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Organizing an event is always a huge challenge. It might seem that planning an online event is much easier than preparing a stationary conference. After all, we don’t need to book a place, catering, and accommodation for employees. While organizing the stationary edition of Jira Day 2020, we had (almost) everything prepared. Due to the pandemic circumstances, we faced a difficult choice: cancel the event or move it to the virtual world. We chose the second option. In this article, we’ll share our experience in organizing online conferences and show that with proper management and a carefuly selected tool, event planning doesn’t have to become a space mission.
Anyone, who has ever organized an event, knows that this is a very complex project with many dimensions. There is no one proven recipe for preparing an event because each of them is different. Even the most carefully planned event can abound in unforeseen situations, and potential problems will arise in places where we least expect them. Does this mean that we can organize a conference spontaneously, without a plan? Sure, but this approach doesn’t guarantee success. Planning is a key aspect in addition to the main schedule, it is also worth having an emergency plan in place.
Where to start planning an event? There has to be an idea in the beginning. However, it cannot be a completely abstract vision, because event organization, both in the stationary and virtual form, requires financial outlays. How to make an event which will bring benefits, not losses? At this stage, it is worth remembering that a good idea is not enough. We need to set the goal that we want to achieve through the event. Do we want to promote our brand or product, to acquire new hot leads, recruit specialists for our company, or maybe our priority is building a community?
Once we know the answers to these questions, we can define the target audience of our event. It’s very important because on this basis we plan further activities, such as: promotion, subject of the lecture, sponsorship agreement, communication method, other additional tools, etc.
The standard sponsorship agreement most often includes such elements as: appearance and dimensions of the stand, number of tables and chairs, availability of monitors, slots on the agenda, logos in promotional materials, contribution to the welcome package, sponsored prizes, etc.
An online event sponsorship agreement differs significantly from the offer of a stationary event. It isn’t necessary to provide large screens and chairs, but we have to consider what value will be attractive enough for our potential sponsor to become one.
The sponsorship agreement should be adapted to the type of event. If we are preparing a webinar, we can suggest placing an advertising spot during the break or a wall with logos in the background during the broadcast. If we organize a large event, e.g. a multi-day technology conference, it is a good idea to prepare virtual stands.
During the Jira Day Remote Edition, we provided our partners with virtual spaces on the streaming platform where they could freely communicate with interested participants outside the lectures.
An interesting solution was applied by the company that prepared mDevCamp – the conference for mobile application developers. Instead of canceling the event or reducing it to the form of webinar lectures, the organizers postponed the event by a few weeks and created a virtual world in the computer game, which participants could freely move around in the form of simple avatars. The graphics were reminiscent of games from the 90s, such as Kao the Kangaroo or Captain Claw but this only made the conference more attractive.
We need to remember that what is attractive and understandable to us, may not be so for our audience. While the online game will work for a developer conference, an event for business people should take a different, more professional shape. Does this mean a business or technology conference has to be boring? Everything depends on the ingenuity of the organizers.
What can we do to prevent the event from being boring? Try to make sure that the lecture blocks are interspersed with entertainment elements. At a stationary event, this isn’t very problematic. If participants feel overwhelmed with knowledge, they can take a break at any time to visit partners’ stands, participate in competitions, or simply join an ordinary small talk near the coffee machine.
Very often stationary conferences include the so-called after party. Such an evening party allows us to catch a breath, but also supports networking in a natural way. While drinking beer and eating pizza, we can freely talk about lectures, establish new business contacts, and exchange impressions from the event. It’s also an opportunity to meet the speakers in less official circumstances.
When it comes to organizing an online event, providing entertainment isn’t simple. Participants are located in many different places, they most often watch the conference in front of a laptop, and their only company is a cat or a dog. In such conditions, it’s difficult to get the participant’s involvement, moreover, a large number of lectures can be tiring. At Deviniti, we focused on what is missing the most in office work. It’s all about physical activity.
During the Jira Day Remote Edition, Maciej Ogrodnik – our Health Ambassador, conducted mini-training sessions between the lectures for the participants. These were a series of simple exercises that anyone could do at home without the need for specialized utensils. This form of entertainment not only allowed to refresh and prepare the mind for the next portion of knowledge, but also brought relief to our tired spines.
