When my team and I first envisioned what our April events calendar would look like, it definitely did not include hosting our own virtual conference. Like every business, we were forced to shelve our in-person event plans and needed to adapt. So we set out to host our first virtual conference: Reboot 2020: Adapting Your Events to the Coronavirus Challenge.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll publish the key takeaways from our experience hosting this successful virtual event, including tips for using Slack and Zoom for your own virtual conference, as well conversion and engagement data you can use to reference metrics. In this first post, we cover setting our objectives, recruiting speakers and scheduling.
To start out in the right direction, we needed to clarify our goals for this virtual event, especially given the sensitive timing.
Create a positive community space where event and field marketers could come together and reaffirm their value and ingenuity. The community was struggling with event cancellations and postponements. Many people in the events industry were at risk of losing their jobs.
Ensure a high rate of participation and spark collaboration. Often the biggest challenge with virtual events, we wanted to overcome digital distractions and build-in flexibility for attendees with family and other responsibilities while working from home.
Provide a model for virtual events that our customers and community could quickly adapt for their own programs. We used Slack and Zoom - they’re widely adopted already and set the experience standards for remote collaboration.
In addition to these objectives, we set a goal of 2,000 registered attendees for Reboot 2020, as well as a high rate of participation. The latter was a bit difficult to benchmark, given the scarcity of virtual event engagement data and the unprecedented situation of everyone working from home. With our high-level objectives defined, we were ready to move on to reaching out to speakers and setting the agenda.
We approached our customers and community early to help shape the content and tone of the agenda, asking for their input on the best topics and formats for sessions, as well as introductions to other great speakers. Everyone we approached was so generous with their time and input that we ended up with more than full day’s worth of sessions!
Scheduling the conference
With over 20 speakers signed up and a slate of great sessions, we needed to schedule multiple tracks over the course of a full day to fit everything in. Given that everyone was working from home, we expected attendees to pop in-and-out of Zoom and the Reboot Slack group, but a surprising number of them engaged throughout the day.
One of the biggest scheduling challenges we faced was time zones. With attendees spread across the country and around the world, it wasn’t possible to schedule a full-day conference at a time that would work well for everyone. We chose to run from 9am - 4pm Pacific. Looking back, this seems like an opportunity to host virtual events and webinars with a regional focus.
We also decided to host the conference on a Tuesday. According to a recent survey of 1,000 conference participants comparing in-person and virtual events, Tuesdays are the second best day to host a virtual event. The best weekday is Wednesday, according to the survey, but we opted to avoid this particular Wednesday, April 15th, because it was Tax Day.
Drawing interest with fun activities
With the rapid “pivot to virtual” from in-person events, there was a surge in the number of virtual events and webinars in the days leading up to Reboot. A marketer might have two or three webinars she could attend on any given weekday. Why would she come to Reboot? Aside from great speakers, we needed an extra draw.
To spark interest in Reboot and give attendees an extra special experience, we reached out to Jeremy Sutton, an acclaimed artist who’s known for using tech tools, like digital brushes and virtual reality headsets, at live events and in his work, which has been shown at the Smithsonian and de Young Museum. Jeremy graciously agreed to lead a digital draw-along workshop.