Last month, our team hosted our third annual conference for payments practitioners, PAYMENTSfn. Typically, this event is held in-person in Durham, North Carolina. This was still the plan until about two months prior to the event. After closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic, the team decided to proactively evolve the event — thinking globally vs. locally and transform our in-person event into a virtual conference.
Like many of you, building a virtual conference was new territory for us. How do we do this? What platforms should we use? How do we keep attendees engaged? Our team had already spent five months planning our May event. A virtual version of that event would need to come together in eight weeks. Our small team of three (yes, three!) would need to move quickly.
Today, we’re sharing some of the lessons we learned converting PAYMENTSfn into PAYMENTSfn On-Demand.
Lesson 1: Pre-Record as Much Content as You Can
With a limited time-frame to make the switch from an in-person to online event, we decided that pre-recording all content made the most sense for us. This option limited the number of technical issues we would encounter in the lead up to the event. When an event is live (in-person or online), anything can happen. You need to be prepared. The decision to pre-record content allowed us to spend more time researching hosting platforms, online video recording services, virtual event best practices, and other logistics. By making this decision early, we were also able to notify speakers and panelists in advance and schedule their recording sessions closer to the actual conference date.
Lesson 2: Choose a Hosting Platform That Works for You
If you’re looking to move your live event online, you may have noticed the overwhelming number of virtual event and hosting platforms to choose from. Because this was our first foray into online events, we wanted to keep things simple. The right platform for us would be (1) easy to use, (2) customizable, (3) affordable, and (4) have a sleek, professional look. Every event and hosting platform has its pros and cons. It really comes down to what your needs are, and once you’ve selected a platform, how quickly you can learn the ins and outs to build your online event. In the end, we chose Wistia’s online video hosting platform and were extremely pleased with the end result.
Lesson 3: Create a Sample Video to Share with Speakers
Let’s put Lesson 3 at the top of our list of things to do in 2021. By the time our team selected a video recording service and hosting platform, completed the necessary training, and created an instruction manual, there simply wasn’t enough time to script and record a sample video presentation for our speakers. In the end, this worked out in our favor.
Instead of a “cookie-cutter” approach to our keynote presentations, speakers were allowed to bring their own creativity to their presentations. Having each keynote look and feel a little different made them more personal and brought a much needed change to those registrants who were binge watching content on the day of the event.
Lesson 4: Virtual Events Can Increase Attendance
Prior to moving online, our annual PAYMENTSfn conference took place in a 225 seat theater in our hometown of Durham, North Carolina. Registrants had to pay to attend, pay to travel to Durham, and pay for hotel rooms. All of these factors (seating capacity, cost to attend, cost to travel, etc.) effected the number of people who could participate in our annual conference.
By moving our conference online and making it a free for registrants, our attendance at PAYMENTSfn On-Demand was more than 7x our attendance at our 2019 in-person conference. This decision also provided us with an opportunity to attract a global audience which included speakers representing six different countries. The lack of a registration fee allowed more colleagues from the same company or organization to attend. An option that isn’t always feasible for an in-person event.
Lesson 5: Find Ways to Build and Support the Community
One of the first questions we were asked after announcing our PAYMENTSfn conference was going virtual was, “What type of networking opportunities will be available to registrants?” This sentiment was echoed throughout the planning process. Without an in-person event, how will be attendees meet other payments professionals? How do we keep attendees engaged throughout the day, especially when they can binge-watch content at their leisure?
To boost engagement throughout the day, we created a Slack workspace for payments professionals to network, discuss conference topics, and find resources (including job postings). Keynote speakers and panelists were encouraged to participate as well, enabling registrants to ask questions on the same day the content was released. We also offered giveaway prizes to attendees participating in our Slack workspace or sharing our event on social media. Based on the success of this engagement tool, we continue to receive applications to our workspace. Transforming our single event into an online version allows us to keep the conversation going long after the event. Our Slack group continues to be a resource and collaborative space for the global payments community with new content, resources, and opportunities posted regularly.
If you have ever planned an event, then you know that switching gears three quarters of the way through the planning process can be an immense challenge. Creating a clear vision, managing expectations, and staying in constant communication with each other enabled our team to transform PAYMENTSfn into a successful online event. Everything we learned along the way will only benefit our team as we look to next year’s conference and future online events.