How we changed an in-person to a virtual carwash conference

By Brenda Johnstone

With COVID-19 over the land, it’s not only affected how we conduct business; it’s also had an impact on organizing special events. 

Here’s how one conference managed a pivot to meet attendee expectations while maintaining their value and credibility. 

Waking at 4 a.m., staring at the ceiling, asking myself over and over, do we go, do we not? What’s the best thing for my business, and what’s the best thing for our customers? Well, when I’m waking up in the middle of the night with a sick feeling in my gut and my brain rehearsing what I’m going to tell our sponsors and everyone else, it’s time to make the call.

Following is the journey that we have undertaken to switch a live conference event to a virtual one.

We begin with a call to our team to discuss where to start and who can take on which details. From calling the venue to sponsors, to contest entrants to telemarketers, everyone must be contacted and details discussed.

The first call is the hardest to make: the venue. The hotel or conference centres are our partners in any event. During the past nine months, the time spent getting everything organized has added up to innumerable hours and with one phone call that all changes.

Since the pandemic began, hotels and convention centres have had an unprecedented loss of business. Thousands have been furloughed (a new term that seems to have developed this year), and thousands more have lost their jobs with an expectation that they won’t be coming back until well into 2021 if at all. 

When planning an event it’s crucial to establish a strong relationship with the venue host and team. 

When something like a world-wide pandemic hits and cancelling your event is the only option, this relationship will ensure that cancelling and re-organizing the event will be with little stress.Next on the list are the speakers. How will they react to hosting sessions from their home offices? Are they comfortable, and will they be as enthusiastic talking to their computer screen as they would be to a roomful of happy, eager faces? 


What about the topics? Can the session topics be effectively presented virtually? As with many sessions, some are better enjoyed live. We can’t always get what we want, so we cancel one-or-two and save them for the next live event. 

It’s imperative to speak with each presenter and ensure that they have the necessary mic, video, and screen to present a professional session. We don’t want to have someone’s dog playing in the background during the session. 

Your guests are paying for this conference and they expect professionalism. If you’re going to be recording your sessions for viewing on your website later, it’s imperative not to scrimp on the recording details. If you have to buy and send your speakers the proper microphone, do it. The cost will be worth it.

Digital Media

Don’t attempt to host your virtual conference with a low-end video conferencing program. Purchase a license (or more) from a credible source that can serve the number of attendees your anticipating and then add another 100 to be sure. You need to have both video and microphone recording capabilities, especially if you’re selling tickets to your event. Remember: if you’re paying for something you want, you expect the best value for your money. Make it the best, and they’ll remember. You only get one chance for the first time. A crappy conference will not get you more business.

What about your sponsors?

Once the virtual event is confirmed, you’ll need to speak with your sponsors. They’ll want to know how the event is changing. How has their sponsorship package changed? Will this package be discounted? 

Calling your sponsors might be difficult, but remember that future events will be a real challenge without continued support. Assure sponsors that you and your team will be working hard to ensure that the value offered will be met. You might consider offering additional passes for their staff to attend or something else that adds more value. Depending on the type of event you’re hosting and the audience, you could get creative in the value-add details. 

Virtual events have a lower overhead cost to the organizer, but the organizer also has to put everything on the line. How we promote a sponsoring company needs to surpass the value initially promised. Don’t be surprised if the virtual change makes some sponsors nervous and you lose a few in the process. 

Not everyone is buying into the new normal. That’s okay. You have an excellent opportunity to show your customers what you and your group can do that will surpass their expectations and if you succeed, they’ll be back.

A new twist to an old thank you

In these days of virtual calls, meetings, tradeshows, and conferences, wouldn’t it be nice to receive something just for you? Something that you can use to bring you and other attendees together?

We thought so too. We’ll be hosting the third Women in Carwash™ conference virtually on January 18 – 20 2021. Our cocktail reception will be a virtual event for a half-hour before the opening keynote speaker. All registrants will receive a special gift box before January 18th to help them enjoy the cocktail reception as you make new online friends and share a drink before our keynote takes the spotlight.

We’ve altered the start time for all sessions to enable registrants coast-to-coast to participate live. Speaker topics include: 21st Century Demand for Women Leaders, Fraudulent Claims at the Carwash, Digital Marketing, Leaders as Role Models, Applying a Data Lens to Your Operations, and Modern Day Slavery in the Sex Industry.

Switching from in-person to a virtual event hasn’t been easy, but that’s what we’ve had to do. After the January event, our next in-person conference is scheduled for June 2021 in Niagara Falls. 

Women wishing to learn more can follow this link: 

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