Tsachi Melamed, InnovenTeam
December 18, 2020 | 13 min read

Tsachi Melamed, InnovenTeam

Let's take a moment to reflect on a personal experience: my very first hybrid/online conference which I managed and produced. I arrived at this challenge from a perfectly planned in-person conference and due to the worldwide pandemic and the ban on in-person group gatherings, the conference was postponed. We decided to tweak this event to meet all the government restrictions and transformed everything to be a hybrid/online event. Who could have believed that we would be able to pull off a conference with the same planned agenda even during the midst of the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19?

Making ourselves known

Before the event itself, participants must be curious and hear or read about the upcoming conference. All the advertisement was done the same way that we were used to publish in-person events. We created a website containing the agenda of the conference with the speakers and the event sponsors. We adjusted the advertisement just a bit to ensure we include all the COVID-19 protocols, which was a crucial part for the participants to see during this time. Since this event was already fully planned before all the restrictions occurred, everything was already prepared, and only minor adjustments needed to be made. All the sponsors, newsletters, agendas were previously prepared. Therefore, we did not feel much of a challenge advertising the event because the majority was ready.

Before arrival, one must register

Just like with every conference, and just like this one, it started with an event website and online registration. We are familiar with Eventact as we have worked with them for several years and have been doing online registration for many events. The advertisement for this conference called for participants to register directly through the event website. I created a website is attractive to the reader with the use of colors, images, logos, and easy to navigate. I used Eventact for the event registration, the event website and, to create the event agenda. Luckily, all of this can be done using one event platform , we are fortunate to already know this system long prior to the pandemic so it was easy for me to set everything up quickly I work with many different newspapers and media and our conferences are normally open to the general public, however, with the online conference, we were able to meet an even wider range of people and were able to reach people from around the world.

I work with many different newspapers and media and our conferences are normally open to the general public, however with the online conference we were able to meet an even wider range of people and were able to reach people from around the world.

Challenges with our out-of-town speakers

In previous conferences, we were able to spoil and prepare our guest speakers in a special, dedicated lounge just for them. This lounge included a place for them to sit, rehearse, computers for them to download their presentations, and even just to rest. Of course, they were greeted with beverages and delicious catered food delivered to them personally. Normally, we did not have much to worry about with our guest speakers, except for making sure they wore a clean, non-striped shirt, which is awful for camera footage. This time, however, since part of our guest speakers were either at home or at their offices, we had many more worries than we had to deal with previously, yet still ensuring that our guest speakers wore clean and professional clothing. Before the pandemic, we had several conferences where we had guest speakers live-streamed or pre-recorded to be presented to our audience. This would almost always take place in professional studios with the use of proper camera equipment. Now, during the pandemic, part of our speakers spoke from their own private homes with the use of their at-home computers. This brought many new challenges for us to face. We had to worry that everything would work professionally and would continue to stay up to our high standards. This was a very big challenge for me as I had never done recordings like this at one's home, it has always been done professionally with a team of experts. We had to ensure that the speakers' background was clean, without any windows with the sun shining through as it could distort the image, and sometimes we had to include virtual backgrounds. A big worry that we had was that we needed to ensure that each speaker has a properly working internet connection. How embarrassing would it be if the internet would cut out during a live conference with thousands of viewers? However, with all these new challenges and worries, everything went smooth as we thoroughly planned everything and thought of all possible hiccups that could potentially happen.

Reaching our at-home participants

I work with many different newspapers and media and our conferences are normally open to the general public, however, with the online conference, we were able to meet an even wider range of people and were able to reach people from around the world. Since our goal was to have as many viewers as possible, we built the mini site for everyone to be able to reach through outside articles and sources. For this particular conference, there was no need for registration with usernames and passwords, as we have used previously for more intimate and private events. We wanted this conference to be open to the general public, therefore we uploaded our link to specific articles about our upcoming conference. This link directed the readers directly to the online conference website to view and register. After we already had the online registration, we had the dilemma to decide between doing the conference online or to do a hybrid conference.

