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Virtual event solution

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First virtual conference: an experiment that turned out to be more than successful

“Taking the event virtual was an experiment, and we are more than satisfied with the outcome.”

- concluded the organizer Matthias Grabner about his first virtual event, the third edition of the Applied Artificial Intelligence Conference.

In a second interview with Matthias Grabner we followed up on the event, asked about the positive & negative experiences such as which key learnings he got from organizing his first virtual event.

We got detailed insights into the challenges he faced during the event day itself and an estimation of what the future of their events will look like. All citations throughout this article are from him.

This article is part 2/2, make sure to read part 1/2 about the initial planning phase of the event, before you continue.

The success of a virtual event in numbers

- 2019 AAIC 2020 AAIC % Change
Total participants 499 2401 +381 %
Share of international participants 148 1800 +1000 %
Countries represented 27 81 +200%
Participants available for 1:1 meetings 260 1138 +337 %
Arranged 1:1 meetings 314 1102 +250 %
Collaboration Opportunity listings 268 1343 +401 %
A huge amount of participants from all over the world registered for our conference. We reached top-class participants from all over the world. Everyone did actively engage in networking, the virtual meetings were highly sought after, and participants were excited about the efficiency of the networking.”


Note: numbers compared to last years physical event, taken from the event websites (2019) & (2020).

A new event format means new challenges

Without any prior experience in organizing virtual events, Matthias Grabner and his team from Advantage Austria knew they would face some new challenges.

Topics of concern and addressed during the first interview (read part 1 here) a few weeks before the event were:

  • How to build a proper streaming setup?
  • How do participants behave during the event?
  • What kind of interventions could be needed during the event?

Even though the event was a huge success and the participant satisfaction spiked, we were interested in the actual challenges that did come up and the friction that he experienced due to the new event format. So we asked, and this is what he said:

Last-minute registration of participants

Approximately ¼ of participants did register one day before and during the event day itself.

For those last-minute participants, it is hard to make sure everyone has a sound understanding of the possibilities the event provides and how to make use of them. Some participants do not realize what networking functionalities an event organized with b2match provides them. So it is likely that a share of participants will not be able to enjoy the event with all its benefits, just because they lack the time to properly get used to the possibilities & functionalities.

How can other organizers prepare for this?

The best approach is to provide crystal clear documentation on the event website itself, outlining what possibilities participants have during the event, and how to make use of them. Additionally, enabling the networking even after the event is over can be a gamechanger!


The lack of digital competence of participants

This is a factor that the organizer hardly can influence, but which is likely to appear during any virtual event - even the ones dealing with a highly technical topic like AI. As Matthias Grabner put it:

“When someone does not manage it to activate the microphone for the virtual meeting, having a good meeting with his person is just not possible.”

How can other organizers prepare for this?

One way to counteract this is by educating the participants. Make sure you as an organizer communicate that every participant should test the basic functions, so the virtual meetings run smoothly.


The streaming (program) setup

During the first hour of the event program, all of a sudden the streaming audio broke, and it was unclear if the 10 hours of planned keynotes with international industry experts could continue.

It is well worth to mention that the technical setup was a topic the organizer team was highly aware of. Thus, they did hire a third-party provider to set up the streaming. But anyway, a hardware failure of the audio mixer (broken cable) led to an interruption of the program.

“Online, participants are less understanding and forgiving when it comes to this kind of error.”

Luckily, the error could be identified and solved within just a single hour. To get back on track, the organizers did cut off a plenary discussion at the end. An ad-hoc update of the agenda combined with notifications informing the participants what had happened and changed, ensured the impressive program could continue smoothly.

“We received a few complaints from participants, why we didn’t prepare better. But the fact that we did hire professionals and they did bring a second audio-mixer, was the best possible preparation.”

How can other organizers prepare for this?

Most importantly, test everything beforehand! And most importantly, have a backup plan! Even though you will detect any issues during a test-run, such things as upcoming hardware errors will still be off your radar.

  • Prepare a maintenance screen which you can display
  • Even better are pre-recorded videos which you can display in the case of an issue!

To sum it up, there obviously were some challenges. A few of them were more anticipated than others, but all of them were exceptionally solved. This can be concluded from the extremely positive feedback that the organizers received.

Participants were full of praise for the unexpected networking possibilities and their efficiency, such as for the value the event offered.

“We received emails from participants asking us to do more of this kind of event. They were stunned by the value the event did bring them.”

Key-learnings for everyone creating virtual events

Apart from the preparations mentioned above, other organizers can learn from the experience that Matthias Grabner and his team derived from the process of taking their first event virtual. We asked what the key learnings & most important takeaways are.

What worked well:

  • Let the registration be open as long as possible (until the day of the event)
  • Invest time to create incentives. For us, the representative keynotes were a strong pull-factor.
  • Make sure you have responsible people to:
  • Communicate with the speakers (collect all their numbers beforehand)
  • Communicate with the participants (chat, email, push-notifications)
  • Prepare a back-up plan (maintenance display, pre-recorded videos, draft email templates)
  • Delegate as much as possible to professionals (e.g. streaming set-up)

What he would do differently next time:

  • Narrow down the topic of the virtual event. Instead of having one big event covering everything, with virtual events you can address long-tail topics and easily create more smaller events, for a more specific audience.

The most surprising was…

“The top-class end-users we could reach. The virtual event does not know any borders and the hurdle of traveling somewhere else disappears. Thus, we saw exceptionally many top-class end-users from all over the world.”

An outlook on a virtual event strategy

With this experiment being a success, we wondered how the format of virtual events fit into their future strategy.

“I honestly consider prospective AAIC’s to be virtual only!
“Even though you might think that virtual events come with less of a planning workload, this is not true. They are exactly the same amount of work. But on top of the fantastic outcome, they are cheaper for us to organize and not to forget, environmentally friendly.”
“The virtual events are going to be an established part for us. Of course, you have to consider which events exactly because they are best suited for really operational ones, where it is not mainly about promoting an image and getting nice pictures, but about doing business with each other.”
“Further, it is likely that we are going to extend our physical events (once they can take place again), with a virtual component.”

Appraisal

We @ b2match are extremely happy that the applied artificial intelligence conference 2020 went so well and we are more than excited to see it become a virtual event superstar!

Thank you Matthias Grabner for the devoted time and valuable insights, which hopefully serve a lot of other organizers out there well.

The Virtual Event Solution

Our virtual event solution lets you create an engaging virtual experience for your audience to network, connect & collaborate.

You can explore new business opportunities, run events virtually across the entire world, or incorporate virtual attendance as an addition to your physical event.

Key features the solution compose are:

  • Ability to distribute & broadcast content (your event program)
  • Flexible meetings scheduling
  • An option to easily integrate third-party streaming providers
  • New 1:1 video meeting format

If you want more information about the virtual event solution: Read more

Or Contact us and start using it four your event now