Virtual ConventionsWhat do dinosaurs and conventions have in common?  They’ve both gone extinct . . . or at least it feels that way. The standing room only panels and meetings, the gregarious socials that are the backbone of innovation and networking for many industries are, at best, just not a good idea during the covid pandemic and, at worst, can be super-spreader events. With mandates in place in most states concerning the number of people who can gather in one place, conventions feel as if they have indeed gone the way of the T-rex.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. Creative thinkers and planners have adapted to the covid world and begun using the same platforms we now use to conduct business remotely to put on effective and productive conventions that offer a new digital world of business interaction. With some creative forethought and meticulous planning, you, too, can stage a virtual convention to build networks, to promote companies, and to disseminate cutting edge information.

Understand Your Medium

One of the most important choices you’ll make in planning a virtual convention is the platform on which you stage the event. Don’t skimp on research into the various options and be sure that you have a plan in place for the types of sessions you’d like to offer so that you can explore the ways the platform meets your needs. 

But using digital mediums effectively isn’t just about choosing elements of technology. This year, both democrats and republicans held virtual conventions and each side knew that digital mediums offer powerful trade-offs for what is lost by lack of face-to-face interaction. The intimacy of the social gathering translates to the intimacy of storytelling; the boutique panel offerings of the traditional convention translate to a more unified seamless message in virtual form.

So rather than lament what is lost by using online mediums, consider what strengths it offers and use them to your advantage. Good virtual planners know, for example, that a powerful unifying theme that is used frequently creates a sense of continuity that replaces the physical proximity of a traditional convention. They also understand how important it is to choose a recognizable host to emcee the event from start to finish so as to provide that sense of seamless unity.

What to Do

Plan Early and Plan Well:  Rather than taking a single planners vision, gather the involved groups together to hash out the conference plan. You’ll need to come up with basics, such as the target audience, themes, branding, and outcome measures, but group-think is also more likely to spawn creative approaches to the overall structure of the conference. Furthermore, working with a group may offer in-roads to sponsors, speakers, and promotions because of the expanded possibility of personal connections that can be advantageously used.

Delegate different elements of planning to your various groups and ask each to work through dry runs, both to look for blind spots and to discover the things that aren’t working. (This is also a good idea at the ground level for presenters. A good dry-run will make them more comfortable and reveal any technical glitches.)

Mix Things Up:  Conventions are largely about live interaction and spontaneity of ideas. That means you don’t want your presentations to be made entirely of pre-recorded videos. Well-planned and thoughtfully produced video content certainly creates a sense of the personal and of continuity, but live sessions build that traditional conference feel. A good plan is to introduce live sessions with short videos that use on-brand messaging and then move into live sessions.

And while you’re at it. There are a number of ways to create the interactive social environment of a face-to-face conference by using virtual means. Try starting the day with a short presentation of the day’s panels with a discussion of how they interrelate and offering a major theme for the day. Then, at the end of day, bring attendees together in small virtual groups where they can discuss how their experience unites to the day’s theme, ask questions about what they’ve seen, and maybe even answer some pre-planned questions that will help planners measure outcomes.

Finally, use social media to your advantage to offer venues for informal discussion areas where the conversation can carry on beyond the planned events. Think of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, and others as the local virtual pubs where conference attendees can gather for a little chitchat and a virtual brew.

Communicate Effectively:  Because virtual events can be recorded, it’s easy for potential attendees to say, “well, I’ll watch it later,’ which they rarely do. To prevent this, be sure to keep the event in the minds of the target audience by using both social media and email reminders. One strength of going virtual is that you’re not bound by place and time, so you can actually spread an event over a week or even a month. This not only allows attendees more time to plan space for events, but it also provides thought time to process information and apply it to upcoming events.

And when it comes to communication, be sure to post event connections in numerous places and to provide reminders. It’s a good idea to hire an event-focused virtual production company like Naif Productions that can help attendees with technology issues that arise as well.

Create Partnerships:  One sure-fire way to create buy-in by attendees is to invite them to collaborate on the process. You can, for example, ask an attendee to submit part of their business model as a sample for a session analysis. And the same holds true for sponsors. As long as they are not competing with your business aims, make them partners in the process by allowing them to present or sponsor a session, offer collaborative coaching sessions, and advertise products in convention materials.

Be UnConventional

Covid doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, so we have to make the best of the socially restricted world in which we now live. Don’t let your business go stale because we can’t meet face-to-face. Instead, host the unconventional convention. You’ll be surprised just how effective it can be.

This article was written in collaboration with Ivan Young, a writer for TIPS Alcohol, an online alcohol service training provider.

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About Naif Productions:

Naif Productions is a strategic event planning, design and production firm specializing in corporate, live coaching sales events, social, non-profit, and weddings. Based in New York City, we produce events worldwide from Fortune 500 clients and coaches to families and charities. Naif Productions specializes in helping clients attain their goals, realize return on investment, and achieve the most unique, creative experiences.

About Annette Naif:

Since 1986 Annette Naif has been designing and producing custom events, helping clients create their unique style that translates into a memorable and profitable experience. Annette spent 17 years producing events in the motion picture industry where she helped coordinate numerous productions for film and episodic television programs. Since then Annette’s been running her own event production company, coaching other event planners, teaching an event operations and production course at NYU, and now is the CEO & Creative Director of Naif Productions.

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