April 8, 2020
In the first weeks of the coronavirus crisis, associations struggled with decisions about whether to hold, postpone, or cancel conferences and other events. But soon enough, your options were limited by social distancing rules.
The tough decision then becomes whether to reschedule your conference for later in the year, transform it into a virtual event, or cancel it completely. If you decide to host a virtual event, your communication with prospective attendees will greatly influence their decision to register and their level of engagement during the event.
We’ve all been inundated with coronavirus-related content from every company that has our email address, so it’s a good time to take a step back and really think about your messaging style. You want your messages to stand out from the crowd while also being sensitive to everyone’s new stressed reality.
When you’re ready to announce and promote your virtual event, write the email and website copy as if you’re talking to someone you know—it could be Joe or Jenny, a member you’ve met who’s not that active but still semi-interested in what you’re doing.
Imagine telling this person—a stand-in for everyone right now—about your new plans for the canceled conference. Don’t write as an institution, write as one person to another. Remember, both of you are dealing with this mess. Acknowledge these emotions, show your empathy, and share your plan to make it better—your virtual event is a step in the right direction.
For your website and other platforms, film a 2-minute video of the executive director or board chair talking about these plans. However, only do this if they’re a competent, relatable and likable communicator. They should emphasize your organization’s intention to support members and industry professionals throughout this crisis. They should also describe how to contact your organization with any concerns or suggestions.
Tell prospective attendees why you’re switching to a virtual event and not rescheduling for later. “People are positively responding to detailed accounts of the process that led them to make their decisions,” said event marketing consultant Nick Borelli of Borelli Strategies. “Attendees have shown disappointment in the situation, but empathy in the decision.”
Describe the new plan and what happens next, for example, how you will handle their original registration and payment, and what they need to do about their hotel and travel reservations.
Talk to frontline staff about the questions they’re getting about the canceled event and virtual event. Develop an FAQ for your website that answers these questions and anticipate others, for example:
Check out these online event FAQs from other associations for additional ideas:
Regularly communicate with your original and prospective sponsors, exhibitors, presenters/speakers, and volunteers too.
Schedule calls and online meetings with sponsors and exhibitors. Talk to them about their marketing goals. Describe how you can help them meet those goals during the virtual event and throughout the year, for example:
Presenters who have regular speaking engagements are most likely comfortable doing webinars and virtual events. They probably have the right technical setup at home too. But, expect to do more hand-holding and coaching with virtual event newbies.
Provide detailed instructions on technical requirements. Make a few step-by-step training videos that walk them through event logistics or tip sheets with screenshots. You should also provide training on best practices for effective online presentation and instruction. Require practice runs for everyone.
To learn more about how your organization can offer a truly memorable virtual experience for your attendees, click here to learn about The Echo - the first configurable virtual world for online event experiences.