As event professionals continue to explore what hybrid events look like in practice, NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education is less concerned about defining hybrid and more focused on thoughtful event design and positive event experiences for its members – regardless of how they attend.  

As NASPA’s membership has evolved over the last few years, the association’s techniques for connecting its members and delivering content have evolved, too.  

Discover how NASPA is creating connected event experiences and what they’ve learned along the way. 


NASPA is a U.S.-based student affairs organization with 13,000 members at 1,400 campuses across 25 countries. At its core, NASPA is fueled by its members who are committed to shaping the future of higher education.  

“NASPA strives to serve the diverse needs of our entire community, from vice presidents of student affairs to undergraduate student leaders first considering a career in the field, we are invested in empowering all of our members to realize their full potential,” NASPA shares on its website.  

The organization serves its members at every step of their careers, providing resources and events intended to bolster professional development, networking, and career pathways. 

Leveraging event tech to centralize content and reduce printing

NASPA’s events are members’ one-stop-shop for education, networking, and professional development, so it’s crucial for the organization to continuously evolve its programming and event structure to ensure it meets the needs of its members. 

Before the pandemic hit in 2020, NASPA events were primarily on-site, and the organization used the mobile event app as a companion guide to its paper copy program. The app housed much of the same information included in the event program, but in an easy-to-edit digital format. If any last-minute changes were made to the programming, the NASPA team could make those updates directly in the app.

The event app also helped NASPA cut back on printing, reduce costs, and limit the organization’s environmental impact.  

“In some of our smaller events, [the mobile event app] truly has replaced paper. In some of our larger events, it has brought efficiencies and made [the events] much more interactive,” the NASPA team says.  

Throughout the year, NASPA runs many events including international, national, regional, and statewide experiences, culminating in NASPA’s annual conference. 

NASPA’s Annual Conference goes hybrid to reach members virtually

The NASPA team describes its annual event as more of a family reunion in addition to a conference experience. It’s the event that its members look forward to every year — a space where they can reconnect with former colleagues, exchange ideas, and gain knowledge that will help them grow in their area of expertise.  

“[NASPA] is the primary resource on a lot of these topics that, for some, it’s the only place where they can get that information packaged and delivered in a format that only takes a few days [to cover],” the NASPA team says.  

But during the pandemic, university budgets took a big hit. Tuition dollars were re-allocated and professional development budgets were cut, which prevented many NASPA members from traveling to events.  

Leading up to the annual event in 2022, NASPA’s members were still facing budgetary constraints. Some members also expressed interest in a virtual option for individuals who would not be able to attend a large-scale, on-site event due to health concerns.  

After gathering feedback from its members, NASPA decided that a hybrid event would allow the organization to provide an equally valuable experience for their members – no matter how they chose to attend.

Connecting virtual and place-based attendees 

The NASPA team was committed to providing a flexible experience for both its virtual and place-based attendees. This permeated every aspect of planning, which included creating a designated committee focused on crafting the virtual experience. This team coordinated with the place-based committees to ensure both attendee groups could interact with the content and each other in whatever way worked best for them.  

“We had a whole committee paying specific attention to the virtual experience, with ties to all of the place-based committees about how that highway went back and forth [between both attendee groups] and how folks could be involved in multiple ways,” the NASPA team says. 

NASPA also selected specific nomenclature for on-site attendees in Baltimore – “place-based” – which they felt was a more inclusive term, since place-based attendees had the option to attend virtually at any point during the event.  

“One of the things we promoted to [place-based attendees] was ‘Though we’re in person, you can attend virtual stuff from anywhere. Tired of walking around the convention center? Go back to your room and attend a session.’ We had the ability for anyone who registered for the place-based event to also be able to attend online,” the NASPA team says.   

The NASPA team recognized that a hybrid format supported increased flexibility for their constituent group meetings, which brought members together for networking and education during and after the place-based event. Constituent groups could host two place-based meetings and one or more virtual meetings after the conference. This helped members who couldn’t attend meetings on-site to participate once they returned home.  

Driving sponsor value with the sponsor showcase

NASPA didn’t stop at providing a valuable experience for its hybrid audience. Another area of focus was the event’s sponsorship promotion opportunities.  

“Our exhibitors and sponsors love the exhibit app, and we love it too. The [mobile event app] gave them a place-based and virtual presence,” the NASPA team says.  

Sponsor presence in the app depended on the sponsorship package selected. Higher sponsorship tiers provided more visibility in the app with a larger logo and more banners.  

In addition to higher visibility in the app, NASPA’s sponsors could also request post-event data, which shows how their promotions performed. During registration, attendees could choose to opt-into additional communications from sponsors, and even provide preferences on how they would like to be contacted. 

Boosting event and sponsor engagement with gamification 

To ensure an equal experience for both attendee groups, NASPA chose to have separate games for virtual and place-based attendees. Not only did the game promote some friendly competition and fun, but it also served to drive attendees to sponsor and exhibitor booths.  

 “We really gamified the event to drive members to do certain things, whether it was engaging with content, engaging with exhibitors, getting attendance at [sessions] we thought were really important that shouldn’t be missed,” the NASPA team says.  

