When I was hired as the CEO of EDGE Mentoring, an organization focused on whole-person development through inter-generational mentoring, I was excited to participate in the world-class events EDGE hosts for its community. This excitement was put on hold once COVID-19 hit.
Our organization, like many others, was faced with a difficult decision: cancel our live events and forgo the opportunity to engage the EDGE community or be creative and pivot to a virtual format. We chose the latter. I was reluctant at first, but now I view the ability to go virtual as a gift.
EDGE hosts multiple events throughout the year. Our annual EDGE|X conference, where world-class speakers inspire and empower attendees, brings together nearly 3,000 people. We also host other gatherings throughout the year that attract upwards of 500 people. Switching from an in-person event model to a virtual one has involved a learning curve. However, through some trial and error, EDGE has learned how to effectively deliver meaningful and engaging virtual content. During the week of Sept. 28 to Oct. 2 we will host our first virtual EDGE|X conference. Here are a few tips for organizations that may be considering hosting a virtual event:
Planning is paramount: Virtual events are more complicated, period. For example, speakers came to us for previous EDGE|X conferences. Now, our team members travel all over the country to visit with speakers such as Latasha Morrison, Jim Collins and Jesse Itzler. Oftentimes we’re meeting in their homes and recording segments before heading to the next location. Coordinating the extra planning and accounting for additional health and safety precautions requires much more time, energy and preparation.
Technology must work: People show grace when it comes to technology hiccups, but you don’t want to test their patience. It is important to retain professional help. We’ve partnered with Socio, an Indianapolis-based technology company, to navigate registration, marketing and event execution. We want our audience experience to be a positive one and securing the right technologies and providers is crucial.
Invest in quality speakers and presentations: Virtual fatigue is real. Don’t give your audience a reason to be disengaged. Insist on high-quality, creative, concise and engaging versus lengthier, played-out presentations.
Offer flexible pricing: Pricing options vary for virtual events. Some speakers have reduced their prices or are offering services for free; others are maintaining the same rate. This and a variety of other factors can drive the cost of a conference’s ticket price. We decided to offer our EDGE|X conference attendees a “Pay What You Can” opportunity. This ensures anyone can attend EDGE|X despite economic uncertainty and possible job loss due to COVID-19. This is an opportunity to expand our brand and provide a service to the community, at a time when it is needed most.
Set realistic ticket expectations: Live events sell tickets months in advance, but virtual events sell tickets weeks or even days before. Don’t let this fact cause you stress. Embrace it and focus your marketing efforts in the one to two weeks leading up to the event.
We are all made for community, be it live or virtual. While gathering together in person is the preferred option, the safety and health precautions surrounding COVID-19 are changing the way we all do business. At EDGE, we believe virtual community is effective and can lead to meaningful, engaging group interactions.