COVID-19 Resources

Take Your Professional Development Virtual: Part 2

By • February 9, 2016

How to Host a Successful Virtual Education Event – Part 2 of our virtual events series

When planning a virtual event for the professional development of your association members, it’s imperative to have a game plan in place before, during, and after the event. Although multiple factors that contribute to a successful in-person event won’t be a factor for your virtual event (no worries about food service, adequate meeting space, or accommodations), successful virtual events that end with your members feeling their time was well-spent still require careful content planning, promotion, active engagement and measured follow-up.


Know your audience for virtual education. Develop personalized content that is useful and engaging. RealLilTweetables

Offer diverse content that appeals to a variety of learning styles. RealLilTweetables

Allow sufficient time for planning and learning how to navigate your virtual education system. RealLilTweetables

Determine your KPIs fand why each one is important to YOUR association to track. RealLilTweetables


Missed Part 1 of our recent trends in virtual events series? Find it here.


Before your association even promotes a virtual professional development opportunity, set your goals and objectives for the event. What does your association want to provide its members through a virtual event? What objectives will you carry out to accomplish your goal?

Once your goal is in place, build a timeline for accomplishing your contributing objectives. Consider when you need to secure speakers and sponsors so they can be advertised in your communications that promote the virtual learning event. Identify who within your association will help with these tasks. Assign specific roles to these individuals and make clear what the expectations for their roles are before, during, and after the virtual event.

University of Glasgow LMS animated example
Train everyone involved how to use the technology well in advance. Speakers especially need to know how to operate your event software so they can flawlessly deliver an engaging session.

Train everyone involved in producing the virtual event how to use the technology well in advance. Speakers especially need to know how to operate your event software so they can flawlessly deliver an engaging session. Consider creating a text or video tutorial that anyone on your team can reference. Make sure the system you use is device- and browser-agnostic. Members will prefer to use hardware and programs with which they’re already comfortable as they attempt to learn new concepts and master new skills related to their profession. They will be counting on your association to deliver a seamless professional development experience that will help them transition smoothly to the next stage of their careers.

Determine the fee structure for your virtual professional development. Will you charge both members and non-members, or will you offer members discounted or free enrollment? Because travel isn’t necessary, attendees have the luxury of waiting until the last minute to attend a virtual event. Therefore, your association can promote different registration offers right up to the day the virtual event begins.

Identify which metrics you’ll need to measure to track progress toward your goal. Most associations track the basics such as the number of attendees and speaker evaluations, but with attendees participating online, your association can also track time spent in virtual sessions, level of interactions attendees have in virtual chat rooms or lounges, the number of sessions attended and much more.

Finally, be sure to plan for adequate promotion of your virtual professional event before it launches. In addition to standard marketing such as notices in your newsletter, magazine, website and social media pages, consider offering a video that shows off the virtual learning platform in addition to introducing the professional development topic your association will cover. That way, potential attendees can more easily visualize what their learning experience will look like. A micro site dedicated to the virtual event can host such a video along with testimonials from past participants, making this relatively new form of learning more accessible and familiar to others.

During the event

Depending on the nature of your professional development topic, your association could have several options for engaging attendees during your virtual event. In addition to live presentation sessions that your audience will log into, virtual learning offers the automatic ability to record what is presented for later viewing. This ability to time-shift makes virtual professional development an appealing option for professionals juggling multiple work and personal responsibilities, and is a valuable benefit your association should tout.

Virtual professional development also offers interactive features such as polling (live or over time), chat rooms or virtual lounges, games related to the topic, quizzes and social media integration. If there is an exhibitor portion of your learning event, companies can offer promotions in the form of codes redeemable online for discounts or free items, or digital badges that attendees can show off on their event or social media profiles.

Plan to offer multiple rooms where virtual attendees can gather and interact. Some examples of rooms at a virtual learning event:

  • Auditorium: Where keynote speeches are given and recorded
  • Learning Center: Where breakout sessions or seminars are given, complete with multimedia displays.
  • Media Library: Where all materials included in the course, seminar, or workshop are cataloged and available for download. Sponsors and exhibitors could also be given the benefit of having materials available for viewing and download in this room.
  • Lounge: A place where attendees can gather to share ideas and make connections in an informal setting. Very similar to chat rooms that were popular in the early years of the Web.


Once your virtual professional event has ended, survey attendees about their experience the same way your association would ask them to evaluate an in-person event. You might consider using communication tools that are built in to your virtual event platform to accomplish this task. Follow up with individual attendees about any concerns they have about your learning/event platform, and direct any subject-matter questions to the appropriate speaker.

Measure and report on every interaction, click, and download, time spent, page view, sponsor lead and unique attendee recorded during your event. These quantitative metrics can all be measured with virtual events and are important for proving the return on investment of your virtual event to your staff, your board, and your membership. At the same time, measure and report attendee satisfaction, level of individual engagement, social media mentions, and quality of leads that sponsors collected. These qualitative measures will tell your association how well the technology and content was received, and which areas can be improved for next time.

Combined, these metrics allow your association to answer the question, “Should we do this again?”

Hosting a virtual learning event can be an exciting way to help your members achieve their professional development goals. With thoughtful planning and measured execution, virtual events can also be a sound revenue source and membership benefit for your association.

5 Keys for a Successful Virtual Professional Development Program

  1. Know your audience. Develop personalized content that is useful and engaging.

  2. Design a professional development program/event with diverse content for a variety of learning styles.

  3. Allow yourself sufficient time for planning, plus sufficient time for new users to learn how to navigate your system.

  4. Determine your key performance indicators and track those metrics. What measures of a successful virtual learning program are important to you and your members?

  5. Own the engagement. Actively manage and assist your virtual students.

Tracy Tompkins is a business development director for Naylor Learning Solutions. She focuses on delivering learning and event solutions ideally suited for associations