On July 28 and 29, 2020, two months of planning and coordination came together at Discoverr for a virtual two-day conference of eCommerce lessons. Deliverr brought speakers from Marketplace Pulse, Walmart, Wish, and more to share tactics and advice for first- and long-time sellers to be successful on their platforms.
Update: Deliverr asked me back to manage their 2nd Discoverr Conference. Read about it at Lessons from organizing the 2nd annual Discoverr Conference
It was an exciting, albeit nerve-wracking time, and I came away with a new understanding of how to organize a successful virtual event.
Three cups of coffee a night and a very messed up sleep schedule later, I’m here to share my big lessons from planning and organizing the virtual conference.
Lessons in planning an event
1) Start early
Deliverr leadership asked me to take on the conference in late May, so I was given an ample head start. I had all of June and most of July to organize, determine tools, and get everyone synced.
There were more than a dozen speakers in total, so those two months were greatly appreciated. I sent invites and information in early June, and requested all the info we needed from our speakers by the end of the month.
It gave everyone four weeks to decide on their speakers, which would provide me plenty of time to collaborate and put everything together.
However, as you’ll see later in this blog, it’s still important to stay sharp. We had four speakers drop out of the lineup after June 30, some as late as one week before the event. Luckily, we were able to find excellent replacements in our network, and the final lineup was A+.
2) Watch out for holidays
Prior to this event, we held a webinar after an American holiday weekend and received a lower response than expected. So, this time around, I made sure to look up July 28 to make sure it didn’t fall near any holidays.
Since the event was online, I searched major international holidays as well to avoid accidentally scheduling it during a huge occasion in another country.
July 28 is actually world Hepatitis Day, but it typically doesn’t warrant a day off from work.
3) Beware narrow planner focus
When I began to schedule the event, my mind was firmly set that this would be a one-day event, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on July 28.
Big shout-out to Deliverr Director of Sales Michael Sene for pointing out that people could experience viewer fatigue from sitting through a virtual event for an entire day. It was the reason I ultimately decided to split the six conference sessions across two days.
Each day opened with a more general topic, then dove into specific marketplace/channel lessons.
Running the event live from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. over two days was more manageable for the event flow, viewers, and our internal team. It helped us stay flexible and gave viewers a break between content-heavy presentations to absorb all the information our speakers shared. Since I’m on a different timezone than PST, it was also beneficial for my sleep schedule, so, a win-win!
4) Schedule a kick-off call
My nightmare is sitting on a call that could have been an email. To avoid this, I began my speaker planning via email, operating as if our first call would be the rehearsal before the big event, with speakers and slides coordinated online.
That was a mistake. Turns out some emails need to be phone calls! Since I didn’t call everyone right from the start, too many things were left up in the air for too long, which caused confusion. The speaker list changed a few times, which threw off some well-laid plans and created a mad rush to update the already-live landing page more than once.
Here’s what you want to cover on that kick-off call:
- Who will be speaking during the event.
- When you can expect their information (high-res headshot, full name, official title, and bio).
- If the event date and time slot work for them.
- The deadline for the slides (this also gives you a date to follow up with their team on content).
- When to schedule a rehearsal/run-through (ideally, the week before the event).
- Who else needs access to the back-end (i.e., for answering Q&A), their email addresses, and any other details you require.
5) Test different tools
I didn’t have as much time as I’d have liked to experiment with webinar tools. Deliverr needed something that:
- Provided multi-session webinars with one registration form so registrants only had to enter their information once to access everything.
- Offered unlimited registrants and a capacity of 3,000 or more live attendees.
- Provided a quick CSV download of all registrants so we could share the list with our partner presenters.
- Had a center stage with different back-end sessions. This would give each speaker team a unique link without requiring viewers to hop in and out of virtual rooms.
- Had a Q&A feature that we could make private so attendees couldn’t spam others’ feeds.
- Allowed each speaker to control their presentation and set their own pace.
- Included an embed form option so we could build our own landing page.
- Automatically sent out webinar recordings after the session, whether someone attended or not.
Tip: If you want to have public chat options, look for a tool that automatically blocks any links. Be wary of attendees trying to get others to click on their affiliate links in your event!
Our software workaround
Ultimately, I decided to go with Livestorm, even though they didn’t have everything we needed. This was in part because we had used their tool before and were comfortable with them, and also because of their great customer service (shout out to Sonya for all her help!).
My solution was to build our own registration page and embed the registration form for the first event. Then, I used a Zapier integration so that everyone who registered for the first event was also enrolled in the other sessions. Finally, I made the other registration pages private. The Zapier flow took the initial registration (submitted via our landing page) and used it as a trigger to send the same registrant info to the other webinars.
Tip: Make sure you get any opt-ins your software requires when manually registering attendees. Our landing page made it clear this event included all sessions, and the Livestorm registration widget captured the terms and conditions agreement.
One weakness of this setup was that each registrant received six emails, one for each session. Preferably, a single email round-up would have gone out with their unique access link to each session — or, better yet, just one link they had to keep track of for the whole event.
