With everything going on surrounding COVID-19, many organizations are having to rethink (and replan) their upcoming events, particularly their annual conferences. But how exactly do you take an in-person conference and make it virtual…while upholding its original value? Below are five steps to follow:

1. Identify your audience

Before doing anything, it’s crucial to identify who you’re targeting with this event. If this is an event you already had planned, you may already know your audience. But note: If this was an in-person event you’re now taking online, you may want to consider expanding your audience. One of the major perks of virtual conferences is that people can attend them from the comfort of their own home (or office…or home office). And not only that, but because travel is no longer a factor, that typically opens the door for more people to attend. 

If this is a conference designed to drive non-dues revenue (in addition to providing your members with value, of course), a larger audience could serve your organization well. 

Just something to think about!

2. Determine speakers/content 

Again, depending on how far in the planning process you are, you may already have speakers lined up. (Just make sure they’re still on board and willing to participate virtually.) 

If you’re starting from scratch though or still need to fill a few spots, put out a call for speakers — on your website, via email, on your social media sites, etc. — just as you would for a standard, in-person event. In that call for speakers, make it very clear that this will be a virtual conference. Like with your attendees, that might actually open the door for more speakers to participate.

3. Select the right technology 

If you’re used to planning in-person conferences, but have never planned a virtual conference, this is where the planning process varies the most. With a virtual conference, you obviously need the right technology in place; technology designed to support online learning. 

Not sure where to begin? Start by exploring a learning management system. A tool like that will allow you to not only host online events, but store the content afterwards for on-demand learning. 

Psst: MemberClicks actually has a learning management system: MC | LMS! And when paired with a webinar provider (we have a partnership with Telspan), you can host live events, enable your attendees to chat, store the content for later access (and set permissions)…everything you need to engage your members via online learning. (More about MC | LMS here!)

4. Spread the word

Once you have the foundation laid, it’s time to promote your virtual conference. Do this just as you would an in-person conference. Promote it on your website, via email, on your social media sites, etc. And make sure your speakers and sponsors are in on the action as well. Consider providing them with “I’m speaking!” or “We’re sponsoring!” graphics that they can then share on social media. More reach = more possible registrants!

5. Launch

And now…it’s showtime! This can be a little scary, particularly if you’re not a very “tech-savvy” person, but just remember: If you’ve partnered with the right technology provider, they should provide you with the training you need to feel comfortable with the platform, and not only that, but the support you need upon execution. (A good Support Team makes a WORLD of difference!) Want to learn more about the technology you can use to successfully execute a virtual conference?

Want more tips for successfully planning a virtual conference at your association? Download our free guide below! 

Note: This post was originally published on 3/8/17, but updated on 3/30/20 for added value.