This past year has been a challenging year for running events. For those that do not know me, I am someone that facilitates many events in the local New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York area [tri-state]. I must admin that I struggle with not being able to host physical events during the pandemic. I’ve been able to meet so many amazing people traveling within the local area. I’ve also developed friendships and professional relationships that I would almost never had made through online events. The immediate satisfaction of executing a live event with hundreds of people still doesn’t match a virtual event of the same magnitude. With that said the virtual events are still satisfying to host and they bring a whole different set of challenges over an in person event. The point of this article is to review insights into hosting a virtual event are cover the pros and cons.

For the past 10 years or so I’ve been somewhat known for hosting and helping out with events in NJ and NYC at the local Microsoft offices. I’ve hosted SPFx bootcamps, both Office 365 Developer and Azure Global Bootcamps, and last but not least SharePoint Saturday NYC + NJ aka O365 NYC aka M365 NYC. These events in New York have had upwards of 900 registered users to attend and typically see 300-400 people in person, and on a good year peaking 500 people in person. Amazing to be able to see this event unfold and the amount of planning and preparation on the organizer partnering with the Microsoft staff is truly a spectacle.

Here we are now in the virtual event era where all we can have is virtual events. Running events in person have certain challenges in terms of budget, location, logistics and come with risks of getting speakers, no shows, cancellations, timing. Virtual events as they seem somewhat easier… they are not.

Organizers – The backend planning crew. It takes a few people to be the heart and soul behind the event in order for it to actually happen. In the case of the Philly crew it was Jason Rivera, Mike Mukalian, Manpreet Singh and myself. With the late addition of Dave Leville. We all have different responsibilities which make the event happen. I’ll outline the roles of our Organization team below.

Jason Rivera – Main Organizer aka Project Manager – runs the user group in PA and starts the process. The Heart of the operation. Jason has the pulse of the local area and drives the month to month operation of local events [virtual for now]. Jason is the key point of contact with the local community and also ensures that the best interest of the local community is upheld with all decisions that are made.

Manpreet SinghThe Tech Platform – Runs The Tech Platform and is very comfortable with running online Teams events. Manpreet is also a key part of events running in the NJ/NYC/PA area, Current host of the NJ M365 User Group. No stranger to online events and know how to run things in MS Teams and cross platform like YouTube/ FB Live. Manpreet was always in the background supporting our producers in the event that anything went wrong.

Michael Mukalian – Microsoft Contact – the blue badge. Loads of knowledge and contacts. Critical role to have on the team to ensure that the event runs inline with Microsoft’s vision aka best practices aka the direction of the modern workspace. Michael has always been involved in the Philly community for many years and his years of dedication to fostering events is essential.

Thomas Daly [myself] SoHo Dragon – Support – My role was a support role such as getting the word out for speakers to apply, getting producers, talking to sponsors, assisting in voting of topics, being a producer and any last minute things that fall through the cracks. The years of experience and relationships in the community play a vital role in my ability to provide support.

David LeveilleCrush Networks – Marketing / Support – David not just a typically sponsor. David was a late addition but nonetheless a crucial role in help us spread the word for the event. David brought in both speakers and sponsors attention to our event. David was also key in the marketing aspect of our event as he has experience in mastering the social platforms to raise awareness and visibility to outside of our respective reach. David is also key persona for other M365 events such as M365 Virtual, California, Idaho, Mexico

Producers – Your frontline workers. Having the correct number of producers to help with welcoming the speaker, kicking off the sessions, controlling the timing so session do not run over, facilitating questions from the audience in a controlled manner. Depending on the number of tracks / sessions you need to have full coverage with dedicated producers to be your eyes and ears in the channels. They will report back any major problems during the sessions.

Shout out to our Producers:

  1. Jaime Willis-Rose Applied Information Sciences – Super Star Power Platform Developer – Jaime is a super star, always willing to step in last minute and help out. Rockstar in my book.
  2. Tosha Desai – Co worker at SoHo Dragon – A dedicated colleague and expert in the M365 realm. Jumping in the last minute to help to produce our Friday Sessions.
  3. Stacy Burris – M365 Organizer – former director of SPTechCon now PAIT Group Marketing & Operations Director – Stacy always goes above an beyond when she can. She helped produce a few of our Saturday Session for this event.
  4. Nishant
  5. Mohammed

Schedule

We put all of our sessions on the website through rebrand.ly. This is in case someone accidentally closed out the Teams Live event. If they close the Teams Live event we would have to recreate a link for a new event and have our attendees access that. rebrand.ly was our vanity url service so in the event that a Teams Live event was accidentally close we could have minimal down time. We could quickly change the link behind the scenes and users would experience very little impact.

Teams Live Events / Teams Events

The big question is why Teams Live events vs Teams Events. This seems to be the biggest topic for discussion. Teams Live events we scheduled for the entire day so we had a consistently running event. We would later cut the events down for the recordings in post production. In a Teams Live event the speakers can join externally and they don’t need an account as long as they were added to the Team in advance. However some speakers have an issue with this but apparently not so much this time. We had tech checks in place to verify that speakers could join and present.

We could not run Teams meetings last year because there was not option to mute all attendees. This was since correct by the MS Teams team and we could control the audience with a typical teams meeting. However we did take into consideration that M365 Virtual Marathon had some comment spam during these events.

The down side is that our speakers do not know how many people are in the sessions at a given time. There is also a delay for Q/A close to 30 seconds to 1 minutes. This greatly impacts the interactive nature of the conversation. We can’t tell who is there and it’s a little weird to talk to no-one. You might be there but the speakers can’t tell.

Co Presenters

We had a few presentation where there were 2 or more presenters and that was a challenge b/c only 1 screen and 1 video could be produced at a time. I had a track Winning Combination: Team up with the Microsoft 365 PnP Community and become a SharePoint All-Star with David Warner, Beau Cameron, Hugo Benier and Chris Kent that I had to juggle the speaker video as they were talking. This was not necessarily a problem but also a consideration for live events where I had to switch up the speakers video feed during the talk.

Feedback

Feedback is one of the most overlooked aspects of running events. We sincerely look at event piece of feedback both good, bad, and even ugly. We consider each piece for the next event and take it to heart. Each event is an extension of the organization committee and we don’t want to hear negative feedback however we know negative is a part of growth and we incorporate that into the planning for the next event. I can tell you we look at ever single piece of feedback and we adjust based on that. Typically people leave feedback when they had a either negative or positive experience and not typically for mediocre experiences. We absolutely review each piece and adjust accordingly.

Purpose

We know that these events are free for all to attend and listen. Yes, sponsors get some opt-in information to solicit their services but that is part of their incentive to help us out financially with prizes or covering hosting or other costs. For all of us involved we don’t get paid to organize, we don’t get paid to produce, we don’t get paid as a speaker. This year we had a purpose to host an event that is free for all that want to attend and we also asked that if you found value that you consider making a small donation to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia were we had a modest goal of $1,000. Which is not much considering the value of the content that was being delivered over a 2 day time span. We sincerely appreciate all the donations that have come in and at the time of this writing we are so close to reaching that goal. This is a charity that is near and dear to our heart and main organizer, Jason Rivera, which I would like to thank each and everyone that donated. It doesn’t matter if it’s $1,5,10 or more each and every bit counts and it’s a relative indicator that you all felt that this event was worthwhile. We have never asked for money ever for the in person events and we will never will but the response to our small charity drive has been overwhelming that we cannot thank you enough.

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