Connecting virtually with one another

An online conference may be necessarily “easier” because the location is not as important, however, for us, it was important for our guests to feel as though it was a real conference with panels. We had several speaker panels and debated whether we would want our audience to see different windows through Zoom or to see several speakers on a stage at once with different cameras and angles. Luckily, our client wanted to invest in this conference with a great budget, even before the pandemic, and we decided to go through with a hybrid event and not just an online conference. The agenda of our conference was built from people who were unable to attend the conference because they were abroad and there were many travel restrictions and quarantine requirements. Luckily, this was not the first time that I had to conduct a video conference. The video conferences were either be pre-recorded or live streamed with our audience. One of our out-of-town speakers was the secretary-general of the OECD which he was originally planned to be presented through a video conference, therefore there were no adjustments needed to be made. Also, the President of Israel, which was unable to come physically, was still able to plan a pre-recorded speech that was presented to all our viewers. These were issues that we have dealt with in the past and luckily, this was not something new to me. I have always been able to include speakers through video conferences or live stream.

Mingling and connecting between the participants is one of the most important parts of the conference world. To be honest, many people attend conferences to mingle and connect with others. Normally participants of a conference can easily make connections with people that they would not normally connect with outside the event. Therefore this was a crucial challenge for us to ensure that our participants have easy access and can connect with important people and the guest speakers. The Eventact platform provided us with chat rooms, video meetings, and messages with other participants and speakers during the event. The famous saying “there is no second chance for the first impression” still exists even today with this platform for online conferences.

Finding a special location

To be able to find the proper and hot location for our hybrid event, we could have either found a place in a studio or a conference hall. This time, we truly thought ‘outside of the box' and were smart about finding our location because we did not necessarily have a live audience. Our physical audience consisted of the speakers and workers of the event. However, we still had to worry that this event would be classy and made it feel like a real conference, not like some other ordinary online conference. We took care of food, beverages, created tags with their names on it, like we normally do for our in-person events. We brought beautifully custom-made flower arrangements to decorate the tables, bars, and other areas throughout the space. We included the client's logo throughout the rooms and hallways and continued to be consistent with our high level of standards. We knew that the hall should not be large, unlike the halls I normally worked with when I organized events for hundreds, even thousands of people. We knew that we needed something smaller, unique and, special. After having visited several shared office spaces I was introduced to the MIXER offices. Not only do they have a prime location, but their office space has a dedicated room which met all our needs for this conference. We instantly knew that this was the right location for us.

Where to find us online

As I had mentioned earlier, we worked with the Eventact, which took care of all our online needs and wants. The conference was live-streamed through the event website which we made for this event. Different media and newspapers printed articles about us which included a link that directed them to the event website to view the conference.

Dilemmas for during the conference

Since a majority of our audience was at home or in their offices at work, it was very important for us not to include many breaks, rather it was important for us to have a continuous day of speakers. We ensured that there was a full day with a full agenda including many different aspects and information on specific topics. Also , we included a variety of interactive options such as the opportunity to join in on questionnaires and join smaller online meeting rooms to mingle with one another, just as they would have done at an in-person conference. It is not the same solution; however, it is the same idea given the circumstances with the worldwide pandemic and event restrictions.

What we learned about our viewers

Conferences that are streamed online through social media or newspapers have an advantage because online media provides a wide range of information about their viewers. When we do not work with these outlets, we get very limited information about who our participants are. Through online media, we were able to find out how many people participated and for how long, which was most important for us. We wanted to know how many people viewed the conference and we were able to pass it along to our valued sponsors which showed them how they were advertised.

The buzz after the event

Once the live conference ended, it did not mean that our work was done. Our role continued afterward by ensuring that there would be more viewers watching the highlights of the event after it was live. Newspapers and social media shared articles after the event which included pictures, summaries, and shared portions on their websites. This brought more exposure and a larger audience to this conference. This was not a challenge for us because this is what we have always done after an event, regardless of the worldwide pandemic. To summarize, we were given a large task at hand: to twist a live, in-person conference with a limited audience into a hybrid/online event open for the general public to view. We faced many challenges; however, we were able to prove to the system that this is possible. Conferences existed before the pandemic and are continuing to stay alive with all the government restrictions and event requirements. This is a new world and a new opportunity for events and conferences that will stick even once COVID-19 is behind us.

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