Have you ever attended a virtual conference? When it was announced the 2020 NAHU Annual Convention would be virtual due to COVID-19, we were all curious how the format would compare. For our sales team, we had the perfect trio to experience the event from three distinct perspectives:
- I’ve attended 21 of the last 22 NAHU Annual Conventions
- Neil Kennish has attended the two prior conventions from start to finish
- Mandy Baker was attending her first-ever NAHU Convention.
We’re sharing our combined thoughts about what made it great, along with a few tips that could make future virtual events even better.
1. Overall Feel
Let’s start by saying, “Bravo!” The content aligned well with prior conventions. Half the sessions were general (for everyone) with a mix of the 2020 election outlook, NAHU-specific dealings, and keynote speakers who all incorporated points about how to communicate and sell in a remote environment. The other half of class time was allotted to various breakout sessions so people could focus on their specific areas of interests. Time to visit the Virtual Exhibit Hall was sprinkled in as well.
Though the content was very similar to prior years, the new format obviously impacted the overall feel of the event.
The WIN: NAHU put out fantastic training sessions on par with prior years.
The OPPORTUNITY: Create connection options to recoup some of the networking and camaraderie that normally takes place in the hallway, during meals, or over late night conversations with friends from across America.
With more than 1,100 attendees, this was easily the MOST attended NAHU Convention ever. Between a reduced entry fee (just $99) and no travel costs, anyone who wanted to attend could easily and affordably do so.
The WIN: As an exhibitor focused on growing an audience for our services, my opinion is that what we didn’t get to have many deep conversations. But, we made up for it with the number of attendees and quick chat conversations.
The OPPORTUNITY: There’s nothing negative about an audience that’s twice the size. That said, creative ways to deliver video chat options or something similar would be a bonus.
3. Pre-Recorded Seminar Sessions
Similar to past years, the breakout sessions had several different discussion “tracks” that covered a wide variety of content. NAHU made the wise choice to pre-record most of this year’s class sessions to limit the glitches that technology could bring. At the class time, the video was played as if live, and the speakers were available to interact with the audience in a live Q&A panel.
The WIN: There were hardly any tech issues. This is amazing, especially with the volume of content and attendees - and being first-timers to the virtual conference!
The OPPORTUNITY: Neil explained it this way: “It’s easy to lose focus on the actual discussion because you are no longer physically in the room. So, when an email pops up or your phone buzzes, it’s hard not to get distracted. In the end, it can be easy to stop watching the video because there’s always the opportunity to watch the session later.”
4. On-Demand Seminar Sessions
An on-demand video recording of each session is accessible for 90 days. While this offers flexibility for attendees to consume the content throughout the rest of the summer, it’s honestly usually easier to just set aside the time during the conference to watch the sessions.
The WIN: Attendees who wanted to see two or three breakouts scheduled at the same time didn't have to miss out.
The OPPORTUNITY: If attendees miss the Q&A time with presenters, this limits the takeaway for both attendee and speaker. Some brainstorming on a clever way to mimic this exchange could bring a big win.
5. Virtual Exhibit Booth
I questioned the effectiveness of this new feature. We prepped our booth with a short overview, a few flyers, links and videos, and info for a door prize (this is a must, right?). Vendor booths ran the spectrum from tons of content to very little, but we don't yet know what the right amount is. Hundreds of people passed through our booth space, so for now, I'll count that as a success.
As an exhibitor, we could see who was virtually “in” the booth at any time, which was a fantastic feature. There was a chat box inside our booth that allowed us to engage visitors with a quick conversation. This proved quite tougher than trying to engage people in person at a booth. The good news is the amount of data we received about our attendees was very robust, including details of which attendees downloaded or watched different content pieces. The virtual booth is a great idea and we expect it’ll continue to improve over time.
The WIN: The ability to share content with prospects and current clients, even when thousands of miles away.
The OPPORTUNITY: When someone in the virtual booth had real interest, it was almost impossible to type a conversation fast enough. This made the real challenge to quickly pique enough interest that they booked a followup meeting. Enhancements to this functionality would benefit all sides.
6. Interactive Sessions
Just a few of the events were live in a typical Zoom meeting format with groups under 100 attendees. However, these were some of the best sessions as they allowed for interaction with both group and one-to-one chatting - and my oh-so-missed networking time.
The WIN: These smaller video-chat sessions helped bridge the personal connections we missed from a live event.
The OPPORTUNITY: Neil agreed and suggested adding a Virtual Happy Hour: “Had people been given the opportunity to spend a little time kicking back with a drink in a virtual setting, it would have created some more networking opportunities and engaged discussions. Hopefully something for consideration next year!”
BONUS: FAVE from a First-Time Attendee
Mandy has worked in benefits for a decade, but this was her first NAHU Convention. One of her favorite sessions was a panel titled “Tackling the Hard Questions: Culture, Communication and Creativity in the Now Normal.” She named these as her top takeaways…
- Don't operate on a one-size-fits-all educational approach.
- For a lasting impact, consistently communicate with your clients all year long.
- Live your values every day.
In short, NAHU did a terrific job. I believe the future holds many more virtual convention options (we’re looking at you, BenefitsPRO, in August). What did you like best about this year’s NAHU Virtual Annual Convention? What ideas do you have for online events to deliver maximum impact? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.