The challenge and opportunity of the virtual venue

For many of us, out of necessity we now live our working lives in the virtual world. With the majority, if not all, of communication happening through video calls and emails, “real life” events feel like a distant memory. So how can organisations successfully shift their event programmes into the virtual world?

Like with any new venue, it takes time to figure our way around the space, to uncover how we can best utilise it to achieve our objectives and remain connected to our audiences.

With our event “venue” moving online we have all been on a voyage of discovery in the virtual event space, uncovering the many benefits, and challenges, of our new “virtual venue”.

It’s certainly not a simple lift-and-shift of our in-person event delivery model into an online space, that plainly won’t work. It’s six months now since we were forced into this new world, which looks set to remain in place for the foreseeable future, so how can we ensure we continue to create valuable and memorable events?

Content should arguably be the heart of any event

Content is king should apply as much to events teams as it does to content marketers. However, as we have seen at our conferences, many delegates attend with a key intention of networking with their peers and building new relationships. With that ability to network among delegates being severely restricted, the content of our event is now more important than ever, to attract and engage our audiences.

Within this, we need to ensure we can provide true value to our audience, with even more touch points, engagement and interaction, to build and maintain our relationship with them. Now, more than ever, we need to therefore take the opportunity to uncover what our audience really want, and need, and determine how we can effectively deliver it to them.

Always-on connectivity and smart devices

Technology and the internet have provided us with the ability to connect to anyone at any time, in any location, through a whole host of channels; emails, instant messaging and social media just to name a few. With this level of connectivity, we can interact and deliver content to our audiences on various platforms at different times. This brings with it a whole host of advantages including our events reaching new audiences who aren’t restricted by time or location. Ironically though it doesn’t enable us to create the connectivity between delegates which they so crave.

Now, as many organisations look to take advantage of the freedom from location and physical space offered by a virtual experience, the challenge lies in standing out from the crowd. Webinars are now omnipresent it seems, and where before we would not necessarily have had to compete with international events if our event was taking place in the UK, now perhaps we do. In addition to this, once we have attracted our delegates to join, there are so many distractions available in the online space. How can we minimise the risk of the audience drifting, simply opening their inbox or opening a new tab in their browser and getting stuck into another task? And that’s not to mention online event fatigue!

Time to innovate

To overcome these challenges, we must find new ways to create a memorable experience. Whether this is through the tools we use or the content we deliver, we now have the opportunity to carve out something new – which is both intimidating and exciting.

8 Strategies Professional Membership Organisations Should Consider to Recoup Event Revenue

The COVID-19 pandemic is very likely to be having an impact on most, if not all business operability. In these uncertain times, a vital consideration for professional membership and awarding organisations is how can they continue to operate when often the main source of revenue is obtained through high value face to face events from conferences, seminars and workshops or paper-based examinations.

Organisations are required to think outside of the box and should consider the following:

  • Different ways in which their products and services can be diversified and delivered to make them attractive and accessible to members
  • Strategies to recoup lost event revenue

Here are 8 improvisations that you may wish to consider:

Deliver virtual events: The first improvisation and probably the most obvious one is to deliver workshops, training courses and seminars virtually. There are lots of different video conferencing software platforms that can do the job, including Zoom, Webex, Go to Meeting Webinar, Microsoft Teams and Zoho.

Running workshops and seminars virtually and at a reduced cost could see less refunds processed, and likely lost revenue recouped. If your organisation was due to hold a large conference, can you pick out the key themes and split these up into a series of webinars that will deliver value to your current members? Promote these webinars through social media and create an email marketing campaign, targeting both current and perspective members.

If you have a preferred webinar provider and could benefit from integration with your CRM get in contact with us!

Heavily promote CPD Activities: Generate campaigns to incentivise people to sign up for membership. If your target audience are likely to be working from home, they will have spare time that would usually be taken up on their commute to work – incentivise them to use this time to complete CPD activities to improve their own knowledge and career prospects and provide a good mix of paid and free learning materials.

