First virtual conference deemed a success

How do you pull off a first virtual conference during times of uncertainty without pulling your hair out? Patiently…very patiently. That was the mindset of Wholespire staff who were planning the virtual Leadership Summit for Healthy Communities + Youth Edition and learning how to execute a virtual conference.

At the direction of the Summit Planning Committee, Wholespire staff embarked on its first ever virtual conference in December 2020 with the search for a virtual platform. While virtual conferences were still new for many organizations at the time, it was just as new for platform developers. But, staff managed to find a platform that worked out fairly well in the end.

For the next four-and-a-half months, the work began. From pulling together the call for speakers to thinking about fun and engaging things to do, staff were constantly brainstorming and finalizing the details.

“I think the hardest part of planning a virtual conference is remembering what our in-person conference offered attendees,” said Brandie Freeman, communications and marketing manager at Wholespire. “I had to keep reminding myself that we could still provide networking opportunities, physical activity breaks, and interaction with the speakers. We just had to figure out how to do that.”

In the end, it all came together with two intimidating things – technology and the unknown. During the two half-days on May 12-13, staff came together for the first time in over a year to run the virtual Leadership Summit + Youth Edition.

“While scattered about our office building, we stayed pretty busy greeting speakers behind the scenes on Zoom, clicking buttons to play videos, going live for some of us, and engaging with attendees through session chat boxes,” said Meg Stanley, executive director at Wholespire. “It was quite the fun yet uncertain scene, but we made it through with flying colors.”

Evaluations seemed to repeat some common thoughts: ease of use, accessibility, inclusivity, engaging sessions, great speakers, and chat box features to name a few. Of those who completed an evaluation, results were:

  • 54% rated the Summit excellent; 38% good; and 4% average.
  • 94% said they would attend the Summit again.
  • 74% said they would recommend the Summit to a colleague or friend.

The Summit featured three keynote speakers: Gullah/Geechee Nation Chieftess Queen Quet on May 12; Dr. Kathryn Silva Hyde on May 13; and By the Hand Club for Kids & Austin Harvest youth on May 13. Attendees gave high marks on all three keynote speakers:

  • 62% were very satisfied with Queen Quet.
  • 92% were very satisfied with Dr. Kathryn Silva Hyde.
  • 76% were very satisfied with By the Hand Club for Kids & Austin Harvest youth.

During the call for speakers and conference registration processes, Wholespire staff ensured speaker and audience demographics were asked to help ensure the event would be diverse, equitable, and representative of the communities served. While demographic questions were optional, a surprising number of people completed them. Here’s a glimpse into what it revealed:

  • 56% of registrants were first-time attendees.
  • 75% represented South Carolina, while 25% represented other states.
  • 1% represented the Buddhist community.
  • 5% represented the LGBTQ+ community.
  • 1.1% represented the Hispanic, Latinx or Spanish Origin ethnicities.

“With this and much more audience demographic information in hand, we can use it to increase outreach and partnerships with specific communities and groups around the state,” said Stanley. “We can even increase inclusivity on our social media platforms by promoting health observances, events, and webinars that speak directly to these types of groups.”

So, what’s next for the Leadership Summit for Healthy Communities? The planning committee will reconvene soon to determine the 2022 date and platform. All data collected in evaluations will be used to ensure another great event. If you would like to join the planning committee, email