PM Guest Article November 2020

Organizing a Virtual Conference – An overview

N R Prasad, PMP®, PMI-ACP®, CSCP, SP

Prasad is a PMP Certified Software Professional possessing extensive experience in the IT Sector. He is a Scrum Master, IT, in Intel Technology India Pvt. Ltd.

Work from Home is the new normal with meetings, discussions, and training, including conferences and events, hosted virtually. The article below highlights the salient features of hosting a virtual conference and can be considered a planning checklist. These are based on my recent experiences and can be used as a general template with minor customizations based on a specific conference.

The first step is to form a core team to plan and execute the conference virtually. It is preferable to create a team 6-8 weeks before the event. A general recommendation is to form four sub-teams- with an overall Lead or Project Manager to run the pre-event planning.

A simple acronym, CARE, will help to remember the four sub-teams:

CARECommunication – Agenda – Reward – Emcee teams.

Captured below are the salient points for each team to focus on during the event planning and execution.

Communications team: This team will plan the communications template and frequency to cascade to the target audience. A planned activity calendar detailing how and when to send such communications is essential. The method to send information could be individual/group emails or newsletter emails, or any other available digital forms. Two to three weeks before the event, plan to send some teasers with the registration links, speaker information, and detailed agenda. It will aid participants with ample time to register and internalize the event. A regular cadence of communication is also an important rule to remember. This team should also publish a post-event blog or article, including all the relevant information and photographs. Necessary notes and data to be collected during the event to publish this article.

Agenda team:  The first and foremost task is to finalize a theme for the event or conference, and a good, catchy, and exciting theme is a necessity. This team manages and owns the agenda finalization and communicating with speakers. If you have external speakers, it may be required to take required legal permissions within your own company to share and distribute content. The team is also responsible for blocking speakers’ calendar, informing them of the conference’s theme, and aligning the content. It also involved working directly with each speaker on the session duration and the speaker’s bio. For Internal speakers, similar activities are needed except for legal approvals. Special attention is required if keynote speakers are Senior Directors, GM, VPS, or Country Heads. In a virtual conference, the options are expansive because no travel is involved, so it may be wise to choose speakers from different sites, increasing coverage and participation, and adding variety to the event. While finalizing the schedule, care needs to be taken for speaker transition, breaks, and other fun activities to keep the audience engaged and involved. This team needs to share the necessary information and details with the EMCEE & Communication team regularly.

REWARDS team: This team owns the budget approvals and items required to be bought or procured for suitably rewarding the speakers, core team, competition winners, etc. In a virtual conference, digital recognitions in the form of gift vouchers and coupons are preferred, while the team may also decide to give trophies or mementos. Additional shipping charges, address to ship and other details need to be collected. Distributing any rewards online also involves legal and tax implications that need to be considered and adhered to as per the company policy. The reward details need to be finalized and conveyed to the agenda team to inform speakers accordingly. Notify the EMCEE team to make appropriate announcements during the event on the prizes to be won.

EMCEE team: This team needs to finalize EMCEE or Master of Ceremonies for the event. The person chosen should be a good communicator and should be involved from the early stage of planning to be fully aware of the schedule, flow, speaker information, etc. a thorough preparation for the event. It may be a better option to select two anchors or emcees to prevent any last-minute exigencies.-. Emcee scripts should be prepared and practiced before the event. Apart from preparation, this team owns timekeeping and managing presentation transitions, etc. during the event. Fun events, playing videos, and conducting competitions during the event should be planned. Though the Agenda team works on the speaker content, this team needs to coordinate with them to ensure the conference’s flow and theme are covered appropriately. In a virtual meeting, the platform to use like ZOOM, TEAMS, SKYPE, or WEBEX needs to be decided and tested well in advance to ensure the participants have a great and smooth experience. The number of participants in the conference, geographies from which they attend also determine the platform choice. How the Q&A sessions are managed (Virtual or Verbal), feedback for the conference/individual sessions, and DO’s and DONT’s for the conference are the additional tasks for this team. Other preparations will include planning for event competitions, surveys, inputs, etc.

As the saying goes, “Planning is the key to success.”

The core team is the backbone of the event and should be selected appropriately.

Together you can make it happen.