PCMA Braindates: A Case Study of Virtual Community and Connections

PCMA and e180 team up for PCMA Braindate, a virtual event that brought hundreds of business events professionals together for authentic connections and topical conversations

Categories in Success Stories, Virtual Events

The need for gathering is more pressing now than perhaps ever before; that’s why in May we kicked off a new collaboration with our friends at PCMA to launch a one-day event, PCMA Braindate, a drop-in forum dedicated to imagine the future of events via braindates—100% virtually.

At a time when virtual event experiences tend to be limited to passively consuming content, with little to no real peer-to-peer learning opportunities, PCMA Braindate was a rare chance for participants to continue to make new connections and brainstorm with each other about how to adapt to a rapidly-changing industry.

The event was a great success: nearly 1000 participants participated with enthusiasm, and went on hundreds of braindates. Here’s how we did it.

The story of PCMA and e180’s partnership

We first joined forces with PCMA in 2017 to bring a new dimension of participant-propelled content to Convening Leaders. CL is widely recognized as one the best events for business events professionals to spark innovative ideas and gain insights from industry leaders. Our partnership continued into the 2018 and 2019 editions of the conference, where we positioned Braindate as a key support of the events participants’ learning initiatives.

At the Convening Leaders conferences, Braindate was an exciting means to engage participants, by encouraging deeper connections based on learning. At each edition of Convening Leaders, the PCMA community braindated with increasing enthusiasm. Reporting on the 2019 PCMA Convening Leaders, Barbara Palmer, Senior Editor and Director of Digital Content at Convene Magazine even wrote about the linger effect, where participants continued braindating long after the conclusion of the planned programming.

Group braindate in action at 2019 PCMA Convening Leaders

PCMA has always focused on creating innovative educational opportunities to meet its members’ needs. So, as the Covid-19 outbreak began and the event industry began to grind to a halt, PCMA once again dove into supporting their community, by supplying its members with the resources they needed to navigate the uncertain future.  caused by the pandemic.

To support them in their endeavour to provide a virtual gathering space for their community, we  teamed up to organize PCMA Braindate, a 100% virtual event, completely dedicated to braindating.

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PCMA chose to host this Virtual Braindate event to help the business events community adapt to their new reality. It was our goal to support PCMA in their efforts to guide their community through this difficult time by empowering participants to have valuable exchanges which would leave them  feeling inspired and supported, refreshed with new ideas.

The ingredients of a successful collaboration: killer communication strategy, braindate ambassadors, and hosting with care

Before we dive into the outcomes of the event, we want to take you through what made this collaboration with PCMA a success: activating community leaders as braindate ambassadors, having a clear, value-based communications strategy, and hosting with care to create a more “human” virtual event experience.

Activating PCMA community leaders as braindate ambassadors:

We worked with the organizers to identify a diverse list of community leaders and influencers, then provided them early access to the Braindate platform as Braindate Ambassadors. PCMA’s VP of Community Engagement personally reached out to each one to invite them to start using the platform and post braindate topics leading up to the launch of the event. 

This personalized outreach from PCMA led to ambassadors posting topics on a range of topics like planning hybrid events, increasing engagement despite social distancing, and how to approach activations like “virtual swag bags.” By the time the Braindate launched to all participants, there was a wealth of braindate topics available to book, which boosted their excitement to start braindating.

The power of a value-based communication strategy:

PCMA has always focused on curating unparalleled educational experiences. After the Covid-19 outbreak, PCMA understood that professionals in the events industry were hungry for knowledge on how to successfully plan and host events in a reality where live events were not possible in the short term. 

In promoting the event, PCMA and e180 collaborated on a communications strategy that clearly conveyed the value of the Braindate event and how participants could use it to unblock their challenges. 

Communicating this value clearly (and regularly) via email and posts on social media, we teased the event by highlighting braindate topics that we knew spoke to participant needs such as: What concerns are associations facing now and into the future? and What will your large trade shows look like in the short term? This helped boost engagement and get participants excited to start learning from each other.

A peak into how we positioned PCMA Braindate to participants

Hosting with care, with e180’s team of learning concierges

Before and during the event, e180’s team of learning concierges were available on the Braindate platform to assist participants with navigating the platform. They helped participants post their braindate topics, find conversations to join, troubleshoot any technical issues that arose– all in real time. 

Learning concierges were a part of the hosted event experience, proactively reaching out to participants to make sure their experience was going smoothly. In doing so, the learning concierges made the virtual space feel more human, reassuring participants that their needs were going to be looked after, even in a digital setting.

What happened: the highlights

This being our first virtual, braindate-only event with PCMA, we were hoping to get at least 500 participants attend the event. On the day of the event, we ended up with over 1500 registrations!

Over the course of 8 hours, Braindate created close to a 1000 connections through one-on-one and group conversations.

Overall, participants posted 187 braindate topics, spending a total of 449 hours learning about subjects relating to various aspects of future event scenarios like hybrid event formats, virtual event design, sponsorship opportunities in the digital space, and much more. By having access to such a diversity of knowledge, participants were truly able to meet, connect with, and learn from peers who shared their unique challenges (and interests!).

To give you a taste, here are some of braindate topics from the event:

 

What data to collect for your virtual event? 

How social distancing can work for group meetings.

What will your trade shows look like in the short term?

Let’s explore trust, confidence and awareness with Face2face and hybrid events.

Fight “Zoom fatigue” and talk about creative audience engagement in virtual events.

 

In a post-event feedback survey, around 60% of respondents said that they learned something new and useful, and more than 50% felt more connected to their community, leaving the event with a new, “valuable connection.” Participants shared takeaways from their braindates, some of which include:

“In this particularly stressful time it felt good to be with other professionals from all over that are working their way through the same challenges.”

“I am now coaching someone as a result of my braindate.”

“My discussions about ways to engage sponsors and exhibitors in virtual events definitely led to ideas that I will implement in my company’s sponsor/exhibitor packages. I was excited to share those ideas with my team right away!”

In their own words: