Conferences & Covid: Virtual Event Takeaways

The last in-person event I ran was RSA 2020. Since then, my job as Senior Marketing & Events Manager for White Ops has shifted, as I’m sure a lot of other events folks’ have. We’re now webinar specialists, interactive platform experts, and fireside chat extraordinaires. Our roles are just not the same. We’ve had to adapt, and quickly. With each event we collectively improve on the user experience. Out of all the virtual events I’ve worked on since March, our participation in DMEXCO @home has been a highlight.

Not Like the Other Sessions

As event planners, we know that interactivity is the name of the game. We want every attendee to leave an event thinking about what happened at the event rather than the format it was given to them. While almost all conference panels and sessions are pre-recorded nowadays, having either the panelists engaging in the chat or tuning in live for a Q&A after the session makes the experience more than just watching a face or a deck. Conversations are the cornerstone of all conferences, and we should try to creatively facilitate that as much as possible.

The bread and butter of conferences are the sessions themselves. Whereas we’re limited in the format of our sessions now, the content itself must be informative and more engaging than ever. We recently had success with one of our sessions at DMEXCO @home, “Your Friendly Neighbors: Why Advertisers Need Hackers,” featuring one of our threat intel researchers Dr. Russell Handorf. The conversation was one of the top 5 most watched sessions of the whole conference because of its out-of-the-box topic. In addition, we had a keynote with our Co-founder and President Michael Tiffany, a masterclass with our Head of Detection, and our Head of Product discussed the risky business of marketing fraud. The lesson here? Save your sales deck for a pitch and boost the creativity to make a real splash.

Meet Me at the Virtual Coffee Bar

Conference platforms are the new black. Every marketing team is trying to figure out how to make them more real life, as opposed to yet another Zoom call. But there’s so much information that needs to be there in order for the event to be worth it. The DMEXCO @home team—together with their tech provider—developed and programmed this extensive and cutting-edge event platform in record speed of only four months. While technical issues were to be expected, the event team’s devotion to sponsor success was unmatched. Our team, and presumably other marketing teams, has found that platforms with an easy scheduling tool for meetings, a session builder, and an interactive format go a long way.

Scheduling Tool

Networking is daunting even without a pandemic, so networking virtually is even more difficult. What we have found helpful is a mechanism to schedule appointments with attendees and company representatives. When we’ve had virtual “booths” at events, people who visited it could see our schedule and whom from our team they could talk with. We found that DMEXCO @home’s platform made it seamless to meet with anyone at the conference.

Session Builder

This was pretty commonplace even before everything went virtual, but it’s become imperative for a smooth event online. Attendees are balancing working-from-home life while attending a conference, which means breaks look a lot different. Kids don’t usually attend these conferences! Having the flexibility to build in breaks and even mark yourself as unavailable makes it easier to control when other attendees can reach out for a meeting. We found this feature particularly helpful on DMEXCO @home’s platform because the event was in a different timezone from many people on the White Ops team.

Interactive Format

We’ve been seeing conferences adopt map platforms to bring an element of interactivity to the online conference experience. Moving around a map and selecting different sections to learn about sponsors or attendees makes it feel like a game. We saw this really well done at Inbound 2020 just a few weeks ago. A few folks on the marketing team here at White Ops attended, myself included, and we were impressed with the interactivity of the conference map. It was visually interesting, showing off some iconic Massachusetts landmarks (like Fenway Park), and featuring billboards with rotating ads.

We’re not out of the woods yet with COVID-19, and we don’t know when large in person events will happen again. Until then, we have an opportunity to change the game of virtual conferences - DMEXCO @home and Inbound are just two recent examples of successful ones.