Running a Successful Virtual Conference
Reflections from AlgoSummit 2020

Gili Kimel, Director of International Field Marketing at AlgoSec, reflects on her experience transforming the hotly anticipated AlgoSummits into virtual events

No one could have anticipated the events of the last few months, and the impact it would have across the world. One consequence of the global pandemic was the cancellation or postponement of all major in-person conferences, and AlgoSummit would have faced a similar fate without some ingenuity from our team. We knew we had to deliver a positive and engaging experience for our partners and customers, and that is why we decided to embrace the new way of working and take our AlgoSummit conferences virtual this year.

As a field marketer, I rarely engage in digital activities, and we have certainly never planned and executed a digital event of our own. However, we knew how important it was that we showed appreciation for our customers and partners over what has been a turbulent year.

Turning our idea into a reality was not without its challenges, and we spent a considerable amount of time evaluating what would be possible and more importantly, most valuable, in an online medium.


Accepting the boundaries of virtual events

We needed to start from the basics and clearly understand what we wanted to achieve from a virtual event. When you organise an in-person event, you have the scope to engage with customers and partners by sharing updates from the business, such as product roadmaps or technical sessions, and offer an opportunity for guests to network with other registrants.

We very quickly had to decide what we could and could not achieve virtually, and this acceptance phase was a really important learning curve for us. When you try to impose something on a platform that it is not designed for, it quickly loses its authenticity and is more likely to fail. We came to realise that having a digital event did not mean translating the exact same sessions online. It required a complete rethink on its format and what outcomes would fit the new medium it would be served on.

In the acceptance phase and shaping the new objectives, we found that the networking aspect, which is highly anticipated for us and the partners, would be hard to replicate in a virtual environment. We did explore platforms such as Zoom, which allows two-way video and conversation, and in preparation for our own event, we took part in some virtual sessions using it. However, it became clear that it wouldn’t work for us due to too many unknown quantities. We needed something that conveyed the special nature of AlgoSummit. After researching the available tools on the market, we eventually chose On24 for the presentations and cvent for registrations.


Adapting the content to fit the brief

When we held in-person events, we produced around 10 hours’ worth of content in User Forums and about 8 hours in Partner Forums, in addition to the training elements and certifications that were offered to attendees. We knew that would simply not be possible in a virtual environment, so we had a think about the format and length of sessions to ensure we held the attention of those listening to us.

After participating in so many events in the lead up to our own, we understood that the audience attention span was short, so we had to re-evaluate the content to make it crisp, fast, and dynamic. We took each session and narrowed them down to a total time of 1 hour and 15 minutes, with four speakers a day having 15 to 20 minutes each. We made sure the speakers were really focusing on the main points during their presentation, and carefully selected the most anticipated sessions based on previous feedback. In total, we had two days of User Forums and two days of Partner Forums, with each day being around 75 minutes.

We also put a lot of focus on training the presenters in the art of talking to ‘no one’. Our speakers are familiar with presenting to a crowd, so it is unfamiliar ground speaking not only virtually but also to a blank space. We provided the speakers with professional one to one training to equip them with the tools to do it well.


Building connections with your audience

We felt it was important to show the realities of working from home, with all the quirks and unforeseen challenges that may present. While we could have mocked up well-positioned and polished roll-ups for our speakers, we decided it was a nice opportunity to show everyone how we’re all experiencing the same thing, and we need those authentic interactions professionally and personally. We asked our speakers to use their own backgrounds, featuring bookcases and maybe even the occasional child walking past, as it was an important aspect for us to connect more meaningfully with our virtual audience.

Although AlgoSummit was delivered virtually, we also thought it was still important to engage with our registrants offline. Ahead of the events, we sent everyone a 20/20 Work from Home Survival Kit which included a desk mirror, blue light glasses, small mop to clean glasses and computer, and a T-Shirt. We challenged the registrants to take a picture in their current office situation, and the picture with most likes got a Nintendo Switch to help with downtime away from the conference sessions.

While we were anxious about hosting our first virtual conference, the feedback from the audience was overwhelmingly positive. They appreciated how well constructed the sessions were and this motivates us for more online events in the future.