How the AAPA designed a virtual event that kept attendees engaged and left exhibitors satisfied
The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) is the national professional society for PAs in the United States. The organization represents approximately 148,500 certified PAs across all medical and surgical specialties in the United States and works to educate and advocate for those medical professionals as well as their patients. Each year, the AAPA hosts a conference to educate and engage with its community. When Covid-19 forced AAPA to take a virtual approach for the first time, the organizers focused on a crucial part of the event’s success: exhibitor engagement and satisfaction.
It’s no secret — exhibitor engagement hasn’t been an easy code to crack for virtual events, so exhibitors can be reluctant to sign on. Well aware of this hurdle, AAPA put careful thought and strategy into curating the exhibitor experience for its virtual AAPA 2021.
The first step was finding the right virtual platform that would not only be intuitive for event attendees, but also deliver the features exhibitors need to better connect with potential leads. After locking in the platform with Freeman, AAPA created an internal cross-functional team made up of meeting professionals, business development, marketing, communications, and web designers.
That internal team started by first creating a strong value proposition for the event geared directly towards exhibitors. The value prop made a strong case for why the event was a valuable use of exhibitors’ time and money, what metrics they could expect to receive, and why 2021 was the year not to miss.
Once the messaging was clear, the team collaborated to create an engaging program that would connect attendees to exhibitors in multiple ways throughout the event.
Communication and training
AAPA kept exhibitors in-the-know through email communication leading up to the event along with the option to participate in training sessions for the virtual platform so that exhibitors felt confident going into the event.
Dedicated exhibit hall hours
During these specific time slots, sessions were paused and attendees were encouraged to focus on spending time networking with exhibitors.
Interactive scavenger hunt
This interactive game required attendees to pinpoint a specific item in every single exhibitor booth within one hour. The hunt was held directly after the keynote while no other sessions were being held so that attendees would be more likely to participate. The prize? A brand new Peloton® bike.
Attendees had the chance to gain points in fun ways throughout the event. Actions like attending sessions, going to product theaters, and scheduling meetings added up to points that ranked attendees and their progress on the event leaderboard. At the end of the event, the winner of the leaderboard also won a Peloton® bike.
The theaters, which were available in several different formats (live, simulive and recorded) offered Grub Hub vouchers to participants, were so popular that the AAPA team added additional sessions after the first day of the event
During the same week the event wrapped, exhibitors received a detailed data report of their booth’s performance metrics to help prove ROI to their stakeholders.
AAPA may have been new to virtual, but the team was no stranger to a successful event. Because of the strategic approach and attention to detail, the team saw impressive engagement from attendees and received resounding positive feedback from exhibitors and sponsors.
AAPA’s total exhibitor count exceeded its original goal by 62% and net new exhibitors made up 16% of the total count.
The product theaters turned out to be one of the most successful event offerings. When the team saw all the slots getting filled up on day one, they acted quickly to add more product theaters for attendees to join. This fast thinking kept attendees engaged and exhibitors happy.