A Guide to Putting Together a Virtual Conference
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Hello! I’m Cris Miranda, the community manager at ArangoDB, and I make sure ArangoDB has a vibrant, wholesome, and ever-growing community of amazing people. I want to share some tips and advice based on valuable lessons we’ve learned from our first-ever virtual developers’ conference.
In this short blog post, you’ll learn about how to avoid the common pitfall of ‘feature creep’ as well as gain tips on navigating virtual events platforms. I also teach you how you and your team can move together in synchronicity while keeping your goals as your guiding lighthouse. Lastly, I’ll teach you the best mindset to approach the world of rapidly changing live events. Alright, let’s get started!
Virtual events are all the rage these days, and they’re here to stay. If appropriately executed, their value can be felt across your organization, your audience, and, most importantly, your bottom line.
That’s why we wanted to share a few lessons we learned from organizing our first virtual developers’ conference. We learned a lot along the way, and we’re excited to share some of these lessons with you.
Beware of “feature creep.”
In software development, there’s this term called “feature creep,” this happens when teams underestimate the difficulty of creating a “core” from which you can build on top off. Instead, they’ll spend time exploring and trying to implement ideas on top of the core without the core being fully built, like mounting lasers and machine guns on a car with no engine.
In our case, our engine/core was our ability and willingness to share useful information with our community. So we focused on delivering on this front and did our best not to get too distracted by the idea of mounting lasers on our vehicle.
Feature creep is understandable.
The allure of wanting to stand out is natural. Across the board, people are less likely to attend free virtual events vs. paid live events. So teams want to do their best to incorporate novel ideas into an event without realizing how time-consuming and complex it can be to put the core event first. It’s essential to stay focused and remind yourselves that as long as the content your event is delivering is excellent and valuable, then flashy gimmicks are only decorations on the cake and not the cake itself. Flashy gimmicks can also backfire by attracting the wrong kind of crowd to your event. If you aim to educate your audience on leveraging your products/tools better, it’s crucial to spend the energy to deliver 100% on this goal.
Here’s an example, let’s say you spend 50% of your time trying to find a large marching band and a couple of backyard wrestlers so you can attract a bigger crowd. You’ll find yourself with an event with lower retention because your users won’t have the ideal conditions to learn about your tools, and the masses won’t be thoroughly entertained. Everyone walks away slightly unhappy because your event wasn’t exactly consistent with its own goals.
It’s better to have 50 attendees willing to engage with an event for 4 hours than 1,000 attendees with the attention span of a goldfish.
Virtual Events platforms are tricky.
Be very meticulous about picking a virtual events platform.
When shopping around for good virtual event platforms, it seems like that landscape is moving so fast, it’s tough to keep up. I would recommend working with your team to develop a ranked list of key features you are all looking for. When you find a platform that fits your budget and needs, be sure to do a test run of your event as soon as you can. If you find critical failures in the event platform, at least you caught them early.
In our case, 3 of the most important features we looked for in a virtual events platform included:
- Ease of use for our presenters. We wanted to make sure our presenters spent the least amount of time worrying about how to use the events platform so that they could focus their energies on delivering awesome content.
- Ease of access for our audience members. It was vital to reduce ‘friction’ for our audience members to gain access to our content. In other words, the fewer steps someone has to take to be part of our event, the better. If someone has to download an app, then register an account, then set up 2-factor authentication, then register separately somewhere else, at some point, you get diminishing returns, and people become put off by the amount of effort it takes to join the event.
- Comprehensive analytics integration. This is particularly useful because, after all, you can’t improve what you don’t measure.
It’s okay to ask to go over details with someone that one extra time, it’s okay to send your speakers more than enough invites, It’s okay to err on the side of excess when communicating with attendees and potential attendees. We don’t want to annoy people, but if at some point you’re on the fence between communicating or not communicating, always go with communicating.
Send out those extra reminder emails, ask all the questions, and do your best to communicate with your team as best you can to let them know you are there to help.
When in doubt, let your goals become your guide.
Sometimes you have to make decisions that aren’t so clear-cut. The key is to remember your goals and execute that decision that best aligns with them.
A lot can happen leading up to and during your event; sometimes, you have to make last-minute decisions. When that happens, remember your goals and do your best to make decisions that align with your goals.
For example, at some point in our event, we had the opportunity to add more panelists to a talk that already had a full roster. As a general rule, I tend to keep panels to no more than four speakers. I’ve developed this rule based on my experience hosting panels over the past several years.
After some discussion with my team, I went ahead and broke my own rule because the benefit of doing so still aligned with our primary goals of putting on the conference. There was still conversation on weighing the pros and cons of this decision.
On the one hand, overcrowding a talk with panelists can often lead to a dilution in the quality of the conversation because not everyone will get the ability to elaborate on their perspectives. On the other hand, by including these extra panelists, the audience can ask a broader range of questions. We went with adding those additional panelists, and when audience members asked questions that only our newly added panelists could answer, we were glad we went with this route. We used our goals of delivering quality content as our lighthouse, which paid off for us in this scenario.
Become one with the avalanche
Murphy’s law will be in full force, and so, to the degree that you can, it’s good to spend time anticipating potential points of failure for your event and how to overcome them. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. You have to be ready to end sessions early if necessary, call for a short intermission, play recorded videos, and be generally prepared to adapt in real-time to whatever obstacles might arise leading up to and during your event.
Virtual events are a great way to connect with your audience and provide each other with value. When executed correctly, these events can garner much attention and energy in positive directions for your team.
There’re a million ways to put together a virtual conference, but if you focus on the engine of your car(i.e., your content). Be very practical about your virtual events platform, consistently communicate with everyone involved while letting your goals guide you. You are more than ready to become one with the avalanche! With these lessons in mind, you’re well on your way to launching a successful virtual conference!
Lastly, I’d like to give a quick round of thanks to the ArangoDB Dev Days planning team, our speakers, and our fantastic community. To follow up on our car analogy, the Dev Days planning team helped build a beautiful vehicle chassis for which our speakers created an engine. This engine propelled us and our passengers(community) forward into wondrous places full of insight, possibilities, and excitement for what cool new things we’ll get to see around the next bend.
I am incredibly grateful to all our community members that actively participated in our talks and workshops. Your questions, thoughts, and suggestions have made a massive contribution to improving ArangoDB Dev Days and ArangoDB itself! I cannot wait to see you all again for ArangoDB Dev Days 2022 and our other upcoming events.
If you have any questions and/or suggestions regarding our ArangoDB community efforts, don’t hesitate to reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or our ArangoDB community Slack. You can find me by searching my handle: Cris_Miranda.ArangoDB.
Lastly, I’d like to leave you with an infographic with some interesting stats that we’ve put together from our ArangoDB Dev Days data.
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