Anyone who has coordinated a conference or a large in-person gathering has a general idea of what to expect and how to prepare. Inevitably there will be a few name tags out of order, a carnivore will get stuck with a veggie sandwich and someone's boss will have to ﬁll time on stage as the audience awaits a speaker racing across town in traffic to make his keynote. These are all nuisances, but they are also things we have come to expect as inevitable, no matter how much attention we give to detail throughout the planning process. What’s more, since these things are happening in real time and right before our eyes, there are creative ways to troubleshoot. We found that despite the months of planning that go into the day for a virtual conference, there are actually more things that can end up beyond your control than within it. And those things are of course largely, but not completely, related to technology.
One thing to keep in mind during preparation is that everyone has a role to play. A virtual summit is just as much a cross-team project as an in-person conference. We involved everyone from our marketing and communications shops to our IT Departments to make the day a success; we could not have pulled it off without them. A common misperception is that hosting an online virtual conference will be easier or less complicated than an in-person conference; however, that is not necessarily the case.
Here are the best ways you can help prepare your staff for game day:
- Identify one decision maker: While many staff members will contribute to the development of programming and overall conference logistics, on the day of the event and in the preceding weeks, it is important to have one designated person appointed as the “decision maker.” Things will be moving fast, schedules will likely have to shift and technology will not always be on your side—so, it’s important that one person be able to make last minute calls that could impact the overall flow of the day.
- Set up a central hub of activity. The hub will become an in-person war room of sorts. It’s where all the activity on the backend takes place and it’s important to find a location with enough bandwidth and plenty of space to support three different stations of activity.
- Station 1: Set up for technology troubleshooting with participants—this becomes a virtual help-line so participants can call or email with specific questions and conference staff can either help troubleshoot or pass them on to the conference provider for additional support.
- Station 2: Direct interface with conference provider. It was important to have a constant line of communication with the conference provider to ensure transitions between sessions and events went smoothly and tweaks could be made throughout the day.
- Station 3: Direct interface with each of the panelists—ensuring they are prepped, ready to go live with presentations uploaded correctly, etc. This was also the station that monitored a live-feed of the event so we could troubleshoot connection delays and ensure that we always knew what the participants were seeing (or not seeing)!
- Appoint chat room monitors. Each session should have at least one monitor who can help participants troubleshoot in real time and can also serve as a moderator for questions and comments at the appropriate time in each session. We found that having one designated staff person in each room helped contribute to the flow of conversation and facilitate greater audience engagement. Chat room monitors should be individuals who are familiar with the subject matter and can help generate questions and conversations if there seems to be a delay in participation.
- Don’t forget to delegate. As with any conference there are many different roles that must be filled. One of the biggest misperceptions is that there are fewer roles in a virtual conference than an in-person one, or that one person can do it all. The online summit platform presents a number of responsibilities that must be filled: panelist and speaker coordinators, technical support, booth contacts, lounge contacts and chat room monitors to name just a few.