Firm up your member value proposition and identify key revenue generators: Are you providing membership benefits that are of value to your members? Understanding and asking them what they value most should inform your decision making around this area. Within the current climate, firstly identifying the key revenue generators (which in most cases will be membership and qualification income) and then heavily promoting these to current and prospective members is key.

Use event materials to generate further revenue: Have you created materials specifically as value adds for your conference? Content such as statistical industry trends and help guides could be used in other ways to incentivise delegates to download for a small fee.

Deliver paper-based qualifications online: Do you have the capability to move paper-based exams easily online? If you already have assessment management software readily available for some exams, you should consider delivering paper-based assessments virtually, so that qualification revenue can still be redeemed. Speak to your CRM provider about the integrations in place with assessments providers – moving to online assessments may be easier than you think!

Provide an option for donations: Professional Membership and awarding organisations yearly conference is usually their main source of income, and some organisations will be obliged to honour contracts for event venues and contractors associated with the event. Within your communication to members to notify them of the cancellation of events, you should provide opportunity for a donation online to help you to recoup some of the lost revenue.

Increased use of text messaging: Targeted messaging directly to your members device will play an important role in interacting more pointedly. Understand what matters to members based on their preferences and point them in the direction of the targeted message. Our partner ClearCourse company InstaGiv are offering a free SMS keyword and 100 outbound SMS messages to any UK registered charity. Sign up here

Ensure payments can still be taken: Keeping cash flowing is vital to the continued success of your operation, but payments can often be reliant on bank transfers and PDQ machines. Increase the opportunities for taking payments by making use of BACs Contingency services. Our partner ClearCourse company, Clear Direct Debit are offering free Bacs contingency service for three months, giving organisations the peace of mind that there will be no charges until July 2020. Find out more

chase25 – The Verdict! Guest Post by Michael Hoare

Michael Webb established the Charities and Associations Exhibition, known thereafter as CHASE in 1991, and kept it going for an astonishing 24 years! Earlier this year Glenda Parker, of Hart Square, gathered a ‘coalition of the willing’ in London to re-launch it for its 25th anniversary. The result – from a standing start in January – was available for all to see a couple of weeks ago. But was it worth all the effort?

Well, if you work for a membership organisation, you don’t need me to tell you that change has been rapid in recent years. Associations, institutes, and charities have developed joined-up systems and active member engagement processes. Their outward appearance has become slicker, their business acumen honed. Much of this is down to the digital revolution.

They are also innovative, adaptable, and increasingly fleet of foot. Because, they’ve had to be. They’re correspondingly independent, task focussed, and frequently small to medium enterprises. They are moreover fundamentally about people. And the best way to engage with people is to bring them together under one roof. Where you can entertain them, enlighten them, challenge and energise them!

And so, while it might have been time to light the 25th candle on its birthday cake, it was also time to take a fresh approach to chase25, bringing it up to date with a new venue, structure, exhibitors, and themes. With a show reflective of change, but without abandoning its heritage.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be! But if there was any latent yearning after the past, it was soon dispelled by the new surroundings, and the show’s fresh new format.

Yes, digital loomed large amongst the day’s themes. But then so did innovation, culture, and leadership. All served up as an appetising smorgasbord providing satisfying treats in portions ranging from amuse bouche to belly busting.

Julie Dodd’s reflections on the moral issues exposed by new technology, and its power to do good, during her Michael Webb lecture, was timely. Kevin Cahill, former CEO of Comic Relief, charting the transition from passion driven start-up to charity institution, opportune. And Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8 co-founder Midge Ure’s juxtaposition of the challenges of promoting a cause in both the analogue and digital universes spanned by his career, revelatory!

But, it was Midge Ure who, for me, came up with the unspoken theme of the day when he attributed Band Aid’s success to “finding like-minded people”. As he put it, “we put all our little soap boxes together to form a world stage”.

Surely – the realisation dawned on me – that is at the very core of what charities and associations do every day; gather like minds in a common cause. But this time chase25 showed us how to do it even better! I, for one, can hardly wait for next year!

Click here to view the best photos, stats and social media comments from chase25 and get a flavour of the fantastic networking, inspirational talks, practical educational sessions, amazing food, surprises, sun and fun!