As we mentioned earlier, an event can’t take place without the participation of partners. It isn’t about financial considerations, although, of course, sponsors’ applications allow for the initial determination of the budget of the event.
Properly selected partners help build a community, facilitate effective advertising, and ensure the value of the event. It’s best to find partners about six months in advance, so that the list is closed one month before the event. These time frames aren’t rigid. During the previous edition of Jira Day, we accepted the last applications even several days before the conference.
The choice of partners is crucial when organizing the event. During Jira Day Remote Edition, we invited our partners, with whom we work every day, and sponsors from previous editions, to cooperate. Each of the potential sponsors received several variants of the offer so that they could choose the most appropriate option.
It’s a good idea to designate one person who will be responsible for contacting partners and coordinating all activities in this area. Thanks to this, partners will know who to contact in case of additional questions or problems. This will avoid chaos and will also strengthen business relations, because there are people behind every company.
Once we’ve defined the topic and purpose of the conference, the next step is to set the agenda. In the case of Jira Day, this aspect also covered many aspects. Searching for speakers is a difficult process and requires a lot of activity. Promotion should be carried out using various channels, not only in social media. Sometimes it’s necessary to involve teammates and partners in the promotion.
During Jira Day, some of the lectures were conducted by our experts from Deviniti, and other were reserved for our partners. The remaining slots were filled by IT specialists from around the world. It was possible thanks to an appropriately intensive promotional campaign.
It’s worth mentioning that in terms of agenda, an online event has an advantage over a stationary one, because it allows us to gain the knowledge of the world’s best experts and avoid location restrictions and financial barriers related to transport and accommodation. Of course, it works both way. By presenting online content, we can reach audiences around the world. This way, we achieve two goals: implement the educational mission and acquire new leads and partnerships straight from the global market.
To be sure that the quality of our Jira Day event will be at a high level, we have created a content committee. The committee consisted of experts who helped select the most valuable topics and put them in the agenda. In the Jira Day 2021 edition, lectures were selected by voting. Each of the experts chose the lectures based on the description in the applications so that the content was as interesting as possible and at the same time consistent with our vision and the purpose of the event.
After selecting the speakers, we also took care of the quality of the materials. Each speaker received guidelines regarding the format and quality of the recording. Before the conference, we verified the submitted films and provided feedback, in some cases asking for editing corrections or other minor changes.
We tried to finish the process of creating the agenda as soon as possible. From the very beginning, the knowledge was the most important value for us because it attracts Jira Day participants the most. We supplemented the agenda on a regular basis so that as many people as possible could find something for themselves in the program and decide to participate in the event.
In the case of a stationary event, technology means usually large screens with advertisements, multimedia effects, sound systems, or projectors and laptops. If one of them fails, we always have a chance for improvisation. The audience is there so we can try to communicate with them differently without using a microphone or showing a presentation. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to test the equipment before the event.
Imagine a situation where the streaming platform went dead while conducting an online conference. This is a black scenario but we should be prepared for it because losing virtual communication with our participants, we lose any possibility of continuing the event. Before we restore the connection, it may turn out that some participants have resigned from further participation in the lectures. To avoid such situations, it’s worth testing several tools and choosing the most convenient and at the same time the most reliable.
In 2021, we decided to cooperate with the agency that prepared our own version of Meeting Application. The Jira Day application was available for Android, iOS and in a web form. We prepared the application earlier so that we could fully configure and test it. Thanks to this, we were sure that both signing up for the event and joining during the course, participation in lectures, or communication during the event worked correctly and comfortably.
Trust is good, control is better, so as we mentioned before, checking the equipment and tools should be the basis for organizing an event. Testing is best done well in advance, not the day before the event. Anyone who works in the IT industry knows that testing in production is always a bad idea.
Take care of legal issues related to the event organization to avoid potential problems. Due to the GDPR, we must ensure the appropriate consents to the processing of data provided to us by participants. In addition, events are regulated by generally understood civil law, but it’s worth further clarifying various aspects to avoid inaccuracies.
It’s a good practice to create your own event rules, which participants must accept when buying a ticket or declaring participation in a free event. Such conduct protects the organizers and participants not only against unpleasant consequences, but also unforeseen charges.
