Virtual Meetings & Conventions:
The Next Frontier for Associations
Brent Arslaner is vice president of
marketing at Unisfair, which has
powered more than 500 successful virtual events for corporations,
media and publishing companies,
event organizers and health care
BY BRENT ARSLANER
With the unsteady economic landscape,
more organizations are spending less on
travel. Fortunately, virtual event technology
offers an alternative to mainstream association meetings and conventions.
WHAT ARE VIRTUAL EVENTS?
Today’s virtual events are multifaceted,
user-friendly and highly interactive. They
look and feel remarkably like their physical
counterparts. Virtual environments deliver
knowledge sharing and personal interactions through features such as:
• Live conference sessions: Keynotes,
breakout sessions and panel discussions are delivered with real-time
• Exhibition floor: Sponsor and exhibitor
booths offer collateral, product demos
and live interaction between sponsors
• Professional networking: Event attendees can upload, modify and publish
their professional profiles within a
virtual environment and connect with
others who have similar business interests based on certain criteria.
• E-commerce: Virtual event organizers
can generate additional revenue by
charging admission to the event, to
specific locations or for specific content/
presentations within the event, such as
a keynote address.
• Multi-language events: Attendees can
choose to experience a virtual environment in different languages.
These features are delivered via the
Internet with no special applications to
Today’s virtual events are
and highly interactive. They
look and feel remarkably like
their physical counterparts.
download and no new commands to
learn. Using only their Web browsers,
attendees click a link and simply navigate
with a mouse.
WHAT IF I DON’T WANT TO REPLACE
OUR PHYSICAL EVENTS?
The virtual environment can cost-effectively
extend the reach and impact of physical
meetings and conventions.
Associations can use a virtual environment to promote in-person meetings
and events before the actual meeting date.
They can use virtual environments to
distribute timely information about the
physical event to members and encourage
interaction and networking between attendees long before they meet in person.
Likewise, the virtual environment is
useful after the in-person meeting by providing an ongoing community for members, prospective members and sponsors.
DEFINING THE BENEFITS
A virtual event often receives higher attendance by association members due to the
lack of time commitment and costs
required to attend physical events.
If you are augmenting a physical event,
a virtual counterpart ensures those not in
attendance at the live event still can
gather information and network.
Similarly, they provide more frequent
association interactions. Many organizations are turning to virtual events and
environments to bring together members
in between their annual physical events.
Global reach also is extended.
And content is available for longer periods. After they “roll up the carpet” at a
physical event, all of the content, presentations and handouts are gone, but with
virtual events, information can be
accessed on demand for an extended
And because in the virtual world the
bulk of the attendee profile is collected
ahead of time, when the person comes
into a virtual booth the sponsor already
knows who they are, the company they
work for and their title. Sponsors receive
records of all the collateral they collected,
product demos they watched and transcripts of the conversations their booth
reps had with attendees. This results in
incredibly rich marketing data.
Sponsor, exhibitor and vendor support
is critical for associations. The more value
you can provide to them, the more value
you receive in return.
Virtual events are not limited to
tradeshows and marketing events. They
also provide an interactive environment
for training, meetings and job fairs. For
example, the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society, an international member
organization devoted to the health product regulatory profession, has leveraged
virtual environments to connect members.
The association held two virtual job fairs
in April and October 2008 and provided its
members with access to qualified candidates, all without leaving their desks. Each
event attracted roughly 500 candidates,
with each one spending more than an
hour on average in the environment.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While the current economy continues to
present challenges, an emphasis on
innovative technology combined with a
willingness to try new approaches will
create rewarding opportunities for associations and the members they serve.
Brent Arslaner may be reached at