[This article continues the Institute’s new series on Virtual Engagement Leaders and recent virtual events to examine and learn from their design and delivery experiences. An event that merits review was when White Glove – an award-winning marketing company that specializes in the planning, managing and promoting of virtual educational seminars for financial advisors — recently transformed their very successful annual Host University Conference (Host U) into a virtual conference event.

Since the need has arisen to reconceive and reformat a firm’s traditional annual gathering — originally built to maximize engagement and provide hands-on education for clients — into a new virtual experience with similar outcomes, we decided to do a deep dive and ask Evan Kramer, CEO and Lara Galloway, VP of Product Management of White Glove to share the decisions they made and how they redesigned their annual event into their first virtual conference. We feel this sharing of hard-earned experiences can help financial professionals and industry vendor partners in reconceiving and launching their own annual virtual conference event.]

Hortz: What was the time frame you took from idea to launch to transform your annual Host University into a virtual conference?

Galloway: The biggest thing was that we knew we needed to connect with our advisor clients in a time when there was so much uncertainty, so much turmoil. Our business was experiencing it, their businesses were experiencing it.

We knew information on virtual engagement would be timely and that it needed to be transmitted ASAP. So, from ideation all the way to execution was about four weeks, compared to the usual months it takes for us to plan an in-person Host U.

Bill Hortz: What first steps and design decisions did you take in building your virtual conference?

Lara Galloway: Our annual Host University conference has always been a well-received learning experience for advisors. And, quite frankly, we realized that we needed to share with them our transformation to going virtual because we knew it was going to be key to their transformation and success in going virtual. We’re all learning how to operate in this new environment and we might as well do this together. That was our primary design decision in structuring the virtual event.

Evan Kramer: Because of my background in online learning and education, I knew that ultimately, we needed to keep things as simple as possible for the audience. Ironically, there is a hefty amount of thought and teamwork that needs to happen behind the scenes in order to create a simple user experience.

First, this meant ensuring our platform could support potentially thousands of advisors signing on at once. Second, we needed to identify the right tools and resources to create this simple user experience. This meant aligning our team. While some departments supported Virtual Host U in the same ways they did for our in-person Host U, other departments had completely new tasks. Part of preparing for this was training our staff and bringing in some new team members to support the overall shift to virtual.

The next core step was designing the agenda and the content in a way that would keep attendees engaged over the duration of four hours, as engagement is one of the biggest differences between a virtual and in-person event. The content and the presenters are really the bones of a healthy virtual learning experience. So, we needed to take a good look at what content we had readily available, determine how that would best complement our partner presentations, and then fill in the gaps with whatever content material we did not yet have that would best serve the audience. And then, of course, thinking of the transitionary periods that went on in between presentations – when you don’t prepare for breaks, it shows!

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