When the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) hosted its annual leadership conference virtually for the first time ever in early April 2021, more than 850 members tuned in to the two-day event. Besides several highly anticipated sessions with speakers like Mike Rowe, executive producer and host of the TV series “Dirty Jobs,” and Marcus Lemonis, chairperson of Camping World and host of CNBC’s “The Profit,” NECA Now’s agenda offered interactive entertainment and a virtual exhibit hall.
Katie McCormick, NECA’s executive director of conventions and meetings, shared with Convene what worked, what didn’t, and how they solved for other challenges at NECA Now.
What platform(s) did you use to host the event? Was this the first time you used it?
We used vFairs and Gatherly. It was not our first time using either platform.
What about the event worked well and what didn’t? Anything important you learned in hosting this event that will change how you organize future virtual events?
The Live Q&A lounge, where speakers could go and answer questions that attendees had [asked], proved to be successful and received positive feedback. We had a strong lineup of educational speakers, and very interactive entertainment for our attendees.
Another success was our lunch programs [which included golf and wine demonstrations]. They were interactive and provided our attendees with strong alternatives to typical networking.
People did not like networking virtually as much as they had in the past. Going forward, we’re looking to shift the networking to morning events and more targeted to meet the needs of our attendees. We also want to work on making the networking a little more business based.
How did you encourage participants to engage with exhibitors? Was it successful and will you do anything differently next time?
We had a leaderboard where attendees were able to collect points, which incentivized visiting the exhibitors and encouraged attendees to travel throughout the platform. There were prizes for attendees who visited the most exhibitor booths. Exhibitors were intertwined throughout the entire program, especially in our education, which we believe encouraged more attendees to engage with the exhibitors.
How did you encourage participants to engage with each other?
We had a general chat and then session chats that allowed participants to be able to engage with each other, and the speaker Q&A. We had moderators in each education session and throughout the platform to encourage attendees to engage with each other in the chat sessions. Our wine demonstration was very successful with attendees asking questions and interacting with one another. We learned that our attendees did not want the typical networking events but wanted more creative and active options.
Jennifer N. Dienst is managing editor at Convene.