The UK government has announced that conferences are safe to go ahead once again, which is amazing news for so many industries. But, understandably, there’s now a growing need to encourage people safely back to conferences while fears about COVID-19 loom. 

It is up to conference organizers to not only make their events COVID-safe but to go above and beyond what they’ve done previously to wow potential attendees and remind them of the real value attending a conference can bring.

At the same time, this is a long road, and conference organizers may need to accept that online conferences will likely be at least an aspect of the industry for some time. 

Here we take a closer look at what you can do if you are organizing a virtual conference and want to find ways to wow both in-person attendees and those joining online. Sometimes it can be the challenge of giving people a reason to attend that is what you need to overcome. And in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it is important to think of innovative ways to attract attendees - so, let’s dive in.

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Show off the changes you’ve made

Let’s start at the top: conference attendees’ biggest fear is feeling unsafe and at risk. The government has issued guidelines on what events need to do to be COVID-safe. Once you’ve achieved these standards, you must vocally reassure potential attendees of the safety measures you’ve put in place so there’s no doubt in their minds that you are a safe venue. 

From hand sanitizers to screens, these not only make guests feel safe but impress them by seeing the time and effort you spend ensuring their safety and comfort in these strange times. This can be one of the most effective ways of allowing attendees to feel secure. 

Cater to an online audience

It is natural that for the foreseeable future, there will be fewer people willing to attend in person. This is good in some ways, as the capacity for a number of venues has been greatly reduced. Limited venue numbers can also have the positive effect of making your event feel more intimate and special. 

On the other hand, you clearly want to have as many delegates as possible. To make sure people who are unable or uncomfortable coming out in person can attend now is the time to consider a long-term investment in proper facilities to take your conference online. Even if things went back to how they were before, this would allow people from all around the world to attend which opens up a whole new market for your events. HD streaming, high-quality recordings, and audience interaction (in the video, audio, and text format) will allow them to feel a part of your conference. 

It is also worth noting that due to the unpredictable nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, we can expect there to have to be cancellations of in-person events from time to time. This will almost certainly lead to the adoption of online conferences as an aspect of normality. 

The rise of the short-form conference

There can be no doubt that in the short-term, many conferences will find benefits in going online. But this does come with its own challenges. One of those is so-called 'Zoom fatigue' - the phenomenon of feeling burned out and tired due to the overuse of video conferencing software. 

In-person conferences typically have talks that can last 30 minutes or longer. In a video-conferencing setting, this is simply too long. That's why it is actually going to be best to aim for TED-talk-style 10 to 15-minute sessions that cover a niche topic in great depth without wearing out the attention span too much. 

Make better use of your conference budget

If online attendees do become an accepted part of conferences going forward, it will be likely that the in-person events will be smaller. This can interestingly leave some extra room in your budget. 

If you are not having to use your budget for the expenses of space, hotel rooms and more, you can find other ways to benefit your conference. Consider using some of that budget to attract a big-name keynote speaker. It is sometimes the draw of a famous name that attendees want to hear from that is the most important marketing tool for a conference. 

"Hiring the right keynote speaker can transform your event from an ordinary occasion to an event that will live long in the memory of everyone involved," says Luke Vials of The Motivational Speakers Agency "keynote speakers make for fantastic entertainment at a wide range of events and have the ability to inspire, educate and motivate audiences"

It’s still safe to use branded freebies

Freebies, giveaways, and branded merchandise are safe to do and a valuable way to get eyes on your company. You can now get a much wider range of merchandise easier than ever before. 

“Branded merchandise is a key part of any seminar or conference and an ideal way of increasing your brand presence," says Trevor Holding, Director at Action Promote "the right products can enhance awareness and recognition of your logo, and get people talking about you.” 

Pens and notepads are classics but why not go a step further with branded breath mints or even hand sanitizer? Everyone needs to carry these around just as much as a pen. Just make sure they come wrapped in plastic and are COVID-safe! 

Make communication a priority

Another vital part of every conference is networking. This is traditionally done face-to-face and can still be done in this way, but there are other COVID-friendly options that can give remote guests the chance to get involved. 

Social media and messenger apps give people from all over the world the chance to talk to anyone from the comfort of their own home. They’re relatively inexpensive but what they offer in terms of value and flexibility is invaluable. Organize an official messaging system or app that attendees can download to allow them to chat without having to break social distancing guidelines. 

Final thoughts...

COVID has put an end to a lot of things we love to do, but it hasn’t put a stop to conferences. The one thing that will stop conferences running is a lack of attendees so to get people out, it’s worth thinking outside the box on how to entire people out from their home office and into the conference hall. 

It is down to organizers to make sure that they are giving people a reason to attend - there are many things now working against them, so it is important to go the extra mile. What will your event be offering to your in-person attendees…?

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Written by
Daniel Groves
Daniel Groves achieved a 1st class honours degree in Business Economics. Since graduating, Daniel has collaborated with a number of online publications with the aim to further develop his knowledge and share his experience with like-minded entrepreneurs, business owners and growth strategists