The National Speakers Association (NSA) is a member-based community for professional public speakers, including life coaches, consultants, authors, and motivational speakers. Members join for fellowship, mentorship, and exclusive access to content and cutting-edge technology.
Each year, the NSA hosts two national events to bring their community together: INFLUENCE, their flagship summer event, and Winter Workshop, a three-day in-person experience in February.
NSA’s core goals for Winter Workshop included
- Wowing members with high-level content and top-level speakers
- Ensuring robust networking and opportunities for members to engage and connect
- Growing revenue through ticket sales, membership renewals, and product sales
Over the summer of 2020, the NSA event team transformed INFLUENCE 2020 into a virtual experience, a first for the association. The virtual format proved highly successful for NSA and attendees alike, so the association planned to translate Winter Workshop 2021, slated for February 26-28, to a virtual event.
Decision to Go Hybrid
As the NSA event team began initial planning for the 2021 Winter Workshop, they contemplated adding a small, in-person component. By nature, professional speakers crave human connection, and the NSA team heard inklings from within the industry that many speakers were excited to return to meeting in-person.
“Our members are speakers, so they’re used to being at events in-person — that’s where they thrive,” says Rhette Baughman, Chief Revenue Officer at NSA.
But was it even possible? The event community was abuzz with talk about hybrid events, which combine a virtual audience with an in-person gathering, but few event organizers had actual experience with successfully blending the two attendee groups. The NSA team was committed to making it work, no matter what — and they found themselves in the unique position to serve as trailblazers of an unexplored frontier.
“We decided we needed to have some sort of in-person offering, even though we knew it was going to be dramatically smaller than events in the past,” Baughman says. “That’s why we chose to do hybrid, to lead the industry, and to show how you can safely bring in-person events back. We also could serve more people by having that virtual element.”
The NSA event team booked a hotel venue far in advance of the 2021 Winter Workshop, so their focus shifted to working with their hotel partner to figure out how to safely execute a limited, in-person event.
But safety wasn’t their only concern. If they were going to host a hybrid event, it truly needed to offer an amazing experience for both attendee groups. If they only focused on the in-person experience, the virtual attendees would tune out or feel like they didn’t get value in the ticket price.
“What we didn’t want was for it to be a live event that was live streamed,” Baughman says.
On the flipside, the NSA team needed to design an in-person experience that would be worth the price of admission.
“For the Winter Workshop, it was really important that you had the same experience, no matter where you were,” says Matt Longdon, Manager of Marketing and Communications at the NSA.
Because the NSA team had experience with executing a successful virtual event over the summer of 2020, they had the benefit to build on previous learnings. To plan an exceptional hybrid experience — for virtual and in-person attendees — they first needed to level up their event technology stack, and partner with an experienced A/V team.
Partnering with Socio and Video West
The NSA event team searched for a more advanced platform, one that could support virtual and in-person networking, allow them to broadcast high-quality video from multiple locations, and keep everyone engaged within a single event ecosystem. The team vetted multiple event management platforms, ultimately partnering with Socio.
“What sold us on Socio was the engagement and the member experience components, and they can all be in one place,” Baughman says. “It had all the pieces that we liked from different platforms, so when we found Socio, we were like, ‘This is all in one!’”
For their audio-visual needs, the NSA team selected Video West, a Phoenix-based company that specializes in high-level production for virtual and live events. Collaboration between Socio and Video West played a key factor in the event’s success. Throughout the planning process and during the event, both teams stayed in communication to ensure that live stream and AV components were working in harmony.
“Everybody wanted to make it work. Nobody from Socio, Video West, or NSA said, ‘No, we have to do it this way.’ Instead, we asked, ‘How can we make this work? How can we make this better?’” York says.
Virtual Warm-Ups Promote Registration, Platform Adoption, and a Little FOMO
Typically, Winter Workshop includes three days packed full of high-energy presentations, and culminates with an exciting keynote panel. NSA had already contracted with many of the speakers, so instead of hosting all the sessions over three long days, the NSA team planned weekly virtual warm-ups throughout the month of February, leading up to the hybrid Winter Workshop.
