“By working collaboratively and creatively with Cadmore Media we have experimented with the boundaries of the possible for our Congress, making us ask new questions about community, sustainability, travel and access, which will shape our thoughts long after coronavirus has passed.
This has been a year like no other, but by taking our Congress online we have extended our reach, legacy, and impact far beyond what we ever expected – including establishing two new Regional Groups across Africa and Indonesia. We have learnt a lot about how our professional community engages with digital content and can benefit from going online- we will not be turning back; we are committed to promoting inclusive participation for our members and the wider community”.
— Sarah Stannage, executive director, IIC
An event known for its locations and international reach was forced to go completely virtual due to pandemic. Concerns among the event planners included sponsor retention, attendee engagement, ensuring truly global access (bandwidth issues in remote areas), and Zoom burnout. As Sarah Stannage, executive director of IIC, stated, “This is where the creativity came in. It became that space of, can we take some risks here? Can we look at doing things differently?”
IIC couldn’t find a platform off the shelf that met their needs; they needed something bespoke. Cadmore offered both the technology and the ongoing support IIC needed to host their first virtual meeting and were up for trying new things.
- A fourfold increase in attendees (from 400 to over 1600): attendees who wouldn’t have normally traveled to the event, perhaps because of budget but also professionals in adjacent fields who were interested in attending select sessions.
- Increased engagement with university programmes, engaging students (aka the future of the profession): whole classes attended sessions together.
- No loss of any exhibitors or sponsors. In fact, Stannage said, “We’re not going to go back at all to those previous packages of support and [will] actually create something much more exciting and creative into the next conference as well.” It’s an opportunity to think about what each sponsor can uniquely contribute to the Congress experience and highlight their expertise in a meaningful way.
- Attendees from over 89 countries participated, and 350 people from underfunded areas were able to attend thanks to funders who offered support grants to help bridge digital divides and make access possible in remote areas.
- 40% of the virtual attendees had never attended an IIC conference in person before.
Tips for Your Virtual Event
- If possible, keep local flare in mind – if attendees were looking forward to being in Scotland, where IIC was originally planning to host their conference, you can incorporate virtual tours of local places, imagery, colors, even music and poetry for a more unique experience.
- Use local member groups to encourage participation ahead of time and give them live chat channels once the event starts to engage attendees, especially new ones.
- Reach out to universities – whole classes can attend sessions of interest that then provide fodder for class discussion. Remember: students are future members.
- Zoom burnout is real – keep sessions to fewer than 5 hours a day and offer in multiple time zones so all can participate.
- Keep networking sessions but make them smaller than you might do if in person (around 30 people).
- Engage exhibitors and sponsors throughout the program, including in networking sessions, to foster meaningful engagement with attendees.
- Recruit digital engagement volunteers – IIC used 25, mainly student and early career members– to assist session chairs. This is an opportunity to encourage interaction within different levels of the profession who may not normally meet, and the students bring digital expertise. Volunteers can also help foster engagement, ask questions, and encourage a sense of camaraderie.
- IIC handled poster sessions in a unique way, putting groups of similar themes together in scheduled sessions. Poster presenters talked to each other in a virtual face-to-face capacity and others dropped in and out as interested. Stannage noted that “keeping that level of being informal worked really well.”
- Make sure you keep content available for on-demand access after the event – IIC expected attendees would view the sessions in advance, but few did. There was a high degree of participation in the live screenings, but also there’s been a very high take up on going back and watching, and even rewatching, presentations. This can also be a future opportunity for monetization. According to IIC’s post congress survey, over 98% of respondents valued the on-demand access for 30-days.
A key focus for the society this year is building on the newfound interest and retaining those who sought IIC out for the first time as future members and attendees. IIC is already planning a hybrid event for 2022 in New Zealand (and online), in partnership with Cadmore.