Insights on how we spun up our virtual conference in a week's time- By Bob Moore

By Adam Natali posted 03-23-2020 16:51

By Bob Moore, CAE, Executive Director, American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians

Hi all,

I've replied to some posts and have received a few questions so I pieced together how we at the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians launched our virtual conference this week. It was to start 3/18 in New Orleans with record registration just over 2,000. We held out until 3/11, but had no choice but to cancel given the escalation of COVID-19. Seeing that COVID-19 was going to affect our on-site attendance we started talking about ways to have a hybrid event a week or so before we canceled. This helped give us a running start when we canceled the in-person convention, we chose to move the sessions to a 100% virtual environment. That said, we opted not to do anything with our expo, awards and other ancillary events. A laser focus was set on holding a two-day pre-con and our four days of CME programming.

On 3/11 we notified registrants and members of the Board's decision to cancel. In the next 24 hours, we created a landing page in iMIS to give our registrants choices on how to handle their registration. They were able to:

1. Convert their reg to our Virtual Conference (we gave a 25% discount off their reg for the virtual version (ranges $750-$1000 for ~25 CME Category 1-A credit) – Over 50% converted to this option
2. Defer their reg to the 2021 Conference - 100 chose this
3. Donate to our Auxiliary – None have chosen this
4. Donate it to our Foundation – 5 chose this
5. Full refund – 44% did this

We found that we had to send several emails. Using Informz we were able to push more reminders to those who didn't open the message, but our open rates were as high as 60-70%. Two days before our virtual conference started, we sent a text message to the 400 non-respondents. The next day the staff called the 200 remaining registrants who still hadn't replied because we didn't want anyone accidentally showing up on site. Despite all of this, one person did.

Zoom's webinar platform is what we are using for this conference. We ended up keeping the same conference session schedule as we found that easier than re-calibrating everything. The speakers had those times already held. Our conference goes from Wednesday through Sunday during business hours. The team still followed up with all of the speakers to re-confirm. The vast majority were able to commit. We did have to move a few speakers/sessions around, but we were able to accommodate and fill in a few gaps.

Mosaic is the mobile app we had in place for our in-person meeting, but we are finding it just as valuable for our virtual meeting. Since the app was already built out, we just needed to make updates for the virtual meeting changes. We added the Zoom room link in the "room" field. We are also fortunate in that we integrate Mosaic with iMIS so there is single sign on allowing registrants only to access this information.

We'll have more stats later, but in our first day of programming, we had 850 unique logins of our 1050 registrants. We peaked at ~700 participants logged in at the same time. Polling is the most interactive of the various Zoom features. The chat function works well – but not everyone has a question which makes the polling a nice way to keep all engaged. Moving forward we definitely will want to invest in speaker prep. Tech-wise it's been really smooth but presenting in this environment is different. Some speakers are thriving, others could use some support.

There has been a very intentional effort to over communicate about the upcoming program to keep registrants engage and add a personal touch with welcome videos from our leaders. Our leadership is also joining the first live session each day to kick things off and send their warm regards to everyone. This has been very well received.

We are recording these sessions and will post in our LMS next week as part of a virtual meeting. We use BlueSky as our LMS.

This all may sound like a lot - and it IS a big lift - but we are a fairly small association (17 staff) and were able to pull this together in a week's time. So, I know organizations of various sizes can do this - especially when you have more time to prepare. As for smaller associations, there are great technology partners that can be leveraged to help host your meetings, moderate, etc. So if you don't have a person on staff savvy with Zoom or some other platform, you can tap into these resources. Since this was our first foray, we partnered with PSAV to have one of their staff be there for extra help, should the need arise.

As for our sponsors and exhibitors, we are trying to get them to move to ’21 and any exposure the sponsors received this year is a bonus. We are promoting them on the Virtual Conference page as if we were in New Orleans. If they insist on a refund, we’re looking to give 50%, depending on what part of the agreement we covered/already paid for. For exhibitors, we’re doing the same. First seeing if they will move to ’21 and if not, we’ll issue a refund. We are fortunate to have added a communicable disease rider in early January before it had exclusions so we have a bit more flexibility.

Some additional stats:

2,020 Registered for the In-Person in New Orleans
1,050 Registrants for the Virtual
944 of the virtual registrants logged in for the virtual conference (90%)
Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday






Unique Log-ins





Peak # of participants at once





All of these peak and unique virtual logins beat our average in-person attendance for these sessions where there is typically double the amount of registrants.

Good luck everyone!
Bob Moore, CAE
Executive Director
American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians
1 comment



03-24-2020 14:35

Thank you for sharing your tips and useful resources with us.  Many of us have experienced the challenges of moving a face-to-face meeting to a virtual conference.  Your articles provided us with great reference information to use moving forward.

Marilyn K. Render
Project Manager, Membership