The NSA team structured their ticketing so that when attendees purchased a ticket, they were given full access to the warm-up sessions and admission to the main event. Hosting shorter, virtual events leading up to the main event allowed the NSA team to build excitement and continuously market the main event. Plus, a little FOMO along the way helped to boost ticket sales.
Spacing out and hosting multiple virtual warm-up sessions not only helped to keep the main event from feeling overly taxing, it also served several strategic purposes for the NSA team, including the opportunity to acclimate both their speakers and attendees with their event management platform.
“The first warm-up was on a Thursday,” Longdon says. “A couple of days before, we invited everyone to the platform to view a video tour of the platform.”
The video helped the attendees acclimate with the platform and learn about available features, including accessing live streams and session chat, the social wall, help desk, and Compete, NSA’s wildly popular event game.
But it wasn’t just the platform, they also needed to train their speakers on how to present from home.
“We sent correspondence out to the speakers, mentioning certain technical capabilities we needed them to have at home, in order for it to work well,” says Candice York, Manager of Operations. “Between the production call, practice, and then the presentation, there was an extreme amount of communication between me and the speakers.”
After each warm-up session, the NSA team took stock of what worked, and what they could improve, and then coordinated with Video West and Socio’s Professional Services team to optimize their processes.
“If you think about a speaker, they show up on site with their content and someone else handles life, someone else handles the video and audio,” Baughman says. “Now, every speaker has to become an expert on sound — there was just this whole complex world of becoming a virtual presenter. But it was kind of a backdoor blessing, because it taught people to be ready for the hybrid event.”
The NSA team strategically rolled out platform features during the warm-up sessions. They asked their two emcees to call attention to the session chat and Q&A, explained how to access the live stream from the agenda, and promoted the event game and leaderboard, which quickly became a huge hit for the NSA attendees, boosting engagement during the virtual warm-ups.
Safely Returning to In-Person Meetings
As in-person events ramp up, reducing risk and promoting safety is top of mind for event organizers.
NSA’s Winter Workshop is a great example of how strategically planning ways to promote health and safety helps you and your attendees have total peace of mind every step of the way.
Hybrid Production: Thinking Like Television Producers
The in-person component of Winter Workshop was an entirely new experience, not just for NSA, but for Video West, and NSA members.
All teams involved embarked on a new way of looking at events–– one that involved thinking and acting like television producers.
New Rules for Hybrid Speaking
The hybrid event model combines the best parts of in-person and virtual events–– but it also introduces a brand new playbook for event speakers.
To ensure that everyone felt included, NSA’s presenters and emcees consistently addressed both audiences and engaged with virtual attendees through the Socio Platform.
Role of the Hybrid Emcee
The hybrid emcee plays a unique role in facilitating the hybrid event format, and most importantly setting the tone for both in-person and virtual audiences.
NSA’s emcees worked strategically and creatively to actively interact with both audiences, keeping their in-person and virtual attendees engaged, connected, and having tons of fun.
Socio’s Event Tech Bridges Hybrid Audiences, Boosts Engagement
An event platform with the right features is critical to a hybrid event that maximizes engagement between in-person and virtual audiences.
NSA partnered with Socio’s Professional Services team to build out a robust event platform with features to engage both audiences, promote networking between sponsors and attendees, and power data driven insights for the event’s sponsors.
Key to Hybrid Event Success: Partner with a Team of Experts
Ultimately, the NSA event team says partnering with a top-notch team of experts was key to their hybrid event success.
According to the NSA team, it was the triumphant trifecta of working with Socio and Video West, and enlisting amazing emcees that made all the difference.
Check out some of the key stats from the NSA’s Winter Workshop 2021:
- 32 user contributions per attendee
- 700,000 sponsor banner impressions
- 1,578 completed challenges
- Exceeded 2021 Revenue Goals
Power Your Next Hybrid Event with Socio
If you’re interested in partnering with an end-to-end event management platform that:
- Allows for full branding and customization
- Seamlessly facilitates hybrid networking and attendee engagement
- Comes loaded with chat, polling, Q&A, and gamification
- Offers state-of-the-art video streaming capabilities, RTMP functionality, and Video Networking Rooms
- Includes multiple options to showcase sponsors
- Provides world-class support
Socio can help! Book a meeting or request pricing to learn how we can help you level up your virtual, hybrid, and in-person events.