Why on-demand content is the unsung hero of online conferencing

5 minute read

Netflix changed the game for the entertainment industry; On-demand content can do the same for scholarly conferences.

If you’re an event organiser searching for the right fit in an online conference platform, you might start the conversation with one of three things: Live-streaming, networking, or breakout rooms. These puzzle pieces can help to deliver an engaging virtual event, but they all have one thing in common: They’re designed to imitate the in-person conference experience.

You’ve heard that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” And many of us in the industry dream of the days when in-person events were the norm. So, it follows that we might try to emulate that same feeling online. But, the times have changed, and we ought to embrace them. 

Unlike the three things listed above, on-demand content is a crucial conference puzzle piece that is designed to fit the online experience. And embracing this “anytime, anywhere” mentality can allow virtual events to effectively compete with Netflix. Read on to find out how on-demand content can save the day for online and hybrid conference planners.

1. On-demand content is made for the online experience

For me, there’s nothing quite like a bucket of movie theatre popcorn covered in butter. And it used to be one of my favourite parts of heading out to see a show. But when I’m at home, curled up under a blanket, and ready to dive into my next Netflix series, I don’t expect (or even think of) popcorn. Why? Because the viewing experience is completely different. 

One of our customers embraced the unique opportunity of the online experience. Their conference revolved around high-quality, on-demand content released each day, and followed up during live Q&A sessions with the speakers. They were thrilled with the results:

“We needed to stop thinking of it as a live conference that’s been imported to an online setting and start thinking of it as something that’s different. When we said ‘you’re going to view all this asynchronously and then we’re going to take the Q&A down to a 2-day intensive experience – hopping between live Q&A sessions,’ that was great. Don’t be married to what’s been done. Innovate or die.”

2. Content delivered on-demand is easier to control 

Many of us can remember the positives of the live, in-person conference experience and dream of the good ol’ days. But those days weren’t always “good.” Remember when two audience members whispering in the back rows could interrupt an entire talk? Or when session chairs had to awkwardly interrupt a speaker who was running wayyyy over their time limit?

As an event organiser, on-demand content gives you significantly more control over the quality of content delivery. For example: using a list of frequently asked questions, EDUCAUSE was able to guide on-demand presenters in the right direction for sessions at their 2020 Annual Conference. With a few helpful tips, people can create top-notch content using little more than the camera in their phone or laptop. And with the right submission system, you can easily review that content before releasing it to your online conference attendees.

3. Hosting on-demand content can cut your live conference team (and training time) wayyy down

In the summer of 2020, we hosted a virtual conference on virtual conferencing. And one of the first things we learned from planning an online conference, was that you’ll need a much bigger conference team than you might expect. Between moderating, managing engagement, and watching for tech mishaps, there’s a lot to be done on any live session you plan to run.

Hosting a large share of your content on-demand spreads out the workload and minimizes the pressure that an entirely live event can put on you and your team. The ability to control release times means you can offer new sessions each day (even if you’ve had them in the content bank for weeks). Fewer live sessions mean you can stress less about spotty wifi and other tech mishaps. And less live speakers means you can cut down the time spent on training and A/V rehearsals.

4. It improves access for your online conference attendees

If there’s one thing the shift to online conferencing has improved, it’s accessibility. And on-demand helps online go one step further on the access front – whether that’s releasing on-demand content in a variety of languages or improved closed-captioning for attendees with hearing difficulties. 

In his article on MarketWatch, Jon Swartz discusses how tech conferences are going virtual and embracing content on-demand. And his analysis can be easily applied to the scholarly conference circuit as well: “Far from crippling the tech industry, virtual shows could lead to democratization of what had once been an exclusive, pricey privilege for tech movers and shakers. In the new climate, consumers have easier access to valuable technical content whenever they wish to view it.”

5. Using on-demand effectively prevents the dreaded conference “question vacuum”

We’ve all witnessed a moment at some point in our lives where a presenter, after finishing their talk, looks out toward a disengaged audience and asks: “Any questions?” The silence that follows is dreadful to sit through, and it happens far too frequently during live sessions at conferences.

Releasing content on-demand in the right way can prevent this awkward “question vacuum.” Paul Killoran, Ex Ordo’s CEO & Founder, highlighted how one of our customer conferences got this balance just right:

“We have a  customer who released 10-minute presentations on-demand and then allocated 5-minutes per paper for live Q&A. Because attendees had had time to digest and analyse the work a little, they came with loads of questions – and they actually found they could have used 15 minutes or more for questions. Their survey attendees rated that mix of live and on-demand as superior to in-person. I was amazed at that. Because that tumbleweed scenario [at in-person events] where the session chair asks “any questions?” and no-one puts up their hand didn’t happen. ”

6. On-demand content creates opportunities for asynchronous engagement 

Engagement isn’t just about the polls and the chat box in live conference sessions. And an often-raised point in discussions about on-demand is the value of asynchronous engagement. If you have the right virtual conference platform, on-demand hosting allows your attendees to engage with each other and the content long after the live sessions have passed. While hosting IMPS 2020, the Psychometric Society took advantage of Ex Ordo’s on-demand features:

“We really loved on-demand. And got a lot of positive comments about the on-demand features. Because the talks can be dense and technical, delegates being able to watch them in their own time was helpful. That feature was a huge plus. We also made good use of the Q&A [the “questions” feature] in on-demand. And some good interaction happened there.”

7. On-demand content can increase your conference revenue

Beyond the attendee experience, hosting on-demand gives you a valuable opportunity to bring in some extra cash (with minimal extra work). The Emergency Nursing Association offered on-demand tickets for their 2019 conference – long before online conferencing was the norm. And many virtual conferences have followed suit.

Even if you don’t charge more, extending the access to your content beyond live sessions increases the overall conference value. And it paves the way for important post-conference participation. All of this improves the online conference experience, increasing the chance that attendees will purchase tickets for your next event.

For more on extending the value of your conference content…

At Ex Ordo, we believe that hosting on-demand content is a core part of creating top-notch online and hybrid events. And we’re committed to helping conference planners run their events with ease: 

We’ve collected a list of lessons from virtual meeting planners if you’re looking for a good read.

We also run a monthly, educational, webinar series to help conference planners. You can access all of our previous episodes or register for the next one on our webinar page.

Sierra Taylor

Sierra grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada – a province whose name no one pronounces correctly on their first try. After finishing her masters in Ireland, she wasn’t ready to leave and so found herself a new home in the Ex Ordo office. Now, she keeps the Ex Ordo blog looking fresh and develops creative ways to connect with our community.