July 23, 2020

Association Executives from over 70 Associations attend Presidential Forum Virtual Symposium Day 1 to discuss Association Event and Conference management in the presence of covid-19

On June 17, 2020, over 70 Association Executives convened for a Virtual roundtable Symposium to discuss Event and Conference management issues.  Session #1 was about the technology adoption and attendee experience related to transitioning from in-person to virtual conferences.  The peer-to-peer discussion was led by Jason Paganessi, VP of Technology from American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).  Session #2 was about navigating the cancellation or rescheduling of in-person conferences/events, specifically the unprecedented legal, insurance and financial aspects.  This peer-to-peer discussion was co-moderated by Nori Jones, CFO of SHAPE America, and Mark Espinosa, CFO of American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).    

For Session #1, in summary some of the biggest takeaways and surprises were as follows:

  • In transitioning the in-person to virtual annual conference, one Association chose not to use the word “cancelled” in any of its communication to avoid potentially negative stigma.
  • Several Associations mentioned [much] higher attendance with the virtual conference compared to the historical in-person annual conference – in one case a 6-fold increase in the number of attendees.
  • Engaging trainers to help speakers with their online presence.
  • Happy hours were an effective draw for sponsors.
  • Didn’t need a software platform, just used Zoom or Gotomeeting.
  • The virtual event is viewed as a good selling point for getting previous non-attending members/non-members to later attend in-person events.
  • Lack of attendee interaction was a shortcoming that one Association wanted to overcome the next time.
  • Conducting the virtual conference across a long window (e.g., 2 weeks) was considered too lengthy.
  • ASAE will be hosting a Virtual Platform Demo Day on June 29-30.  Good opportunity to see these vendors in one place.
  • 1st time virtual conference using Zoom – had only 1 negaive feedback out of 250 attendees!
  • Some other technologies used by the Associations included Social27 built on Microsoft Teams
  • Using pre-recorded presentations and then having attendees use the live chat to comment and ask questions.
  • Use of virtual Breakout rooms
  • Posting on-demand videos from sponsors
  • Incorporated online shopping experience in combination with conference.
  • Official wellness sponsor with online trainer to lead brief exercise breaks.
  • One issue is replicating the networking experience of an in-person event online.

For Session #1 our sponsor was Aura Innovative Technology who briefly shared their mobile registration app used for virtual and in-person events. Aura is a specialist Aptify implementations and cloud hosting company.  Aura also developed an association management software solution based on Oracle’s popular NetSuite software.  www.aurachicago.com  For more information contact James Chen, CEO, jchen@aurachicago.com,  Phone (312) 479-6211

For Session #2, in summary some of the biggest takeaways and surprises were as follows:

  • Getting out of cancellation fees took a lot of negotiation, but was successful.
  • Using the local ordinances, state executive orders, and CDC guidelines to support legal arguments for getting out of your conference related contracts.
  • Staying in touch with local officials, visitors centers, and conference center management to know what direction they will be taking on local ordinances and being in the know as soon as they are announced.
  • Working closely with attorneys to tailor the cancellation letters.
  • Some Associations had communicable disease coverage, but this appears no longer available in the future or is prohibitively expensive.
  • Some Associations processed all attendee refunds to make the claim on insurance.
  • Some Associations mentioned willingness of attendees and sponsors and exhibitors to transfer fees to next year’s show.  Always give this option instead of refunding everyone was the advice by some Associations.
  • In some cases paid speakers were not flexible on the fees, while many other accommodated with lower fees or offering to do multiple virtual event presentations for the same cost of the one-time in-person keynote.
  • Rebooking hotels to future date has helped Associations from losing deposits.
  • What if there is an outbreak at the hotel that you are doing a future in-person event.  How to handle potential liability exposure was seen as an issue.

For Session #2 our sponsors and also subject-matter experts were attorney Richard Bar from  GKG Law as well as insurance practitioners Patti Loftis and Derek Symer from AHT Insurance,  and Greg Plotts, CPA from Aronson LLC.  Our subject matter experts, well versed in legal and insurance matters related to conferences and cancellations, provided the association executives additional guidance during the peer-to-peer discussion.

  • Richard Bar is the practice nonprofit specialist and was named to Washington Post Magazine’s Washington DC 2020 Super Lawyers List. https://bit.ly/2CO1E4Z.    Rich can be reached at RBar@GKGLaw.com, Phone (202) 342-6787.
  • AHT Insurance is a leading insurance practice for associations and nonprofits.  Read their latest professional guidance on your transition to virtual events and conferences: https://bit.ly/3i56GKu.  You can reach Patti and Derek at PLoftis@AHTins.com,  phone (703) 737-2234 and DSymer@AHTins.com,  phone (202) 845-8260.
  • Greg Plotts is a partner in the nonprofit/association practice group of Aronson LLC, a leading CPA firm in the Metro DC region helping many associations on their event cancellations and navigating through the economics of covid-19.  More information: www.aronsonllc.com.  You can reach Greg at GPlotts@aronsonllc.com, phone: (301) 231-6226

Symposium Day 1 concluded with Happy Hour.  The association executives got a chance to be the first to see the results of a nationwide survey of Associations on the topic of Event Cancellations caused by covid-19.  This groundbreaking survey was conducted by ORI, Inc. over a 2-month period and provided the audience with extensive insight into how covid-19 has impacted the operations of associations.  The results were presented by Kathy Benson, CEO, and Jay Yeo, Consultant.  You can get more background information, and/or obtain a copy of this report electronically at: https://bit.ly/2ZeZFOG.  For more information contact Kathy Benson at KathyB@oriresults.com, Phone (571) 257-3205