It has been over a month since we delivered The Event Freelancer Summit and finally able to document my thoughts and identify the key lessons I learnt from delivering the summit.
As many of you know I am Co-Director, with Steve Squires, of an online community platform called Connektd, designed to assist agencies in creating communities of freelancers and skilled talent all over the world.
It started with the spark of an idea from a close friend Simon Burton when we were discussing the issues raised by many Connektd members. From the brief chat, a few WhatsApp messages, we went straight into buying the event url on the same day with the event website layout/ design done in the first four days and defining the core purpose of the summit. From day one of ‘having a nice idea’ we set ourselves 8 weeks to the event date. We knew early on that we did not want to do one or two webinars, we wanted to address everything we had heard, talked about and knew needed air time. So we set ourselves a summit with 8hrs+ of content and sessions with networking capabilities. It’s not like we had anything else to do.
Like planning any event our professional skills jumped straight in with a week by week core schedule of activities that worked back from the event date. This helped to identify the decisions to be made that were time critical, especially where external stakeholders, speakers, contributors were involved and key to this was the creation of new content, editing of existing content and/ or the recording of sessions that we knew we could not deliver live on the day.
As many of you know from attending the summit it was a huge success with 20 sessions, 38 speakers and over 800 delegates registered. A key to its success for me came through defining the core purpose of the summit, why? So the agenda was developed according to four guiding principles…
Freelancers, first and foremost – ensure that all content, topics and speakers would be speaking directly to freelancers about the things that matter to them
Practical – every session would deliver practical takeaways in the form of reference material, guidelines, direction and/or actions for the audience to follow up on
Consumable – max 30min for each session to keep the content focussed and audience engaged
Community – to develop an event where everyone felt part of the global event community, by allowing the audience an opportunity to network with one another.
It would have been very easy to deliver an agenda that focussed on the most convenient subjects that came to us or for us and contributors to talk about working in the event industry, or even about the challenges of being a freelancer, but we wanted to engage with the wider industry and give a platform to companies and individuals to offer valuable advice, guidance and information, with space for debate and discussion.
The agenda and its tone was key to us, and for that reason almost every session was motivated and titled around a question, questions that came from discussions we had with freelancers, from company directors and heads of depts in some of the biggest and best agencies on the planet, questions which we knew were important to people from all aspects of our industry all over the world.
Next was to develop the agenda in more detail helping to consider the lineup of speakers. The choice of speakers helped to guarantee integrity in the subject matter and authenticity of the debate and answers that came from them. We leveraged our networks to approach speakers who had experience in specific areas, and in one or two cases we were approached by people in the industry who, having seen our agenda, wanted to speak on a particular topic. The mix of agenda topics and speakers started to give us a good feel about the direction. We also knew we were onto something when every single speaker we approached said yes to taking part without hesitation, resulting in some high-profile speakers including Simon Hughes & Caroline Jackson from BVEP, Michael Wyrley-Birch of TRO, Andy Lenthall from the Production Services Association, experienced heads of dept from global agencies, global associations, and numerous freelancers from all areas of the industry.
Then we had to choose a webinar event platform. In addition to the standard ability to allow presentations, take questions and engage the attendees, we knew that we needed something different to develop the community and networking aspect of the summit. It was around this time, 6 weeks before the event date, that we were introduced to Simon Latter from PSA Audio Visual. PSA worked closely with a platform called Remo, which proved to have all the usual functionality including audience chat and polls etc, but also a networking function that is live throughout the event, offering a delegate experience that emulates key aspects of a live event. Having seen a demo and taken part in a couple of events, we decided that this was the way to go.
I was based in Hong Kong and Steve was based in London, so we conceived, planned and delivered the event separated by location and timezone making for some very long days and nights playing tag team on the summit design, content and elements. A big important factor here was the use of Google Drive and its full collaborating tools, without which we simply could not have functions as efficiently and effectively as we did. As the summit agenda was being refined with the contributions of each speaker and checking that every presentation focussed on freelancers we moved our attention to audience generation.
For the registration process, with the benefit of hindsight, we would have chosen differently. For a number of practical reasons we chose to run the registration through Remo, the first of these being that keeping the registration process within the webinar platform ensured we were not working across multiple systems, and secondly by directing delegates to sign up using the platform meant that they already had the URL of the event for when we were live.
However, we quickly learned that the Remo system did not give us delegate management service we expected and more importantly did not give us the delegate breakdown information we needed. With the option only to register name, title and email address and only able to sign-up for the entire event, we were not able to develop a deeper understanding of our delegates’ attendance needs by giving them the option to sign up to specific sessions or groups of sessions, for us to understand the location or timezone from which they were attending, are they a freelancer or company or to understand more about their business and motive for attending at the point of registering or even further down the process. As a result, we did not know in advance which sessions were going to be the best attended, or understand more about delegates needs so we could tailor our content accordingly. Something like Eventbrite would have allowed us to customise the registration form to capture more data and information and therefore been more useful.
