The coronavirus pandemic forced event organizers to embrace a new virtual normal. Those at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies department needed a solution to make sure their 36th annual Distance Teaching & Learning (DT&L) Conference could still go on.
Hundreds of educators from schools around the country planned to attend the conference in downtown Madison, Wis. to strategize for the fall semester.
For the past decade, DT&L offered a small online option with Mediasite for people who couldn’t attend in person. As organizers planned this year’s event in the face of COVID-19, they needed to pivot to a fully virtual conference, complete with more than 100 sessions.
Organizers quickly turned to Mediasite Events’ complete virtual solution.
“We are thankful that we’ve teamed up with Mediasite Events once again to offer a virtual participation option, because this is the largest virtual conference in our history. We’ve significantly expanded our registration from years’ past and cut our event costs in half by saving on major big-ticket items like the venue and dining,” said Wendy Fritz, Director, Learning Design, Development & Innovation, UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies.
Mediasite Events is helping organizations of all sizes create virtual and hybrid experiences, complete with features like a customizable event website, live or simulated live session streaming, a content catalogue, e-commerce options, a virtual expo hall for sponsors and attendees to connect, e-poster sessions, interactive features like live chat, and more.
Mediasite Events technicians captured all conference keynotes and sessions. Each speaker connected with a technician via a virtual speaker ready room, and the technician handled all the technical aspects throughout the entire presentation to ensure a smooth experience. Speakers presented from anywhere via Zoom, while attendees watched and interacted with the stream from anywhere in a secure and robust Mediasite player. Delivering the content via Mediasite means viewers can benefit from interactive features like live chat, polls and speaker Q&A.
“We have a very small team planning the conference, and we’d never be able to do this on our own without Mediasite Events’ expertise. It’s been such a relief that we can say ‘OK, we trust our partner, we know we can rely on them and trust that they will create an excellent experience for our attendees,” Fritz said. “We are very excited to stream all of our sessions and offer a virtual exhibit hall. The technology is amazing. Attendees can click to chat or make an appointment with vendors, and sponsors can create their own sites to embed promo videos, company information and connect with attendees. Having the virtual expo hall is really incredible, and we wouldn’t have been able to sell sponsorships without it.”
Fritz continued: “Sponsors are really excited about the virtual exhibit hall, too, because they don’t have to pay to travel and ship their booth materials – a costly endeavor. Plus, the leads are actually better in a virtual hall because only the people who are interested in their products will sign up for an appointment.”
The conference thrived in a fully online environment – virtual registration numbers tripled, and conference costs were cut in half.
“I think virtual experiences are going to become forever part of our DNA, because professional development funds are going away, people can’t travel like they used to, and people want flexible options. Higher education needs to reach new audiences, and we can’t go back to where we were. We have to keep innovating,” Fritz said.
Yes, there will be a gradual return to some physical events in the next year, but it won’t be what it was before, and event planners like Fritz and her team are leading the way as they ‘think new’ and redefine their roles in this changing dynamic. They are proof that virtual events have potential to deliver more for less as they saved money and reached much larger audiences.
“As much of a tragedy as COVID is, it has opened a lot of people’s eyes,” Fritz said. “Instructors who have vehemently opposed teaching at a distance are now big fans because they see how being a good virtual teacher makes them a better teacher all around. We can’t go back to the old way of doing things.”