Planning for Virtual Participation and Revenues

Author: Convene Editors       

Virtual attendance

Are there any yardsticks yet for attendance, exhibitors, and the number of sessions for virtual vs. in-person event formats? Meeting professionals discussed the topic in a recent Catalyst community thread.

PCMA’s Catalyst community offers members a platform to ask each other questions, share ideas, or, as the website says, “communicate and collaborate.” Here’s a sampling from a recent Catalyst discussion.

“I wonder if anyone can share their experience going from an in-person conference and trade show to a virtual version, and how your attendance, number of exhibitors, and [number] of sessions changed from one format to another?” Danielle Gaudet, CEM, event specialist for Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, wrote on the PCMA Catalyst forum. “My association event is in March 2021 and we are investigating several scenarios, including virtual, of course! I’m building a case for support and risk analysis for my association and any numbers and insights that can be shared would be great…. Many thanks for your candor and time!”

We have had positive experiences going from in-person to virtual. Generally, we saw an increase in attendance from three to five times what we anticipated for in-person. The free registration may have helped these numbers. We kept our programing session numbers the same, since we had already had those planned out for being an in-person meeting.

— Kimberly L. Coerr, Senior Meeting Manager, The Optical Society

Like Kimberly, we have seen a dramatic increase in attendance, even for virtual events that didn’t have free registration. The number of sessions [we offer] have also generally increased, likely because it’s easier to get speakers when they don’t have to hop on a plane and stay at a hotel for several days.

One thing to consider when developing your analysis is where the money is coming from. If it’s coming from your sponsors, then consider free or a small fee registration as that will bring in more people, which in turn means more leads for your sponsors/exhibitors. You still have to get your audience in front of your sponsors though, so we created a virtual event sponsorship guide with strategies to do just that. If the money is coming from registration/ticket sales, then focus on how to enhance the attendee experience — big-name speakers, networking possibilities, etc. You’d be surprised by the people you can get to speak at your event, especially if you are recording their session in advance.

— Raime Merriman, Marketing Vice President, Hubb

Our organization had a positive experience with moving our in-person annual conference of 1,000 people to a virtual conference six weeks prior to the date of our in-person conference. We charged registration for the virtual conference because the quantity and value of education was the same as the in-person conference. We gave a 40-percent discount off of what we were charging for the in-person conference. We used our existing learning management system to control access to our virtual conference and we used Zoom to deliver the pre-recorded and live sessions. Attendees have access to the entire conference content for six months afterwards. Our registered (paid) attendance number was down by about 50 percent but, our out-of-pocket expenses were significantly less. In the end, the revenue was about 50 percent more than what we budgeted for the in-person conference. This all being said, our attendees were pretty forgiving of how well our content was delivered. If we decide to host a virtual or hybrid event for 2021, our attendees will expect a better experience. Not that the virtual experience was bad, but there are some areas needing improvement. I hope this helps.

— Joyce Peterson, Conference Manager, National Auctioneers Association

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