5 Tips to Set Up a Virtual Event in the COVID-19 Age: Our Experience from ‘Destination: Decentralization’ 2020

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With the trade show circuit suddenly unavailable for lead generation, Sandeep Singh Kohli, VP of Marketing at Kong Inc. and his team planned and executed a successful global virtual event in just three weeks. He shares his top five tips on how to make a virtual tech conference work for you.

Just a few months into the COVID-19 pandemicOpens a new window , it’s clear that tech events as we’ve known them will never be the same. The loss of in-person events presented an opportunity to try something we’ve never done before: hosting a large virtual event for a global audience.

Hoping to fill the void software developers and architects were facing with the postponement of KubeCon Europe and other events scheduled for the spring, we teamed up with technology experts from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) and other companies to bring our event ‘Destination: Decentralization’ to software architects around the world. And we did it all, from start to finish, in three-weeks time.

Here are our top five tips for other marketing leaders looking to connect with their audiences through digital events:

1. Use Crowdsourcing to tap into new sources of educational content and supplement the call for speakers

The physical and economic boundaries of a traditional in-person tech event often limited the quality and diversity of the speakers and content. When travel and costs are no longer a barrier, it opens up access to world-class talent and ideas. To tap into this larger pool of opportunity, we crowdsourced the speakers and content through social media in addition to our traditional call for proposals, and the response was incredible. At the end of the day, it’s truly about having a diverse line-up of expert speakers and great content that delivers educational value, avoiding a sales pitch, to every attendee.

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2. Choose tools that combine in-event engagement, integrated social sharing and analytics for post-event assessment

Selecting the right platform and tools for your event is key. Because of the short timeframe, we cobbled together Zoom and Slack to create a seamless experience, where speaker-attendee Q&A engagement could cross over from Zoom into Slack post-presentation. The use of Slack was especially valuable for fostering collaboration among attendees, which was seen as a large part of the value in physical events. However, Zoom was not designed as an event platform, managing multiple tracks at the back-end and a lack of post-event analytics were huge gaps. If you’re planning a virtual event, consider an event platform that has these missing pieces.

3. Create a strong identity and brand experience for your virtual event

In-person events are often cherished for their sense of spectacle and for creating a distinct experience, and digital events should incite a similar emotion and connection to your brand. During virtual events, branding – from branded speaker backgrounds down to music choice and “up next” slides during breaks – becomes even more critical. Leverage any assets your team currently has from its live event graphics, as well as any resources you’ve used for webinars as a foundation. Budget willing, partner with a designer familiar with these digital experiences who can seamlessly blend your existing branding with your event theme, as well as preemptively address any hurdles you may not have foreseen.

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4. Make online security part of the value proposition for the event.

Our event included “Digital Hallway Sessions” to give attendees the opportunity to gather in an informal setting for discussions on various topics, but we implemented extra security precautions during these chat sessions. Each Digital Hallway Zoom Opens a new window room was password-protectedOpens a new window and had assigned moderators. Each corresponding Slack channel had a dedicated moderator as well. These measures encouraged organic conversations while still maintaining online security and code of conduct compliance.

5. A virtual speaker-ready room is a must-have, not a nice-to-have

Hosting a virtual event shouldn’t mean eliminating aspects of an event that are traditionally physical like a speaker-ready room. A virtual speaker-ready room allows a smooth transition between sessions for attendees but also brings a positive, welcoming experience to guest speakers. Have the speaker join the room 10-15 minutes ahead of the session; use the time for friendly reminders such as turning off all notifications during the presentation, testing the Zoom background and confirming name pronunciations.

Our first virtual event exceeded our modest expectations. We were surprised to have nearly 3,000 registrants (double our goal) from 75 countries, and a 50 percent attendance rate. The networking and engagement throughout were very positive for our community, and two-thirds of leads were new to our database.

Digital marketing is becoming more critical, and there are so many new ways to engage virtually. My advice to others is to jump in with both feet, leverage your communities and ecosystems, and have fun experimenting.

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