7 tips to host a successful online conference during COVID-19


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Written by Aida Elbakyan, PR Manager at HINT 

One of our clients, the international digital retail forum IDRF, is one of the major retail events in Moscow. This year, due to COVID-19, the conference was transformed into a fully virtual experience. Despite all the uncertainty and issues, the event united more than 7,000 guests, drew 60 speakers from across the world, and generated coverage in 60+ publications. From that experience, here are 7 tips for preparing to move your event online:

1. Find the right technical partner/software

Many companies offer various technological solutions for online events due to coronavirus and the first thing you should do is to choose the right platform to meet all your requirements. Our client chose the local platform Zeen. It’s critical to spend time analyzing and testing potential platforms before making any decisions in order to minimize technical issues and ensure a positive attendee experience.

2. Create your virtual studio

When your event goes fully virtual it becomes more like a TV show – meaning you’ll need to figure out how you want to segment and display different speakers, panels and breakout sessions. For command central, consider who you might need to ensure a quality experience and on-brand visuals. You may consider hiring professional moderators, hosts, and tech support. To ensure continuity, consider sending all your speakers lighting equipment and print backgrounds (virtual versions fail sometimes!). Most importantly, don’t forget to test cameras, soundcheck and internet connections before the event starts.

3. Make Big Asks (Invite speakers from across the world)

Due to quarantine, people have more free time to communicate and participate in events, so put together your dream list. Removing travel barriers gives you the opportunity to enhance your event with international experts. Our event united 60 speakers from Russia, Europe, and the USA from top organizations like eBay, Aliexpress and Hatch. etc.).

When your event goes fully virtual it becomes like a TV show with a lot of staff behind the camera in the studio so it’s important to hire professional moderators, hosts, and tech support.

4. Develop exclusive content for attendees

In times of uncertainty, people need to know figures and statistics. Together with the client, we prepared two exclusive reports with our partners: Data Insight, an analytics company, and hh.ru – the largest online recruitment platform in Russia. The insights were specific to the current online retail market situation and career opportunities in the sector. The research resonated extremely well with the audience and acted as a powerful asset during pitching the the media.

5. Get creative for brand and media partners

If you organize an online event you need to adapt to the new reality when it comes to sponsors and partners. Add the logos of your media partners to branded streaming and include partners video in advertising pauses during sessions. Consider how to engage brand partners live as integrated conference content. For example, we invited one of our partner representatives to host and moderate a relevant virtual session. In addition, together with our event team, we came up with the idea to offer a private chat among speakers and media in a Zoom meeting-room, which helped us to provide journalists straight access to speakers to initiate discussions, interviews, and expert comments.

6. Define event KPIs and analytics

The online format helps to collect data and feedback more effectively. For example, thanks to online features, we were able to collect analytics and look over the views, questions, likes, and comments on each branded session, thus evaluating in the details audience outreach and engagement. Real data is always better than the estimated one.

7. Don’t forget about special treats for guests

We all love offline events for small talks during coffee breaks and informal after parties with drinks, but how do we offer the same experience online? Our client found the best possible solution and partnered with local pizza delivery service (which actually works nationwide). We provided 7,000 participants with coke and pizza to coincide with small talks in our Zoom lounge-room. Besides that, the event team organized the online “bars” with 6 different cocktail rooms which attracted more than 1,500 guests.

To sum up, it is important to remember that both offline and online events need to be done with passion, whether they’re taking place during a health crisis or not. Someday these difficulties will end but the experience we have got will last forever. So don’t be afraid to turn your event into a live experience.

About Aida

Aida Elbakyan, PR Manager at HINT Communication Agency based in Moscow. HINT helps brands across the globe, to plan and execute successful launches, openings, and premieres. We strengthen the reputation of well-known brands, as well as build press office functionality from scratch for companies that are just beginning to establish PR outreach.