At in-person and virtual conferences, attendees listen to speakers, take in new information, get excited about new ideas, and jot down next steps. But, when the conference is over, they head back to regular life, quickly forgetting what they learned and what they planned to do differently upon their return to work.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The virtual conference is where the attendee experience begins, but not where it ends. You can extend the learning and networking experience for virtual conference attendees with post-event activities.
Set Expectations for a Different Type of Virtual Conference Experience
People are more apt to buy into an experience that provides lasting value. Tell prospective attendees how your virtual conference experience will be different from others and what they will get for their investment of money and time. Explain how post-event activities will help them achieve their educational and networking goals.
Before the conference, provide tips for turning ideas into action so attendees are thinking about these plans during the event. For example, they may decide to request advice in a networking session or become accountability partners with a fellow attendee.
Give attendees a preview of what they can expect to learn at the conference and how they might apply it. For example, Leading Learning (aka Tagoras) asks their virtual conference speakers to answer four questions:
- What tangible piece of knowledge or information do you want participants to remember from your session?
- Why is this important for them to know or understand?
- How can they use this in their work?
- What results can it help them achieve?
Encourage attendees to participate in a learning circle with others who have the same interests, challenges, career stage, or specialty. These groups of four to eight people can meet before the conference to discuss sessions they plan to attend and questions they want to answer. During the event, learning circles can meet to catch up with each other, share takeaways, and make plans to meet again as accountability partners after the conference.
Help Attendees Retain and Apply New Knowledge
Conference education expert Jeff Hurt said, “The real work [of learning] actually begins when the education session ends. The real work is the effort the learner uses to transfer and apply the new knowledge and skills so that it improves their performance.” Because real life so often gets in the way of good intentions, give attendees advice on retaining and applying their new knowledge.
Leading Learning provides this “boosting” advice to their attendees in emails and follow-up events. “Boosting helps learners apply to their work or life what they took from the virtual conference sessions.” They suggest offering review, recap, or check-in sessions to see how successfully attendees are applying what they learned during the virtual conference.
They also host Follow-Up Fridays. During these online sessions, they recap key take-aways, find out how attendees are applying their new knowledge, and share ideas about next steps for achieving educational goals. You could also collect information from attendees about how they’re applying what they learned and share the results.
Send an interest inventory to attendees to find out what topics they want to learn more about. Tell them about your existing resources and get their permission to notify them when new resources become available.
Share Advice on Taking Next Steps
After the virtual conference, remind attendees about your advice for turning new ideas into action. Provide tips and templates for sharing new information and ideas with co-workers.
Encourage attendees to follow up with the people they met. Provide an attendee list with opt-in contact information. Encourage them to use your AMS member/customer portal to complete their member or attendee profile.
Return to The Virtual Venue for Post-Conference Activities
Entice attendees to return to the virtual venue for post-conference activities so they can explore what else your association has to offer, for example, online learning programs and upcoming virtual events.
Host these conference-related activities in your virtual venue:
- Learning circle meetups
- Attendee happy hours and networking events
- Discussion groups—deeper dives into session topics or “birds of a feather” (attendees with the same job position, career stage, specialty, and/or geographic region)
- Keynote/session speaker book clubs
Repurpose Session Content for Deeper Learning
With virtual conferences, you can easily access event data that isn’t always available for in-person conferences. For example, identify the most popular sessions. See if attendees (and others) would be interested in a deeper dive or next level program. Consider offering these sessions as webinars or the basis of an online course.
If you had case study sessions at your virtual conference, see if any of the presenters want to be part of a follow-up session in which they can share additional lessons learned or final results.
You could also host a podcast series with session recaps and Q&A with session speakers—or do the same in a webinar format.
Keep Sponsors Involved in Post-Conference Activities
When discussing the virtual conference with prospective sponsors, think beyond the event itself. Include post-conference opportunities in sponsorship packages—a more valuable proposition for them.
- Sponsored polls/surveys on how attendees are dealing with hot topics
- Sponsored session recordings—insert sponsor ads at the beginning, halfway point, and/or end of session recording
- Sponsored series of webinars based on hot topics
- Sponsored post-event activities, such as happy hours or networking breaks, discussions, and book clubs
Virtual conferences are a new experience for everyone—attendees, sponsors, and association staff. You don’t have to follow the same old conference playbook. Take advantage of this opportunity to design a virtual conference experience that provides lasting education and networking value beyond the event itself.