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What I learned migrating a B2B conference from F2F to digital in just 4 weeks

Taking our Get Stacked! 2020 conference digital wasn’t our preferred option for this event, but despite the steep learning curve, it was an extremely useful experience and has set us up well for the future of B2B events. Here’s what I learned along the way.

Last week, we ran our first fully digital conference. It wasn’t something we had any plans to do (or quite frankly aspirations to do) even two months ago. But right now, two months feels like an awfully long time in marketing!

Feedback from this event has been good, although it’s been a steep learning curve and there are lots of things that we’d do differently if we had our time again (and we soon will, given that Ignite USA is just around the corner!).

But given that a lot of B2B marketers are embarking on a very similar journey, and likely to feel many of the same pain points, I thought it might be helpful to candidly share my/our experiences and perspectives. I’d welcome your feedback by response, or any questions that you might have. Now, more than ever, collaboration and sharing knowledge is the key to success. More importantly, I’d like to clarify that this was very much a team effort, and that the events and marketing teams very much did the heavy lifting – my huge thanks go out to them.

I hope you find some useful insights here:

1.     Take your time to find the right platform

Make sure the core functionality is clearly understood. It sounds obvious, but this is easier said than done. Given the rapidity of decision making, around platforms,it’s going to be easy to miss something important. In our case, there were a few assumptions made about a core piece of functionality, which created a headache for us further down the track. We were able to resolve this, thankfully, but the lesson is: don’t take it for granted that everyone is on the same page and/or clear about core functionality.

2.     Test, test and test again.

You can never test enough – hosts/moderators need to be very comfortable with the platform, and there isn’t really a way to shortcut this. The platform we chose is built very logically… but sometimes that logic isn’t necessarily apparent to the user! Even if, like us, you regularly run conferences and operationally you are pretty slick, you’ll need to take a number of steps back on the new platform. At least one ‘live’ test is probably essential. We allocated an entire day to testing, and it still wasn’t really enough.

3.     Use existing tech if it’s relevant, but don’t be wedded to it.

Our recent B2B Marketing Leaders virtual roundtable showed that marketers are being commendably resistant to the urge to panic-buy new tech. First and foremost, they are using existing tech better or more extensively. But whilst this pragmatism is laudable, don’t let it limit you. Learning and pragmatism are absolutely advisable, but sometimes existing technologies aren’t geared up to the job at hand, and if you dodge a difficult decision, it may just come back to haunt you.

4.     Feel the fear, but do it anyway.

This applies to every aspect of event delivery in this environment – at least for the next few months. Take a deep breath and step outside your comfort zone. If there was ever a time to be brave, and do something new, this is it. It’s going to make you feel uncomfortable at times (goodness knows I can testify to that!). Be mindful that without question not everything is going to go to plan – so be pragmatic and respond creatively to challenges. Don’t treat these incidents as failure, but as learnings.

5.     Be honest with your audience.

Tell them that this is all new, and that the experience might not be seamless. They will appreciate your candour – most likely they doing something equally experimental and will value the opportunity to go on this learning journey with you.

6.     Push the boundaries of the tech.

Wherever possible, try not to be limited by the functionality of the platform and the expected formats and behaviours within it. Many of these platforms are developing fast also in response to current events and recent opportunities, and weren’t designed to do some of the things that you may be trying to achieve through an event. For example, networking functionality is always a bit forced in the digital realm. Use external platforms where appropriate to augment the experience.

7.     Give yourself enough time and space to set up.

It takes just as much time if not more to prepare the digital event environment to deliver a first class digital event. It’s not the same as just showing up the morning before and assembling a pop-up stand. Think long and hard about how you can customise the space and signpost it so that delegates know what to do and when to allow them to get the most out of it.

8.     Think hard about the human dynamics of interaction.

Digital platforms create the potential for desired behaviours, but they don’t actually deliver them. Understand what you want your delegates to do, and how you can incentivise, encourage, curate and coralle them to be where you want them to be, when, and doing what.

9.     Be a bit less formal.

If coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s the importance of being less formal, more collegiate and less distant or cold. And pretty obviously, nowhere is this more relevant than for digital events. It should feel like a shared collective experience, and one which everyone participating will feel more bonded towards one another afterwards.

10.  Bring in trusted collaborators.

They will help you execute the event, provide feedback and ultimately learn the lessons in order to evolve the formats. You need people to be open, flexible and pragmatic. This is no time to working with difficult speakers or prima donnas!

We’re currently preparing for our upcoming B2B Marketing Ignite conferences –

Ignite Chicago

takes place on May 27th and 28th, and

Ignite London

takes place from June 23rd to 25th, and we’re currently open for registration on both events.

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