A good host is the key to success. It’s worth spending some time choosing the right candidate, because they’re the face of the event and are largely responsible for the involvement of the participants. The host should be definitely the star. Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to hire a celebrity or actor to conduct the conference. Even an unknown person with a lot of charisma can make an event truly unforgettable.
The host not only announces individual lectures, informs about breaks, or reminds about competitions. They communicate with participants, direct them to the appropriate places (stationary and virtual), encourage them to ask questions and relieve problematic situations. They’re also irreplaceable in case of potential disasters. If the speaker doesn’t arrive at his performance or the online chat fails, the announcer must show reflexes and react quickly to save the event.
The promotion of the event must be planned earlier, but also not too early. The announcement of the event a year before the planned date will make interested people probably forget about it until the registration is opened. On the other hand, if we start the promotion too late, we may not reach the expected number of participants.
The promotion plan should be divided into stages and the messages should be tailored to each channel. Finally, the promotion needs a plan so as not to omit anyone from our specific target group. In the case of Jira Day, we used several different methods:
As in antiquity all roads led to Rome, in this case all promotion channels led to the Jira Day landing page. Of course, this website was updated almost every day, we added there new partners, and new topics. In this way, interested users had access to the newest information, and could decide to participate in the event.
A good communication between organizers and partners facilitates efficient organization and eliminates misinformation. Thanks to this, unnecessary tension and stress can be avoided and we can be sure that all co-workers have access to the necessary information. However, the success of the event is determined primarily by communication with the participants. Even the best organized conference won’t succeed in the absence of audience involvement.
While communication with the audience at a stationary event isn’t difficult because the host, partners at the stands, and conference staff are always there to help, react immediately, and naturally maintain engagement, in the case of an online event it’s more complicated. Our participants are hidden behind the monitors, so we can’t see their reaction and we aren’t able to quickly find the solution for any situation. If the recipients fall asleep during the online lecture, we probably won’t find out about it.
In order to activate the participants and give them the opportunity to ask questions and exchange experiences, in both editions of Jira Day Remote, we decided to provide the chat for registered users. In the first Jira Day Remote Edition, we used Grape.io chat, while in 2021 users get access to the chat through the Meeting Application. Thanks to the engagement of several chat moderators, we were able to effectively solve problems, collect questions about the lectures, and watch over the pleasant atmosphere of the event.
We wanted to quickly react to the participants’ moods, so we decided to send out emails with the questionnaire every day. Based on the answers in the surveys, we were able to make improvements and catch problem areas during the event. In addition, each mail also contained an agenda for a given day, thanks to which the participants could read the topics again and choose the lectures they were interested in.
At Deviniti, we always try to get involved in charity events. We have created the Deviniti Cares program, under which we support various organizations, including Schronisko dla Kobiet im. Brata Alberta. Recently, we have adopted Rufus and Mei Lin – red pandas, who live in the Wrocław zoo.
Jira Day was also an opportunity to do something good for others. We aren’t stone-hearted about the fate of our planet, so we decided to take part in the Las na Zawsze initiative and planted 2 m2 of forest for each active participant in the conference. In total, we are going to plant 3,000 m2 of trees.
The moment has come. The last speech is over, participants log out of the application, the dust after the conference settles, and emotions decrease, too. How to make the memories truly unforgettable? The event organization doesn’t end with the last speech. Try to stay in touch with both participants and sponsors. After the last edition of Jira Day, we recorded a short thank-you video for the sponsors:
Moreover, we prepared an article summarizing the entire event, in which we briefly mentioned the most interesting topics and answered questions raised during the conference. We also sent emails to the participants to thank them for participating in the event and ask for filling up a general satisfaction survey. The answers allowed us to draw conclusions that will surely help us organize the Jira Day event even better in the future.
Finally, we have prepared a few tips that will facilitate the organization of the event, regardless of whether it is a short webinar or a large stationary conference.
Effective event organization requires the involvement of many people, great communication, and detailed planning. There is no single recipe for successful event but we believe that thanks to appropriate analysis and strategy, we can cope with even the most surprising situations. We should treat it as a huge, complex project and divide it into smaller components, this way it will be easier to maintain control and face the challenges it brings.
If you want to learn more about project management and effective team communication, read the articles from our blog:
Martyna is a Content Specialist at Deviniti. She gathers information, writes down her notes on paper, and then brings the results to the digital world. As a hobby, she learns to code iOS apps.
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