The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a significant shift toward hosting virtual events. As a result, virtual event hosting technology advanced to meet the demand, and virtual association events are becoming more and more popular. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end and restrictions are lifted, virtual events are here to stay, mainly because they: Offer convenience for attendees, who can tune in from homeAre open to a worldwide audience since anyone with an internet connection can get involvedRequire less overhead costs since organizations don’t have to rent a venue, hire event staff, or take on other costs associated with in-person events Association virtual event software makes hosting digital events much simpler for association leaders. Since MemberClicks offers association management solutions to membership organizations, we have a firsthand look at the best virtual event management software available. We also have event best practices to help you organize the best event possible for your association. In this guide to virtual events for associations, we’ll cover a variety of topics to help you prepare for your next successful virtual conference, including: What is a Virtual Event?What Do You Need to Host a Virtual Event? 6 Ideas for Your Next Association Virtual EventVirtual Event Best PracticesThe Benefits of Virtual Event Management Software What is a Virtual Event? A virtual event is an activity that takes place in the digital world rather than in person. Attendees interact with each other over the internet instead of in a physical setting. Virtual events can come in many forms. For instance, on one end of the virtual event spectrum, your association might host a 30-minute, informal virtual networking event for members. On the other end of that spectrum, you might organize a multi-day virtual conference complete with breakout sessions, keynote speakers, and an emcee. Virtual events can increase the accessibility of your association’s offerings, making your experiences available to those with disabilities who may be unable to travel. Additionally, when you provide a convenient opportunity that appeals to a broader range of people, you boost the membership value your organization offers. When it comes to virtual events, members will appreciate your efforts to make your experiences more convenient and easily accessible. Doing so helps contribute to greater member retention. If you’d like to learn more about virtual events, make sure to check out our article on virtual event FAQs and read on for more ideas. What Do You Need to Host a Virtual Event? There are a few tools and resources associations need to host a successful virtual event. As you get started, you’ll want to make sure you have the following pieces in place. Event Management Platform An event management platform helps you to promote, organize, and host your virtual events all in one place. MemberClicks’ virtual event software through ePly allows for easy transitions from invitations and registrations to hosting a virtual leadership meeting, webinar, or training with a Zoom-integrated event management solution. Video Live Streaming Platform A video live streaming platform lets your association broadcast your speakers and other content in real-time to your members. It also offers the opportunity to record live sessions for future distribution to members who may not make the live event. Event Landing Page An event landing page informs your attendees about your virtual event’s details, such as date, time, breakout session descriptions, and speaker bios. It’s also where you host the registration links for your event so members can sign up to get important updates, as well as the necessary links to log in to the live event. Marketing Strategy You obviously don’t want to put your time and energy into planning an event and then have no one show up. To make sure both your members and non-members know about the event, you’ll want to create a marketing strategy for it. Think through what platforms you’ll use to share information about your events such as social media or email. Consider how you’ll message the value your event will bring for attendees, such as whether they’ll have access to top thought leaders in your field. Plan out how far in advance you want to start marketing your event and how your different strategies (e.g., blog posts, newsletters, Facebook posts, etc.) will align with one another on your timeline. 6 Ideas for Your Next Association Virtual Event As we mentioned earlier, there is a range of ways you can leverage virtual events. Here are six virtual event examples your association can explore. 1. Virtual Conferences Virtual conferences typically have all the same aspects as in-person conferences, but they’re held entirely online. In these events, you’ll still have a keynote speaker, breakout sessions, networking opportunities, and an emcee to help shepherd participants through the event. The only difference in creating a virtual conference is that each of these components will happen through your video conferencing software and via chat boxes or other engagement tools. Virtual conferences are a great way to engage your members and offer an opportunity for non-members to interact with your association. You can provide free attendance to members while requiring a fee for non-member registration as a new way to generate non-dues revenue. Virtual conferences can also be recorded and shared on-demand following the event. 2. Webinars Webinars can be held live or on-demand and are essentially digital seminars. They’re typically scheduled for no more than a couple of hours and involve one or two presenters on a specific topic. So, for example, if you’re a professional association for photographers, you might host a webinar on new photo editing software. You can host webinars as a benefit for members only, or open them up to prospective members, as well, to demonstrate the value your association offers. You can also record webinars to house on your website. Live-streamed webinars offer functionality for participants to ask presenters questions and engage with one another throughout the event. Hosting one can create a sense of community around your brand. 3. Virtual Networking Events One of the challenges people often think of with virtual events is the lack of interpersonal connections that happen naturally at in-person events. However, it’s still possible to facilitate these connections in a digital environment. For example, you can plan specific events focused on networking. These events can be more informal, where members with similar interests join a video chat to learn what each other are working on. You can use some networking questions to get the conversation started, such as: What types of connections are you looking to make in the community?Tell us something new or exciting about your work this year.How are you getting involved with other businesses or nonprofits in the area? You can also start with a couple of short presentations from a few members and then let people ask questions from there. For example, suppose you’re a chamber of commerce. In that case, you might have a couple local business owners talk about their businesses and what types of connections they’re hoping to make in the community. After their presentations, you can open the group up for discussion, and other members can share how they might help or partner with them. 4. Hybrid Events Hybrid events are a way of combining both in-person and digital components to your events. With COVID-19 restrictions beginning to lift, many associations and other organizations are thinking about what event planning will look like in the future. Hybrid events might be the needed middle ground. For a hybrid event, you could consider hosting your regular in-person event but finding a way to livestream it for participants unable to physically attend. You could also choose to offer some sessions as webinars, so remote participants have an opportunity to engage with one another through that online platform. When planning a hybrid event, consider which elements might be easier for online access and better suited for in-person. For example, live streaming your keynote speaker would be easy to do, but hosting your happy hour is probably better reserved for an in-person option. 