Virtual conferences are more popular now than ever, but you can't just take your live conference and stick them onto a video screen; some experiences just don’t translate. And there are actually some things that work BETTER virtually than in person.
In this video and article, I'm going to share with you how to deliver virtual conferences in a way that produce the same – or better – results as live-in-person.
We are in an era where almost everything has had to go virtual – at least for a time. Even when we're fully back to gathering in person, it's my belief that we'll continue to gather more virtually than ever before.
As you may know, I've been running conferences, workshops, summits, seminars and events for 13 years – actually longer if you count the many I did in my career before I started my business.
Then 6 years ago, I shifted to focusing almost exclusively on a retreat (AKA: “small events”) model, in which I was running live retreats with 10-25 people 6-10 times a year. We would gather participants in a room, deliver an amazing breakthrough experience over 3 days, and then invite those who wanted to go further into my 1-year program.
We had this model down to a science. We knew how to deliver the retreat so that it was life-changing, and people were getting massive results from one 3-day experience. It was SO good, I was even teaching that model to others and had just completed my “Retreats to Riches” training course, when Covid happened and cancelled all live events – for several months.
Like everyone, we had to pivot – fast.
I had a retreat planned for late March 2020, and by early March it was clear that we likely wouldn’t be able to gather.
So I said “let's go virtual.”
Now, not only was I NOT sure that we could pull it off logistically and technically (I waited until just 2 weeks out to decide) I was also thinking that virtual was just a poor stepchild to live events, how could they ever be as effective?
Also, I was bummed. I LOVE gathering in person.
I had a lot of concerns.
- I feared we wouldn’t get the results and that people wouldn’t be as engaged
- I thought our enrollments into my 1 year program would be poor
- I thought I would get fatigued in front of a screen all day.
- I worried that people wouldn’t be able to get the 1:1 support that they get from me and from my support team
- I assumed people wouldn’t bond as much
And so, what I did was I put into place different strategies to address these concerns.
One of the things that is a challenge with virtual conferences is that you're competing with that person's entire LIFE, especially if they’re home while attending.
When you take someone out of their environment and bring them to a conference, they're away from their family. They're away from their friends, from their dog, from whatever distractions they might find.
But when you host a conference on a screen and they're at home, they've got people knocking on their door, they've got kids crying, and mailmen setting off barking dogs. And so they might easily get sucked back into their lives – even if they have the best of intentions.
So, one of the things that you can do when you're planning a virtual conference is to create guidelines and agreements at the beginning of the conference – or even right at registration.
For example, an agreement could be for people to have their camera on the whole time, or to put a sign on their office door to make sure nobody comes in.
Just as with a live-in-person conference, your virtual conference must have quality content. But no matter how good the content is, the FORMAT determines the experience. What I mean is, having a talking head on a screen for 3 days or however long your conference is, is not a sustainable model, you’ve got to mix it up.
How can you deliver your content in different formats? Instead of having just a head on a screen talking, can there be activities? Can there be breakout sessions? Can you interrupt and do things that are surprising? Can you switch it up so some people are speaking from farther away? Can you use unusual backgrounds and sets?
Another thing to think about is that people get tired physically of sitting down and looking at a screen all day. So, having breaks in between to help people get up and down and move around physically is also really helpful to keep that engagement going.
Also give some thought to the platform you're using. These days, zoom is kind of the go-to platform for hosting meetings. And if you use zoom, pay attention to all the bells and whistles and cool stuff that you can do with it.
For example, in zoom (with a pro account or better), you can break people out into private sessions and private groups.
At my March virtual retreat retreat we did lunch breakouts where everyone showed the others something in their home that they were proud of or that was meaningful to them. Perhaps a garden that they had planted or a dish that they had cooked or a pet. This created a lot more closeness and bonding.
What's interesting about this activity, is that it’s one of those things you can't do at an in-person conference. Think about the ways that a virtual conference actually opens the door to new opportunities that you'd never have at a live experience.
One really fun and popular thing we did was send care packages beforehand with self care items like candles and bath bombs, as well as silly items for laugh breaks, like stick-on mustaches and funky glasses. Then periodically at a break, I'd say, “Now, look through your care package and find _____” (i.e., the mustache), and put it on and let's take a picture.” Or “let’s have a 2-song dance party.” These were some of people’s favorite moments.
We also sent pom-poms for applause since we can't hear when people are applauding on zoom because everybody's on mute. I bought brightly colored pom-poms so that whenever anybody wanted to applaud, they would shake the pom-poms. This created some movement and action.
Another really cool thing you can do (that doesn't really work as well in a live venue) is to bring in pre-recorded material.
Obviously if you're going to put all this effort into creating an amazing virtual conference, you want to protect it from any nefarious characters, like these “zoom bombers” that crash your event and do uncool things (like share their screens with not-so-nice images).
Make sure you have a secure registration platform and have passwords and other protections in place.
Finally, you might think that because it's virtual you don't need an event planner, but I beg to differ. I actually think that it's MORE important to have a virtual person to help you mute people and unmute people and send people into breakouts.
If you're the creator of your event, and the host or emcee, you DON’T want to also be the technician of it. I highly recommend getting some support to run your virtual conference.
Now, I already know there’s SO much more I could address. So, if you have questions about how to run a virtual conference, send them to me, or post in the YouTube comments and I’ll post a follow up video and article soon!
If you're interested in hosting conferences and events and monetizing them, then I can help! Visit superstaractivator.com/go to find out more about my programs and services and see if and how I might be able to help you grow and scale your business.
See you! ♥