Organising Virtual Events: 3 Key Learnings from the Future Developer Summit 2020
Are we reinventing the wheel, forming a habit, or building an online community?
Dos and don'ts from the SlashData team
It goes without saying that 2020 has brought a lot of change in our lives. All industries keep working around its challenges by continuously adjusting their strategies in order to stay afloat, and the events sector, in particular, has perhaps made one of the fastest shifts. Its impact, according to experts, will go far beyond the end of the calendar year. Therefore, brands and organisers should not just temporarily adapt their appetite to a virtual event cuisine, but proactively engage in designing the standards and culture for future events.’
This fall SlashData successfully executed its first virtual 4-day Summit, and the team is currently putting together an event strategy for the next year. Knowing how challenging it may feel, we decided to share with our community, as well as fellow event organisers, key learnings from our 5th, and first virtual, Future Developer Summit.
We hope that readers will find these non-sugar coated insights helpful. While broader recommendations may resonate with many events, each business and audience is unique and should be approached individually. If you have any questions or would like to join our next events, visit futuredeveloper.io or connect with Viktorija, Events Lead at SlashData.
Let’s dive into it!
1. Pivoting to virtual: Should you reinvent the wheel?
If your organisation has been hosting events in the past, you probably have a clear set of KPIs, in-depth understanding of your audience demographics and needs, best practices in sessions’ content and format, among other resources and expertise gained over time. But how much of this legacy can be transferred to the digital environment?
While all know-how is valuable, the virtual space creates a necessity to revise and possibly amend strategic and tactical objectives attributed to your past in-person events.
The new game dictates new rules, and at its core it means that virtual and in-person events should not be measured in the same way or designed to replace one another. Both have their pros and cons, and you should puzzle those around until you find your best game.
Increased reach. You may find that digital real estate (a.k.a virtual event platform) has less restrictions compared to your physical event’s venue. While its functionality is not limitless, it definitely can allow you to seat more guests than a typical conference room. Use it to your advantage, whether it’s brand awareness, lead generation or thought leadership you’re focussing on, eyes count, and additional reach will be appreciated by your speakers and partners.
Compared to SlashData’s last physical Summit in 2019, this year’s event had over 6 times increase in registered attendees and attracted almost twice as many speakers and event partners than the previous event.
This was achieved by introducing additional sessions, complimenting our traditional invite-only event, with a community version, open to everyone. What made it even more accessible was implementing a “pay what you want” pass, further donated to a cause. We pivoted to virtual not only in the operational mindset, but revised our event strategy, and Summit’s impact has grown as a result.
Untapped audiences. Due to the decrease in logistic demands, not only more people can now join your event, but you are likely to witness diversification of your reach, whether it’s geographical or professional. Similarly to attendees, you now have an opportunity to approach a wider pool of professionals to speak at your event and businesses to partner with.
Since 2016 the Future Developer Summit has been hosted in the Bay Area, CA, bringing together developer relations and developer marketing leaders mostly from the USA. In its first remote edition, half of the Summit’s audience was based outside of North America!
Furthermore, we built a program around two themes Open Source and DevOps, which besides the core audience of Developer Relations, Advocacy and Marketing pioneers, appealed to an extended scope of professionals, such as Chief/Strategy/Solutions Architects, Heads of Technology, DX Designers and Software Engineers themselves.
Expecting your stakeholders to engage in the same way they have in the past. Now that you don’t have their eyes and ears set on your stage exclusively, think about the parts of your event that would offer a significant value for your guests and encourage them to invest time in attending your event remotely.
Do not blindly follow what may seem to be an easier path. Taking your offline format to a digital environment is most likely to fail. Consider the ways of engagement that are remote-friendly. Questions to ask yourself:
What would be a reasonable time investment per day/week to ask?
What frequency of the sessions will allow more attendees to join?
What engagement opportunities will participants have?
