The Digital Conference: A New Normal in Event Planning

August 6, 2020  |  by:

What does it actually take to put on a digital conference? Let’s talk to someone who successfully executed one.

The world might still be in the grips of a global pandemic, but that’s not stopping savvy event planners from surviving and even thriving in this strange new reality. All across the world, businesses are finding creative ways to adapt and succeed in a world of stay-at-home orders and work-from-home routines.

In light of this new shift in the industry, I reached out to Aliza Hughes, Head of Marketing Operations at TwoHeads, a video marketing firm that is innovating the way that companies produce video content. The company has worked with such tech giants as Google Cloud, Cynet and Mixtiles, training marketing teams on in-house video content creation, and consulting on creative campaigns. I was thrilled to have the chance to speak with Aliza about all the changes that have taken place in the last few months.

Meet TwoHeads, And Aliza

Aliza Hughes talks about The Digital Conference: A New Normal in Event Planning
Aliza Hughes, Head of Marketing Operations at TwoHeads

Aliza started by telling me about how TwoHeads began. “The company started two years ago,” she explained. “It was founded by a brother and sister named Barak Shachnovitz, CEO and Sivan Felder, CMO. TwoHeads works with companies by teaching them how to make videos — all the way from topic development and research to scripting, filming, editing and uploading and distribution with optimization.”

Aliza started on with the company a year ago as marketing manager before her recent promotion to her current role. “My background is actually in art history. I was working in that field for a long time. And then about a year ago I wanted to make a career change,” Aliza remembers. “When I was looking through all the jobs that are out there, I came across marketing and development. And I’m not a developer, so I thought I’d go into marketing.”

Aliza lives in Efrat, in Israel, and met Sivan when she moved to the same area. “I reached out to Sivan on LinkedIn, playing off of the personal connection that we are both mothers in the same town. Sivan had so much to teach about the industry and I was eager to join their team. Luckily, the chemistry was there from the start and soon I came on as a marketing manager.” Aliza says that when she met Sivan, they both thought it was such a great fit, and soon Aliza had been asked to join the team.

The Digital Conference: A New Way Forward

A Digital Conference
Photo by Chris Montgomery

One of the things Aliza was most excited to share with me was the great success TwoHeads recently had when they hosted a digital conference on the topic of using videos in the digital age to develop meaningful relationships with customers. They’d wanted to host an in-person conference, but when that no longer became possible they didn’t let it stop them.

“We’d always wanted to put together an event. We’d been thinking about doing one at the end of this year. And then it became very clear that that was never going to happen. It was basically a do-it-or-don’t-do-it situation,” she attests. “Everyone had so much to teach. Lots of companies were learning how to adapt to the new reality in real time, and we could all learn from each other.”

Aliza says that with the current COVID-19 pandemic, the time is right for people to start exploring this avenue. “You can no longer go to live events, you can no longer go to conferences, you can no longer even really take somebody out to coffee,” she notes. “I really wanted to help companies learn from each other and get everybody in the same place at the same time so we could all learn.”

A digital conference differs from a webinar in that it feels much more like a real conference with multiple speakers, a panel and even a moderator. In fact, at TwoHeads digital conference there were two tracks, and each featured their own moderator. According to Aliza, all of these things combined bring a very interesting package to participants.

Related article: Planning A Virtual Event: Almost Everything You Need To Know

How Does A Digital Conference Come Together?

I asked Aliza to tell me about the kind of planning necessary to pull off successful digital conferences, and she was happy to share her experience with me. She explained that it began with TwoHeads partnering with Kahena, a search marketing agency run by Ari Nahmani. And in terms of how the conference was run, she says keeping it simple was the best option. “We decided to partner with Kahena because they had experience putting conferences together and would know how to work out the things we wouldn’t even think about on our first try.”

“We looked at using a bunch of different platforms, but ultimately Zoom was just the easiest, because everybody can link to Zoom. For the most part, people know how to use it,” she tells me. “And it was very basic in the sense that we had two links — you had the link to track one, and then you had the link to track two, and you could actually just bounce back and forth between them. So, if people wanted to hear one speaker from track one and then another speaker from track two, it was really easy for them to go back and forth.”

It all came together pretty quickly — in just a few weeks from start to finish, Aliza says. “As opposed to a live event where there’s so much planning involved in physical location and food and getting everybody set up and then getting everybody into the same place at the same time, it actually was easier to put together a digital event.”

Aliza says that marketing is key for any event, but especially for online ones. But this doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of money. “So many people are marketing webinars and these digital conferences. You couple that with the attention span that people actually have on social media and we realized that we needed to keep it super short and focused. But everything was organic. We didn’t do any paid advertising. We had a couple of flyers that we put together in Canva. Also, we spoke to some of the speakers beforehand, and we put together short social media videos where they talked about what they were going to discuss in their talks,” she remembers. “The goal was also that between our team and their team and the speakers, a lot of different people would be promoting the event. And then, it would reach a whole bunch of different audiences.”

In total, Aliza conducted three weeks of marketing featuring two to three posts about the conference a week. She also did specific marketing targeting the people who’d already registered to the event in the lead-up to make sure they showed up.

