Why do we charge registration fees for virtual events?

“Why do you charge registration fees for virtual events? You are not flying speakers in, there are no accommodation or catering costs. You are not printing any conference material!” Yes, you are absolutely right! All of these are valid points in the world of virtual training. And yet we are still charging registration fees. Why?

As a non-profit organisation and with training being one of its five missions, EMBL sets its fees at the lowest possible level to just cover the costs of the events program. These are:

Staff

It sounds incredible, but virtual events turned out to be more time-intensive and demanding in terms of staff support than we thought. We are now busy scheduling test runs with speakers, populating virtual platforms, coordinating the timely and high-quality delivery of pre-recorded talks, providing technical support and trouble shooting – all things we didn’t have to do for onsite events, or previously had support with from our onsite service staff. In the past year, our team has even grown in order to be able to deliver the 31 virtual courses and conferences that took place in 2020.

Behind the Scenes at the EMBL Conference: Transcription and Chromatin (27 – 29 August 2020). Previously only one conference officer was the main coordinator of an onsite meeting. Now there are always two people onsite, splitting the tasks of monitoring and communication with the participants, speakers and audio-visual technicians.
Software

Unfortunately, virtual events cannot be run solely on Zoom. That would have made everything much easier, but attending a conference or course is so much more than listening to the talk. Participants look for interaction, networking options and avid peer exchange. So our courses’ and conferences’ programmes incorporate a range of networking and knowledge-exchange sessions such as meet-the speakers, bar mixers, pub quizzes, speed networking and poster sessions. In order to meet these requirements we make use of paid solutions which offer all these benefits and are easy to navigate for the users.

Training

New software means new set up in terms of design and maintenance, and to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible during the events our staff require appropriate and sufficient training to be able to operate it.

Sponsorship

With all our events turning virtual, income from sponsorship has decreased accordingly. Normally at a conference you would see several companies exhibiting in the Advanced Training Centre foyer, but with the meetings taking place entirely online, there has not been as much interest in virtual sponsorship. While we are being creative with what we can offer our sponsors, they also miss the face-to-face interaction with our participants.

Marketing

While the onsite costs have decreased, getting the word out still requires the same amount of budget (if not more!). How do we make sure you hear about us and the virtual meetings we are organising? How do we stand out from the other virtual events that are currently out there? Would you hear about our meeting if we used the traditional channels as before? In most cases, we have had to add on to our marketing channels and campaigns to increase awareness about our virtual programme.

Fellowships

EMBL offers various types of fellowships to support scientists to attend our events. An advantage of the virtual format is that with lower registration fees and no travel to cover, the funds stretch much further.  We are finding that we are able assist more applicants than ever before to attend entirely free of charge.

 

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Meet the EMBL Events Team: Rebecca

This week we meet Rebecca Nicholl, Events and Marketing Officer at EMBL-EBI. Rebecca is responsible for the marketing of the EMBL-EBI Training programme as well as running some of the on-site (and now virtual!) training courses. She also attends exhibitions to represent EMBL-EBI Training.

Rebecca on Rebecca Street in Hamilton, Canada
Rebecca on Rebecca Street in Hamilton, Canada

At EMBL since: April 2019
Number of organised conferences/courses: 11-ish! Some of these I had started but sadly had to cancel as they were due to run during the early stages of lockdown.

Favourite place in Hinxton: It’s got to be the Red Lion pub just outside the campus gates. Especially the beer garden in May/June when the wisteria is in full blossom. We usually have one dinner at each course here, and the delegates love the history of the traditional 16th-century British pub.

This picture shows an english pub garden with wisteria plants in full purple bloom
The wisteria in bloom PHOTO: Red Lion, Hinxton

Since lockdown began. EMBL has had to change the way we offer events. What are the challenges/differences of organising a virtual conference?
For me, it’s the constant video calls that are involved in preparation, tests and meetings involved in virtualising a course. I never really paid much attention to the way my face looks or my mannerisms in face-to-face meetings, but now I am going over the top to show I am enthusiastic and engaged in the content, which felt very unnatural at first.

How have you adapted your role during lockdown?
I am lucky to have a split role, and so during this time, I have focussed more on my marketing skills rather than my events role (especially when my first few events got cancelled during the early part of lockdown in the UK). I ended up joining a cross-EMBL comms channel to help support each site during the #EMBLatHome social campaign, and met some colleagues (virtually of course) I hadn’t previously worked with.

Rebecca celebrates World Chocolate Day during her virtual course
Rebecca celebrates World Chocolate Day during her virtual course

And the other challenge of working from home I am sure we have all found, is the endless eating, snacking and grazing!

I couldn’t help tucking into this chocolate box selection to celebrate #WorldChocolateDay during our Cancer genomics course tea breaks! (Don’t tell my husband, these were part of his birthday present!)

 

 

Back in the time before virtual courses were the norm, what was the first thing you did before a course started and the first thing you did after it finished? 
First thing I did is fill up my water bottle and put on my Fitbit – with such long hours it’s important to stay healthy. No longer can I survive on coffee and carbs alone! Although since lockdown, those have been my diet staples… Last thing – catch up on the all-important sleep I missed out on.

If you weren’t an event and marketing officer what would you be?
At school I wanted to train to become a town council planner; I guess I always wanted to organise something!

What is the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened in a course?
I did have a phone call from someone asking for a refund for an upcoming course her mum had signed her up for without her knowing as a surprise birthday present. The girl was still studying for her A-levels rather than the masters’ students audience we are advertising at.

If you were a superhero what power would you like to have?
The ability to be in two places at once; so I can be in the room making sure my speakers are keeping to time, as well as being at the event desk or checking catering, coaches and so on.

Favourite TV show?
The Great British Bake Off, and I do try to bake along with the show. But in the 2019 series, I bowed out at the quarter-finals, who wants a savoury Tarte Tatin anyway!

Upcoming virtual events in 2020 Rebecca is organising:
Cancer genomics
6-10 July

Mathematics of life: Modelling molecular mechanisms
28 Sep – 02 Oct 2020
Applications now open

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