general newsletter

Tips for Converting Conferences – Sector Leadership Spot

April 6, 2020

By Susan Tomlinson Schmidt, Nonprofit Leadership Alliance

It has been an unprecedented few weeks with the impact surrounding the coronavirus taking many of us by surprise — this is especially true for nonprofits with upcoming in-person conferences, fundraisers and trainings.

Making the transition from in-person to online during “normal” times can feel taxing to organizations that are often stretched in terms of financial and staff resources. In today’s world, with a pandemic in the mix, it has many organizations spiraling.

The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance began offering online training and development in 2017. In 2018, we added online conferencing and meeting services, as well. Our Leaderosity platform helps our partners convert or create content and offer it to their networks in an affordable and accessible format.

We have fielded hundreds of inquiries in the past two weeks alone from organizations interested in making the move from in-person to virtual. I thought I would take this opportunity to share some best practices and useful tips that will hopefully help make this transition smoother.

Moving In-Person Trainings to a Virtual Space — Questions and Considerations

We have already signed a contract with a venue. How do we get out of that?

In our experience, hotels and other event venues are willing to negotiate, especially in a situation like this. The first question you should ask is … Do we really need to cancel or can we postpone? If it is the latter, you have more room for negotiation as many venues would prefer to push back the date than lose the business completely. Be honest with your account rep and explain the situation (50% of our speakers backed out, attendees are canceling, etc.). If you do need to cancel or the venue refuses to be flexible, seek legal counsel. Sometimes a simple communication from a lawyer can help move the conversation in the right direction. Above all, read your contracts carefully and understand clearly what is at risk before you decide the best option.

What should we say to our attendees?

For many of our partners, this has really not been an issue. With so many of us electing social isolation as a strategy to reduce exposure, no travel and avoidance of large crowds might be appealing. Of course, you will want to follow some best practices when sharing updates or changes:

  • Send a direct e-communication to all registered participants
  • Update your website and/or event pages
  • Send messaging via social media and/or text services

You will want to explain the many benefits of a virtual conference vs. in-person (keeping attendees safe, no travel, saving time and money). In addition, you will want to prepare a FAQ document for your staff so they are prepared to answer any questions attendees may ask.

Can we use our same speaker lineup for the virtual conference experience?

Most likely…although, speaking in a virtual space can make some speakers nervous so you will want to set them up for success. Be sure to provide them with virtual speaking best practices. And do a tech run with them ahead of time, so they are comfortable with the technology and are ready to shine when their time comes.

How long does it take to convert to a virtual event?

This depends on the type and complexity of the event. A simple online course with a few webinars and links to on-demand videos and other resources would only take a week or two to go live. For virtual conferences that include dozens or even hundreds of speakers — and other functions such as an exhibit hall — could take 4-6 weeks.

There are so many parts of our event we cannot do virtually…we cannot take our event online, right?

This assertion has been around since the advent of online education — the belief that there are certain training elements that cannot be effectively delivered virtually. We can tell you that the debate is over … it simply isn’t true. There is a lot of research out there that states, unequivocally, that online learning is more effective than face to face because it allows for more learning styles. Regardless of what you are working to build — high-performing teams, networks, engaged employees, staff or volunteer capacity, leadership skills — there is a way to make that happen virtually. You just have to start with the end in mind, and use the right technology based on those goals.

How much should we charge?

The pricing for virtual trainings is truly all over the place. When you build your marketing materials, you will need to carefully communicate the value proposition…and choose pricing that is in-line with the value. You may not be able to charge the same amount that you did for your in-person event, but your expenses will also be less. For many of our partners, they are able to net more revenue from a virtual offering because of those low costs. In addition, don’t give up on the idea of having sponsors. Many corporate partners actually prefer a virtual conference option, especially if you build in the ability for them to interact with your attendees.

What platform should we use?

Leaderosity offers many platform options — a learning management system for traditional courses, a virtual conference experience for dynamic and engaging e-conferences and a communities platform for peer engagement and community building. Depending on the goals of your event, we have a solution that can help you get there quickly.

Have other thoughts or ideas? Keep the conversation going. Please email Susan Schmidt.

Susan Tomlinson Schmidt, MPA, CNP is the President of Nonprofit Leadership Alliance and serves on the National Human Services Assembly Board of Directors.