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Digital Alternatives to Canceling In-Person Events

March 5th, 2020 Katie O'Rourke

You’ve been planning your firm’s annual intellectual property law conference for months. Presentations are in the can. RSVPs have been confirmed. It’s nearly showtime, when…

Word comes down from head office: the conference is postponed or maybe even canceled outright. All non-essential firm travel is put on hold and speakers can’t get to the venue. Clients are rethinking participation and in some cases withdrawing completely.

Switch out “annual conference” for partner retreat, industry presentation, or even breakfast briefing, and the question remains the same: how to recover the investment the firm has made in planning and organizing an event while continuing outreach to clients and potential clients in the face of circumstances beyond your control?

This article originally appeared on JD Supra. Shared with the author’s permission.

The answer: move your event online with a webinar, virtual trade show, or personalized microsite – that allows you to safely bring speakers together, deliver thought leadership to clients and targets, and record individual sessions for your content portal. Some considerations:

A Client Conference

Webinerd guests

Multi-day or full-day conferences translate well to the webinar format, as do big events with concurrent sessions.

In fact, an online-only event can give you a great opportunity to show clients that you’re sensitive to any concerns they might have about travel and at the same time reiterate your commitment to their continued education on the topics that most affect their businesses (including, if appropriate, your perspective on how best to weather travel bans and other disruptions in their industry). You might even see registrations go up!

Once you’ve lined up the technology, send a message to registrants to say you’re moving the event online. Include the schedule of individual sessions so attendees can plan their attendance. You’ll also want to send a similar message to invitees who didn’t register for the conference so they know that the conference has moved online.

Finally, if there’s a registration fee for the conference, consider refunding all or some of that charge since your costs for hosting the event will be significantly reduced. Attendees will appreciate the gesture.

A Partner Retreat

Webinerd on demand


Moving a partner retreat online can seem a bit more challenging because some meetings – practice groups, industry teams, client teams, and the like – typically involve highly interactive discussions with active engagement from attendees. Other activities, like the Managing Partner’s presentation or outside speaker talks, require less input from participants.

Different types of meetings shouldn’t be a problem for your webinar technology, however, which should allow the participation level you need in whatever meeting you’ve arranged, whether it’s a small interactive gathering of 10 partners, a large presentation to 1000 people, or something in-between.

Sadly, however, webinar technology hasn’t advanced to the point where partners can use it for a virtual round of golf…

Breakfast Briefing

A webinerd and her coworkers discuss optimization

Moving a single-session presentation online, like a breakfast briefing or a mid-afternoon speaker, on short notice is easy.

Webinar technology lets you set up the event quickly so you can focus on communicating the format change to registrants. Again, don’t forget to re-invite people who haven’t signed up for the briefing: they may have declined the first time around due to unease about group gatherings.

Switching an in-person event to a webinar lets you demonstrate your sensitivity to client concerns without sacrificing thought leadership (particularly relevant if the breakfast briefing advised on responding to travel bans and other disruptions!).

You might even want to send a $5 Starbucks gift card to all registered attendees the day before the event so they can BYOB (“Bring Your Own Breakfast”). It’s a fun perk, and would probably be cheaper than catering the in-person event.

How is your firm responding to travel bans and other disruptions? I’d love to hear about it.