I added a note in the FAQs and adjusted the wording of the emails to set expectations (mostly to expect more emails). I also automated reminders so that on the day of the event, registrants would receive a one-hour reminder for the first event and five-minute reminders for subsequent ones. That ensured registrants’ access links were the topmost emails in their packed inboxes.
Next round, if we continue with this software, I intend to arrange it so registrants only get an initial email, then their individual session emails five minutes before each begins.
Deciding on our software needs beforehand helped me research different options, select the best fit, and figure out workarounds to fill in the gaps.
Another notable conference option was WebinarNinja, which offered multi-session webinars and had great support (thanks Omar!). However, the lack of a private Q&A function turned us away (though their team mentioned it was in the works at that time).
The other tools I checked out had more features than we needed for a single-track event; others were too expensive; and some had poor customer support that I couldn’t rely on the day of if something went wrong.
Lessons in creating a landing page
If your event involves more than one webinar, you should have a landing page, not just a registration page. That means design, copy, web development, and more planning.
1) Bring a professional designer onboard
Initially, part of my search for a reliable webinar tool included an efficient registration page builder. In the end, nothing looked as attractive as the landing page Benoît Chabert masterfully crafted.
It significantly increased our branding and visibility: We were able to add it as a page on our website, which enticed people who were interested in Discoverr to check out Deliverr, and vice versa.
2) Bring a wordsmith onboard
Every event landing page needs to speak in the same language as your audience. You need to use the same terms they’re familiar with, focus on what’s important to them, and highlight what they’ll get out of the event.
To nail this, you need to bring on a wordsmith (or three) to sharpen the copy.
Deliverr’s Celena Chong focuses on reducing bounce rate and churn across the site. With her journalistic wit, she took professional landing page copy that read like a manual and made it pop (and drive registrants).
Before: Laundry list/school syllabus
After: All the reasons you need to register
3) Include FAQs
This is a lesson learned from participating in many events and promotions, and it’s especially important for an online conference.
Your FAQ section preempts questions and clears your customer support lines of interested attendees who just want a little more information.
This also reduces the time it takes someone to discover the landing page, generate interest, and then register (i.e., no “contact us” step in between).
Many of the questions I included came from past webinar experience. One of the most common inquiries I saw attendees ask during live was whether they would get a recording after the event. We also received multiple questions about sponsoring the event, and if it was free to attend. These repeated inquiries helped me craft an informative FAQ section.
It was also useful to clarify why registrants received so many emails, and to reassure those who lost their link that they would get another five minutes before the event started.
Lastly, the FAQs section helped me lay out the terms and conditions for the event prizes without cluttering the sleek landing page copy. It explained clearly, but concisely that full prize details would be emailed to the winners separately once they won.
Lessons in organizing an event
Then came the scheduling, finalizing details, and SO many emails.
1) Rehearse with your speakers
I booked time with each of the speakers in the two weeks leading up to the event. These meetings were to introduce them to our webinar software and to run through the content and slides they provided. Everyone learned how to log in, move slides around, where to find the questions tab, and saw what the webinar looked like.
This is mission-critical – you do not want to discover one of your speakers doesn’t have a working microphone the day of the event. I was part of an event where a speaker didn’t know how to access the webinar room, so one of his team members had to heroically step up (she did great, btw).
2) Embrace your send button
When organizing an event, you’ll inevitably annoy people with your emails. I sent the speakers multiple emails every week, sent attendees six emails upon registration and then extra emails the day of, and even sent my own team members multiple Slack messages and emails checking in to make sure everyone was on the same page.
I bothered so many people just trying to get headshots the right size so they wouldn’t be blurry on our speaker page. Imagine how irritating I was with the entire operation: final speaker list, session titles, session descriptions, speaker bios, scheduling availability for rehearsals and the day of, a content sync to discuss what they would say, and much more — I was a verifiable pest.
Embrace it — it’s more important to ensure your event goes smoothly and that everyone is well prepared than it is to seem nonchalant.
3) Stay flexible
Thankfully, this was a virtual event, so major changes in speaker lineup, rewards/offerings, and logistics could all be done remotely and as quickly as Internet connections allowed.
It’s important to stay flexible, because in any event, there will always be issues.
Lessons in marketing your event
1) Share far and wide
We shared this event everywhere in an attempt to achieve our lofty 3,000-registrant goal.
We advertised it on our website via a banner, pop-ups on different site pages, and a pop-up on the back-end of our software where our users signed in.
I included it as a newsletter feature multiple times, and highlighted it in every newsletter from the day the landing page went live until the actual event (albeit at the bottom as a reminder).
We shared it via social, ads, social ads, in sponsored newsletters, and anywhere else I could think of without being marked as spam (so I stayed away from Reddit).
We also asked each of the teams speaking to share the event with their audience. That guaranteed our partners’ marketing engines worked on our behalf.
The most effective promotion channels for us were above-the-fold features in our email newsletter, in-app notifications, and a banner on our website.
