The COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to hold in-person association events. Many associations are now looking to host virtual events to keep their members engaged and to provide new revenue generating activities. This article will explore options to pivot your cancelled events and will hopefully give you a new way of looking at virtual events.

Why Plan a Virtual Association Event?

There are many advantages to hosting events virtual. Noticeable and tangible advantages of holding virtual events throughout our association management company have been:

  • Location
  • Cost-savings
  • Re-purpose/recycle content


Unlike in-person events, virtual ones are not restricted to a single location. A remote attendee can join and participate from anywhere in the world. If you were to host your event in a specific city or in-person, not every member would be able to attend due to the cost of travel and safety of your attendees. With a virtual event, travel is not an issue.


In general, virtual events are much more cost-efficient than holding a trade show or conference in-person although they generally come with lower revenue. With virtual events, associations do not have to book venues or contract security, cleaning, registration and show services. Staff travel cost are minimal, if not zero. There are also no hotel costs or food and beverage costs, which is always one of the highest costs of any association event.

These cost-savings can then be passed on to each attendee by offering lower registration fees. Lower fees could introduce your event to a new, and possibly younger, audience. Many associations struggle to attract younger members, virtual events could be an excellent opportunity to do so. It is also a great opportunity for members living in more remote places to participate.

Re-purpose your Content

Virtual events are easily repurposed. With each session being recorded and streamed to attendees, you will also have a digital file that can be easily shared or re-purposed as a webinar, or a podcast for example. After the event is over, you can use these sessions as marketing material by posting them on socials or on your website.

Planning a Virtual Event

Even though your association’s event may be virtual, you should try to mirror your in-person events as much as possible. Do your best to provide networking opportunities for attendees, get great speakers, secure an event host, and personalize the attendee experience.

A virtual one-day conference with panelists around the world can be set up by using online programs like Zoom or Go-To meeting. Using the breakout room functions that will mimic an in-person event. You can start the day with an all access keynote speaker with a live Q+A component.

Like in-person events, online registration will still allow delegates to choose from concurrent breakout sessions. Intersperse sessions with more keynote speakers, draws for prizes, yoga sessions and entertainment. It would be possible to hire a musician to play or a games facilitator to run a trivia contest as a short break in the day.

Garner sponsors to offset the cost of hiring outside entertainment. Sometimes, sponsors pay for lunch ad coffee breaks. Sponsors would find it appealing to have their logo on hundreds of screens during the break times.

If you feel that your virtual attendees may have a difficult time staying engaged for 8 straight hours.  Consider changing up your one day in person conference format into 5 or 6 hours of both pre-produced & live presentations content.  With pre-recorded and live speakers, you can have mini conferences over many days. You can still offer an all delegate keynote, possibly followed by a networking session. Utilizing separate virtual rooms, your delegates can meet in smaller groups. Once you record he content from your virtual conference, you can uploaded onto your association’s website for members to watch again.

Membership Engagement

Virtual events will also work to your advantage to keep your existing membership engaged. Read more about the importance of engaging with association members during this pandemic in my colleague’s article.

Many associations are presenting webinars during the pandemic. The topic of the webinars offered often relate to the association’s business. It is more interesting to use the webinar to feature association members, to teach a new way of doing business, to teach ways of coping during troubled times.

You can also organize evening social activities. Consider offering virtual networking events such as meet and greets. One of our associations held a virtual cocktail party and it was extremely successful. This same association is also planning a virtual paint night, and a virtual trivia evening. Other clients of ours exploring new the world of sporting events, and virtual trade shows/ conferences. We are looking forward to launching many new and innovative ways to host association events throughout the rest of 2020.

Although we may not be able to hold in-person events for the near future, virtual events can offer your associations the opportunity to grow and to explore new ways of reaching more people.