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.
By the way, if you’re interested in virtual event production, check out our upcoming episode of Reboot Live with Vincent Higgins, Director of Event Technology at Cramer. We’ll be leading a roundtable discussion with Vincent on the hidden complexities of high-end virtual event production.
Setting objectives for the event
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.
Naturally our first stop in reaching out to speakers was our own customer community. EventGeek is fortunate to count some of the best and brightest in the field marketing world as customers, like Liz Kokoska, Senior Director of Demand Generation at Okta, and Traci DePuy, Head of Global Events at Salesforce.org. (You can catch Liz and Traci’s talks, as well as all of the other speakers, over at Reboot 2020 On Demand.)
Next, we turned to our vendors who run events and field marketing. From Twilio, which EventGeek uses to send text message reminders to sales reps for meetings, Leslie Henthorn, Vice President, Global Campaigns and Field Marketing, signed on to discuss adapting strategy and portfolio planning.
Lauren Decker, Vice President of Brand & Product Marketing at G2, where EventGeek has a profile, joined the portfolio strategy panel. Regina Carlos, Field Marketing Manager at G2, agreed to MC our event tech stage, queuing up demos from six new virtual event and online community vendors.
Then we reached out to our broader community. Our professional networks on LinkedIn frequently engage in interesting and thought-provoking discussions. Speakers like Marco Giberti, founder of Vesuvio Ventures, the leading early-stage event technology investor, and Jana Boruta, Head of Global Events & Experiential Marketing at Hashi Corp, posted insightful and timely articles on the Coronavirus impact on in-person events.
We also made great contacts in the FTW Slack group, a community of event and field marketers, created by Sruthi Kumar, Senior Marketing Manager at Sendoso, and Danny Huto, Event Marketing Manager at Gong.io. We’d met Sruthi at Dreamforce last year, where she led Sendoso’s Dreamforce engagement strategy.
Finally, we asked Liz Lathan, CEO of Haute Dokimazo, and Joanna Kim, Brand Events Manager at Miro, to lead interactive conference workshops, where attendees could meet and collaborate in small groups, exploring virtual event engagement strategies by doing them together.
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.
We also reached out to Alex Crow, a yoga teacher who runs a weekly online practice and led a morning Reboot yoga class. Emilie Buckley, founder of Workout Daily, who led a 7-minute stretch, and Alyssa Drury from Sip & Script, who led a calligraphy workshop at happy hour.
Next up: Setting up Slack, Zoom & more
Stay tuned for the next posts in this series, where we’ll cover how we set up Slack and Zoom for Reboot, sharing key takeaways for your own virtual events.