Quick checklist for event promotion
- Add event CTAs throughout your website (banner, homepage hero, resources page)
- Add event information to relevant blogs
- Link to the event in your email signature
- Share your event in a dedicated email newsletter at least twice (official announcement + reminder)
- Schedule social media promotions (you can set and forget these)
- Find relevant email newsletters to sponsor
- Share it with your own network in your group chats, masterminds, LinkedIn messages, Slack groups, and other communities
2) Everyone loves free stuff
Prizes, especially relevant or generous ones, drive high registration for any event. Deliverr went above and beyond at Discoverr by offering $15,000 in prizes for Deliverr users, such as free storage, free deliveries, and free inbound shipments (where you send inventory into the Deliverr network to fulfill).
Tip: You don’t have to go as far as $15,000 for your prizes. Consider giving away an annual subscription to your SaaS, free samples of your product, or a one-hour consultation.
We randomly awarded a live attendee in each session with one of six prizes, which encouraged registrants to join live. I measured this by sending out a poll at a random time during each webinar to find out who were the active attendees. Anyone who answered the poll was eligible to win.
Since the poll was in a different tab from the Q&A section (the default for people joining the webinar), I flashed a slide in each presentation that asked attendees to switch over and answer the poll to be eligible for the random drawing.
3) Create rewards based on your event goals
The overarching goal of this event was to highlight the multi-channel opportunity. While the $15,000 in Deliverr credits was an effective method to help sellers grow their business, it wasn’t geared toward channel expansion.
Our data-driven business development and strategist, Justin Rezende, put together a First-10 promotion wherein every Deliverr merchant who attended the conference live could fulfill their first 10 orders on a newly activated channel for free.
This was a great way to encourage merchants to take advantage of the multi-channel opportunity. We’ve seen merchants boost their profits exponentially with each channel they add, and the First-10 promotion would help them see it, too.
Lessons in executing an event
A few things we did in the planning and organization stages helped us during execution. Here are those lessons.
1) Pad your start times
I sent Google Calendar invites that reserved 15 minutes before the actual session went live. This allowed speakers and panelists to arrive early enough to test their sound, get re-acquainted with the software, and look through the slides once more.
It’s also a great time to share current registrant counts and get everyone excited about the event.
2) Give your team solid equipment
We had someone from the Deliverr team on each session to introduce the speakers and moderate the panels. To ensure clear sound and favorable lighting at their end, we sent them some key pieces of equipment beforehand.
You can peruse a few suggestions for audio and visual equipment below. The list includes the items we used, online recommendations, and suggestions from a digital producer team I worked with.
- Microphone: Audio-Technica ATR Series or 20 Series
- Microphone: Rode NT-USB USB Microphone (find it here)
- Microphone: Blue Yeti USB Microphone
- Amplifier/VST box: Scarlett by Focusrite
- Headphones: M6 Memory wire in-ear sports headphones
- Headphones: HyperX Cloud Flight Wireless Gaming Headset
- Camera: Logitech C525 USB HD Webcam (the one we used)
- Camera: Logitech B525 HD Webcam (find it here)
- Camera: Logitech Brio Ultra HD Webcam
- Lighting: Stellar Diva Desktop LED Ringlight BiColor USB-Powered
- Lighting: UBeesize 10″ ring light
After the event
1) Send out a recap email
To close the event, we sent a thank you email to every registrant, which included:
- Links to all the recordings — The purpose of the event was to educate and to follow a CTA to take advantage of the multi-channel opportunity, which meant the more people who could view event lessons, the better.
- More information about each speaker — Since there was so much cross-promotion between partners, we couldn’t share the full registrant list with everyone. So, to help our speakers connect with registrants, I included links from our guest speakers along with any promotions they provided for attendees.
- Prize information — We announced the first name and last initial of the prize winners to let everyone know the drawing occurred, and to inform the winners we would follow up with more details in a separate, private email.
- Reminders — There were plenty of benefits to attending this conference, so I included reminders about rewards like the First-10 promotion (applicable to anyone who attended at least one session) and the referral program. I also added the contact information of the team members leading those initiatives so people with questions knew who to contact.
2) Measure the results
Registrants and live attendees are one of the obvious ways to measure the success of your event, but it’s important to see how an event moves the needle for your business.
Look at what you wanted to achieve with the event. If it was to have your current customers take a different action, like using another of your services, evaluate that activation rate before and after the event.
- % of known users who use service A before the event
- % of known users who use services A and B before the event
- % of known users who use service A after the event
- % of known users who use services A and B after the event
- Ratio of 1:2 and 3:4 to see what service B activation looked like before and after the event
3) Find ways to spread information further
With so much useful information contained in the event, it made sense to share it across as many channels and mediums as possible (similar to diversifying your eCommerce business).
So, after the event, we:
- Published recordings of all the sessions on our YouTube channel (find the playlist here)
- Wrote recaps of the lessons for our blog, and embedded the videos
- Put it in our resources page, where content has a longer shelf life for website visitors than the ever-changing blog homepage
Last lesson: Give it a shot!
I was nervous about supervising so many moving pieces, but ultimately, it was an eye-opening learning experience that taught me many valuable lessons about teamwork, coordination, and caffeine withdrawal.
If you’re thinking of putting on a similar event, but aren’t sure whether it’ll be a success or a waste of time, I encourage you to give it a try and apply the above lessons.