The word of the year for successful associations? Pivot.
For AMPED and our association clients who rely on annual conferences and trade shows to deliver education and grow membership, 2020 was a chance to explore virtual meeting options, try something new without fear of failure, and, yes, pivot.
It started in March, when the pandemic stay-at-home orders hit just weeks before the annual conference of one of our newest association clients. Staff immediately moved the meeting online and partnered with a virtual platform company to deliver four days of education with both live and prerecorded content. The result was a successful event whose net income was 28 times higher than was budgeted for the original in-person meeting!
With the tremendous success and knowledge gained from that first conference, and signs of a worsening pandemic, staff and client leaders made the decision to move all scheduled events online.
AMPED isn’t a stranger to change and innovative thinking. Nor do we rely on one-size-fits-all solutions. This was an important change for our clients and one that required customized solutions for each.
Throughout 2020, AMPED explored dozens of virtual platforms, mindful of the goals and priorities of each client and their meetings. By year’s-end, we had executed dozens of major conferences online for audiences of up to 9,000 attendees, gaining experience on at least nine different platforms, with costs ranging from $2,000 to $175,000.
Without a doubt, the virtual aspect of association meetings will remain vital through 2021 and beyond, whether as a key component or hybrid. And our clients will be ready for it.
AMPED is proud of our innovative culture! It encouraged us to “pivot” and seamlessly deliver virtual meeting experiences to our association clients using solutions customized for them.
Lessons learned and tips for delivering a successful virtual meeting
- Set goals and priorities for the event and keep them top of mind when comparing platform vendors.
- Be future-focused. Can you use the platform later for ongoing or hybrid meetings?
- Allow enough lead time to secure vendors given the heightened demand for these services.
- Know that pricing can be tied to service levels. For example, less expensive products tend to put more onus on staff to execute.
- When budgeting, know your registration numbers. They may be higher in a virtual setting when barriers such as time and travel costs are removed.
- Most platforms have similar features. Consider factors such as the look and feel of the platform, budget, and support availability.
- Support is very important. You don’t want your customer/client staff left to build or execute the meeting because the platform team is spread too thin.
- Look for vendors that provide reliable customer service and tech support the day of the event.
- Consider your staff resources. Can people be “reskilled” to take on new roles?
- Recognize the needs of your speakers. Are they comfortable with technology? Who will train and prepare them? Staff or vendor?
- Know whether you plan to pre-record all or some of the event and understand the pros, cons, and risks of doing so.
- Plan ahead if you want to make content available post-meeting. Will you be able to archive sessions for on-demand access? Also, know whether your organization requires LIVE training for CE credits.
- Don’t rule out the DYI model. Zoom, for instance, is familiar to most. Plus, it has added security features, such as waiting rooms and passwords.
- Most members are more tech savvy than we give them credit for.
- Be creative! Try new things and don’t be afraid of the technology.
- Engage sponsors with unique offerings like video showcases or hosted breakouts.
- Review the post-meeting metrics: individual session attendance, how long participants viewed each session or were on the virtual platform in general, polling metrics, exhibitor/attendee engagement, etc.
- Got swag? Consider sending gift boxes to your attendees to set the mood and enhance engagement.
AMPED has distinguished itself as a leader in hosting and executing strategic planning sessions for associations and nonprofits. Depending on the needs of the client, a typical session may last two days, back-to-back and require that leaders and staff travel to meet face-to-face.
So what happens when conditions are such that you can’t do back-to-back and face-to-face? The results can be surprisingly awesome!
With the help of AMPED, the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) held its strategic planning session in June 2020, amid the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel was impossible, so it was quickly determined that a video conference was the way to go.
Using Zoom, UMA leaders and AMPED met for two days, one week apart – a structure that proved to benefit the session as a whole.
Thanks to some extensive pre-meeting preparation by AMPED, the participants kept to the agenda and knocked out the whole of the strategic session in less time than expected. “After day one in UMA’s virtual session, we got as much accomplished as we normally do in-person,” said Emily Petersen, AMPED Chief of Staff and a contributor to the UMA strategic planning process. For instance, she pointed to 15-minute breaks that can easily grow to 30 minutes when in-person. In this virtual setting, the video was turned off and then back on after the break, indicating the session was ready to continue.
With the 2-day agenda nearly accomplished on the first day, there was ample time for discussion on day two. Plus, where participants in a typical strategic session would only have overnight to reflect on the results of the day, holding the two sessions a week apart provided more time to digest ideas, concluding in clearer strategy development on day two.
As noted, preparation was key. In order to build an agenda with a clear focus for the strategic session, AMPED collected data using a variety of methods:
- Interviewed UMA staff to learn what’s working well and what isn’t
- Gathered financial data to better understand operating ratios
- Developed a survey to members and nonmembers asking then to look beyond the pandemic to what they see as most impacting the industry
- Held live interviews with a dozen members to determine the strengths of the organization and areas for improvement
- Benchmarked UMA against other related organizations
Results from the interviews and survey pointed to common themes that helped steer the planning process. In a typical strategic planning session, that process would involve the utilization of flipcharts and Post-it notes - not something easily reproduced in a virtual meeting.
