Virtual Conference Case Study: A Conversation with Edward Wendling of ASi [VIDEO]

Aidan Augustin
Co-founder & President of Feathr

Just two weeks before their annual two-day conference, ASi had a tough decision to make — should they cancel their conference due to the COVID-19 crisis?

Nope. Instead of canceling, ASi shifted their iNNOVATIONS conference to a 100% virtual event in just two weeks — with an 81% increase in attendance!

On May 14, 2020, we hosted a conversation with Edward Wendling, VP of Marketing at ASi. Watch the full 30-minute conversation here:

Full Video Transcript

Michael Hoffman: Hi everyone. I’m Michael Hoffman and welcome to our virtual event Best Practices Conversation with Edward Wendling. And let me… So just a little bit about Edward. Edward works in the Global VP of Marketing for Advanced Solutions International, ASi, which makes the iMIS Association Management Software. He’s been helping the association succeed with technology for a long time. He was the 2018 Association Trends Partner of the Year at ASi. He’s written a lot of books and guides and things and you can find their guide to virtual events, their event, and what they did in detail at that URL that you see there. And he’s been working with clients all around the world to do this. I’m Michael Hoffman, I’m the Founder/CEO at Gather Voices. We’re a software company that makes it easy to create, manage, and share video and we’ve had the pleasure of working with Edward and ASi and many other associations and nonprofits around their video needs. Before that, I started a company called C3 Communications, which is a digital marketing agency that just works for nonprofit organizations and you can read the rest of that. So just a little bit of background and then we’ll jump into the conversation. Because of the situation we’re all in, ASi had to transition their Annual Innovations Conference, which is supposed to be in Orlando, to a virtual conference and the timing was such that it was right on the bubble where people were still thinking, “Oh, this can happen, “we don’t know how bad it is,” and all that, and where it was like a week later and everything was like oh yeah, nothing’s gonna happen. And so their timing was exactly in the worst possible moment to be very close to the event and then not be able to happen. So they had two weeks to get the entire thing set up. Canceling was not an option. And so it was really all hands on deck and amazingly, the team at Gather Voices, we were involved some and so we watched this all play out, it worked incredibly well and they expanded their audience, they increased the number of attendees, first timers as well. They made less revenue and we’ll talk, I think a little bit about that, about sponsors and vendor revenue and things. But their costs were obviously at a completely different level without having to feed everyone and all the things that go around that travel and people were super engaged. And so with that as background, I’m gonna stop sharing and Edward, welcome to our conversation.

Edward Wendling: Hey Michael, thanks. Let me add to the two week timeline just as I look back on it. So our event was scheduled and was held Wednesday, March 25th and Thursday, March 26th, and we even, you guys may not know this, but had a small part on that Friday morning. We made the decision to switch to a virtual event Wednesday, March 11th and that was a night time emergency meeting. So basically, I came in to the office that Thursday morning knowing that we needed to make that switch, so we had that Thursday, Friday, we’re scrambling around and then if you fast forward to when the event is on Wednesday, we really wanted to do as little as we needed to on Monday and Tuesday. We didn’t wanna be doing a lot then. Although, we did do some stuff with you guys right before it. But so the point I’m making is that we really had a week, we had a week to do all this and as I look back on it, honestly, I don’t know how we did it all. We just jumped into it, but it really was like a week to 10 days that we had to get everything done. So it’s just to show everybody who maybe has more time to do it that you absolutely can do it. And I would say, I also wanna add, Michael, because you mentioned at the time, yeah, definitely the worst possible time. So that Wednesday night, I think was the night that the NBA canceled and it was like, it seemed like there was just a… That was when everything came to a head and it was clear that this was gonna happen. We were getting cancellations already, so we knew maybe we’d be in a little bit of trouble, but it came to head then. But the way I look at it now and I think I thought of it at the time, is that it’s the worst possible time, but it’s also the best possible time because we were gonna be first. And so in the business I’m in, software, marketing, I thought that this would be an opportunity to be a leader and use this to generate material, which generates leads and have these kinds of webinars and so forth, so I did really anticipate that we would get benefit from being first and I think my bigger picture point with that as I talk with our clients who are thinking about doing this whether it’s a virtual event or it’s adopting new technology in general, is to really embrace where we are right now as a chance to rethink the way that you have always done things, and we considered new ways of doing it. It’s a golden opportunity I really think, if you look at it like that. It feels like you have more opportunity to fail I guess, maybe that’s the way to put it. And to take a little bit more of a risk and to do something different and really change your approach and your organization for the better.

Michael Hoffman: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Talking about the less expense and lost revenue, but part of the less expense means you can experiment more, right? The stakes aren’t as high in the same way. I think that’s really interesting. And also what you were just saying is we’re gonna get into planning a virtual event and I think a lot of people are in this immediate moment of I gotta do this thing and how do I do it, but what you’re saying is this is really connected to a bigger question of digital transformation. It’s connected to something about what are we doing all the time and why are we just concentrating these things and what are we learning? So talk a little bit more about that just about how you think the experience of the virtual event really ties into what organizations should be doing all the time.

