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  • Writer's pictureESAE

To meet or not to meet... Keeping things Virtual

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

40 events experts among ESAE members, worked together in groups on the pros and cons for in-person meetings in uncertain times, in the context of our October 2020 online workshop "To meet or not to meet... The cases for and against in-person Events". The interactive debate format and the case studies developed by our partners at Exempla, allowed participants to share ideas and produce a unique collective knowledge: the Associations’ Community response to an unprecedented crisis. We are posting here the outcome of the group discussions in a 2-part series, one with advice on Virtual meetings and the other about Hybrid.


Managing virtual Events is a whole new world. We all need to change our perspective and develop new skills to perform successfully in this new virtual reality. Investment in quality technology and training is of paramount importance. It is equally important to identify external experts that can support the Association to deliver a technically flawless Event and enhance participant experience.

Given that we’re going through times of uncertainty and financial instability, going virtual is widely perceived as the safest option for the Association industry. Nonetheless, like any important change, shifting to online Events requires thorough consideration and a revision of existing strategies.

Fees, Sponsors and Exhibitors

Exhibitors cannot expect equal exposure in a virtual format, and efforts to adapt the same concept in a virtual format have so far seen little success. Nevertheless, Associations should keep looking for opportunities to involve exhibitors by rethinking the format.

To ensure sponsors’ support, Associations must convince the former of the value of an online Event which is primarily the high quality of content, the expanded outreach, the better quality of the conversations, the easier targeting of the delegates, and the behavioral data they extract from the online participation. Most sponsors will likely have worked with an Association for years, so they will be sympathetic with the new challenges. Whether virtual or Hybrid Events are offered, Associations need to provide sponsors and exhibitors well calculated estimates of costs and gains.

Virtual Events might be less costly to organise than in-person and Hybrid Events, but this is also reflected in the lower registration fees. Associations need to ensure that they will charge correctly in order to secure revenue, while also keeping in mind that lowering the fee too much would lead to the misconception that there is also decreased content value.

Community engagement and networking

Keeping participants engaged is particularly challenging when it comes to online Events and activities, due to the increased number of participants in combination with the lack of physical interaction. Audience engagement is one of the most important elements, even acting as a measure of a successful Event. This is why Associations need to adapt and devise different ways to provide networking opportunities to their members through the virtual format.

Interpersonal interaction in real life is the most difficult aspect to translate virtually, and it is likewise what is missed most keenly by participants.. In order to develop a communications plan that helps Associations reach out to members on an ongoing basis, it is crucial to use social media and to take advantage of the local community / faculty of the Event venue. Online tools, matchmaking technology, and innovative formats are increasingly available, and using them to their fullest potential is the most effective way to foster interaction with members and enable online community building.

Networking is not entirely lost in digital and Association leaders must remind themselves, their staff, members, and partners that the virtual format has its learning curve and that we will become better at networking the more we use it.


Thank you to the moderators of the breakout rooms for the fruitful discussions. ESAE members receive a full report with the advise of thought leaders and the recording of the session. Check our Knowledge Library for the rest of the case studies and join ESAE to be part of the dialogue!


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