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Lessons Learned From Hosting A Virtual Conference

It seems that jogging a stay activities organization for the duration of a virus isn’t optimal. Like many different companies, we needed to adapt. In the closing week of April, we released tickets for our digital convention, TSDigitals.

We moved quickly to host a digital convention due to the fact such a lot of corporations have been suffering from a way to reply to the coronavirus crisis. They didn’t realize what to post, while to post, or what the tone must be.

We gave ourselves five weeks, the fastest we’ve ever produced an event.

Our classes found out from Social Fresh X fall into principal categories: Planning and Platform. Let’s begin with Planning.

Virtual Conference Planning

We had 3 key goals for the virtual conference:

  1. Feature talented speakers and quality sessions.
  2. Make the event accessible to businesses in need.
  3. Replicate the quality, intimacy, and community of our live conference.

GOAL 1: Feature talented speakers and quality sessions.

Social Fresh puts a big focus on the quality of sessions for our social media conferences. We put most of our time and attention into crafting our sessions and working directly with speakers.

There were some roadblocks. More speakers declined than usual. Many were overwhelmed with work or family obligations due to the crisis. Completely understandable.

We’re thankful that so many speakers were able to join us, and responded quickly to the timeline. We were able to create presentations and discussions that were timely and useful, including:

  • Empathy As Marketing During COVID – Miri Rodriguez, Storyteller – Microsoft
  • Overcoming Visual Content Challenges – Chad Mitchell, VP Head of Content – TD Bank
  • Future of Marketing Post Coronavirus – Adrian Parker, Global VP of Marketing – Patrón

One gain of digital meetings is that they will let you cast a much wider internet for talent. Speakers did now no longer should fear approximately journey and we had been capable of affirming many proficient keynote audio systems in a quick window.

Getting the proper audio system on level is time-intensive, however, a venture Social Fresh continually paintings difficult at, so this piece of the puzzle became in our consolation zone.

GOAL 2. Make it accessible to businesses in need.

We knew there had been many corporations that wished help. We did 3 key matters to make certain as many corporations as viable ought to get entry to the event.

First, we created a low-value tier for attendees to opt-in to keynotes and pick out classes. This become our General Admission price tag level, which covered Facebook, Guy Kawasaki, Kara Goldin (CEO of Hint Water), and more.

Second, we made the General Admission price tag unfastened for the primary 500 hundred sign-ups. No catches. After 500 attendees, the charges for this price tag become $25, nonetheless permitting clean get entry to to a number of the first-rate classes of the conference.

TIP: An critical technical piece to bear in mind is figuring out the value of an unfastened price tag to you because of the organizer of a digital conference. Platforms can have a pre-consumer value (or an attendee max). For example, we paid a per-consumer charge for all attendees, such as the unfastened tickets.

Third, we presented a Coronavirus Scholarship to everybody who becomes out of work, furloughed, or in any other case impacted via way of means of coronavirus. Dozens of social media professionals took benefit of this opportunity.

GOAL 3. Replicate the quality, intimacy, and community of our live conference.

This is the most challenging goal for any virtual conference. It’s not possible to recreate the magic of hallway conversations and happy hour introductions for a virtual conference.

But, there’s a lot you can do to create community interactions for virtual conferences, and some of it can be an improvement on in-person events.

The Power of Live Chat

Virtual conference speakers lose access to the body language and mood of the room that you typically have with an in-person audience.

But, with the live chat feature on most virtual conference platforms, you gain a more precise feedback option. Speakers see nuanced questions they can reply to immediately. Speakers can get more detailed responses from attendees in real time and at a greater scale.

Additionally, the audience can talk to each other, without interrupting a speaker’s flow. All of this adds a level of community to a virtual conference that’s different from an in-person conference but holds unique value.

Virtual Happy Hours

We hosted two virtual happy hours during our conference. One for all attendees and one for our speakers and VIP ticket holders.

Patrón Tequila was the sponsor for our main happy hour. They provided a brand mixologist for a challenge we titled the #PantryPatronChallenge. The mixologist challenged attendees to make at-home cocktails with whatever they had in their kitchen cupboards. We had a ton of attendees Tweet their creations and Patrón gave out live awards. Big thanks to Adrian at Patrón for this idea and for making it such a success.

Our Speaker + VIP happy hour was a group video meeting of 40 speakers and VIP ticket holders. The icebreaker we implemented, a scavenger hunt game, was a big success. Everyone had to try to find simple, but not very common things in their home (or wherever they were). It was a fun way for people to get to know each other without any pressure.

We wanted to have more live networking “happy hour” opportunities, but our bandwidth and platform limitations did not allow for it. There is a lot of opportunities here to make your virtual conference feel special.

Q&A Sessions

In general, the more sessions you can do that allow for live audience questions through chat, Q&A tools, or social media, the better. We had several Q&A sessions built into the event and each of these added energy and connectedness to the event.

There were other community-building tactics that we wanted to invest in, but we ran into time constraints or technology limits. I’ll dive into some of those below in the Platform section.

Virtual Conference Platform

Choosing the right platform for your virtual conference is a consequential decision for your event.

