Virtual May Be Your Best Way to Go

Almost There: Tips for Going Virtual

The merits of attending a conference are fairly obvious—network with colleagues, attend sessions designed for your field, ask questions of exhibitors and peers, participate in group exercises, make important new connections—but not everyone can go.

Around 200 people will attend SIPA’s Marketing Conference next week in Miami, a very good number for this meeting. But with so many others out there who could benefit from such an informative lineup of speakers, SIPA wanted to –and indeed has—made a portion of the Conference available virtually for others to take advantage of. (You can check what’s being offered and register at a special landing page.)

While this will be a virtual experience for some, it will not, of course, be a totally virtual conference of the type that SIPA members are now producing with great success.

“The first thing you have to consider [in putting on a virtual conference] is will your audience be receptive to this,” says Torry Burdick, senior vice president, marketing, Mortgage Success Source (a UCG company). “Will it have enough value for them? Our paid webinars were doing very well so that made it a viable option for us.”

Stephanie Eidelman, publisher & COO for Kaulkin Ginsberg, is firmly convinced that virtual conferences have a place in this business. “It’s important as a platform [to attract] the many people who would never get to go to conferences. It’s a way of accessing markets in a new environment.”

The reasons why people don’t physically attend conferences are varied: save money, of course; the time it takes to travel; a dislike of travel; too busy; or just not high enough on the company ladder. Virtual conferences can alleviate those negatives.

“It’s a different audience,” says Dave Garrett, president of gantthead. “more rank and file than decision makers. It distinguishes you in your market to have something high end and different. [And then you can say] ‘Here are folks who participated and they got these results.’ ”

With that in mind, here are 10 tips for putting on a virtual conference, from interviews with Garrett, Eidelman and Burdick:

1. Clearly, you have to be ready to put in a lot of work. There will be many loose ends and last-minute things that arise. The expectations of the people who sign up will be pretty close to if they were actually attending a conference.
2. Think of it like being a managing editor for a print publication—you have deadlines to enforce, content to develop, a table of contents to build. You’re putting all that together. Be ready to work with all the groups at your company: advertising, IT, technology, registration.
3. Get familiar with the concept. Get a sense of what the speakers will be talking about—are they consultants, writers, large corporations? Know exactly what everyone’s roles will be.
4. At the end of the day, it’s still about the content.
5. Encourage exhibitors to do creative things, so you can promote them more easily. Booths can be customized in different colors; exhibitors can really get into that.
6. As for booth sales, you have a lot of clients at the same time with the same deadlines. Communicate with everyone and coordinate.
7. To promote, use as many mediums as possible.
8. In the actual putting on of the event, think live radio—both the recorded and live components. It’s very important that everyone involved is crystal clear as to exactly what happens and when. The worst thing is dead air.
9. Be sure to talk everything through with all the involved parties. Who is doing the introductions, the Q&A, the breaks?
10. Be ready to offer technical support with booth setup; and attendees may need some hand-holding when it comes to getting to different places in the “environment.” Though as Burdick says, “There are concerns, but it’s not like you have to worry about what they’re having for lunch.”

Again, check out the link to registering for the virtual portion of SIPA’s Marketing Conference. The speakers you will get to hear stand as among the finest in the industry: Matt Bailey, Doug Haslam, Carol Brault, Stefan Tornquist, Philip Ramsey and Robert Lerose. And the subjects covered the most popular: social media, metrics, renewals, ROE and marketing to mobile devices.

It’s not quite like being there, but it’s absolutely the next best thing.

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