Here’s what top in-house event planners from Box and Okta learned about virtual events in 2020.

2020 has seen unprecedented changes in the events industry. When COVID-19 closed the doors on in-person events, planners around the world faced hard and fast decisions about how to move forward. Some chose to delay or cancel, but many organizations and planners took the challenge of pivoting to virtual events head on. 

Team Shiloh recently interviewed top in-house event planners for Box and Okta who led the pivot planning for their organizations’ flagship global events. We explored what worked and what didn’t for these planners as they made the rapid shift to online.

Our webinar covered topics such as:

  • Making the decision to pivot to virtual events
  • Building the virtual event budget and planning timeline
  • Staffing for virtual event success
  • Developing a virtual event sponsorship program
  • Planning and creating content for a virtual event
  • Planning for virtual event a/v production

Watch the full video to learn more, then check out our experts’ responses to some of our favorite audience Q&A.

Guest Speakers

Ashesh Satvedi

Ashesh Satvedi is global digital events manager at Box. Ashesh co-managed the transition of Box’s largest global event of 2020 to online as Boxworks Digital.

Sarah Shaheen

Sarah Shaheen is director of corporate events at Okta. In 2020 Sarah managed the pivot of Okta’s annual user conference, Oktane20 into a virtual event that grew its reach from 6000 to 20,000 online.

In addition to the questions answered in our live event, planners who attended wanted to know:

How long should a virtual event be?

Sarah

If our events start in the AM, most attendees will drop off by afternoon. Four hours is really the outside length of time people will spend attending live/simulive sessions in one day.

Ashesh

We compare time spent in a virtual event to time tolerance for watching a Hollywood movie – the experience gets long at 3 hours (think Avatar). Three to four hours really is the maximum people stay engaged virtually. 

What advice do you have to prevent your online platform from crashing when thousands of attendees log in to the same system the same time?

Ashesh

Things are going to come your way on event day that are unexpected, and no way to ensure something won’t fail. There are many things you can do to reduce risk though.  Go through a good RFP process. Make sure the platform vendor has done similar size events. Check their references and confirm they have a good track record.  Have your IT team look at their documentation and confirm it can support your needs.  Doing your homework builds a lot of confidence.

Sarah

I would reiterate bringing in your IT team to evaluate and confirm a platform is solid for your specific needs before you buy. Definitely call references, but keep in mind a platform can be great for one event and not right for another. Finally, work very closely with your vendor, rehearse, and test, test, test!  

How did you handle networking? Did you use specialized software? 

Sarah

The event platforms we’ve used, both Intrado and MeetingPlay, have built-in networking. Braindate is another specialized software tool that we have used for great face-to-face video networking.  

Ashesh

Chat is the simplest – where attendees can reach out and connect to each other. Box also integrated Zoom into our event platform to enable more intimate breakout rooms. If tools aren’t built with 6connex platform, there are lots of ways to integrate.

Did you have the kind of engagement you expected?

Sarah

We pivoted in only four weeks and chose to go with the basics for engagement, chat, one-to-one networking and gamification which attendees loved. People really do crave human interaction in these events, so that was one thing we tried to incorporate in the sessions. Sessions were pre-recorded and we had all our speakers online chatting with the attendees.  You never get that level of speaker accessibility and engagement at in-person. 

Ashesh

We did get great engagement! With pre-record content we would always have live Q&A. This was great because we not only had our speakers there to answer live questions during their talk, but also many other subject matter experts were on-hand. I agree with Sarah here that the experience and interaction during this style of session was actually better for getting questions answered than at in-person.

How did you convert sponsors?

Sarah

We gave sponsors the option to stay on at a lower cost and many of them did. We offered a virtual exhibit hall which sponsors were really happy with. In-person we expected 6,000 attendees and we ended up with over 20,000 online. Some sponsors reported they had to get extra staff online because they had so much traffic and were so busy. For Oktane 21 we’ve expanded digital sponsor offerings and increased pricing.

Ashesh

We offered sponsors custom design of a high-end app gallery style page with an intro video, live chat and a high-end branded environment where attendees could download resources from sponsor. In the end we were really happy with what we were able to charge and the value we delivered to our sponsors.

Do you recommend using an event management agency for a virtual event?

Sarah

With Oktane20 our agency jumped in wherever we needed them in those four weeks we pivoted. After that we thought, sweet! We can do this ourselves now. Unfortunately, we learned the hard way that virtual events can be just as difficult and time consuming as in-person. We went through a rough period post-Oktane20 where we took on too much ourselves and quickly realized we needed an agency back to help us. The platform is the new venue and that is how we are approaching it now. The agency is our liaison with the platform vendor.

Ashesh

In retrospect it would have been great to have an agency! We relied on all internal staff for Boxworks Digital this year, and we eventually had well over 100 Box staff involved. In the future I’d like to have an agency to handle so many of the project management details and tasks such as speaker management so our internal staff can focus on their core task of creating our content and messaging. 

Need help planning your virtual event?

 Contact Shiloh to get started today.

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