10 tips to organize a successful online conference

Time to show your decoration skills. Image courtesy of @dr_thakker.

Let’s get to the tips

My tip: it is extremely exhausting to keep your attention for six hours in a row focused in talks or workshops, especially staring at a screen! My advice would be to include less sessions per day and to always keep a coffee breakout room open during the conference (and of course don’t leave it abandoned!)

My tip: don’t use a single tool/SaaS for all the conference. There might be sessions with a lot of bidirectional collaboration (perhaps open spaces), where attendees might be very present. The traditional talk format, however, is more likely to be developed in a unidirectional stage, with questions in a chat or at the end of the presentation.

My tip: attendees should use real names and their cameras have to be on. A good thing of using digital tools is that inappropriate behaviours could be monitored more easily than a 1:1 conversation in a conference hall.

My tips: Send all of them a series of very specific instructions on the script, background, lighting, sound, video, where they would have to look and even some tips on software.

BONUS: Make sure you work with comfortable deadlines. You should invest more time than usual in reaching out to the speakers in order to be aligned. If the video is not as good as you thought, you might need to ask your speaker to submit it to you again. Naturally, some of them might not be used to being on camera. No worries, talk to them and make them feel as comfortable as possible. Be understanding.

EXTRA BONUS: Some of the speakers might work in a company that supervises the external messages through their Communications team. Reach out to them, they might be handy. Perhaps they already have the means to make their speaker’s talk look more professional.

My tip: like in Social Media managing, always have a crisis plan up and ready. Share every slide in advance with the core team in case any key actor’s connection drops.

The Simpsons were used to technical issues

My tip: encourage chats, days before the conference happens. Some ideas: create public lists (obviously with prior consent of attendees), organize Meetups, suggest open spaces or just simple virtual coffees. You can even tell them to join the technical test in several groups (based on common topics or interests, maybe?)

My tip: similar to badly managed open spaces, online conference sessions might face the risk of reducing a whole group conversation to a table tennis match with the two louder (or the ones with best connection) participants of the group. In order to avoid that, drive the conversation when necessary and involve the ones that might be a little more introvert. Think on techniques to make it more collaborative while keeping in mind less outgoing people.

My tip: in order to make sure your attendees are as satisfied as you are with the level of the talks, include a rating system. I’ve observed that in online conferences appreciation (or lack thereof) is often not shared with the organizers.

My tip: Do not drag them out of the room. If they are having an interesting conversation drive them to a coffee corner breakout room.

BONUS: Create a feed where resources mentioned during the conference (slides, links, bibliography, videos, etc.) could be found during and afterwards. If possible, provide a space for attendees to share their notes.

My tip: be prepared to act depending on any needs you see arising, surprise them positively. For instance, some of them might be talking about a specific topic you didn’t have in mind in the first place, so create a room for them talk about it.

My tip: create several breakout rooms and allow the attendees to make their own private chats with a select number of colleagues. Have a bunch of aces up your sleeve (look into gamification techniques to keep people interested, like Powerpoint Karaoke) in case the conversation is not as thrilling as you hoped.

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