Edward Wendling: So one of the… A good way for me to make that connection is with the idea of mobile. So mobile is something that is taking over the world and we see it very prominently in the for profit world where everybody on this call likely, everybody’s got a smartphone and you’re all likely using apps to access things and maybe you used a web browser before. So, as I talk to clients now, people are unsure, like is mobile something we wanna go to, is this something we wanna try? And the conversation I have with them is well you’re not holding in person events, you’re not doing these things that were typically member benefits that got members together, so what else are you doing? Don’t sit and wait. We’re gonna hold off on doing things for three to six months until we know what’s gonna happen, use this as an opportunity to maybe make a change. Transition that to the video element is a perfect example, so in terms of capturing these short form video that we’re talking about here, for our business, that was often done in the way of what we would consider to be client testimonials. And we approached those in a very rigid way. That was just all we knew. And we would do those at in person events, highly scripted, a lot of effort ahead of time to plan it all out, get people seated, big light in their face, very scripted approach. The result, in hindsight as things have changed, it was like a stilted inauthentic less enjoyable video and so our experience with capturing video with you guys, through your approach, it really opened our eyes to the fact that well a) it’s not that hard to get video, it’s actually way easier than you think and b) it doesn’t have to be this tremendously produced, and scripted video. It really can be authentic video from the people you wanna get and you can just make so much more use of that, so–

Michael Hoffman: And then let me bring you back then to the event itself, and we’ll get into maybe some more of those details, but when you started this and you had a week, afterwards, what did you learn that you didn’t realize about putting on a virtual event? What’s the thing that you wish you had known at the beginning or something that you would say is something to keep in mind if you’re planning one of these?

Edward Wendling: Well let me, so let me answer it this way. Just in some of the prep I did for this, I just wrote down, I mean we have it in our virtual guide, but I will, I wrote down the six elements that I think you should think about with a virtual event and to be totally fair, it’s not like when we planned this we sat down and said hey, these are the six things that we gotta knock out. We just did it and after the fact as we regrouped, thought about it in these areas. And I think there are a couple things on here that people are very focused on rightly so, and some other areas that I don’t think they are, so in no particular order really, but in a natural order, we focused on obviously how to deliver our educational content. I think that’s one of the key things people are thinking about. How do we take our breakout sessions and deliver that to our attendees? Next was how to recreate our general sessions. You might call them plenaries, but they’re your events where they’re less formal presentations, but you might have a guest speaker or you might do awards, or you might have a panel. So it was how to recreate that. We were definitely concerned about how do we provide value to our sponsors and exhibitors, how do we not lose them, how do we keep them. Next was how to replace, I think this was a big one that’s a hard to nail down, but how to replace the networking, the spontaneity, the side discussions and honestly just plain old fun that you get from the in person event. And literally, it’s like how do you replace the venue? You’re not at hotel X at this city, how do you replace that? Then obviously, how do you price this and once you do that, you’ll quickly realize if you haven’t already, wow, we’ve got all this stuff, how do we leverage it beyond the event? This is a little bit newer. And then how to measure it all. So I looked through those six things as what we needed to deliver and then as I look back, if I would’ve had a month to plan or six months would be awesome, without a doubt, I would have made more use of short videos, so this gets into the timeframe that we had and why I was saying we really had a week. So you guys were giving us all kinds of ideas. Well, you can get this, you can get this video, all kinds of great ideas and because we were new to the process of gathering videos, I know for me in particular, I thought, man, we’ll never be able to do all that. How can we get all that? – So I would’ve done more with video, even though I think we did a lot, I would’ve given my sponsors more face time through the event. I think that the short videos is really a great way to bring value to sponsors. I would’ve made sure every educational session that we presented had a sponsor or not a sponsor, a presenter’s statement up front, so I would’ve had the presenter doing a nice informal hey, I’m excited to present, I hope you get a lot out of it. Here’s what I’m trying to show you. But I also mentioned the app that we used for networking and communication in addition to event support and just like the video, we felt great about how we used that. If I had more time I probably would’ve worked in maybe some more games or incentives as a way to drive more activity there.

Michael Hoffman: Ah, interesting. Well so I just wanna tell everybody there’s almost 100 folks watching us today and you can put a question, there’s Q & A thing there and you can put questions in there. We have some questions that folks asked in advance, we’ll get to those in a minute. But there is a question here about did you survey or ask for feedback from attendees to see how they felt about attending virtual events? So just one was did you know how your community was gonna react? And then the other is when you think about for the future, did you learn something about their preferences when you think about live or virtual, or hybrid?

