How We Launched Our First-Ever Virtual Summit with Bizzabo
(Almost) IN-PERSON launched on May 5th. We exceeded our registration goal by 500%, met our average attendee satisfaction goal, produced a broadcast-level experience, and learned much in the process.
What is (Almost) IN-PERSON?
(Almost) IN-PERSON was created from our successful IN-PERSON Podcast, which features event leaders from amazing brands. This led to our IN-PERSON Collective flagship event that took place last December in New York.
We knew the core strengths of every event and marketing professional were needed in light of COVID-19 and pivoted our IN-PERSON brand to our first virtual event, (Almost) IN-PERSON.
This event reached a little over 6,000 registrations, of which 3,000+ attendees joined live from 70 countries. Our agenda included 4 hours of inspiring discussion featuring amazing speakers from Gainsight, HubSpot, Money 20/20 Twitter, IMEX, Yext, SAP and Bloomberg Live. The energy of this event spanned across the globe and could be felt right from your computer screen.
I am no stranger to events. I’ve managed a range of event formats including conferences, summits, trade shows, field events and more. But this time around, approaching the planning and preparation process for this new virtual norm was very foreign to me. For so long in-person events were my speciality and I needed to personally pivot to the new normal—fast.
To manage this pivot, I focused on five key areas. Below I take a deep dive into each core area I needed to successfully pivot an in-person brand to a virtual experience.
But before we jump in just a quick note. If you’d like to learn more about production process, you can check out the Behind-the-Scenes Webinar.
Prioritizing Event Prep & Planning
Similar to an in-person event, I began the process of pivoting to a virtual event by designing a clear event agenda and programming. I knew keeping the sessions and speakers as relevant as possible was a must to provide thoughtful content to our audience. To do this, I worked with our team to carve out an agenda that reflected the most pressing topics that event organizers have top-of-mind.
The next challenge was around timing. I had to take into account the time of the virtual event and when live sessions could occur with the highest number of attendees. After evaluating where across the globe our attendees were coming from and the availability of speakers, we decided a 1pm ET start time with half a day of content would be best.
When it came to recruiting speakers, I wanted to give them the best experience possible. We took a very intentional approach to delivering an exceptional speaker experience. In our outreach, we recommended specific sessions that prospective speakers would be a great fit for based on their interests, expertise, and feedback.
Once speakers confirmed their availability, I “onboarded” them to the event. This speaker onboarding process included a kickoff meeting and deck with clear timelines, detailed expectations, and a session topic deep dive.
An example of the deck is picture below. I wanted the speakers to know that Bizzabo was going to support them through the entire event cycle:
In addition, a big part of the planning process was the creation of the production schedule. This became my go-to guide for the event, which is very similar to a run of show typically for in-person events.
Below is an example of the production schedule we used at (Almost) IN-PERSON:
The production schedule is where I listed all the event content including: run times for each session, video plays, speakers formats, poll launches, audio details, Q&A and more. Based on the level of my content, I knew I needed to hire a production team to execute at the broadcast level I desired.
Investing in Virtual Event Production
Again, just as you would hire an AV production team for your in-person event, you should expect to invest in AV resources for your virtual experience—especially if you intend to play pre-recorded videos, switch from speakers to other content, and implement additional audio like background music or sound effects.
For this event, we had one pre-recorded session, our keynote featuring our CEO Eran Ben-Shushan discussing the Future of Events and LEAD Framework. We knew we wanted his presentation to be clear and flawless as it would set the tone for the event. The production team enabled us to achieve that goal.
We also wanted to include intro videos before each session, play our IN-PERSON music in-between sessions, and weave recorded questions submitted by our attendees directly into live sessions with speakers.
Our AV production team helped make all of this possible. Their technical expertise and knowledge of the specific equipment requirements to broadcast (including equipment needed for a high definition recorded session as shown in the picture below) helped bridge my knowledge gap to make our event successful.
I gave our production team access to our office where they turned one of the conference rooms into a production room. We made prior arrangements with our building to ensure all CDC guidelines were in place and that social distancing measures were enacted by all. It felt very much like a television station, which made sense.