The platform drives much of your resource allocation decisions, attendee experience, speaker onboarding, and more. We identified 3 main needs for our virtual conference platform:

  1. Multi-stage (or ability to gate sessions to ticket type).
  2. Make “at home” production seamless for all speakers.
  3. A quality community experience for attendees.

Virtual Conference Platforms we considered closely.

We knew we wanted to do something more than just a series of Zoom meetings. Zoom is a great tool but did not match our goal for this conference to create a virtual conference with the spirit of a live event.

We reviewed over 50 virtual conference platform options. We realized right away that there was not a perfect solution for us. Over a few weeks, we narrowed the list down to these 5 options:

  • Hopin
  • Accel
  • RunTheWorld
  • Attendify
  • Jumbo
  • HeySummit

Our listing centered on more modern structures, which normally characteristic higher layout and personal experience.

Many of the brand new structures have been getting one of this massive quantity of inquiries that we couldn’t get a product demo (or get questions answered). Even nowadays it’s nonetheless very hard to timetable a demo for a maximum of the structures we reviewed.

Two of the structures, Accel and Hopin, allowed you to speedy install an account and take a look at an event, which made our onboarding and checking out tons easier. Though with Hopin, you do ought to pay $a hundred for an admin account to try this checking out.

For our needs, Hopin ended up being the first-rate fit. Here is the technique we went via to in the end determine which platform to choose.

Platform Fit For Our Virtual Conference

HeySummit Is a top-notch platform for quick-growing easy online conferences. They have fewer capabilities than the maximum of the answers we reviewed, however, the platform could be very available and cheap. For our needs, HeySummit changed into lacking the network capabilities that could attendees to engage in addition to alternatives to function sponsors.

Attendify is a ticketing answer and occasion app that we had used earlier. Their new digital occasion answer changed into closest to what we desired function-wise, however, unfortunately, it did now no longer release out of beta till after our convention dates.

RunTheWorld could be very new and seems like a robust contender in this space. Unfortunately, we had been now no longer capable of getting a demo or a reaction from their group in time to absolutely keep in mind their platform. This isn’t a strike in opposition to them, only truth for lots of those systems proper now. They additionally take a 25% reduction of price tag sales, the very best rate we saw. Since we reviewed them in April, they have got released extra alternatives to check out the platform for free.

Jumbo is every other new platform targeted on very excessive manufacturing quality. It’s honestly a better-quit better-predicted alternative, how, even in case you use Jumbo they may assist your occasion in acquiring TV stage manufacturiTheThey paintings with several massive manufacturers and feature alternatives for honestly delivering your audio system a “studio in a box.” We’ve labored with the group at Jumbo earlier than and particularly advocate them, how, ever their platform changed into now no longer a hundred% geared up while occasion took place.

Accel and Hopin are very, very comparable in appearance and function set. The important distinction we observed changed into that Hopin changed into less difficult to install and had fewer insects at some point of our checking out.

It’s difficult to examine the 2 systems on fee, due to the fact they fee their product very differently.

Accel changed into an extra high-priced answer for our occasion, in particular, due to the fact they had been charging according to attendee and accord today day. So the fewer days your convention is deliberate for, the extra cheap Accel may be.

Of all of the systems, we checked out Accel changed into the maxiconsciousnessious of our inquiries, getting at the telecellsmartphone with us numerous instances and constantly respondquicklyuick to our guide chats. They additionally had the maximum capabilities and had been including capabilities faster than any of the alternative systems.

Hopin has a low price alternative that begins offevolved at $a hundred a month according to admin (along with many much as 500 attendees) and an extra top rate alternative that changed into quoted to us at $15,000.

With Hopin, we had been capable of getting get a check occasion up and going for walks extra quick than the alternative systems and their answer had fewer insects and troubles as we tested. As convention organizers,recognizenise checking out and rehearsals are critical, so in the long, run we determined to go along with Hopin.

Features We Would Like To See Added

There were a few features we would like to see every virtual conference platform adopt that could improve the overall event experience for attendees and organizers.

Better Backstage Options

This is probably the biggest opportunity and yet the most technically challenging for platforms.

Many of the virtual conference platforms have a way for speakers and organizers to log in, test, and video chat before going live.

What is missing is the ability to have a backstage area, while another session is live. If you have two sessions back to back, which almost every conference does, you either have dead air (to onboard the next presentation) or you have to use some type of live streaming software for more in-depth production, like eCamm or Switcher Studio.

Comments and Community

Most virtual conference platforms have a live chat feature that works well for live community and feedback.

But there was less opportunity for threaded discussions. Adding some type of comment board or community page where organizers and attendees can start threaded discussions and ask questions would be more of a networking component to events. And a good support solution.

This type of feature would also allow events to open their doors early and allow attendees to interact in useful ways to build networking and momentum leading up to an event. An alternative here is to have a separate community space using Facebook Groups, Slack, or other options.

Session Feedback

I’d like to see more stats on video engagement or session completion percentages, along with specific ratings and feedback on sessions and the event as a whole.