Edward Wendling: So we didn’t survey our attendees in advance, we just didn’t have the time. We just made the shift. We certainly surveyed everybody after like we typically would for any annual conference and I would say without a doubt that the marks were higher. I don’t know if that is because they liked the virtual event that much better than the in person event. I attribute that as much to the fact that I think we’re all feeling like we’re in this together and so more so than any other event that I’ve done, I felt like the attendees were supporting the event, if that makes sense. And maybe associations experience that more than we do as a for profit company, but I felt like everybody understood what we’re dealing with, the timeframe, and the response was just overwhelmingly positive and supportive of it. I missed the second part of that question.

Michael Hoffman: Well and were people, did you get people there who wouldn’t have come to an event?

Edward Wendling: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So we had, we got way more attendance I think, well I certainly expected that. I have talked with some association executives who seem surprised by that, but yeah, we absolutely had more attendance at this event and we had more first time attendees. A lot of people who have attended from, so our conference is both clients and partners and so just speaking from the partner side of things. Same with clients. You can’t, everybody can’t come, but when you have the virtual event, maybe everybody can. So yeah, we definitely had more people who attended and this is in the questions we were looking at ahead of time, I’m jumping ahead here, but it went so well as a virtual event and it’s an international event. Obviously, we don’t have as much international presence as we do U.S., but we probably have 30% international attendance at a typical conference. But it went so well that we basically package the event and we’re redoing it for our Asian Pacific market, our UK market, and our Canada market, and we’re doing all of that before the end of June. So we modified it a little bit to make it a little bit shorter and maybe a little bit tighter based on lessons learned, but we’re taking it back, I mean, taking it back out on the road.

Michael Hoffman: Wow, that’s super cool because it also, you made a lot of investment in content and really great content that people enjoyed and the idea of giving that a lifespan. We’ll talk a little bit more about that, but I want to go, we’re getting some questions here in the Q & A, but I wanna give preference to the folks who asked questions in advance, so I’m just gonna share my screen and we’re gonna hear from Jessica.

Jessica Smith: Hi, my name is Jessica, I work for Link2Feed, we’re a software company that makes software for food banks and food pantries. We’re considering putting on a virtual event some time in the next year, like many the other companies. Just wondering if you have specific recommendations about tools and resources we should be looking into? What do we need to put on a successful virtual event beyond the basic video conferencing platform? Thank you.

Michael Hoffman: So I think I get this question a lot, also, right? Which is tools and there’s a lot of tools out there. So I think I’d love for you to talk a little about categories of tools and then also specific tools, but I think it’s also just the category piece, there’s things that people just don’t realize that they may…

Edward Wendling: Well let me, so let me just quickly give you the overview of everything we used. Some things I won’t talk much about because I think everybody has these already in one way or another to be able to run their business, but so we used our own product iMIS, our CRM, our event registration and agenda and our even website, so that’s the tool we used. Obviously, there’s a lot of options for that. I’ll just say one quick plug for our product that really helped us. Well, first, I think we’re the only vendor in our space that uses our own product, but it was very easy for us to switch gears on price agenda and delivery, automatically update the website and so forth, so that was the least of our worries. In terms of delivering the content, like Michael said, lots of options out there. We had a short time period, so we used what we were familiar with. We used GoToWebinar, that’s what we’re familiar with, so that’s why we used it. Definitely other options and I would suggest, depending on the timeframe, using what you’re familiar with is really important there. We also use Zoom for our happy hours and it’s interesting, those were unbelievably well received, maybe one of the things that people most liked. I’m sure everybody on here has been on a Zoom family meeting or a Zoom happy hour and there’s lots of ways to do that. Then we used a company called WebcastCloud for some help with the session production beforehand and then for an on-demand library video after. And I guess I would say, one thing I’d also add, Michael, like what I would do differently, we didn’t really have time to produce the presentations and the videos, we just had to record them and get them ready. I probably would’ve spent more time with WebcastCloud and with you guys producing a better general session with just all the bells and whistles. We used our app that we used, which is a year round networking and communication app for our partners and clients caller Clouder, which many associations also use and also EventApp. That was the tool we used to replace the physical venue, so that’s where we had our communication and our networking and so forth and then obviously we used you guys to gather short video statements. So just going down the line, there’s your CRM and your event tool and your website, there’s how you’re gonna stream your content, then there is other tools that you might use for an on-demand library or for production help of your tool. And then there’s the app that you may or may not have in place to use is a place to foster engagement. We create the physical space. And then there’s gathering the video statements. And I realize we’re on with Gather Voices, so I get if it may feel disingenuous if I say this, but we absolutely could not have delivered the kind of event that we did if we did not have those short videos.

Michael Hoffman: So Edward, I’d like you to dig into that a little bit. Not just about us and how amazing we are, really about the idea. I think a lot of people who are on this are seeing you and I live doing something, what else do you need? And I think this is where there’s some confusion about putting on an event versus let’s say a webinar and why do you need, you said you produced videos, you produced videos with us, you got shortened videos, what’s that all about and how did you use that stuff compared to the live moment and why?

