With the impacts of Covid-19 still looming and affecting our everyday lives, industries have been forced to either transform or stay stagnant and suffer. One area we've seen suffer immensely is the conference industry. A space in which human contact and conversation is the primary function is simply no longer a space that can exist in the same way anymore.
What we've seen are conferences being canceled or postponed indefinitely. Instead of transforming, they're staying stagnant. That's when I saw an opportunity to step in and fill the void of knowledge and connection that consequently was forming. Although I had never held a conference before, once the idea of hosting a virtual conference came to me, I couldn't resist.
Holding a virtual conference was probably one of the most educational and humbling experiences of my life. I learned, I made mistakes, I was constantly and overwhelmingly busy. After everything, I'm convinced that anybody can do it, and I want to encourage others to not be daunted by the idea of it. In the spirit of sharing lessons learned, here is how I held a successful virtual conference and how you can do it yourself.
Your network is your most valuable resource when it comes to creating a conference lineup. Start by presenting the idea to a trusted member of your network, get their feedback and have them suggest the idea to someone in their network. If you do that enough times, you'll have a full lineup before you know it. You'll most likely even have people asking you to be part of the conference once they hear about it.
Throughout this process, I learned that people are actually more willing to share their experiences and lessons than you may think. Post-conference, we sent a survey to attendees asking what they wish would change in the industry, and overwhelmingly, people said they wished there were more resources available when it comes to sharing knowledge and best practices. You can be that resource.
You cannot do this alone. If you want to create the full conference experience, you will need your team to be on board. Materials need to be made, calls need to be scheduled, technology needs to be sorted out and marketing needs to be done. It's important to know you have a support system backing you and ready to take on the work a virtual conference requires. That way you can distribute the workload to make it more manageable and a more enjoyable experience.
You will live by your calendar in the weeks leading up to your conference, and that shouldn't be viewed as a bad thing. Being meticulous with links, follow-ups, contacting sponsors and speakers, as well as communication with your attendees, is necessary in order for your conference to be a success. Hold yourself accountable for anything that falls through the cracks and do your best to stay on top of tasks.
When it comes to dealing with technology, you have to accept not everything is in your control. For example, the platform we held our conference on had a cap on attendees way below the number of people expected to attend. As a backup, we directed those people to a backup stream we set up in case of an issue. After receiving some frustrated emails, we swiftly worked with the platform to fix the issue, and it was resolved after an hour. Perhaps nothing goes wrong, but on the off chance it does, it's always better to have a backup option.
These are just a few of the lessons I learned from putting on a virtual conference. Since the conference, I've received a plethora of messages thanking me and my team for filling the void that was forming due to unforeseen circumstances. The idea may sound overwhelming, but as long as you maintain relationships and stay organized, there's no reason why you can't do it.