I’m sure some of the more technical enterprise solutions have this built-in, but many of the solutions we reviewed did not.

One issue we encountered was that Hopin collected feedback from our attendees on the event as a whole (along with feedback of Hopin itself), but would not share it with us when we looked for the data and contacted their support.

Small-Group Networking

One of the biggest challenges for virtual conferences is recreating that in-person networking magic. The platform that gets this right, will have a killer feature. Our vision for this would be very similar to Zoom’s breakout room feature, allowing larger events to break attendees out into smaller 10 to 20 person group discussions.

If you can do this in a way that does not require a human moderator to be involved in each group, for instructions and quality control, even better.

Our Virtual Conference Key Lessons Learned

We learned a lot from this first conference and it will heavily impact how we plan and design our next virtual conference.

1. Go Simple

Simplify your event content, networking, and ticket types. It is harder to manage complexities virtually than it is for an in-person event. At live events, you can quickly jump on the mic or mobilize team members to make changes or do quality control. Online, virtually, everything has to be even more precise and planned.

Every layer of complexity adds training and admin hours that can be better utilized elsewhere.

For instance, I recommend utilizing one ticket type or as few ticket types as possible. If you do need multiple ticket types, I would group ticket-specific content by day. If someone is paying to access certain sessions, speakers, or networking, consider grouping all of those benefits together on the same day/time to simplify access and organization.

Panels, interviews, and pre-recorded training are your friends. Sessions that focus on the discussion are a stronger organic fit for virtual conferences.

Live presentations with slides create the highest technical need and more potential challenges.

Most screens are presentations that prevent speakers from being able to respond to live chat feedback. There are ways around this, but again, they add technical complexity for you, your speakers, and/or your team.

2. Adapt Your Speaker Prep

We had very few technical challenges during our conference because we rehearsed and anticipated many issues, so there was a plan in place if X happens. But we had to adapt quickly in a few moments and learned some key lessons.

We rehearsed with all of our speakers at least once before the conference. One adjustment we would make is adding a day-of or day-before rehearsal for anyone presenting slides from their computer (the most technically challenging presentation type). It’s easy for people to forget things, so we’d add a refresher rehearsal.

I also recommend creating a simple event day checklist for speakers and asking them to print it out (or mail it to them) before they present. A sample checklist might look like this:

  1. Speaker headphones are plugged in and working (sound check).
  2. Speaker knows where the mute button is and it works.
  3. Speaker slides are open and working.
  4. Speaker is in right place/room/time.
  5. Speaker knows how and when their session starts and ends.

A checklist like this is simple and can include details specific to the platform. A checklist, combined with a rehearsal very close to their session time, should eliminate most live presentation tech issues.

For pre-recorded sessions, if your platform allows, I encourage adding a live Q&A session, and having the speaker answer questions live during the chat. This breaks the fourth wall a bit, but the result is answering more questions for attendees.

3. Match the Programming To The Platform

If we went back to redo Social Fresh X again today, I would change how we planned the content. We designed our ideal event first and then tried to match it to a platform.

Each platform is so unique and offers varying degrees of support and technical challenges. Virtual conference organizers should decide on the platform that best fits your resource needs and broad event details first.

This might include presentation type, event length, budget, and attendee count. Then tailor your programming to fit that platform.

Making decisions about networking session details, the number of ticket types and the number of content tracks can be decided after you pick your platform. This will allow you to limit technical challenges and reduce stress on your team during the virtual conference.

Utilize Outside Experts

For over 10 years, we’ve produced high-quality conferences and we still regularly reach out for help and support when we needed backup. Since our virtual conference, we’ve helped multiple companies walk through these decisions and plan for their virtual conference.

Get Support: If you’d like more info on how we can support your virtual conference, please reach out to

There are a lot of layers to building a virtual conference, and many of these decisions will be new territory for organizations. Bring in experts where possible.

A few places to consider for support:

  1. Planning: Work with someone that has produced a virtual conference before. They will know much more about the challenges you are going to face – and need to anticipate. They will foresee how small decisions can make larger impacts on the live event.
  2. Production: Understand how to get the most out of your technology and/or bring in AV professionals to help free up important time and focus for your team. The less you have to worry about slides, video, and software, the more attention you can give to event experience and engaging directly with stakeholders.
  3. Programming: The quality of presentations and speaker performances is even more important for a virtual conference. With fewer hallway conversations and live venue options to improve an experience, your stage is your conference experience. Work with professionals who can help make sure slide decks are designed well. Train your speakers and executives so they understand how to engage an audience when in an online format.
  4. Community: Just as larger conferences bring in influencers or hosts to help organize and amplify conference experiences, there are opportunities to add a layer of knowledge and support to your event through community support. Emcees and hosts can add an important lift to your attendee experience and keep things moving along smoothly for the audience.

Our digital convention ended up accomplishing greater human beings internationally than any occasion we’ve ever hosted before. It became properly really well worth the time and effort.

Let us recognize if we will assist your employer to adapt to the brand new project of manufacturing digital conferences.

For more assistance contact us at!

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Alice Wayn

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