5. Member Appreciation Events Member appreciation is an essential strategy for keeping your members engaged with your association. Events that center around members are a great way to show them that you are grateful for what they bring to your organization. Some virtual-friendly member appreciation event ideas include: Live streaming an award ceremony that honors specific members’ contributionsHolding an entertainment activity like a concertHosting a question and answer night with an influential industry figure Member appreciation events should be quick, fun, online experiences where you take time to thank everyone for their involvement. 6. Get-To-Know You Events Get-to-know-you events are similar to networking events but are less focused on professional networking. Some ideas for virtual get-to-know-you events include: Member “speed dating,” where you randomly pair members into their own video chats to introduce themselves during a two-minute timeframe Virtual trivia night, where members are put in teams for some friendly competitionThemed “happy hours,” where members come to share favorite recipes, pet photos, or other casual topics These virtual events allow members to make new friends and get acquainted on a more personal level. In addition, this can facilitate a greater sense of ownership within your association. Virtual Event Best Practices Effective virtual events require some special considerations. In this section, we’ve listed some virtual event best practices to think about as you plan your next one. You can also review the MemberClicks Virtual Event Playbook for more information on hosting successful virtual events. Market in Advance It might seem easy enough to schedule and host a quick virtual event since it doesn’t require travel time for your participants, but you should still plan to market the event in advance like you would for an in-person event. Your members need time to review the opportunity and make room for it in their schedules. Allowing sufficient marketing time also helps you get your message out to more people and prepare your content and platform based on your registration numbers. Create Resources Virtual events can be challenging for participants who are less familiar with your platform or simply not used to engaging in this way. Provide a frequently asked questions page or registration handbook to get their questions answered about how to sign-up and how to use your virtual event platform during the event. For instance, you might use live polls or Q&A features throughout the event, so your resources should instruct attendees on how they can participate in those features. Encourage Engagement It can be challenging to keep an audience’s attention during a virtual event, as they’re likely in a space where other things are happening. For example, their email could be open in another browser, or have things around their house they need to take care of during the presentation. You can encourage greater engagement with your virtual event by leveraging a variety of content. Consider how you can shift between things like videos, speeches, Q&A sessions, and more to keep your audience’s attention. You can also provide discussion channels for attendees to interact with during presentations to ask questions or otherwise share their insights. Be Prepared to Troubleshoot The reality is that many things in life don’t run quite as smoothly as we planned. However, you can anticipate some of these setbacks and be prepared to troubleshoot. When running a virtual event, anticipate technical difficulties and create an action plan for when things go wrong. For example, make sure to have a backup presenter if your planned presenter’s computer has a last-minute problem. For example, consider having an alternate internet connection ready, such as a hotspot, in case your internet goes out during the event. It’s also helpful to know how your team will communicate with one another during the event, such as via texting or email, if you need to troubleshoot behind the scenes after you’re already live. Gather Data Gathering data throughout your virtual events can help you with future planning. Look at measures like registrations versus actual attendance and participant engagement to see how well you’re reaching your audience. Also, review specific tech issues, such as internet speeds and audio quality, to understand how smoothly your events are running. Once you’ve reviewed the data you’ve collected, you can use it to inform any needed changes to improve your next event. Ask for Feedback In addition to the available data, you’ll want to survey your participants on how their experience was with your virtual event. You can send out surveys for specific sessions or your event as a whole. Ask questions on both their experience with the content and with your virtual platform. It also helps to have an open-ended survey question to collect their overall feedback. Make sure to thank your participants for taking the time to provide feedback. You can also show them you value their time by making any needed changes for your next event to improve their experience. The Benefits of Virtual Event Management Software In addition to the tips above, there’s one more key tip that can make your virtual events both easy to plan and successful in their member engagement: use virtual association event software. Rather than offering a one-time solution, virtual events software is a solution that’s tailored to help manage virtual association events over the long term. With virtual event software, such as the platform offered by MemberClicks, you can take advantage of several benefits, including those below. Simplify Registration and Event Delivery MemberClicks offers virtual event software that provides a pleasant experience for attendees that starts with their registration and runs through session delivery. It includes automated registration, protected login, an easy-access event lobby, an intuitive sessions page, and integration with Zoom. Capture Event Revenue With a Virtual Exhibit Hall With virtual event software, you can take your exhibit hall virtual, allowing your sponsors and other partners to continue to engage with your audience without a physical setup. In addition, MemberClicks’ platform offers unlimited booth space, exhibitor exposure, and lead retrieval. Plan a Single-Session or Multi-Session Event Whether you want to have a one-off webinar or a multi-day, multi-session virtual event, the MemberClicks virtual event software can help. By having one software capable of a variety of event types, you won’t have to recreate the wheel each time you plan a new event. Integrate With Your Association Management Software It’s always helpful to have all of the information you need in one place. This makes things easy to find and improves your ability to connect with your members in a meaningful, effortless way. MemberClicks virtual event software integrates with your association management software for a powerful all-in-one member management system. Get Started on Your Association’s Next Virtual Event Virtual events are here to stay, whether in fully digital or hybrid forms. These events give you flexible opportunities to connect with your membership and build your brand among prospective members. Using best practices, you can begin hosting successful virtual events today. For more information on hosting virtual events, make sure to check out some of our other resources, including: Virtual Event Playbook Hosting a Virtual Event FAQ How to Host a Virtual Conference And, finally, if you’re interested in hosting more virtual events from now on, investing in virtual event management software is an excellent option for your organization. Ensure to sign up to get a free demo of how the MemberClicks software can work for you.