Edward Wendling: Yep, yep, sure. So I used first I’ll steal your statement that I saw on LinkedIn, which is an eight hour streaming event is not a conference, it’s just a really long webinar. And so we used video for a number of things. So we got short video first from sponsors, so that was our way that we were gonna go out to our sponsors and say hey, here’s your opportunity to get some face time, we’re gonna drop these videos into the newsfeed of our app where everybody was communicating and interacting. We didn’t use them in the actual presentations, that’s what I would’ve done differently. So instead of a series of slides and somebody talking over it, I would’ve interspersed that more with statements from sponsors. We did get some video statements from presenters, another area I would’ve liked to have had more. So let me just talk about that really quick. So we prerecorded the presentations and I strongly recommend that because we didn’t wanna deal with managing multiple different people doing large presentations, I mean that just seemed overwhelming. So we had the videos, the presentations recorded beforehand and we also thought in advance that that would make things easier to leverage it after the fact, but we didn’t want it to just be a recorded video. So we added a Q & A on the end just like we’re doing here. So we had the presenters available to do a live Q & A with video and that helped a lot. But we also got the presenters to record a short video about their presentation and we dropped those in the newsfeed as well and had I had more time I would’ve put that on the front of the presentation. And something fun and informal very much would do at the beginning of the session. Hey, this is Edward, I’m super excited to talk to you about how we transformed our event into a virtual event. A couple key takeaways I hope you see and then I’ll be happy to take any questions afterward. It just breaks things up, that is the important thing. The other couple things we did that I think I suspect from conversations I’ve had, people are struggling with. And I saw a post and collaborated about it. One was awards, so we have awards that we do in our big general session, that’s the focus of it and even have a lunch that we do and we partner of the year and client of the year and we talk about the partner or the client. They come up and they get their award, we take a picture. Sometimes they might say a little bit, but usually very little. It’s usually just the person coming up and getting it. Well we had to change it a little bit, so we had to let them know ahead of time that they won the award, that was a little bit different, but we said record a short video telling us, doing your acceptance speech and add anything else you want. And we got just the gamut, so we had, some people that had a more serious hey, thanks, this is great, it really means a lot to us. We had one of our partners who almost did a little skit at their desk and it just added so much humor and levity into the event, so we took those acceptance awards and we mixed it in with our own recording of who won the awards and it was just awesome. And not only was it awesome, but now we have that after the fact as a really great one. We also, another area to think about is we asked attendees to record something in advance. So Michael’s just showing the recordings, what we did is we said we’d love it if you could just record something for the group, feel free to say something about a virtual event versus an in person event. If you wanna mention somebody that you typically like or you like to see, do that. We also had key executives record something. In addition to that, and I highly recommend this, don’t forget your front line people. Many of you probably have people who are the face of your organization, like at the registration area or just the exhibit area and the people know them, they like to see them, now they don’t get to see them anymore. So that’s a great way to have somebody say, hey, this is Edward Wendling, I’m really sad that I’m not gonna see everybody, but I’m so excited to have this virtual event, love to chat with you in the newsfeed. And it just adds all the human element that can be missing from just a standard delivery of content.

Michael Hoffman: Yeah that’s I totally agree with that. One of our clients, the League of American Orchestra’s did a meet the staff short videos in advance of their in person conference, so that people would recognize faces and things like that and when you’re doing things virtual that kind of thing’s even more important because people connect with people more than they connect with brands, right? Like your brand comes to life, your organization comes to life at these events. You gotta do that, you gotta figure out how to do that and raise up the voices of both your audience, which I thought was really interesting and your team and what we’ve seen and we saw with you was when you ask people who are attending to share their voice, you get a different level of engagement, right? They’re not just the passive receivers of information, they’re co-creators of content with you and that’s just a whole different level of engagement than you would get if it’s just a long lecture.

Edward Wendling: Yeah, completely. And the point that you just made, people connect with people. I was gonna say when you go these events, there’s many different elements that are all important and different people place different importance on different elements. I think everybody goes to these events in order to connect with people and that’s what’s most important for them. I know for me personally when I go to in person events, that is the number one reason I go. It’s not for the sessions, it’s not important. It is for the people. And you don’t have these events anymore, you miss that random conversation you have at the hotel bar at midnight or the discussion after a session with somebody who’s asked some questions, I mean, you just miss a lot of that in the virtual event format, so adding these recordings, yeah–

Michael Hoffman: And that’s interesting because in person, you don’t have to think about all that stuff. Some of it just happens naturally, but you do it virtually, you really have to be more deliberate about those kind of engagement. I wanna just turn to our next question. There was a question in the Q & A here about Clouder is the name of the app you mentioned. Somebody didn’t catch that. I’m gonna just go back and let’s share our next question.

Ilana Cheyfitz: Hi there everyone, so my name’s Ilana and I work with a lot of associations who have now had to switch over to virtual events for their annual conferences and a lot of their members really depend on these events for an opportunity to not only socialize, but to network with one another and that’s super important. And now, a lot of my associations are worried how are they going to offer those socialization and networking opportunities to their membership base now that they’re going virtual, so I’d love any tips that you have to offer.

