E-conferencing has been around long enough that mass broadcasts using chat and polling are practically mundane. Here are some not-so-typical e-meeting marketing ideas that are being tested — and a few I've tried — to keep e-conferencing fresh and effective:

Try a virtual executive breakfast

Having trouble getting those CXOs to come to your events? Send out invitations inviting execs to attend an eye-opening breakfast with their peers. All they have to do is be in their office, and you'll take care of the rest! Have breakfast delivered to each exec on the morning of the meeting and work with their assistants to make sure computers are correctly configured. (This also enables salespeople to develop rapport with the assistants.)

Avoid trainer burnout

Does this sound familiar: Your expert trainer is tired of being on the road and/or you need to get to market faster than that person can do your key 10-city road show. Try this e-solution: Set up the 10 local training seminars on the same day, each with a local leader to moderate. Send the products to be demonstrated to each site in advance. Broadcast your expert via video over the Web to all locations. Set up the AV so that attendees at each location can ask questions. The trainer can complete the demo as if she were in the room, and the local manager can to assist. Everyone wins!

Need a focus group?

Don't we all! Even the big boys go to market without testing products and positioning. Focus group research is time-consuming and costly. E-conferencing to the rescue! Invite attendees to a virtual focus group in exchange for a $10 Web gift certificate (much cheaper than a $100 to $200 in-person incentive). Limit the size of audience as you would for an in-person event, and secure the conference so no competitors can get in. Have your moderator show pictures or videos, ask questions, take polls, and sketch out ideas. While you lose the ability to see facial expressions, anonymity encourages candid feedback. And if the facial expressions are key, consider streaming video.

Worried about getting attendees to your big conference?

Show them a glimpse of what they'll miss! Starting three to six months before your conference, hold virtual panel discussions on topics you will delve deeper into at the conference. By placing conference speakers on the panels, potential attendees can get a feel for the quality of the education. This type of pre-event promotion can help maintain attendance during tough times.

Stephanie Franks-Downs (sfranks@conferzone.com) is president of MarKomm Consulting, Denver, and founder of www.conferzone.com, an e-conferencing resource site.