective is to increase brand awareness and understanding of a product or service, or to improve brand perception among committed audiences who will travel.
  • Educational events/industry conferences: The objective is to increase knowledge or skill levels, to improve product use and retention rates, and to facilitate connections and networking.
  • Partner/customer events: The objective is to drive partner value and customer engagement, to generate upselling and cross-selling leads, and to encourage referral business.

Once you pinpoint the objectives of your event, keep in mind that each one has a unique set of inflection points—a buildup before the event, event execution, and post-event follow-through. These three distinct stages require an audience acquisition and engagement strategy to return value. So, how do you shift the strategy?

Pre-Event Buildup

Leading up to an event, organizations should try to craft an emotional experience for attendees. Connecting with them where they are could lend itself to an even more meaningful experience than an in-person event. With this in mind, be more creative about how you approach messaging.

Another thing to consider: Not all aspects of your planned in-person event need to be a part of your virtual experience. Always err on the side of less. Also, think about the technology you will need to engage your audience. And finally, remember that targeted social engagements—such as Q&As, stories, call-to-action buttons, and polls—can help inform event content and audience acquisition strategy well in advance of the event. These tools can position your organization as the authoritative voice for the event’s duration.

Event Execution

While this may seem obvious, it bears repeating: Speakers have to work much harder to keep and entertain attendees without a live audience to get the adrenaline pumping. Far from being captive, the virtual audience is a click away from being distracted, and attendees are more than likely multitasking. Speakers and panelists should be purposeful about making their points, and use dramatic skills to do so.

During the event, smart organizations activate their social channels to ignite conversation where their audiences are engaging, highlighting emerging themes and insights in real time. Polls are a good way to capture what’s on your audience’s mind. This creates a chance to deploy multimedia content that provides a richer experience more akin to conference attendance and participation than to reading or surfing the web for content. Audio content can be engaging on social media, too.

Post-Event Follow-Through

When bringing attendees together virtually, you’re responsible for creating a safe place that encourages further conversation. Content created at the event can extend the event’s value well beyond the actual date. Continue event conversations on your blog or social media platforms to extend your virtual footprint. Post-event follow-through is an impactful way for your organization to provide value and engage your target audience in an ongoing conversation.

While social distancing remains our new normal, this window of time may be a great opportunity to refocus on your audience’s needs in the virtual event space. Attendees will reward you with their continued attention if you meet those needs—or punish you by making a fast exit if you don’t.

Mark Kats is vice president, portfolio consulting lead, at Manifest.

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