Michael Hoffman: So I believe we started to talk a little bit about that, but I think maybe that’s also related to if you had more time. What do you think about both as somebody who created a virtual event, but somebody who has been attending the virtual events as well, how do you do that? What are the different ways that you can really connect people to each other?

Edward Wendling: Well, that’s a great question and I feel like that is really teed up on the mobile app side, so just a quick pitch on that. You get so much networking and socialization at an in person event, all concentrated in, so you can go to, if you’ve got an association with two big industry events, you can go to those two industry events and probably just really max out on your socialization and networking in those two events where everybody knows you. Virtual event is a little bit harder and so I would encourage associations to think about stretching it out and the stretching it out comes from things like having a mobile app where you’re having more participation ahead of time, after time, year round, giving your members in particular your thought leaders, those are probably the people who are most concerned about that networking and visualization giving them a chance to participate in posts, discussion forums, newsfeeds on your app. The same goes for the video. So when you reach out to attendees to add their thoughts ahead of time, you’re gonna get those people who are more likely to be out front at your event, be speaking, and so that’s an opportunity to give them a chance to have that face time and networking.

Michael Hoffman: Yeah, yeah, that’s interesting and I think Clouder, the app that you mentioned, their model is why just have an app for the event? You should have an app all year long, it’s essentially the same thing. Networking, connecting, and then you have all this content you can share with the community. That’s great. So let’s go to another question from our folks who asked in advance. There we go.

Rami Atassi: Hi, my name’s Rami Atassi and I’m a digital marketer and I specialize in performance marketing for media and entertainment companies. My question is about sponsorship. So in the last two weeks, I’ve attended three virtual events and one thing I noticed was I did not see sponsor mentions anywhere in their programs. Now maybe I missed it, but I know that for my clients and for folks putting on events, sponsorship is a key revenue driver and I’m wondering with this new move towards virtual events, are there new sponsorship opportunities and what do those look like?

Michael Hoffman: Yeah, I mean I’m hearing this too is a lot of revenue comes from these events, people have the clear models of what that means today for if you have a booth, you have a sponsorship, you sponsor a coffee, all of that, and people are trying to figure out how much of that revenue can I claw back, bit also thinking about how do we really offer value to those folks because I know as we’re a vendor, Gather Voices is a vendor to associations, we’ll pay money to go to these events, we’ll pay money to have that value whether it’s online or offline, but you gotta show me that you’re giving us that value. So how are you thinking about that and what did you do and what would you do more if you wanted to increase that?

Edward Wendling: Yep, so this is a question that is very near and dear to my heart because I’ve been, for 20 years, on the software side or the vendor side and selling to associations and nonprofits, so this is a sweeping comment and obviously this is just me. Not everybody feels this way, but I wanna pull back the veil a little bit for everybody and tell you that we hate the exhibit hall. We do not like it. It is a necessary evil that we feel we have to do. I mean, do we get value out of it? We totally do, we get leads, but I can tell you that for the vast majority of software companies or vendors, obviously there’s differences, so not a blanket statement here, but that on the order of business generating activity the response that a vendor does, that’s at the very bottom. We do it because we feel we have to to compete and we do it because we wanna support the organization. What works for me when I go to the events is networking, so just getting out and being a part of the community. If I have a chance to speak, that’s huge, vendors always wanna present. Anything I can do to get face time. I know one event that I go to that I’ve been telling them forever, I don’t wanna be in the zoo sitting behind the cage waiting for all of the visitors to the zoo to come by and ignore me on their way to sessions. The idea of you’re chained in the exhibit hall for an hour while the whole conference is going on somewhere else. We wanna be part of the conference, so I would suggest, I don’t have all the answers here, but I think in the virtual environment there is more opportunity to provide better value for sponsors. Partly because a little bit you’ve got the captive crowd as you’re doing your sessions, but as an example, giving your sponsors the ability to have the video, so the face time. So if I know that my little video’s gonna be in the session at some point then that’s awesome. If I have a chance to be just as visible as everybody else in the chat area or the app or wherever people communicate, that’s great. And then I’d also say with this stretching it out idea if there’s some way to stretch your event out and offer vendors the ability to maybe present in some other sort of forum after the event. The point being that that is what vendors are really after, a chance to get in front of people. People are asking about virtual exhibit halls and I get that that feels like something you need to do, but I was thinking about this ahead of time and wanted to use a good example. This may not be the greatest example, but I belong to a Facebook group for Doberman Pinschers, I have always had Dobermans and I go to that Facebook group with other people with a similar interest, so like a membership group and I wanna go hear from those people, I wanna see their posts, I wanna hear what they’re doing with their dogs. I don’t wanna go look at a grid of products being sold to Doberman owners, I can do that on my own. So I mean I get that we still need to do some of the things, but I would just tell you as a vendor that the virtual exhibit hall, not a lot of value for me as a vendor.

