Is a Virtual Conference Right for Your Audience?

Is a Virtual Conference Right for Your Audience?

By Stephanie Adams

5 Insights from AMC’s Education SIG

Members of AMC’s education special interest group (SIG) have been at the forefront of transitioning in-person educational conferences to virtual events for our clients in response to COVID-19. With so many unknowns around the ability to meet in person in the fall and beyond, many AMC clients are already looking ahead to 2021 and considering fully virtual events or hybrid in-person/virtual events. Before you make the leap into hosting a virtual educational event, there are a few aspects that you need to consider first. As we’ve gone through the process with several of our clients, we’ve identified five considerations to keep in mind to ensure a successful virtual educational event.

Investigate Member Needs

To create a successful virtual event, you first need to assess what type of education your members need right now.

  • Are they struggling with crisis management, burnout, being furloughed, or new requirements and restrictions that have been added to their jobs in a COVID-19 world?
  • Is there a particular time of year when specific content or education is needed (e.g., is a recertification cycle coming up—what continuing education [CE] or Maintenance of Certification [MOC] requirements need to be met)?
  • Do they need access to time-sensitive research or studies?

Leverage your online member communities to suss out what the current hot topics or friction points are in their industry or field. Talk to your board and committee members or even survey your membership to see what’s most on their mind. It’s essential to offer content that is needed by your audience. That may sound like a simple step, but it’s true. If you don’t identify what they really need and want, you won’t keep their attention and may not be their go-to place for education.

Determine What Content Easily Can Be Offered Virtually

If you’re new to virtual events or are transitioning a live meeting to virtual, it’s helpful to first identify which content might be easily offered virtually. Not all content needs to be published at once. Start small and ease into your virtual offerings; once you’ve tested the waters, you can incorporate more robust content.

For example, the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM), an AMC client partner, transitioned their 2020 paper and poster presentations to an online product shortly after their annual meeting was cancelled due to the coronavirus. The product offers access to an e-poster gallery, full abstracts, and author information, and all of this was set up with minimal programming because these items were already collected in their vendor’s abstract and speaker management platform in one way or another. This content was low-hanging fruit that AAHPM was easily able to transition to provide valuable content to their audience quickly.

Identify the Format and Technology That Works for Your Audience

Not every member or association has the same needs or preferences, so you’ll want to carefully consider which delivery format works best for your audience.

  • Do your members have time to attend a live event or does on-demand (enduring) education work better for them?
  • Do they like video, audio, or a different experience  entirely?
  • Would an all-day streaming event work or would they prefer bite-sized learning?

AMC’s healthcare clients, for instance, currently have very different needs from our trade clients, so a one-size-fits-all approach may not work. It is important not to overwhelm your audience. If your association is new to virtual education, try offering a sampling of your content first live and then as enduring resources to see which has a better response. Once you’ve determined your format, you can plan for the type of technology solution you’ll need. Be sure to work with your IT team to navigate platform choices; analyze integration needs and efforts; and partner with platform vendors to manage technology deliverables, integration, and testing.

Decide Whether CE Credit Will Be Offered

Offering CE credit adds value to your event, but it also adds complexities, staff time, and resources, so you’ll need to weigh its importance. Accrediting bodies, which differ by organization, have strict guidelines that must be followed when offering CE.

It is also important to consider the type of CE your members are looking for and how that might influence their decision to attend an event. For example, some professionals need a certain amount of live [CE] credit vs. enduring [CE] credit, so you’ll want to be sure your event provides the type of credit that is most important to your members. Keep in mind that the priorities of healthcare association members may have changed since the pandemic began, so they may be more willing to hold off on attaining CE credits or feel more urgency to attain them.

Collaborate with Your Team to Create an Interactive and Engaging Event

As with any event, you must bring the right people to the table to create an interactive and engaging experience for attendees. You’ll want to bring in your marketing and social media pros and any external stakeholders or partners and consider if sponsorship is a viable option. Bringing all the right people to the table will help make your event a success.

Virtual conferences might currently be the best option for continuing to give your members the education they need and expect from your association. Rest assured, by taking these considerations into account, your organization will be empowered to provide quality education for your members now as the ability to meet in-person evolves.

Thank you to the members of some of AMC’s service teams, specifically IT, AMC Central, Meetings, Professional Relations and Development; the Education SIG; Dionne Wilson, NANN Executive Director; and Jennifer DeVries of BlueStreak Learning; who recently produced a webinar on virtual conference framework for AMC staff and clients. The content of this post was adapted from that webinar.

Stephanie Adams is an education and learning manager for the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM).

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