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Everything We Learned from Running a 2,800 Person Virtual Conference

May 5, 2020
May 19, 2023

We can't believe CMX Global Connect has already come and gone! Our first virtual conference was a success!This was a huge learning opportunity for the CMX team, and we want to share with you what we learned from this process, to help you host your own virtual events and conferences! How can we help you learn from our experiences, our successes and challenges? What do you want to know about our process? Here at CMX, we are big believers in not reinventing the wheel.So, we’ve compiled our learnings into this blog post, in hopes it will help you plan your upcoming virtual events and conferences.While this was CMX’s first virtual conference, the CMX Connect community is hosting virtual events all over the world. Check out the upcoming CMX Connect events in a timezone near you!

First, here are the numbers:

  • We put CMX Global together in about five weeks.
  • We had almost 2,879 RSVPs, and 2,100 people attended - a 79% turnout rate
  • There were 84 countries represented in the audience
  • We had 29 speakers, on 4 stages.
  • We had 27 volunteers help with emceeing, stage managing, IT help, chat moderation, and more!

So, here are our steps:

1. Create an event brief

Check out the CMX Global Connect Event BriefWant to make your own? Here’s an empty Event Brief template you can copy and use.What is the purpose of the event you are hosting, and why is it important? Creating an event brief will help you and your team get on the same page. Coming up with the purpose first, will feed everything else you do, from speaker selection, to the marketing plan.The Background for CMX Global Connect:CMX Global Connect is a virtual conference that is a collaborative project put on by the Connect Hosts and Superstars for the community industry. CMX is using this opportunity to band together with our community to educate and connect them with the particular focus on how to build community during this time. We are here to remind people that no matter what is happening in the world, community is still the future!This virtual event will include presentations, facilitated discussions, workshops, networking opportunities, and other virtual activities. We will build this around the infrastructure of CMX Connect but on a global scale.It’s also important, when thinking about what your goals for the event are, to think about how you are going to measure the success of the event. Think both quantitative (number of attendees, NPS, Attendees per session, etc.) and qualitative (event testimonials, social media shares from attendees, etc.).

2. Expand on planning timeline, event agenda and script

With the purpose of the event, and your goals in mind, now you know who your intended audience is, and you will be able to start focusing on the topic(s) and the speaker(s). Who do you want to speak and what will they talk about or teach? How will the content be delivered - presentation, fireside chat, workshop, etc.For CMX Global Connect, we asked the CMX Connect Hosts to pitch speakers and session ideas, and we were able to get many of them involved on stage. We also invited long-standing members of the CMX Community to speak! There were lots of great stories circulating the industry, about companies restructuring, and pivoting in times of COVID-19, and invited those community builders to share their stories.When initially brainstorming our event script and agenda, we frequently referenced our ‘Why Is This Important’ and our ‘Key Message,’ using both of these as a home base brought us back to remembering who this event was actually for (the community), and what the importance was (building community through crisis). Constantly putting this in the front of our minds, allowed us to really build a fulfilling and diverse content agenda.More questions to ask yourself: Do you want your attendees to have an opportunity to network and what does that look like? Will you have any other extracurriculars? A big part in wrapping our heads around the agenda was the fact that we wanted to try it all. In our minds, nothing was going to hold us back, if something sounded interesting or different, then we wanted to give it a try. This was our opportunity to learn from our mistakes and give things a shot. If they didn’t work, no big deal, just a lesson learned. We took the “if you can dream it, you can do it” mindset, and figured out a way to include everything we thought of.

3. Select your platform

Check out CMX’s Comprehensive list of tips, tools, and examples for event organizers.For CMX Global Connect, we used Bevy for the event creation, landing page, RSVP collection, and email marketing. We used Hopin as our virtual event platform where people attended the event.When selecting a platform for a virtual event, it’s important to decide your must-haves vs. your nice-to-haves. Which features can you not live without?For CMX Global Connect, we needed a platform that was a one-stop shop, that used only one link to access every part of the event. This was key. Some other must-haves, were that we needed the ability to have multiple stages with different tracks, and we needed networking built in. We needed to work with sponsors virtually and see how that could happen, so we needed that to be built in too. We needed attendees to be able to chat with each other in chat boxes throughout the event, and we needed the sessions to be automatically recorded.On the other hand, our nice-to haves were, we wanted a platform that made it easy for attendees to sign up, (with only one password), we wanted a platform that had accessibility features. We also wanted a platform that was easy for speakers and volunteers to figure out.In our case, we got everything we needed, but didn’t get everything we wanted. We have learned from CMX Global Connect, and figured out that some of our original nice-to-haves should have actually been non-negotiable. For this event, we paid the price, and spent a lot of time and energy making up for these features.