“The day before the event, everybody that had registered got a super specific logistics email telling them exactly what it was going to look like, what to expect. We actually even joked in the email, there’s no parking, but we encourage you to move from your couch to your home office or something like that, just to keep it playful.”

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Sharing and Learning Together

In total, the conference lasted three hours, and none of the talks ran longer than fifteen minutes. “We know that people’s attention spans tend to wane,” Aliza laughs. “So each track had four speakers, and then there was a panel at the end that had six people on it. We know that a lot of webinars are filmed live but then streamed, but we didn’t want it to be that way. We actually really wanted it to be live and interactive so that people could ask questions based on real time while it was going on.”

Aliza says she was very impressed with how smoothly the conference ran, considering even in-person events like this can have some bumps in the road. “Barak, our CEO, and Ari, the CEO from Kahena, were moderating the panel. But I don’t even think it really needed any technical monitoring. Everybody’s mic was just on, and people were just being really respectful and not talking over each other. You can’t really anticipate that, but it actually worked really well.”

One unique hurdle that Aliza had to clear was the fact that Barak was also the host of both the tracks, and it was technically impossible to be on both tracks at the same time. “Sivan and I were together, and Barak was actually in a different location,” Aliza tells me. “We didn’t know that this was going on, but at the last minute he needed to make somebody else a host by un-hosting himself so he could start the second track. That was something we learned on the fly. But we definitely practiced as a team beforehand that things would go smoothly, and they did.”

Aliza says that, because TwoHeads is a video company, her teams’ experience definitely helped make the digital conference so successful.

“Because we’re focused on video, it meant that we didn’t have to pivot anything when it came time to going digitally. We’d never done a digital conference before, so that wane for us, but all the tips that we’ve been telling companies all of a sudden became super relevant to everybody,” she explains. “We’ve been telling people for a while now that you don’t need a fancy camera; you can literally just film with your phone, that’s what people are doing now. Nobody has the equipment they need. And all of these calls are being done over Zoom, so it’s already on your computer.”

Advice For The New Digital Age

I asked Aliza if there was any other advice she had about going digital, and she generously shared with me some pearls of wisdom gleaned from her experience running a digital conference.

One of the most important things, according to Aliza, is to keep an engaging presence on-camera. “When I gave my first webinar I stood up, and it made such a difference. When we sit, we slouch. We don’t use our hands. We don’t show as much emotion. When you’re standing, you’re more dynamic. You’re literally on your toes, and you’re much more engaging. I felt the difference, and the audience could also see the difference,” she tells me.

Another tip is to have someone in the room with you, watching you, even if the rest of the participants are all online. “In a webinar style, and on Zoom, you don’t see the participants, so it can be very hard to talk to yourself. But if you have somebody sitting on the side, or even sitting facing you and reacting to what you’re saying, it makes such a difference. It really feels much more like a conversation and also mimics more the idea of standing in front of an audience.”

Aliza also recommends taking a poll as a way to perceive audience engagement. “Taking a poll or having people chat to each other in the chat or the Q&A is a really good idea,” she attests. “It’s all about keeping people feeling like they’re actually a part of things, keeping them engaged and responding to questions live. That’s really important.”

The Digital Conference: Looking To The Future

If there’s one thing Aliza wishes she’d known about before planning her first digital conference, she says it’d be how different it can seem from a live event. “Two things that we really tried to do that ultimately did not work was to give people a joint activity. We thought about having food delivered to everybody, or giving them some sort of gift certificate so that it would be something that everybody was doing together just like at a live event. But that became much too difficult.”

She also says that networking looks a lot different at a digital conference as opposed to a live event. “With as many people as we had who’d signed up to the event, we couldn’t put together breakout rooms to do any sort of networking. We are going to try harder to do those things for future events. But with the short time span that we had and it being our first one, we weren’t able to put them together.”

Still, the experience of the digital conference was such a good one that even when the world returns to normal, whatever that new normal might look like, Aliza says she’ll be keen to continue offering similar events.

“I would say that a hybrid event would probably be good. You can’t replace live events, especially with networking. But because this digital event was so smooth, and it was so quick and you could sign into it from anywhere and get so much content in such a short amount of time, I think that it would be a shame if people just threw them out the window totally. So, I would actually definitely say that a mixture of both would be a good plan moving forward.”

Elevate Every Event Through Video

When it all comes down to it, Aliza really wants to share the message that video can play a role in and elevate absolutely any event, and that anybody can use video in the same way that they use any other type of marketing. “When I think of the types of videos that event planners can use, I’m talking about putting out videos before the event to get people excited about it — those always work really well. And then of course you have the person in the video sharing it to their audience, so you get a lot of organic viewing,” she notes. “Event planners could also make videos about how they came to their decisions — for example, the floral arrangements, all the different things they have to do over the course of a day to put an event together. Each of these points could be on a video. It’s all about providing value by expertise.”

And with videos being the top content that people consume on social media, Aliza says that if anyone’s not already making videos, they should definitely start. “Don’t overthink it,” she advises. “Just press record.”

You can follow TwoHeads on Facebook, Twitter, or reach out to Aliza directly on LinkedIn to learn about her work.

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