#WhyChamber: Going Virtual
Like so many organizations in our region, our team had to pivot our programming in 2020 to keep our community safe, educated, and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. One year later, we are still embracing the benefits of virtual and hybrid programming for our members. From these events, our team has some insights on what their process was to switch to a virtual platform, the benefits and challenges associated with it, and some of their plans for the future as we adjust to a post-pandemic events and programming landscape.
In the first few months of the pandemic and quarantine, our team knew that we needed to establish regular programs, in addition to our "normal" yearly events, that allowed our networks to 1) quickly and effectively provide real-time educational resources to help guide our business community through the challenges of the pandemic and 2) provide alternative networking opportunities that allowed our community to make the vital business connections that they need to adapt their business models during the pandemic. From these needs, our events team developed two new regularly occurring event series called Tuesday Tea and Wednesday Wisdom, which were hosted on Zoom and live streamed to our Facebook page.
The Wednesday Wisdom series is a public webinar focused on delivering relevant information to support business connectivity and sustainability in our region. Attendees join us for an informational session with business and subject-matter experts with an opportunity for Q&A. The Tuesday Tea networking series is a bi-weekly public event that aims to showcase businesses in Northeast PA. Attendees join us weekly for a fun and interactive virtual networking event for the opportunity to connect with members of the community, share why they love doing business in Northeast PA, spread their message, and spill the tea on another business or community organization that are doing great things in Northeast PA. During this event, each attendee will have 60-90 secs (depending on size of the event) to share what their business is offering that week and shout out another local business.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, we knew that we still needed a way to connect our businesses to the community and at that time businesses were doing amazing things to adapt and be innovative in order to still provide their service to the community and we wanted provide a platform to allow them to share updates with the community and encourage the community to support them. So the idea of 'Spilling the Tea' came about and couple that with the mantra of 'We’re All in This Together' spawned the idea of Tuesday Tea!" said our Director of Membership and Community Engagement, Ahmad Ali. "Wednesday Wisdom started out of necessity. It seemed like new information relevant to the business came out on a weekly bases during the height of the lockdown, and as an organization, it was important for us to get this information out to the business community. We connected with subject matter experts to cover topics the ever changing landscape in which business was now conducted, topics such as Human Resource Updates, Getting Your Business Online, and Best Hospitality Practices."
"The Wednesday Wisdom series provides educational content to our community as a whole, whether you are a business owner or a member of the community, there is always information that may apply to you or someone you know. And these sessions allow our members to showcase themselves as subject matter experts. For Tuesday Tea, the benefit is additional visibility, attendees have the opportunity to join and share all of the exciting things happening in their world and “spill the tea” or shout out other businesses and organizations that are also doing great things. And we encourage anyone watching on social media can them connect with them," said Ahmad.
In addition to establishing these two new regular programs, the events team also have to pivot the majority of our major events for the calendar year to be fully virtual or a hybrid format, to align with local, state, and federal health and safety regulations. The events team adjusted most of our speaker-based events to be held virtually through the Zoom platform, with an option for attendees to watch live on a Facebook stream as well. We also hosted some unique virtual events, including a Young Professionals Trivia Night, a Scavenger Hunt, a video series for Community Reading Day, and our first virtual conference earlier this year for our Young Professionals Conference, to name a few.
"My favorite virtual event so far was our Young Professional's Conference. Our conference was a day of thought provoking, interactive professional development for our area's talented young professionals, that we held completely virtually. We had the speakers professionally filmed at the THINK Center where we would have had our in-person conference and built-in active breaks to break up the daylong conference. Again, we put ourselves through the conference to make sure our audience would find the value in our program while still giving enough time to break up the day and avoid any Zoom fatigue," said our Program Engagement Manager, Michaela Benczkowski.
For our major annual events, like our EPIC Awards, Young Professionals Awards, and our Annual Dinner, we were able to be very creative in the way that we presented these events. For our EPIC Awards and our Annual Dinner, we worked with local marketing company Coal Creative to put together a 1-hour program, with pre-filmed videos of our award recipients, their friends and family, some special community recognitions, our sponsors, and our team, who helped to move the program along throughout. These programs were streamed virtually on Facebook and YouTube free of charge, and aired on WBRE public television for the entire community to enjoy. For our Young Professionals Awards, we were able to bring a limited audience together from the safety of their cars, to watch a live, socially-distant award program at the Garden Drive-Ins in the summer of 2020.
Of course, with any switch to a new form of programming, our team had some challenges, and they have some lessons learned and advice for those who are switching to hybrid or virtual programming, or would like to start making some changes in future programs. "The most challenging thing when we first moved to a virtual platform was making sure that the registration process was simplified for the end user the instructions were communicated and understood," said Ahmad.
"I think the most challenging thing was keeping our audience connected and engaged and making our digital programming have the same quality and excitement as our past in-person programming. The most valuable lesson I have learned from switching to a virtual platform is the importance of creativity, and to always have back up plans in place in case of technical difficulties," said Michaela. "Some advice I would give is I would tell that business to think about what they themselves would like to attend virtually. We have all felt the 'Zoom Fatigue' after a year of online meetings and events, so get creative and use your personal online experiences to guide you to create a great virtual program!"
Our team is always here to share our experiences with our members and the community! For more information on any of the programs mentioned, email Michaela@wyomingvalleychamber.org and Ahmad@wyomingvalleychamber.org to connect with our team.