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October 3, 2010

American Payroll Association employs virtual technology to maintain standards

Faced with cuts to budgets for training and traveling, the American Payroll Association decided to combine their annual conference with a virtual event to make sure its members got the level of support they needed. Pete Roythorne finds out how successful it was.

The American Payroll Association (APA) holds an annual conference where members of the association come together to be educated in the most up-to-date industry practices. This year, with the economic conditions being so tough, an increasing number of the association’s members were experiencing cuts in both travel and training budgets. Recognising that its members still needed to be educated and that training was an integral part of their organisation’s member support, Jenny Provenzano, senior director of education and vendor relations for the APA, suggested a new approach: holding a virtual conference in tandem with the annual in-person training event.

The management realised that this would enable their members to experience the conference and participate in the training just as if they were attending the physical conference, but without the extra costs associated with travel to the event and taking time out of the office.

For six months, Provenzano and Shannon Dewey, the APA’s solutions manager, worked closely with virtual event supplier Unisfair to create a fully interactive, two-day training event that provided a wide range of current payroll industry information and training to the almost 1,900 payroll professionals who attended. During the event, the APA provided attendees with access to payroll training sessions led by the industry’s leading experts. They could download material, network with peers, and ask questions of the industry experts provided by the APA.


Mix and Match: Unisfair technology like this helped
the APA delivery its hybrid event


When attendees arrived in the virtual main hall, they were greeted by the APA’s executive director, Dan Maddux, who welcomed them to the conference and briefly explained the information that would be available over the next two days. From there all attendees were free to move through the environment, attend virtual workshops and download any materials they might be interested in. When the live event ended, all content remained available on-demand for those unable to attend. In fact, even those people who attended the physical conference used the virtual environment as an opportunity to learn even more about payroll and accounts payable operations and obtain additional credits toward their recertification.

By creating a hybrid event, the APA achieved a high level of attendance, with members spending an average of more than five hours at the event. Both the virtual event and the physical event in Washington, DC, were held during the same week. It was the first time the APA had so many professionals engaged during a given period of time. Virtual participants accessed an impressive 8,263 resource files and engaged in hundreds of chats with peers and experts.

“Our attendees found that the Unisfair environment was very intuitive and easy to use throughout the entire conference. They were also grateful to have 24/7 access to all conference materials,” Shannon recalled.

Those who experienced the live virtual event said that, although the workshops were not in person, they were still able to receive the same quality of training and education they would have at a physical conference.

When asked about her experience hosting her first virtual conference and expo, Shannon said, “It was a great experience to connect with such a large part of the association’s membership. Unisfair was supportive and assisted in achieving our goals, and our members loved the way they got the latest payroll training without having to get on a plane.”

She is presently discussing next year’s virtual conference with the Unisfair team.

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