Michael Hoffman: I think that’s really interesting, it’s like we know what an exhibit hall is, so we feel like we gotta recreate that on some virtual thing instead of thinking about well what is the exhibit hall really all about, what do I really want from that? And I think what you’ve proven in the last 40 minutes is that you have something worthwhile to say that’s not just about your product. I mean, you’re not talking about your product, you’re talking about your experience in the world working with organizations for 20 years. And so I think we gotta get over a little bit the idea that vendors can’t provide quality content. I mean, they do, they’re often doing speaking pieces, but I think the idea of saying hey vendors, will you pay for these slots, and that’s okay. And I think there’s this wall between advertising and editorial, and so there’s a concern about that. And I think if things are clear and labeled and people know what they are, and also this idea of just connecting individuals. I think this is the piece that I’m still trying to figure out, I don’t know if you have ideas about this, but one of the things you do in the exhibit hall in person is you actually talk to individual organizations and you get their contact information. How do you think that piece that’s necessary, that lead piece, gets solved virtually or is it something that’s still being figured out?

Edward Wendling: Yeah, that’s a tough one. I’m not entirely sure about that. I do know if you’re a vendor and you’re fortunate enough to get a presentation slot, then clearly you can have a next step or a next action item. Just speaking for the Clouder app as an example, the way that the networking and communication capability is set up there as a vendor you could easily post something and share an offer or a next step. One idea I wanted to throw out there, we didn’t do this and it probably wouldn’t really fit for our event because we didn’t have enough sponsors or even enough attendees, but just a suggestion I have for people because I participate in this in a few places it looks neat, is that if you have enough attendees and you wanna do a Zoom lunch or a Zoom happy hour, you can set that event up so that you have different rooms and you could potentially allow a sponsor to moderate that room. So the rooms could be broken up by types of members or it could be by topic or what have you and then people could come in and that just gives a sponsor a chance to say hi, I’m Edward, this is what I’m about and if you’re interested in this, give me a shout after.

Michael Hoffman: Right, I like that idea a lot. I think it’s almost like the birds of a feather table at the lunch and then allowing sponsors to sponsor a room and have some information. I did something yesterday actually, I did a webinar yesterday for an organization called Nonprofit Library and they did a really interesting thing. They set it up as a demo of our product, but they said to the audience you could come to this and we’re not gonna give your information to the company unless you want us to. You can come and know unless you say I’m interested and I wanna learn more, you’re not gonna be on some list and get spammed or whatever it is, right? And a lot of people came. So I think that’s maybe also some type of thing where there could be short presentations around different classes of products where people can feel like hey, they can maybe pop in and out of those things and learn more and then have some opportunity to opt in, which would provide extra value to that sponsor.

Edward Wendling: And I have another idea to add to that and ASAE does this very well, at least at their tech conference is you can always ask your attendees ahead of time what they’re interested in, what topics or solutions they’re interested in and I can tell you as a marketer that that kind of information is gold. Like with ASAE Tech, I’ve often looked at it as just getting that information is worth the value of being an exhibitor or a sponsor. So don’t, the point being, don’t miss the point that your attendee information alone is really important to exhibitors and to know who may be interested in what product and what timeframe is gold to them.

Michael Hoffman: Yeah, that’s a really good point. And you can ask those things up front in part of a registration process. I wanna take some questions, we have a bunch of questions from our attendees. One is that building on this idea of exhibit hall in person may not be something that translates well to online. Are there other things that we do in these in person conferences that maybe don’t translate well? I mean, other than lunch I guess? But you can have a lunch break, right with–

Edward Wendling: Yeah definitely build in a lunch break, you’ll wanna build in a lunch break. I’m trying to think of something that doesn’t work well. I mean I can’t really other than the exhibit hall is an obvious one, but like I still am blown away by how much people loved the happy hour on Zoom. It was just, it was great maybe for a number of reasons. One is sometimes you go to those social events and it doesn’t always seem like it ends and you’re looking for a way to get out.

This had a nice beginning and an end and we had so much fun with it. One of the things that’s probably harder to translate would be and this is one, Michael, like if I had to do it over again, we just didn’t have enough time to think about this or figure it out, was the panel discussion idea. And I mean, you could do a panel discussion like we’re doing here, we totally could’ve done that, but we wanted to recreate a panel discussion ahead of time. And that worked out well, we just didn’t have enough time to really plan it out. A little harder to prerecord that one definitely.

Michael Hoffman: Yeah, definitely. And I this reminds me of a framework that we’ve talked about here, which is the idea of looking at your agenda for your in person conference and thinking about three types of content. The live content, the simulated live content, which is all that prerecorded stuff, which is maybe the majority of the thing and then the on-demand content because maybe the sessions need to be shorter and there needs to be more information that people can go on their own time, but you don’t have to subject everyone to that longer thing if they’re not interested.

