Virtual Health Fair Brings Real-World Results

By: Joe Rominiecki

The National Stroke Foundation expands its reach by re-imagining the health fair for the digital realm.

What's the great idea? Host a virtual fair to educate members and the public about your industry or cause.

Who's doing it? The National Stroke Association

What's involved? NSA works with virtual-event firm Unisfair to develop and host its Virtual Health Fair. Within the virtual environment, attendees have an experience much like an in-person event. "A lot of the information ... is very similar to [what] we were already distributing at community events, much like health fairs at the local level," says Taryn Fort, director of marketing and communications at NSA. "We thought it would be great to develop a mash-up of that using virtual event technology."

Features include educational webcasts with live Q-and-A sessions with speakers, exhibitor "booths" with information and giveaways, a library of more than 50 downloadable documents and brochures, and networking with fellow attendees. The event takes place live online for one day and is then available on demand for three months.

Fort says the development period for the first event, from gathering sponsors to designing the virtual environment to marketing it to potential attendees, was about 10 months.

What are people saying? NSA's first Virtual Health Fair, in January 2011, attracted about 2,000 attendees, including stroke survivors, caregivers, and healthcare professionals. Fort says 86 percent of attendees said they would attend again, and each attendee spent 2.5 hours in the virtual environment, on average.

"I heard things especially from the caregiver and stroke-survivor community about how they really appreciated the opportunity to have a live Q-and-A session with topic experts. They really liked the ability to tap into somebody that they can't tap into every day," Fort says.

Perhaps most important, the event helped NSA pursue its mission to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke. "There was positive attendee behavior change that happened from what people learned in this environment. Our survey says 31 percent actually took action to better their health based on the experience," Fort says.

—Joe Rominiecki

The National Stroke Association's second annual Virtual Health Fair took place May 16 and is available on demand through mid-August. For more information, visit www.stroke.org/vhf2012.

Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki is a contributing editor to Associations Now.