We announced the summit on a Friday afternoon and over the weekend we had over 160+ registered attendees, and throughout the few weeks leading up to the event we continued to see a steady increase in numbers right up to the day of the event, when we reached our limit of 800 delegate registrations for the event. This was definitely helped by the speakers sharing the event to their networks following our rehearsal sessions the week prior.
During weeks 3, 4 and 5 we focussed on the summit brand and identity design with Virginia Ng, along with the presentation template design, session summaries, refining the session times and how they were placed in the order of the day. During weeks 6 and 7 we developed individual session marketing posters and posted them across all social media channels, as well as giving marketing materials to each speaker for them to post and share across their own networks. All of the pre-recorded sessions we done in week 7.
One of the key considerations for an online event, as with any other, is the need for rehearsal time. We set 4, 45min drop in sessions two days before the summit. Knowing that this was a new platform to almost everyone involved we scheduled a series of drop in sessions where speakers could have a basic orientation of the webinar platform and process by which they are called from the networking area to the ‘green room’ and then onto the ‘stage’. Like all rehearsals, we solved problems we did not know we had and helped reassure us and the speakers on how to get the best out of the platform. We were also reminded that it is often the basics in stage management and presentation approach that needs the most attention, in this case often the way a speaker was set up at home with laptop setups, firewalls, choice of microphone or use of lighting made all the difference to the quality of hearing and seeing the presenters. A few lessons learnt for improvement next time in the rehearsal are,
Provide a easy access online guide to speakers for presentation, technical set up and testing of audio/ video
Schedule rehearsals in presentation session groups, this allows for speakers to meet one another, especially if they do not know each other and to allow them some time to discuss the session agenda
Cal invites: Set rehearsals session times in calendars, with url links, supporting documents
On the summit day itself I was based at PSA in North London with Simon and their engineers, and Ajay was in his apartment in Hong Kong. Having the support and guidance of PSA who knew every aspect of the platform and understanding our brief became one of the key success factors for the summit – we could not have delivered a summit with 38 speakers, 20 sessions and 800 delegates and all the content that involved, whilst also presenting the intros, chairing the sessions and managing the social media live on the day, without the help of others. We did everything else ourselves in the build-up to the event, but having a team to support the technical delivery of the platform and a dedicated social media management on the day was key, and must not be under-estimated.
We worked closely with Trapeze Media, who ran the summit social media campaign to live-tweet the event and each session, which allowed us to reach a wider audience on the day and beyond. It was my first experience in seeing how an expert in this field prepares content in advance ready for timed release before, during and after each session which all helped to guarantee our hit rate on the day.
The feedback from the event has been amazing, and continued to be so days after the summit finished.
“Not just saying this, but this is the best content I have had on any webinar. If I had known this was coming, I could have saved hours on pointless webinars!” Message from delegate during the event
The global reach and successful coming together of the event community was beyond something either of us could have imagined at the time of our first conversation. However we defined the key principals of the webinar and worked hard to achieve them – as experienced event producers you have a level of service and quality that you know you need to achieve, and you find a way to deliver it. We also knew that we were producing an event for our own peers, engaging with people we have worked with and had huge respect for, so the pressure of being on show was certainly at the forefront.
Most importantly, the event freelance community really came together on the day, and there was a huge amount of networking taking place through the platform, the social media and many messaging groups and dialogue in the chat and in the networking area.
My key learnings from delivering the event were as follows…
Define your event agenda and know your audience
Focus your content directly to them
Build marketing/ campaign materials for every aspect of the event, to help keep a constant stream of communications throughout from launch to the event day, session by session, topic by topic
Ensure all your speakers are fully briefed on the event, the agenda and your expectations of them and that you have discussed talking points in advance
Keep presentations short and succinct – helping to keep your audience engaged
Having visual content to support presentations is important as it helps the audience to pick up on the conversation if they have to move away from the screen for any reason, also avoiding it from becoming a series of talking heads.
Ensure that all speakers are comfortable with the platform you are using, and hold familiarisation sessions if possible
Provide numerous forms of communication channels allowing for greater reach
The networking experience is key – allow your attendees to engage, share and develop relationships beyond the content and agenda you want to communicate, but there is nothing like real face-to-face networking
One key focus for us was to allow the event to be owned by the attendees, allow them to discuss, debate, and engage with one another, with speakers and with the event itself.
I could talk for much longer about what we did and why we did it, so if you are interested in discussing in more detail, then do get in touch.
Videos from all the sessions are available at www.theeventfreelancersummit.com/