This year's edition of From Business to Buttons was a digital version, with everything done online remotely. With participants spread across 22 countries, several of them in different time zones, the conference was a challenge to plan and project manage.
In three articles, inUse will share experiences and tips from the work of switching to a digital conference. In this first part of the series, we had a chat with the project manager of the From Business to Buttons conference, Isabel Bjärnström, and learned about the challenges in the planning and management of a digital event.
What is the strongest memory of From Business to Buttons 2021?
— The huge, positive response that we received during the conference; we were completely overwhelmed. Everyone could comment and read in real-time in the chat that was going on during the conference. It was great fun to take part in everything, says Isabel Bjärnström, project manager for the conference.
But it was a long preparation process, and the road to the conference was not easy.
— At first, there was slight disappointment among some of those who signed up, because there are huge expectations linked to the conference. We neither could – nor wanted to – scale down because we had sold the concept as a full-day conference with a schedule from 8 am to 5 pm, says Isabel.
Major logistics and new solutions
An additional challenge was that there were participants and speakers from 22 countries, and it was a huge logistical puzzle to fit together in order to get the schedule right, as none of the participants were in the same location. The majority of participants came from throughout the Nordic countries but we also had representations from Australia, USA, South Africa, Germany, and Belgium. Many were also in different time zones, so there were numerous conversations and agreements to find the right solutions.
The team that worked on the conference decided to look at all the possibilities, what could be added and what could be done differently now that no one could meet physically. For example, an early design group was appointed to work with UX and service designers who were commissioned to broadly investigate which platform would be best for a digital conference.
— In addition to the speakers, we also added other kinds of activities. We had a live sketch artist who wrote and painted during the speeches. We then sent the results of the illustrations to everyone who participated. We also had a collaboration with UX podcast, we broadcasted a morning show, had yoga sessions, various discussion rooms and a voice coach that the participants could spend time with during the morning. We wanted the different aspects to generate different added value, Isabel Bjärnström explains.
The details and packaging are important
In many ways, the digital version became a more flexible conference for the participants. But at the same time, as values and special elements were added, there were also things that were sadly lost.
—To some extent, we lost the networking that we know is an important part of the conference. Many people have said that this is an important reason why they participate. We had chats, subsequent discussion rooms, and a kind of speed dating where you got together with another participant. But we missed out on standing around, mingling, and meeting old colleagues, for example. We could have worked more with that and created even better conditions for the conference, and we can take these points with us for future occasion, says Isabel Bjärnström.
A few months later, it is primarily the positive response that the team will bring to next year's conference, planned to be held physically. Plus the realization that the details and packaging play a significant role.
— We wanted to show different ways in that we cared about the participants and gave out a digital goodie bag, including specially written food recipes for the day. The details are very important. Several people got in touch both during and after the conference to say "wow"! Many people had been completely alone in their pandemic bubbles, and so were now completely overwhelmed by the conference. So afterward, one can see that we managed to stand out. It was no ordinary digital conference, we delivered something different together as a team, concludes Isabel.
Three tips for others who need to rearrange and plan a digital conference
- Put a lot of focus on achieving the best interaction between speakers and participants.
- Realize and plan based on the fact that most of the work will be put in before the conference to ensure that it is delivered well.
- Do not underestimate the details and packaging around the conference experience.