The advantage of virtual, however, is that multiple AMPED staff could attend without the extra travel costs. More staff meant more expertise and more hands on-deck. When the association leaders separated into three Zoom breakout rooms, an AMPED staff member was there to facilitate and add notes in a prepared Google doc. Petersen monitored the doc and could see instantly the results of each group’s discussion and identify the most common themes. As soon as the breakouts ended, she was ready with organized notes to move the exercise forward — a task that would have taken far more time to complete in-person.
“We were so happy with the outcome of the strategic session for UMA,” said Petersen. “Given the circumstances, we pulled it off with creative solutions that we might not otherwise have tried. And many that we’ll continue to utilize in our strategic planning going forward.”
The end-result of the two-session virtual meeting was broad engagement, a clear strategy to move the association forward, and a happy client.
How can AMPED help your association discover new strategies for growth and success? Find us at www.manageassociations.com.
Using the resources of the AMC model, AMPED staff are able to pivot and learn quickly to support our client organizations in times of crisis and change. In the example below, the AMPED team paved the way and cleared many hurdles toward transitioning to a virtual meeting environment, sharing successes and challenges with other AMPED teammates along the way.
American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants (AAAA) - Spring 2020
The original American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants (AAAA) Annual Meeting was originally planned for April 3-7, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina at the Westin Charlotte. At the time the decision was made to fully cancel the in-person meeting, there were 542 registrations and $30,000 in sponsorships.
As part of the decision process, the AMPED team worked very closely with the AAAA Board and hotel to present with three different scenarios:
- Reschedule the meeting to the Fall of 2020 or Spring of 2021 at the Westin Charlotte
- A hybrid meeting approach – using a combination of Marriott brand hotels in centralized locations to deliver meeting content
- Complete meeting cancellation using the Impossibility/Force Majeure clause
It was vital that AMPED and AAAA move quickly with back-up plans as the meeting was CME-accredited and the attendees needed to submit their credits to renew their medical licenses by June.
On March 14, 2020, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed an Executive Order that outlined a ban on mass gatherings, allowing AAAA to claim force majeure and cancel the hotel contract without penalty. Our team worked closely with all stakeholders to determine the right timing to cancel the meeting and how to communicate that with members/attendees. Further, pressure was felt from the AAAA member community, continuing news coverage about the pandemic, and the significant financial impact we would face from cancellation fees with the hotel.
Meanwhile, the AMPED team was preparing to “go virtual” and weighing platform options by participating in demonstrations from virtual learning companies like Digitell, Matchbox and Zoom. It was important to AAAA that the chosen platform:
- Have an easy to use interface/platform
- Be able to facilitate the distribution of presentations in order to qualify for CME credits
- Include some interactivity for exhibitors, sponsors and attendees.
Our team recommended that the AAAA Board invest in Digitell: They hit all of our must-haves, their team of technicians would be able to supplement our staff team on delivery, they had great confidence in putting the virtual meeting together on a fast-tracked timeline and the total investment enabled us to break even at a minimum.
The Board quickly approved AMPED's recommendation and staff moved forward to develop the meeting with the Digitell team. In tandem, we worked very quickly with the AAAA Program Committee to prep the previously secured speakers to deliver their content virtually, as well as replace a handful that needed to cancel.
Behind the scenes, our team also refunded all of the original registration fees to the in-person meeting registrants. It was important to AAAA that the original fees be refunded and a lower fee be collected for the virtual meeting.
After canceling the original meeting on March 15, registration for the virtual meeting on the new platform went live on March 23. Fees were $175 (fellows) and $35 (students). We budgeted $15,000 in revenue for the virtual meeting. We surpassed that goal, taking in $60,000 by the start of the live meeting. Additional income was made from on-demand content offered through early June.
A few results from the AAAA virtual meeting that kicked off on April 18:
- Over four days, we scheduled a combination of sessions, including live panels and recorded presentations with speakers (some that included live Q&A).
- Following the presentation, sessions were archived on the AAAA website for on-demand viewing through June 10.
- AAAA was approved for 24.5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s) — 4.5 more than what are typically offered at an in-person meeting
- The chat was active for all sessions and was been very lively with many questions and supportive/positive comments for speakers
- Additional functionality included an exhibitor/sponsor area, association information, technical support, and instructions on how to donate to AAAA's legislative fund.
The virtual meeting (non including on-demand content) brought in $47,250 in net income for AAAA — 28 times higher than the net income budgeted for the original in-person meeting!
- Average number of attendees per session: 150
- Number of recorded sessions with a live speaker answering questions: 14 of 18
- All sessions were packaged as enduring content with a shelf life of 3 years
- $6,500 raised in donations during the event