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What It Takes to Create a Virtual Conference Quickly

CP
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
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Connection Point reached out to Apryl Alexander-Savino, director of conferences at the Association for Talent Development, to get a glimpse of what it took to create the historic ATD Virtual Conference and what attendees can expect. After all, an online-only conference that includes 24-hour programming is new to most of us.

Hosting a virtual conference that includes 24/7 content during the event—more than 100 hours in all—is quite the undertaking. How did you begin the process?
We knew we wanted to fill the void that the cancellation of the ATD International Conference & EXPO presented. We also knew it required a level of depth and breadth of content to ensure we could meet everyone where they were and help them develop, so that design principle became the foundation for how many sessions and tracks we were looking at including. From there, we wanted to ensure we were delivering a great experience—one that is easy to navigate, available on any device, accessible 24/7 so our global audience could participate, and one where attendees could network and build connections in a meaningful way. With those goals in mind, we sought a platform provider to surface content and attendee connections based on interests while supporting the other elements of the event. Add in lots of hard work on mapping content, securing an incredible keynote lineup, communicating with speakers, recording content, and building attendee resources and you have the foundation for our Virtual Conference.

What has been the greatest learning curve for you and your team?
We normally produce our live events on a timetable of months or years. We produced the Virtual Conference in a matter of weeks, so we knew there would be quite a few learning curves along the way. Most notably, we are working with a technology platform company that—while it does virtual events—doesn’t necessarily understand live events. So, we had to spend a fair amount of time getting to a common language so that we are all speaking in the same terms, referencing data in the same way, and—most importantly—that we understand how what they were saying fit into our vision and execution plans for the event. We had an entire check-in call simply trying to understand how the platform indexed data so we could construct the most logical experience for attendees and ensure the data files we were delivering would lead to the desired outcomes. While communication is always key, this was one situation where we all had to work to mesh our common dictionaries and not assume anything.

What are you most excited about in terms of benefits this conference will give attendees?
Oh goodness! This was such a different experience to design that I’m really excited about everything. If I had to pick a couple:

  • Experimentation. We know that many of our members’ organizations are pivoting to virtual training and digital events given the global circumstances. This is our first Virtual Conference, so we’re taking what we know about our face-to-face events and applying it to virtual. We know the content will be valuable, and the keynotes will be phenomenal. But beyond the content, I strongly encourage everyone to engage with the other areas and features of the event to understand how they work, what you like or don’t like (and why), and how your audience might respond to similar features. Then, when someone video chats with you asking about virtual conferences, you will have an articulate opinion and relevant experience to draw from. We’re all in this together—let’s make it a true learning experience.
  • Personalized journeys. There is so much content to explore that it could really be overwhelming. Fortunately, the system has a really great artificial intelligence functionality that helps surface relevant content. When you first log in, you’ll select your areas of interest, and the system will help direct you to what is most relevant. This updates throughout the event as sessions are evaluated, and it learns more about what attendees with those interests are actually doing. Don’t worry—you can still navigate through all of the content in the agenda area too.
  • Peer connections. Virtual events are really challenging because we want to mimic a live event experience and all the amazing networking opportunities, but most platforms reduce networking to a basic chat box. While we certainly have chat features, there are so many other opportunities to have real conversations with participants in roundtables or share a video intro through Hello World! Additionally, the system’s underlying AI helps surface like-minded attendees to narrow the field and help you connect with others. Similar to the content side, the AI keeps learning throughout the event so you will get updated recommendations based on what sessions you’ve enjoyed and what activities you’ve engaged in compared with others.

The Virtual Conference is related to the new ATD Capability Model. Can you talk about how the two are connected?
ATD’s new Talent Development Capability Model is a framework to guide the talent development profession in what practitioners need to know and do to develop themselves, others, and their organizations. Each of our Virtual Conference tracks maps to an area of the ATD Capability Model, and the session content helps empower talent development professionals’ growth and development. We’ve created a resource guide to help map the individual Virtual Conference sessions to the capabilities and help attendees build their skill set and increase their impact. If individuals haven’t identified their development needs yet, they can take the self-assessment to identify their strengths as well as knowledge and skill gaps.

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One of the greatest advantages to attending a conference is being able to network and walk away with best practices from other attendees as well as speakers. How will that work during the Virtual Conference?
Great question! On the networking front, there are so many ways to connect within the conference. The fastest way is in the Networking Lounge, which hosts a number of different options for interacting with other attendees: happy hour chat rooms, which will be set-up around the areas of interest; one-on-one messaging; attendee recommendations; a full attendee directory; and roundtables, which are video chats for up to six people, that enable individuals to connect with others.

Further, each session features a chat function where attendees can interact and ask questions of each other and ask questions of the speaker. That’s probably the quickest way to get best practices on a topic. We will also have live Q&A sessions where speakers will be available, live, on video to answer questions and share. We encourage everyone to watch the speaker’s session before the live Q&A sessions to maximize their time with these experts.

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With keynotes, personalized learning, networking, and around-the-clock content, you don’t want to miss this historic event.

Share your ATD Virtual Conference experience on social media. #ATDVirtualConference

CP
About the Author

Connection Point is the daily news source written by ATD staff for the ATD Virtual Conference, relaying news, session coverage, and other updates. td.org/connection-point

2 Comments
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Thanks for putting together the conference in such a short time. It's amazing!
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Well done team! I am so impressed with all the work and effort that has gone into the preparation for the virtual conference. I enjoyed getting the behind the scenes look at what it takes to make this happen. Thanks for sharing, looking forward to the experience!
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