You might not have the gut feeling for it yet, so take time and observe what other online events look like and what does your experience as an attendee suggests, e.g. would you sit for 6 hours straight in front of your desktop if it wasn’t for work? Lastly, make sure you know how you will measure your event’s success. After revising strategic objectives, your KPIs are likely to shift too. Be conscious of what data you can collect using your registration and feedback forms, and don't forget to ask your event tech vendor about available metrics on attendee engagement at your event. This will turn into gold as soon as you complete (and recover from) your virtual event, and we will further tap into the Why’s.
2. Intuitively unintuitive: "Tech-savvy" doesn’t mean "Event tech-savvy"
Although online content, webinars and video conferencing have been around for a while, virtual events are a new form of engagement, many of us aren’t familiar with. We are in a process of forming new habits and it takes time. While there is so much we can do to speed it up, there is a range of support tools and resources you can utilise to make your event participants’ (and your own!) journey to this transition less bumpy.
Opportunities identified: You are (and/or should be) in control. Here we are looking into the essence of virtual events’ DNA, where you, as a planner, have a new level of ownership, liberties and responsibilities, in designing your guests’ digital experience. This is perhaps the one part worth comparing to an offline event. Traditionally, you would decorate your physical venue by bringing in various solutions, from sound and lighting to linens at the lunch break and, of course, showcasing your and your partners’ brands, right?
All this and more applies to your virtual event, but now, besides the banner placement on all the right stages, you have an opportunity to remove an unsearry wall or build a patio where there was none. This means that, to an extent, you have a higher influence over your attendee experience. Be creative, yet remain thoughtful and prioritise the intuitive - it’s you who spent weeks in setting it up and feels like home, for your attendees it might be the first time using that software.
Not giving enough attention to inform and guide your stakeholders over the new tools, spaces and perks, may leave a chaotic and unpleasant impression. There are at least few ways you can facilitate the participants’ journey at your event and its venue:
Documentation. Invest effort in creating a short guide for your attendees, speakers, partners and distribute it to all parties before the event date. This will not solve all your troubles, but definitely prevent a good chunk of them. Such a document should serve at least one main purpose - providing all necessary directions and information in one place, and a point of reference any time during the event.
Dry-run / Walkthrough. Dry-runs are among common tips for event organisers, and it’s definitely something you should consider when planning your virtual events. It’s to your advantage having a dedicated attention slot of your speaker/ sponsor/ team member. A dry-run allows you to run quality briefs on how they should be utilising event tech tools available to them.
Yet what remains unmentioned, is that many times you will not be able to host a timely rehearsal due to lack of time resource either on your stakeholder’s or your end. Therefore, a pre-recorded walkthrough over your virtual event platform, exhibitor booth set up or networking tools is a wise alternative way to prepare your participants for the event.
Code of Conduct. Make sure your event’s guidelines are up to date and address all aspects of extended digital interaction between participants before, during and after the event. Clear contact details should ensure the efficient communication with participants at all times. Have it available publicly and add it as a part of your registration process. Need inspiration? Check Future Developer Summit’s example.
Pitfall alerts: Sponsors/ Exhibitors expectations. All stakeholders are new to virtual events space and your event sponsors and partners are not an exclusion. We covered what are the support tools you can use and why introducing additional guidance is key to facilitating your participants' experience. Yet it’s worth highlighting that your event investors, whether their contribution is monetary or other type of participation, might need extended guidance.
At the early stage, make sure to ask your event partners how their KPIs have changed and try to identify the current needs that your event could cover. Make them true partners by coming forward to hear and meet those needs, and showing their input is valuable and taken in consideration when designing the event.
Share tips on how your partner’s brand can utilise virtual tools and proactively follow up to ensure they have the right set up and good understanding of how to engage with other participants. This might sound very straightforward at first, but more often than not, we tend to underestimate the impact of digital fatigue and limited attention span.