Virtual events are a broadcasted experience and investments in production should reflect that.
While preparing all our event content at this stage, I realized that the production schedule was absolutely critical. The event team and AV production team were fully aligned and knew every transition and content piece of the program as well as what equipment best served each part of our production. The access to an AV production team, the time spent creating a production schedule, and the access to equipment and space to build the virtual event all came together to elevate the content and experience.
Leveraging The Right Technology For Your Virtual Events
Using the right technology to execute your event is of the utmost importance. You want to not only ensure that your audience has a great experience, but also make the process as smooth and seamless behind the scenes.
Based on all the requirements, we needed a platform designed for different types of virtual experiences. Additionally, given our time constraints, I need a solution that was easy to use with the ability to set sessions in the agenda to broadcast with just one click. That was an important detail that set it apart from other more cumbersome products.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to look far for a virtual event solution to suit our needs.
I used our Bizzabo Stream solution, which is one of the two virtual solutions that our product offers and is intended for larger events, to support the thousands of attendees who joined our virtual sessions.
We used our Bizzabo Interact solution, the other virtual solution we offer, for our post-event happy hours. This feature-rich product allowed for smaller, intimate events with heavy audience interaction typical of roundtable discussions or workshops.
By leveraging both solutions, we were able to power different types of events and cater to different audience needs with curated tools and technology. Below is a screenshot from one of our happy hour sessions.
Bizzabo’s Virtual Experience Solution also made on-demand access easy. Registrants were able to view the session recordings right from the agenda. This kept the experience on-brand and seamless, and broadened the number of people who could access our event content.
Multiplying The Ways Attendees Can Network and Engage
Once all the logistics and technical aspects of the event were set—the focus shifted to the audience experience. To provide valuable networking and engagement opportunities, I decided to offer three different ways attendees could connect and network throughout the event.
First, we launched our IN-PERSON event app one week out from the event. This allowed for second screen networking as attendees would watch the event on their computer and connect with attendees on the app.
Second, we launched a slack community with various channels that complimented our agenda topics to continue the conversations long after the event day.
Finally, we concluded the day of sessions with five interactive virtual happy hours that occurred simultaneously. Some happy hours had a theme while others were an open forum for discussion. I found that this was a huge ask from our audience. As a result, rooms quickly filled up and even ran over their allotted time.
To encourage attendee engagement we ran polls in various sessions. This gave me immediate insight into the engagement level of a particular session and valuable data to we could measure.
In addition to capturing valuable engagement metrics, we wanted to replicate the in-person experience of a live Q&A. To do this, we added the option to submit a question as part of the event registration process.
From the pool of submitted questions, we selected the most relevant and asked those registrants to participate by submitting a video recording of their questions. Those recordings were added to the live virtual sessions and answered in real-time with our speakers.
We used the recorded question and live answer experience as a replacement for the in-person experience of asking a question and having speakers answer live on-stage. This was a nice touch to the event that really brought the IN-PERSON community into the program.
Extending Your Reach and Expanding as Event Professionals
I learned so much from this event. The reach of our audience was incredible. Our data showed that we were able to tap into industries and regions we would not have had access to otherwise if this event were solely in-person.
The process of producing a multi-session virtual event punctuated by various ways for attendees to engage, connect, network, and learn was incredibly inspiring.
I learned a lot about myself in the process. This was by far the most challenging experience for me professionally. I was fearful of the virtual unknowns, but was able to overcome doubts by recognizing we are all in the same boat. We are all learning together. The amount of support from the event community during this time is amazing, humbling, and energizing.
I am so proud to be in this resilient industry and look forward to all the future creativity, innovation, and inspiring work that has yet to come.
If you’re looking for additional resources for your next event, here are my recommendations:
- Check out Bizzabo’s Virtual Solution to get a sense of the tech that we used to power our event
- Watch (Almost) IN-PERSON On-Demand for a taste of the event day experience
- And learn more about the production experience in the Behind-the-Scenes Webinar