When the coronavirus hit, we were already well into planning our annual conference for this summer. Early on we made the decision to switch our in-person conference to a livestream virtual conference. Here are some tips to help you transitions to a virtual conference.
- Be flexible: At first no one was too excited about moving to a digital conference. We all enjoy getting together for our annual conference and reconnecting with friends we haven’t seen in a while, but I think we are going to see a lot of conferences switch to an online format, or at least incorporate an online aspect to their in-person conferences. The reach we had with an online conference was far greater than having an in-person conference. We were able to over double our attendance, offer more sessions for our attendees to choose from and include more main stage (general session) speakers from around the world. We also had several schools and individuals comment on how they were now able to attend our conference due to the affordable price (no longer having to pay for hotel, airfare and travel expenses). Not only did we have several new groups join our conference, but we were also able to have attendees from nearly 20 different countries attend!
- Keep it simple: Our motto for the conference was “no friction”. We wanted the experience from registration to the last session to be as hassle-free as possible. Once an attendee purchased their ticket, all they needed to do was use their registered email to sign in for the conference. No passwords or codes were necessary to access the conference. We also recorded all of our sessions so that if they missed one or weren’t able to attend, they would have 90-days of free access to all conference recordings. We also provided an opportunity the day before the conference to attend a pre-conference where they could test their connection and make sure everything was working prior to the conference start. We also had a customer support number for them to call if they had any difficulties. We used a program called Grasshopper which can forward calls to multiple people who can respond by either text, type or phone.
- Keep it short: We used the TED talk style model for our main stage speakers and kept each speaker’s presentation time to 12-18 minutes. Normally at our in-person conference we give a full hour to speakers, but by shortening the amount of time, it kept things moving and we were able to provide a variety of speakers and presentation styles. Most of our main stage speakers were done as an interview with our conference host. This kept people more engaged and allowed us to control how long the talk went. We also included short 30-60 second testimony clips from parents, students and teachers and promotional videos from our sponsors.
- Keep it engaging: To encourage participation during our main stage sessions, we had people text in their questions for speakers or a special code to win giveaway items from our sponsors. For our breakout sessions, we were able to offer over 130 different sessions that attendees could attend. We created “channels” that were designated to a specific topic of interest. For example, we had a Math & Science channel, an Athletics channel, a Fine Arts channel, a Head of School & Boards channel, etc. This helped attendees know which session might be of interest to them. Of course they could attend any channel, but this helped them to choose ones based on their area of interest. We also offered several different formats for breakout sessions that were hosted on Zoom: presentation (30 minute presentation and 15 minute Q&A), panel (2-3 experts with a moderator), rapid fire roundtable (3-5 people providing best practice solutions) and patio (information Q&A).
These are the things that we found to be the most beneficial for us as we transitioned to a virtual conference. It definitely took a lot of work, but the end result of the conference was well worth it.
If you have any questions about transitioning to a virtual conference, please feel free to contact me. Or, if you have any tips you’ve found that have worked for your virtual conference, please share in the comments below.