To further incentivize sponsor engagement, some exhibitors offered prizes to attendees such as gift cards.  

“We got our members interacting with other members, with sponsors and exhibitors because scans and leads are really important in the exhibit space, so to have some kind of code word that they had to engage with helped drive participation.” 

NASPA’s event game by the numbers: 

  • 503 game participants 
  • 4,253 total completed challenges

Providing a ‘true engagement space’ through external linking

The NASPA team wanted to provide attendees with a variety of opportunities to connect, network, and share ideas in an open forum. NASPA envisioned a networking experience that resembled the experience of bumping into a colleague in the office or at a conference and quickly striking up a conversation.  

They brought this vision to life using a discord server, which was linked within the event app, where attendees could network, listen, and share ideas. 

“We wanted a way to create a true engagement space particularly for the people who were not in Baltimore, but also for every attendee to be able to connect with other attendees around topic areas, interest groups within our organization, and plan meet ups…We made the link accessible from within the app so that it felt a little more seamless,” the NASPA team says.  

Enhancing the planning and speaker experience with Simulive

The NASPA team wanted to provide flexible participation options for all attendees, sponsors, and speakers. In addition to live virtual sessions, they allowed speakers to pre-record their presentations, which were then scheduled to go live at a specific time through the app’s native simulive feature.  

“It enhanced the member experience and allowed us to give more opportunities for more people to present,” the NASPA team says. 

This also enabled NASPA to create a more inclusive event experience, as they were able to add closed captions to the pre-recorded content in advance. Once the scheduled version of the presentation concluded, attendees could watch the recording at any time through the video on-demand feature. Pre-recorded sessions were available for 90 days after the conference, adding value to registration.  

Supporting the Baltimore community with custom lists

It was important to the NASPA team that place-based attendees felt equipped to engage with the Baltimore community during the conference. 

“We really hope that our members will take an opportunity to engage with the community around them in an authentic and real way,” the NASPA team says.  

This was especially important to the NASPA team because they had noticed in their own communities that many restaurants and shops had closed as a result of the pandemic. Leading up to the event, the NASPA team called local Baltimore restaurants to confirm they were open and operating. The NASPA team then created a “Where to Eat” feature in the app where attendees could peruse local restaurant options. 

To help place-based attendees become familiar with the communities that make up Baltimore, NASPA also added a “Baltimore Experience” custom list feature which highlighted a variety of activities and landmarks attendees could visit in different parts of the city. This was led by a volunteer committee of members based in Baltimore. 

Promoting event inclusivity with the “Finding Your Way” feature

The NASPA team continuously strives to create inclusive event experiences so that all attendees feel safe and welcomed.  

To ensure that place-based attendees could easily find designated spaces throughout the event, the team included a “Finding Your Way” feature that highlighted a variety of rooms including: 

  • Prayer rooms 
  • Sensory space room 
  • Nursing mothers’ room 
  • Accessibility desk 
  • All gender restrooms 

“Throughout the years [the rooms] have evolved kind of organically and through conference planning committees. Sometimes even members or staff who go to a conference will say, ‘I saw this really cool thing that we need to start doing,’” the NASPA team says. 

Webex Events support team: a true event partner

NASPA has had to rethink how they deliver event content to members, whether they’re attending on-site or virtually. This process has meant finding partners who can work alongside the NASPA team and offer real-time support in the event app.  

“I like the fact that when I message [Webex Events support], it’s not a bot. Someone’s going to be with you. They get on and we’re going back and forth,” the NASPA team says.  

After leveraging Webex Events across several events, NASPA identified a handful of aspects of the event app that are most important to its event success:  

  • App reliability 
  • Responsive support team  
  • Ease of use for planners and attendees 
  • Centralization of all event information  
  • Customization to showcase NASPA’s branding in the event app  

NASPA has prioritized leveraging an event app to ensure that its staff and members have the best experience possible. The Webex Events app has become a centerpiece of NASPA’s annual conference.

“The consistency for our members has been really huge because they don’t get to the event and think well, ‘Where do I go? What do I log into? How do I access that information?’ because it’s literally the same every single time,” the NASPA team says. 

The future of NASPA events: virtual is here to stay 

At the core of NASPA’s events story is the team’s commitment to first listen to its members and then evolve its events program to best serve its members. 

First, when the organization recognized that its events’ paper programs needed a companion app to keep event information updated in real time, and later when NASPA launched its first-ever hybrid event to ensure members at home could still participate.  

NASPA continues to hear feedback from members that budget constraints are the primary reason members cannot attend on-site.  

“[Hybrid events] are a much more affordable option for people to be able to engage virtually, so I think to keep our conferences accessible it’s really important that we do that.” 

As NASPA prepares for the future, they’re confident that the virtual elements of the organization’s events are here to stay, allowing the organization to deliver valuable content to its members, regardless of how they attend.  

“I think it would be foolhardy for us to believe that hybrid or virtual programming will fade into the sunset. It’s here to stay, so we want to continue to innovate in this space,” the NASPA team says.