Edward Wendling: Yeah, I know, that’s interesting you say that. So things that we learned about after the fact is that we could’ve had shorter presentations, obviously if it’s virtual versus in person, you don’t have the fumbling around with technology ahead of time, people strolling in and out, so yeah, that’s an interesting thought that I haven’t really fleshed out that you can probably pack more sessions into a time period than you would think. If that makes sense.

Michael Hoffman: So there’s a question from Saudia asks about have you taken into consideration the on camera producing guidelines to meet the expectations of the screen world? So for example, bringing more energy to the screen, being more engaging than if you’re in person. So how does the format of this inform how you show up?

Edward Wendling: Well that’s a good question and I would say that that’s one of the areas that if we had more time to do it, we would’ve put more time and effort in. So as an example, some of our general session presentations where we had video and presentation, we did via teams and so we had the big PowerPoint with the tiny little video at the bottom. We’ve since redone those with WebcastCloud, so that we can have a video and a PowerPoint next to each other. You could always put more time and energy into the tech, the camera, the lighting, those kinds of things. The one thing we did with our staff is we made sure everybody had the same virtual background. Similar to what I have behind me, but it was with the conference brand. And we also made sure that everybody was wearing the company gear to make it feel a little bit more. I would say that, so when I was going through the list of things that, tools that you could use, I think it’s fair to say that we bootstrapped it in that we had all the tools and then we did it ourselves. There are definitely companies out there that will do the same thing, but package it up a little bit more. Almost like there are companies out there that produce and manage events for you onsite and we’ll make sure that everything is professional and handled, and you only contract with them during the event. There are other companies that do that for the virtual event process. WebcastCloud I think is one that will do that. And I would say if anything, you’ll wanna do that on your general session, your big event. Maybe not necessarily on the presentations, the individual educational sessions because there’s just not enough time. And the ROI’s probably not there for that.

Michael Hoffman: So we have a question about the Zoom happy hour. I think a lot of people, as you said, have been on these kinds of things and people are talking over each other and all of that stuff, so how I was there in one of them, so I could answer this, but I would, how tightly moderated was that and did you use the breakout rooms and how many people ended up being in one of the happy hours?

Edward Wendling: So let me tell you what we did and then let me tell you what I’ve done since then with some other things to learn a bit more. So yeah, we had a moderator, so a host, like an event host and you gotta find somebody who is a natural at that and I’m sure every organization’s got somebody who’s good at that. So we had a moderator. We also had the moderator ahead of time, we offered sponsors the opportunity to say something to the crowd. A short couple words. So we had everybody muted when they came and let me say we had at least 100 people at a time on there. So we did that, so that was the first day we did it that was the most that we did and it was just natural from there on out. The second day, we were more prepared, we had a theme. So the second day was wear your crazy hat. So everybody bought a hat. That just helps with the conversation, but same thing we had sponsors say a few words and then we had some other people on ASI and partners say a couple words, and then it just went organically from there. The people who tend to do most of the talking at the events carried the conversation. We didn’t have a ton of talking over. There was chat going on as well, so there was chat happening. I’ve also since participated in some events, we have a company happy hour that we do. Now and this is just an interesting story about this whole situation we’re in. We have a company happy hour we do every Thursday and the first time we did it was why haven’t we always been doing this? It was like a no brainer. But in that happy hour, same thing, we have a moderator, we have polls. Almost you could do, it’s almost like a game, like a trivia game where… Well again, another place that you could, that event, that whole thing could be sponsored by one sponsor who moderates it, who manages the trivia, and the winners get whatever the winners get. I mean that would be–

Michael Hoffman: That makes a ton of sense. I mean, it’s really easy, it’s already a discreet element that would lend itself to sponsorship and nobody’s doing it. Which I think we’re early on and people are figuring it out, but that seems like a no-brainer. Yeah, and I think the big thing is a moderator is having somebody call on some people who have something to say. I thought that was really important. And then there was a couple of points where people dove back in, but it was very respectful and it was a little bit like conscience of not stepping on each other in a way. So I thought that went well.

Edward Wendling: A little bit in jumping in, yeah. And it was interesting both times. It just naturally ended about 6:00. It ended with the group that, you know if we were at the bar, that group would’ve been there another four hours. But it just a game.

Michael Hoffman: Yeah, so we have a question from Pon, who asks, he says Priya Parker, who’s the author of The Art of Gathering, says this is an opportunity to ask why do we gather? So what key questions do you ask members to get to the heart of the value of the virtual event?

Edward Wendling: God, that’s a great question. I’m gonna have to look up that book. Yeah, I mean, obviously, I’m stumped on that one. I don’t know. Michael, can you help me out with that one?