Be transparent at all times, do not over promise, especially if you don't hold the expertise in the online events field quite yet, and commit to key benefits that you can fulfit and measure. Follow up and showcase relevant metrics you have collected and explain how those insights will be applied in improving the future events.
Plan B. And C. And... Believe it or not, something will go wrong and there is no way the organiser can predict and prevent all the possible inconveniences (especially technical ones). This is an overthinker’s time to shine! Identify the core elements of your event and prepare the emergency action plan that can preserve that value of those experiences.
Is it the content? Make sure you onboard a stand-by team member who would be ready to take over if the host or stream owner loses internet connection. If it’s a networking breakout, have someone in the room to facilitate the conversation or at least keep an eye on troubleshooting. Better be safe than sorry, as they say.
Attendee engagement. This is a hard one. A combination of technological complexity and limited communication with the audience doesn’t do you a favour. You do not have their full attention and calendar blocked for your event, and can not welcome them at the reception or check-in on the atmosphere during the breaks. That’s why you should prepare a set of tools that would help turn the observers into participants.
Traditional Q&As and polls is the minimum you should offer, but perhaps there’s more? If you don’t have many collaborative tools on the menu, suggest a couple of alternative networking tactics. You may observe that different personalities prefer to engage in different ways, that’s why the more opportunities you can offer, the better (sanity check: 2-3 is really enough, add one more and it’s a labyrinth).
If you notice an especially low engagement level at your event, notifications are one way of reminding your attendees not only about upcoming sessions but also what valuable features your digital venue has to offer - they might have simply not cracked it yet! Just don’t overdo it, inboxes are grumpy these days.
3. Event management or Community building?
This one is less about our learnings but rather, food for thought. Events have lived a long life of their own, as well as communities, yet in one shape or another, both stand at the core of our nature. While these are distinct bigger subjects and fully functioning markets with their own business models, you should not ignore the bold overlap between the two, since they complement each other well.
As we are conditioned into distancing, the value of togetherness is at its rise, and your event could become the right occasion for community members to access this very much needed reconnection. The way you could approach this is by thinking why someone would want to join your event (value proposition) and what connects all the different people coming together (motivation/-s)?
Future Developer Summit was designed as a platform that brings together industry leaders to share best practices and exchange experiences. Its aim is to offer valuable and tangible takeaways that attendees could implement in their professional work.
At the 2018 edition, a group on-site came up with an idea, a book that collects insights from a generation of thought leaders within the tech industry, who share them with everyone working, or planning to work in the industry. The collective effort has now turned into a 3rd edition of the “Developer Marketing + Relations: The Essential Guide”, brought to you by SlashData and curated by the community..This and more initiatives may evolve from the inspiring and mindful community platform that an event can become.
It is important to know why the attendees come to your events, and it’s just as crucial to enhance their collaboration and contribution. A lot of elements of the current change are here to stay, and event organisers should be there to lead their attendees into virtual experiences that have purpose and continuous opportunities to learn from one another.
Lastly, if you are addressing a community, be clear about the value your brand conveys. Community is built on trust and authenticity, which is inseparable from the organisation’s culture. Some of the core values we apply in all work SlashData does, including the events, are Data-driven, Always learning, Humane, High-Performers (more here). And we can see it being noticed and appreciated by the Future Developer Summit’s community.
Highlights from this year:
“The chance to reconnect with people I haven't seen for a while.”
“It was great to see so many well known DevRel people speaking and participating.”
“Great event. I learned a lot from the presenters. Hopefully we can see more mini versions of these events at a higher frequency for the future.”
“Courage mon brave! Keep going despite the pandemic!! And find ways to have more frequent industry panels with this community.”
“A great place to connect with aspiring DevRelers and learn from leaders in the field.”
Planning and hosting the Future Developer Summit virtually, has led SlashData’s team to encounter new challenges, but learnings are what drives our improvement and inspires us to take the next events even further. Stay tuned on futuredeveloper.io, as we are preparing for more opportunities to bring the community together in 2021!