August 19, 2020

Let’s Get Physical at Your Next Virtual Conference

Let’s Get Physical at Your Next Virtual Conference

Is anyone else dreaming in Gallery View? After several days of virtual conferences, meetings, webinars and happy hours, Zoom fatigue is real.

The typical virtual conference these days features talking heads on a screen, chat boxes on the side and maybe some Zoom breakout rooms. What was once a novel experience is quickly becoming “sigh, here we go again,” which is why we like to host virtual events that give attendees something they don’t expect—a refreshing taste of real life.

Here are four ways to add a real life feeling to your next virtual conference.

#1: The Great Unboxing

Another box from Amazon or Instacart, ho hum. Wait, what’s this? It’s a goodie package for your virtual conference attendees!

After someone registers for your virtual conference, let them know a box is coming, but don’t tell them what’s in it. Get their anticipation and curiosity going—a good boost for event marketing buzz. Keep that buzz going by asking a few friendly members to film unboxing videos to share on social media.

When it comes to the contents of your goodie package, make careful and thoughtful decisions. Please don’t send tired leftover swag or stuff the box with a clutter of miscellaneous handouts and sales sheets. Each item should be relevant to the conference experience. Bonus points if one of the items can be shared with the rest of the attendee’s house—their roommates, kids and/or partner. We like snacks in my house.

The guiding principle is “surprise and delight”—and it helps if the box is Instagrammable too.

If customization is involved, for example, a sponsor wants to include coffee or tea, ask for the attendee’s preference during the registration process or in an immediate follow-up email.

Since people tend to wait until the last week to register for virtual conferences, you can help drive early registrations (and event buzz) by creating and promoting an early bird goodie package. Include some exclusive items in this early bird package.

Pick the theme and supplies per your event goals, budget and bandwidth. Don’t forget, this is a sponsorship opportunity too. Here are some ideas.

  • Virtual conference kit: conference badge with ribbons, conference program and workbook, notebooks (lined and unlined), colored pens and sharpies, keynote speaker’s book, screen cleaner, blue light blocking glasses, post-its, do-not-disturb sign or door tag, ear buds, Bluetooth speaker, healthy (and unhealthy) snacks, coffee/tea and mug, water bottle, souvenir can koozie
  • Activities kit: items related to conference activities—the fun stuff, such as raffle tickets, supplies for happy hours, coffee breaks, cocktail making, wine tasting, chef demos, game nights (scoring cards), craft sessions, yoga or exercise breaks (resistance band)
  • Self-care kit: coffee/tea, mug or French press coffee cup, candle, earplugs, cozy socks, air plant, coloring book and pencils
  • Errands kit: hand sanitizer, wipes, hand soap, masks (think gender-neutral stylish not promotional), hand moisturizer, safety key with stylus
  • Speakers (remember, they’re influencers too) kit: Audio/video supplies, presentation tips on flashcards, personalized thank you card
  • Exhibitors kit: Some of the items in the virtual conference kit, audio/video supplies, personalized thank you card
  • Post-event kit: ideas to action workbook, accountability postcard, book by keynote or another speaker

High-dollar sponsors could also pay for an additional box with supplies related to a sponsored experience for VIPs or attendees who sign up in advance.

#2: Walking and Talking

One thing we hear over and over from our clients, friends and partners in the association community: everyone misses the random meetup aspect of conferences. They miss meeting people at sessions, during lunch, on the shuttle bus, or in line at the bar. Sometimes a 10-minute chat with a fellow attendee is worth the entire price of admission.

Ensure that the virtual event platform you choose, fulfills that void. Does the virtual platform allow attendees to:

  • Talk to each other (with voice, not text chat)?
  • Spot a friend in the crowd?
  • Find a friend in a crowd?
  • Walk-up to someone and introduce themselves?

The more you can mimic that human experience we are all used to at in-person events, the more engaged and stimulated attendees will be throughout the day, and the more value you will provide as a host at your virtual events.

For example, The Echo enables attendees (in avatar form) to walk around and meet others. They can hear real-life voices in conversation getting louder and softer as they approach and move away from them. When it is time for private conversations, they can move into “private conversation circles” located throughout the venue.

#3: Realtime Activities

When we hosted The Hangout during the ASAE Virtual Annual Meeting, attendees loved participating in our scavenger hunt and trivia sessions. Schedule group activities at your virtual conference during breaks or in the evening so attendees can continue to meet and hangout with friends both new and old.

Raffles are always a big hit—just remember to include the tickets in the goodie package.

#4: Chapter Watch Parties

When conditions permit, some members and attendees will be excited to return to in-person events. But many will be content to stay home—as long as you provide a virtual alternative.

“Hybrid” is the word on everyone’s mind but means different things. A hybrid event could mean that a national association hosts an in-person and a virtual conference simultaneously.

But another option involves your local and state chapters or affiliates. In this version of hybrid, the national association hosts a virtual conference and the chapters host in-person watch parties—as long as local and/or state government mandates permit.

Think beyond the usual online experience for your next virtual conference. Add these four elements to provide a real-life feel and spark good memories.