Going Virtual: How MnCCC Transitioned an In-Person Conference to Virtual

Virtual Network Graphic

On April 9th at our monthly board meeting, MnCCC decided to move our four-day conference to an all virtual event. That gave us just over six weeks to revamp our conference plans, with a staff of four, and a rough guess at what participation and attendance would look like. How did we do it? 

Revisiting our Conference Plan

We started with an immediate Conference Planning 2.0 virtual meeting with our conference planning committee. Anticipating what the decision might be, we had already planned for the meeting on April 10th, the day after the board meeting. We reviewed each session. Which ones were conducive to virtual presentations?  Which ones would be best suited to schedule at a later date? And, which ones should we drop from the schedule? We reduced the number of meetings and sessions from 100 down to 65.

We planned out our virtual platforms. MnCCC added one more GoTo Meeting account, so we had a total of three GoTo Meeting accounts, plus one Zoom account. We could easily run/host three sessions at a time and add a fourth if needed. All of us worked at improving our virtual meeting platform skills and, with the work-from-home environment, we were lucky to have our members/attendees also spend time using a variety of virtual platforms. We also ran a series of virtual presentations with tips for attendees and presenters on how to make the most out of virtual presentations and meetings.

Assigning Webinar Platforms

We reached out to all presenters to confirm that they would be able to present their sessions virtually. In order to achieve a smooth transition to virtual, we gave presenters an option to use their webinar platform for their scheduled breakout session. Presenters were also able to use our GoTo Meeting platform. In total, we had sessions running on GoTo Meeting, Zoom, Teams, BlueJeans, and WebEx.

Leveraging our Conference App

We used a conference app! MnCCC has been using the CVENT CrowdCompass conference app called AttendeeHub for the past several years. We used it again this year, and leveraged areas of the app that created an interactive virtual networking experience. We used notifications, the activity feed, sponsor features, clickable banners, live polls, and the in-app game to drive the virtual experience. Utilizing these features significantly increased the amount of activity on the app! The links were also displayed in the app, providing an easy way to join the breakout sessions at their scheduled times. By using the conference app, we increased our overall attendance and encouraged engagement in a new way.

Getting Participation

We heavily relied on social media to promote the conference to our members. No exhibit hall? No problem! We reached out to our vendor partners. Our typical conference sells out at 38 booths in our vendor show. The virtual conference had 20 sponsors, meaning more than half of our vendors participated! We created new levels of sponsorships which had options including banners in the app, live conference polls, and an opportunity to include swag and marketing materials in our “Welcome to our Virtual Conference” attendee boxes. We worked with our print broker to get the attendee boxes designed and printed, and worked with our graphic designer to revise and update our Save The Date artwork for our 2021 conference.

Promoting our Virtual Conference

Registration was up! We reduced our conference registration fee to $45 for the entire conference from the typical $45 for one-day or $80 for the full conference. We encouraged early registration by offering a fun-filled attendee box that would be sent to everyone who registered by May 18th. We designed a fun box for shipping conference materials, daily prize drawing cards with QR codes, fun snacks, an MnCCC pen, a lanyard and robot keychain, plus sponsor swag and marketing materials. We boxed up and mailed 165 “Welcome to our Virtual Conference” attendee boxes. 

Keeping the Networking Element!

Networking is a big part of our conference! We didn’t want to miss out on that, so we incorporated virtual social activities to help attendees interact. We included a virtual bonfire one evening, a virtual living room throughout the days where people could just pop in and visit between sessions, and a virtual team scavenger hunt.

Each year at the conference, we hold an Awards Dinner where we recognize over 125 member volunteers who hold officer positions across all our user groups. We created a virtual experience with an awards video, and we changed our small gift to volunteers to an item that was easier to mail. Finally, we highlighted our Member of the Year and Techie of the Year on social media.

How did we do?

Great feedback! Great attendance in sessions! We were very pleased with participation! We always plan for a breakeven conference and our typical budget is around $40,000. This year our goal was $20,000 with 120 participants. We had more than 230 participate in the conference and will end up making about $5,000 this year!

While I truly hope we are back together in person at Arrowwood next year, we have learned so much from this experience! My amazing staff really pulled this together and made it happen! Did I mention that there are only four of us?! This experience will forever change our conferences. We will be providing more virtual options to our typical in-person conferences to allow for individuals to participate even if travel is an issue.

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