Like many organizations, Project Management Institute (PMI) was forced to rethink how to deliver content during the COVID-19 crisis. PMI’s many global live events were canceled in March, but with 625,000 members and more than one million active Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification holders around the globe, PMI knew that continued engagement during the pandemic was critical. So instead of creating one standalone virtual event, PMI opted to launch its first Virtual Experience Series, a monthly, half-day, online educational program taking place between June and December, open to both members and non-members. A series pass for members is priced at $359; non-members pay $899.
“Our goal was to create a series of virtual experiences to keep our global project management professional community engaged and learning in a virtual environment,” Michael DePrisco, PMI’s vice president, global experience and solutions, told Convene. “In a matter of weeks, the PMI Virtual Experience Series was created to inspire, educate, and engage our virtual audience.”
‘Pieces That Make It Feel Like a Whole Conference’
PMI wanted the participant experience to be more like a face-to-face event than a Zoom call —each installment in the series had to feel like an authentic event experience, said Michelle Brown, M.Ed., CSPO, PMI’s product manager, events.
“We tried to bring many elements that we would feature at one of our live events into this virtual platform — pieces that make it feel like a whole conference experience,” Brown said. “That’s what we tried to do — take that live experience that we all love and mimic as much as we could on a virtual platform.”
That included highly regarded keynote speakers like activist Malala Yousafzai and television host Trevor Noah; networking opportunities; calming break areas; video packages about PMI’s latest news before sessions; and a consistent host with broadcast journalism experience — talk show personality Tamron Hall, who will continue to appear in the PMI Virtual Experience Series through December.
Brown said that having Hall as the virtual host throughout the entire series draws participants in and helps weave a thread through the sessions. “She has been with us for this journey, and she was incredible to work with, but also helpful in providing that connection for attendees,” she said. “When I’ve attended other virtual events in the past, that was something that was missing. You would just bounce from session to session with no real connection to the overall program. As host, Tamron keeps you connected and brings you back into every element of this experience, whether you go into our Community Hub, or you visit the exhibit hall, there is Tamron, helping to guide you through this journey and give you tips and pointers.”
Brown said the design and functionality of the virtual platform has also been key in creating an engaging conference experience. The team created a custom virtual experience using the platform Intrado and other technologies, which Brown said “ enhanced the attendee experience in a virtual space.”
“We strategically designed the platform so that it was mimicking what’s happening in our real world, our real life,” Brown said. For instance, during the July event, many participants were still working from home, and so the interface was designed to look like a home office. The design has evolved to relate to real-world happenings each month — in August, when more people were returning to the office, different areas within the platform were made to look like sections of an office building; in October, to reflect the month’s theme of “A New World View: Our Global Impact,” the design featured a cityscape. In keeping with the theme, the “Take-Five Theater” of the October event featured livestreams of New York City’s Times Square and the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. (In past months, this area has featured livestreams of puppies and goats for when attendees need to stop and take a breather during the program.
Together, these elements have resulted in positive attendee feedback and strong participation — so far, the series has attracted 17,000 participants from 146 countries who have registered for one or more virtual events. “Some attendee feedback in the sessions’ chats are saying that they have never felt this connected virtually,” Brown said. “It’s hard to replicate that connection that you get at a live event, but we’re doing everything we can to make our audience feel engaged.”
The next segment of the PMI Virtual Experience series will be held on Nov. 12. New this month is a live “Ask Me Anything” session, where participants can speak with a PMI “Brand You Coach” about their resume, LinkedIn profile, or how to stand out in their next interview. The final event in the series will be held on Dec. 9 and will focus on the enormous project of moving the Tokyo Olympics from 2020 to 2021.