Michael Hoffman: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think it’s… You talked about this before really, it’s like why do people go? And what’s the value they get out of it? And I think insightfully saying, well part of the value is really connecting to other people. And so it’s not just look at our agenda, how do we put that online and do these education things? There’s so much reason that people travel that has nothing to do with the educational content of that event. It has to do with people connecting to people, feeling like, and especially in an association context, I think, they’re the keepers of the profession or of the industry. That’s what they are, they’re on a mission together in some way and gathering in person is a really powerful way to do that and so that’s what I think about it is how do we create that more participatory event again with short form video or other ways to make people feel as co-creators as opposed to again they’re just receivers of content. There’s so much content on the internet. We don’t need just more content, we need more connection.

Edward Wendling: No that’s great. So circling that back to my experience with our company, this event for us, I’m sure just like you described it, for associations, is like a keystone moment of the year for us. It drives a lot of things getting done. Decisions are made then, questions are answered. We all feel we come away from it energized, like okay we are gonna do great this year, we got new stuff coming, we feel good about it and so translating that to a virtual environment to your point it’s not just the education, it’s the people element. And then the other thing I would also say why we gather, well we gather to get away from the norm. So we have a routine that we’re all in and any time I think you can break that routine with something that’s more fun, still educational is important. I know for me, having done events my whole life, one of my big things is that the event has to be easier than the work day. So this is just an aside, but I’m a big believer in I don’t want the conference to start at 8:00 and end at 6:00 with education. It shouldn’t feel like work. It should feel better than work. So I always like to start it a little bit later, end it a little bit earlier, and add the social elements in in the breaks and that’s what makes it fun. Not the we’re here to power our way through 10 hours of education.

Michael Hoffman: Yeah that’s really what I think. And that makes the virtual thing challenging, especially when we’re all locked down because that’s what you’re doing all day is being on a Zoom meeting or whatever and it’s like oh there’s another one. So that’s really interesting, thinking about ways that we can make those events feel different and special and separate from the regular workday. I think that’s just, that’s powerful.

Edward Wendling: One thing we did with our event as I think about it that’s like a fun just little tactical thing, so we had the app with our newsfeed and you can actually post a comment, but you can also post a video or a picture, just like you would say on Facebook and the first thing we did when we kicked off our event is went through the housekeeping, here’s what we’re gonna be doing, newsfeeds where we’re gonna have a lot of conversation, we said take a moment and share with us your setup at home and we got all kinds of great pictures of crazy setup or sitting with their dog, or somebody out on their back patio, and that was a great way to start it off that yeah, there’s fun, there’s a fun element to this and there’s more to it than just finding out what’s new with the particular profession. There’s the human element.

Michael Hoffman: Yeah. I’m just gonna, we have just a couple minutes left and I just wanna share the screen while we’re wrapping up, just so people know that they can contact you. There’s your email and your website and my email and our website. So that if we didn’t get to questions that people wanna have asked, answered, we’re happy to engage afterwards. So Edward, just to think about wrapping up if you’re one of these organizations that’s scrambling to figure this virtual thing out and you’re having a meeting tomorrow about it with your team, go back over a couple things that you would bring up, that you would want to make sure that the team was considering.

Edward Wendling: Yeah, okay. So I would wanna as we’ve been talking here, have discussions about how we can recreate the human interaction and fun and enjoyment that folks get at an in person event. I don’t think you need to overthink the delivery of content. Your session’s recorded, lay it out. You wanna think about everything other than your content. How are you gonna recreate that? I encourage people to think about maybe not necessarily focus so much on the WebX, GoToWebinar, all that, figure that out, make that decision, move forward, but look at some other technologies like Gather Voices, like Clouder, like WebcastCloud that you many not have ever used before. And consider those tools as a way to put fun into it and just think about the little moments. How are you gonna recreate the little moments.

Michael Hoffman: Right, that’s great. Edward, thank you so much for taking this hour out of your day and spending it with us and sharing your insights from this. Really great, really thoughtful and I appreciate it and I’m getting a bunch of folks in the chat that say they also appreciate it.

Edward Wendling: Yeah, well thanks for having this, Michael and for everyone on this, this is the first style that I’ve been on. Like this, this is awesome. It is so much nicer to not have to go through a list of slides. This is a fantastic approach.

Michael Hoffman: Thank you. And we’re… So just for everybody’s knowledge, we’re gonna be doing more like this, a kind of conversation series, trying to dig into these things that people are thinking about all the time now. And we’re gonna be doing some on the long tale of shelf life after the content. Edward talked a little bit about that. You invest so much in the content for a virtual event, how do you make that work for you for the next three months or six months because it’s just a ton of content and you need to feed the beast anyway of social media and your website and other things. So how do you make those things fit together? So thank you again everyone and again feel free to reach out to us and have a terrific rest of your day.

Edward Wendling: Thanks everybody, thanks Michael.

Aidan Augustin
Co-founder & President of Feathr

Aidan Augustin is the co-founder and president of Feathr, an industry-leading software company making digital marketing more accessible to nonprofits and event organizers. Feathr has helped over 800 nonprofits and thousands of events know, grow, and engage their audiences. When he's not steering the ship at Feathr, he's playing strategy games, singing karaoke, or reading books about people who changed the world.

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