For the past 31 years, KPMG has hosted its Annual Insurance Industry Conference in New York. The event typically provides c-suite executives and senior audit/tax professionals with continuing professional education (CPE).
Attendees rely on the KPMG-sponsored event for insights into issues affecting the insurance industry, regulation updates, market trends, and growth strategies.
KPMG Events & Meetings Manager Shannon Angelakis explained how the company re-imagined the annual in-person conference to a virtual event to deliver much-needed updates around these topics.
Developing the Event Plan
“As an organization, we pivoted quickly in March, evaluating all of our events and deciding what could be transitioned to virtual event delivery,” said Shannon. “Because clients rely on us to provide this timely industry information and CPE, the decision was made to continue with our original September 2020 dates – now in a virtual format.”
The exclusive event typically drew about 400 attendees. And while it was important to keep the focus on the targeted audience, KPMG realized an opportunity to reach a broader audience beyond the East Coast. “Because we always held the event in New York, we didn’t draw a significant attendance from the West Coast or Midwest,” shared Shannon.
KPMG added a highly targeted, month-long LinkedIn campaign to its existing audience acquisition strategy, which paid off. “The move to virtual opened up the opportunity for attendees from more locations to participate and we drew new guests from across the nation and even from international locations too,” said Shannon.
Format & Technology Platforms
“We recognize that no virtual environment is the same as the live experience,” explained Shannon. “Even if our audience was attending from home, we wanted them to feel as if they were attending a conference, beyond the content and CPE they expect to walk away with, to also have opportunities for peer-to-peer networking and interaction.”
Shannon said, “We needed to focus on the most important aspect of the conference to include in a virtual environment and prepare our stakeholders for what that would look like in the virtual space.” Besides creating a virtual conference experience for attendees, the platform needed to provide detailed attendance reporting for attendees to receive proper CPE credit.
KPMG used one of the firm’s approved webcasting platforms, which included the detailed CPE reporting and a conference-like virtual lobby, with separate areas for general and breakout sessions and a virtual exhibit hall.
Shannon offered several insights into selecting a platform. “It’s incredibly important to attend a few events on multiple virtual platforms during the sourcing process to understand how participants will navigate each space and prepare your stakeholders for it as well.”
“Planners need to work closely with stakeholders to understand the overall strategy and set the expectation early on,” she added. “In this current environment, we work with so many virtual platforms that, in a perfect world, we’d like to cherry-pick the best aspects of each one and build a perfect virtual environment. While that’s not always possible, finding something close is within reach.”
Agenda & Scheduling
“At the start of the planning process, we had to take a look at our traditional agenda and cut it down to include the most important aspects,” shared Shannon. “As attendees would most likely be sitting in front of their computers/laptops for the event duration, we wanted to ensure content was spaced out so they could also have time for work and have sufficient breaks.”
The event kicked-off with a daily keynote session and an industry general session, followed by several topical breakout sessions around tax, audit, and the new environment. At the end of each day, the group came together again for a featured guest presentation, including a fireside chat with Former United States Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
Shannon explained the agenda included plenty of time for breaks and networking. “We began each day between 9:30-10:00 am and ran sessions until late afternoon but had 15-minute breaks built in between sessions and additional 45 to 60-minute break blocks, allowing attendees to get up and move around.”
A key conference goal centered on content delivery and networking – which drove the decision to host all conference sessions live.
“Of course, there are risks like an Internet outage when you have 100 percent live sessions,” said Shannon. “But we had a great team and numerous back-up plans in place to overcome those risks.”
- Every speaker had a rehearsal/dry run (some speakers more than one) to test the platform, microphones, and audio set-up
- Each speaker joined 30 minutes before the start of their session to re-confirm audio/video connections
- A back-up audio dial-in was in place, so if Internet dropped, the speaker’s audio could be maintained
- A KPMG moderator introduced each speaker, and if needed, would step in to fill the gap if a speaker connection was lost
- A dedicated webcast producer and a member of the KPMG marketing team managed the Q&A to review questions and push to the moderator
Shannon shared, “thankfully, we never completely lost a speaker, and it worked extremely well to deliver all general and breakout session content via video, and take live surveys and Q&A.”
The platform also allowed conference attendees to text chat with one another and visit virtual booths. Shannon said, “although they were not able to see each other face-face, they could still connect and network.”
The virtual exhibit hall featured vendor booths, which weren’t paid sponsorships. Attendees could visit, explore the vendor’s resource library, or chat. “We learned that the videos and collateral were valuable to attendees, but they didn’t engage in as many vendor conversations as we expected,” explained Shannon. “In the future, we’ll re-evaluate this element and construct it differently to drive more connections.”
Networking lounges and moderated chats were added to encourage attendee interaction. “We found most attendees sought out private conversations versus participating in formal networking opportunities,” said Shannon. “However, the moderated chats were very well attended, which was a win for us.”
Shannon said the team learned that the moderated chats were best in smaller groups. “The KPMG team member-led conversations with an ‘ask me anything’ format were a hit because those were the conversations we wanted to facilitate.”
Since c-level execs didn’t have to take time out of their schedule to travel and spend time out of the office for three days, KPMG saw higher registration figures – nearly 1.5X typical in-person total attendance and more than double the number of client attendees.
Shannon revealed that “on any given day, we never dipped below 400 attendees total, and the percent of client attendees never dropped below our minimum 75 percent target level.”
She also explained that attendee engagement was high throughout the entire conference, with active Q&A and live chat discussions for every speaker.
“Thanks to the dedication and fantastic work of our entire team, the conference was a success,” said Shannon.
One key lesson learned centered around the timeline. “It took six weeks alone to build the platform,” explained Shannon. “From a content perspective, we should have started eight to twelve weeks out, even 16 weeks, to provide more time to work with internal partners and develop collateral fitting for the conference experience.”
And of course, Shannon said speaker prep and testing is essential. “It goes without saying, even if everything works during the dry run, reiterate to speakers how important it is that nothing is changed to their home set-up before the event.”
Lastly, Shannon said, remember to start the virtual platform contracting conversation early. “Depending on your company, there may be multiple internal teams who need to be involved in the contract review from legal, privacy, systems management, data transfer, and technology processes.”
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