4. Logistics and Roles

Let’s talk logistics. An in-person event has many aspects to cover - venue space, lights, recording, food, drink, check in, transportation, the list goes on. A virtual conference feels like there should be less logistics, but we found that’s not the case. The platform, the tickets, the emails, the tech support. Where will the HQ team be? Will you be hiring professionals, filling in-house, or using volunteers? Some of the roles we found to be non-negotiable:An overall event manager. This person needs to be able to see the entire event as a whole and get pulled in at a moment’s notice to help out. They should not have any other day-of responsibilities and their primary focus is see-all, be-all.Emcee(s), You need one emcee per stage. This person introduces the speaker(s) and provides an overview of the session. They also encourage attendee engagement, and can let attendees know what’s coming up on other stages, and about other activities,Speaker manager. At CMX Global Connect, we created a private green room, where all speakers and emceed checked in and met 5 minutes prior to their session. We had a speaker manager hang out there, and check speakers in when they arrived. Our speaker manager Ashley, provided last minute feedback to speakers, helped calm their nerves, and answered any last minute questions.Technical Support. This person lives off site and is there in the event the even platform has any technical difficulties. For CMX Global Connect our wonderful tech support lived in a channel on Slack. He jumped in to provide any technical support when it was needed. We were meant to have onsite tech support from the Hopin team. But on the day of the event, we didn’t. Thankfully, our volunteer had used the platform before and was very helpful.Chat box moderators. This role is essential to any virtual event. There needs to be separate people moderating the chat to encourage engagement, answer people’s questions, and ensure attendees are abiding by the Code of Conduct. The more, the better!

5. Event prep

For CMX Global Connect, it was imperative that we host Dress Rehearsal calls with all our speakers, volunteers, and emcees. We created a Calendly link for people to schedule a call with us on the Friday or Monday before the event. This gave folks a peek into what the platform looks and feels like, and gave them an opportunity to practice screen sharing.The platform we chose, Hopin, did not have a preview option, but the majority of our speakers wanted a chance to practice their entire session. We were required to create an entire other virtual test event on Hopin, and share the links to the speakers. It was important we give the speakers a chance to practice, but to be honest, this is an example of a feature that became non-negotiable when we look at virtual event platforms in the future.

Other learnings

Become a Jedi Master of your Event Tools

As the event manager, you need to be a Jedi Master on the platform you are using. Learn everything about the features, quirks, and bugs your virtual event platform has to offer. Become a master of it. You will not be able to clearly explain the process or what is needed from your sponsors, speakers, or volunteers unless you have a clear understanding.Take the time to do a demo of the platform, do another demo, ask questions, read help articles, run mock events - the list goes on. Once you educate yourself, then you can educate others. Try putting yourself in their shoes, how would I as a sponsor, speaker, volunteer, or attendee do x, y or z. Do my instructions make sense or do they lack clarity? Send your documents to colleagues to get their feedback and work it out with them before sending to avoid questions that could have been easily addressed. And finally, be honest, if you don't know the answer to a question, say, “I don’t know, let’s find out!”

Outline responsibilities

Make sure you have your team of volunteers set up for success. They need to be clear about their day-of role and responsibilities. Think strategically about how you will utilize these people, and give them everything they need in order to succeed. Do they have a run-of-show? Do they have any scripted lines that you as an organizer want them to say or repeat to attendees? Make sure they are set up for success.Trust your volunteers! You must trust the team you choose. Just like in-person events, you have to relinquish control and allow your team to do their jobs. They can only do this if you trust that they know what to do.

Team involvement

There are no bigger advocates for your company and brand than the employees. Not only do you need to get excited about what you are creating but you need to be sure that you have your company on the same bandwagon. Host internal educational meetings to go through the event with them.Provide them with usable templates, on HQ calls be sure that you give weekly updates on what you are doing, meet with each team (sales, developers, design, customer success, etc.) separately to educate each of them on what is needed in order to make the event a success, be diligent in your follow up and just remember to get them excited! Keep internal event messaging at the forefront and they will in turn keep that on top of mind when communicating externally about the event.

Keep Track and Wrap Up

This blog post is a bit of a brain dump, brought to you by notes upon notes upon notes that the CMX team took whilst planning this event. We kept track of everything. What worked, what didn’t. Must-haves for next time, mistakes we don’t want to make again. We compiled these notes and lists into a big, shared document that has become our “virtual event playbook”. We also hosted a wrap up meeting for the team that was involved. A little mind meld to talk about each of our experiences, and discuss how we can be better for next time!

The Conversation Is Not Over!

Have you hosted a virtual conference or event? What vital steps in the planning process did we miss here? Comment below with your advice.

What's Next?

We are hosting virtual events all over the world. Join us at an upcoming CMX Connect event in a timezone near you!The New Normal: How COVID-19 Will Impact Your Community Strategy in the Long Run

May 5, 2020
May 19, 2023

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