The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) held their annual conference virtually in July 2021 using the Whova event planning app. With the help of the platform’s Community Board, agenda tracks, engagement features, and flexible pricing structure, the conference achieved high audience engagement and hosted nearly 3 times the amount of attendees. Needless to say, the ICSA plans to run their virtual conference next year with Whova as well.
Interview with the Organizer
About the ICSA Annual Conference
The International Cultic Studies Association (that’s cults like the groups, not colts like the horses) is a nonprofit that helps people all around the world who are affected by the cultic phenomenon. This includes cult survivors, families who have loved ones in cults, as well as researchers and academics who study cults and their effects on the human psyche.
In 2021, their annual conference took place virtually for the first time. How could an international organization with a nonprofit budget host such a large online event? Could they achieve the same level of engagement, if not better, as an in-person event?
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- Hosting an online event for the first time
Previous annual conferences were held in person. In order to make sure the conference went off without a hitch for their first virtual event, the organizers needed to find a virtual event platform that would be effective and easy for new users to learn.
- Encouraging engagement in a virtual space
The anxiety of sending that first message or not being able to talk face-to-face can make small-talk online feel more awkward. How can networking be more naturally inspired in a virtual environment?
- Generating high ROI for sponsors
ICSA had several sponsors, who were needed to be sure they would continue to get exposure at a virtual event. Providing visibility was essential to the event’s continued success.
- Finding a virtual event platform within a nonprofit budget
The ICSA helps survivors, family members of survivors, medical professionals, researchers, academics, legal professionals, and educators all over the world. Hosting an event with nearly 500 attendees as a nonprofit wouldn’t be easy.
1. Agenda Tracks. In the Whova app, you can sort individual sessions into different tracks, for different types of content. With over 90 sessions in the span of 3 days, the ICSA divided their sessions into 4 easily manageable tracks. This helped in two ways: 1) each track was supervised by a track runner, lightening the load for the overall event planner, and 2) attendees could sort through which track-tagged sessions interested them, and subsequently add those sessions to their own personal conference agenda. Whova’s tracks system organizes a mountain of sessions into neat, tagged stacks that attendees can peruse and select for a personalized event experience.
Simultaneous sessions were organized into different tracks that attendees could easily filter by
2. Engagement Tools. ICSA Annual Conference’s first online event ended up attracting nearly 3x the amount of attendees as past in-person conferences. To facilitate and encourage interaction, the organizers used Whova’s engagement tools to their maximum potential.
Within the Community Board, the organizers also created discussion topics catering to each of their wide variety of constituents, along with ones that encouraged everyone as a whole to engage and socialize. To the organizers’ relief and delight, the attendees’ “discussions and interactions took off and became their own”. Topics varied from recovery and working with cult survivors to what their favorite books were.
The organizers also presented Icebreaker questions tailored to the attendees’ particular interests. This led to self-motivated engagement with each other on a more personal level, and increased event engagement overall. Within Whova’s in-app messaging system, over 2,500 messages were exchanged between attendees. This means more networking opportunities and more personal connections were created by and for the attendees.
Attendees introduced themselves and made new connections with Whova’s interactive icebreaker feature
Whova allows attendees to suggest and create meet-ups in-app, during events. In ICSA’s case, they had a total of 289 meet-up attendees taking advantage of this particular engagement tool, interacting with each other outside of the main conference. Meet-ups gave attendees the opportunity to discuss research, drink coffee together, and mingle in cyberspace.
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3. Sponsor visibility. Digital booths and in-app banners provided exposure for sponsors. In the booths, sponsors were able to feature handouts, product videos, and even host a live showcase. The in-app banners appeared throughout the web and mobile app, making sure every attendee saw the sponsor’s logo and increasing impressions and click-throughs.
Sponsor names and logos were featured throughout the event with in-app banners
4. Affordable pricing. Prior to selecting Whova, the ICSA team researched other event platforms before deciding Whova the strongest, most affordable option. In the end, they were impressed that “Whova really catered pricings that were affordable to nonprofits”.