Case Study: 2021 Virtual Building Performance Conference
The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, membership corporation founded to develop a national market for home energy rating systems and energy-efficient mortgages. It maintains a national index of home energy performance, supports training, certification, and quality assurance standards for Home Energy Raters, and is a recognized national standards-making body.
In 2021, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, RESNET challenged us to reimagine a traditionally in-person annual conference. Having managed the event in previous years, it was important for the Nonprofit Resources (NPR) event management team to provide a seamless experience and meet the networking and professional development objectives of a traditional in-person conference.
Past conferences had included over 700 attendees, sponsors and exhibitors’ sessions, pre-conference sessions, and networking receptions. The challenge for RESNET’s 2021 Building Performance Conference was then to create an alternative to a fully in-person event, while addressing a multitude of considerations, including a budget, delivery method (hybrid or virtual), travel restrictions, “Zoom fatigue,” and other unique COVID-19 pandemic concerns.
As planning progressed, the choices narrowed to either a hybrid conference (with both in-person and virtual components) or a completely virtual conference. After audience research and careful deliberation, the NPR team presented to the RESNET Board of Directors, and the decision was made to move forward with a virtual conference in July of 2021.
WHAT RESNET NEEDED –TRANSITION FROM AN IN-PERSON CONFERENCE TO A VIRTUAL EVENT
In deciding between a hybrid or virtual delivery, the NPR team monitored public health guidelines and recommendations to complete an informed cost-benefit analysis.
Key costs included platform and production management, reception and travel costs, audio-visual (AV) needs, and food and beverage (F&B) minimums. Key benefits included longevity of content, increased registration potential, travel expenses for staff, sponsors, and exhibitors, and health and safety considerations.
SURVEY OF NETWORK
Next, multiple surveys were sent to past conference attendees and the broader RESNET network to gauge interest and inform decision-making.
Figures 1 and 2 demonstrated that there was still high interest in the participation of a RESNET Building Performance Conference, but that given the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, most survey attendees were partial to a virtual conference. 68% of respondents indicated they would attend a virtual conference (Figure 3).
The uniqueness of each option (virtual, hybrid) was carefully researched by analyzing similar events and discussing them with vendors. A 100% virtual option was identified to have the following opportunities:
- Estimated 30% increase in average attendance
- Sponsorships with different deliverables
- Opportunity for new sponsors in different sectors
- Rebooking credit from contracted hotel
- Scalable – no limit to attendance
- Opportunity to get familiar with adding a hybrid/virtual component for future RESNET Conferences beyond 2021
- Longevity of a conference – having content available post-event
Ultimately, the analysis was presented to the RESNET Board of Directors at the July 2021 Meeting. The Board voted to proceed with a virtual conference.
WHAT NPR DELIVERED – COORDINATION AND MANAGEMENT OF A ROBUST VIRTUAL PLATFORM AND AGENDA
To execute a memorable experience and exceed the success of past conferences, the NPR team established an objective to create an interactive and robust virtual conference beyond merely coordinating “Zoom rooms.” This created a need for a virtual meeting platform to engage virtual attendees and translate familiar aspects of an in-person conference (ex: networking, exhibitor halls, panel discussions) into an online and virtual delivery method. A request for proposal (RFP) process was begun and a production company (Vario) was selected to produce a robust platform for conference attendees.
Coordinating with Vario, the NPR Team facilitates the pre-production process for keynote speakers, session presenters, and sponsors/exhibitors. This entailed scriptwriting, coordinating pre-recording sessions, and creating an engaging agenda. Sponsors and exhibitors were promoted via deliverables such as email press releases, social media posts, and video advertisements.
The NPR Team provided weekly updates to RESNET Leadership and incorporated feedback as needed in the planning and execution of the virtual platform.
The NPR Team managed registration and sponsorship agreements leading up to the event. This included a wide-ranging potential attendee and sponsor call campaign, coordinating social media and email releases with 20+ sponsors, and providing concierge service to registrants to address their diverse needs.
Attendees who attended the event live were also given on-demand access to a comprehensive library of sessions for viewing after the event. This library was also available to those who were not in live attendance for the purposes of professional development. Google Analytics was utilized to create a real-time event dashboard and examine the event’s successes.
The NPR team consisted of Emma Bennett, Kristen Thayer, and Christine Do.
PARTNERS and CONTRACTORS
- Slido was used for real-time communication and polls with attendees on an online browser.
- Simple Texting was used to text reminders and communicate via SMS with attendees.
- Glimpse was an online networking platform that enabled attendees to network in virtual rooms.
There were 1213 Attendees in 2021 (a completely virtual conference). This was an increase from 736 attendees in 2020 and 734 attendees in 2021. A 40% increase in attendance for the virtual conference transition was met, compared to the average from the previous two years.
“I really like having access to the videos on demand for an extended period after the conference. Often at personal conferences, I have to choose between 2 sessions being presented at the same time. With video on demand, I can go to both.”
“You never know all that you think you know. "Confirm or learn by attending the building performance conference.”
“This was my first RESNET conference. I had no real idea what to expect and was skeptical until the first day of the conference. I was very impressed with the content of the Livestream presentations, but what has impressed me the most is the content in the on-demand videos - I learned a great deal from these and continue to do so. "
“The RESNET Conference offered excellent content, in a professional manner, and was very easy to navigate. It was NOT bogged down with irrelevant content that wasted your time, as I have experienced in other virtual conferences.”
“I liked the range of rerecorded training sessions. As a result, I'm able to review a lot more classes than I would be able to at a conference. I would attend for these alone every year!”
A successful virtual event aligns audience values with production capabilities. Having managed previous RESNET Conferences, we were aware that an easy-to-navigate and engaging experience was key to the HERS Raters, Quality Assurance and Training Providers, Builders, and other members of the RESNET network. Engaging them in the decision-making process was key.
Careful and methodical research of different alternatives was crucial for the NPR Team as we planned out what we wanted to accomplish with the event. At each step of planning, we considered whether this action would bring the most benefit for our audience. Was this something that they would find rewarding and useful, even in a virtual context? How could we leverage virtual and remote technologies to provide a unique experience?
With the right strategy and perspectives, we were able to create an engaging and rewarding experience for RESNET through its 2021 Virtual Building Performance Conference.