The Tools we used to Host our Virtual Conference (Whova, Zoom, Vimeo, and More)

2020 left many event organizers faced with the decision to cancel, postpone, or move their events to virtual. Our annual social media conference; SMTULSA Conference was not spared.

Initially, our conference was scheduled for March 2020.  Two weeks prior to our dates, we made the decision to postpone to September. As September rolled near, we came to the realization that an in-person would not be possible as the virus continued to spread.  

One of our greatest assets, it turns out, was the Whova App. We have used Whova since 2016, and had planned to utilize it for our 10th annual conference. 

Just like a super hero swooping down to save the day, Whova created the Whova Organizer Community on their own app to help us and fellow event organizers communicate with each other, and to learn navigate the virtual event landscape.  Our conference went off without a hitch and everyone who participated in the live event was very impressed at how well it went. 

When one planner in the Whova community asked our own, Cheryl Lawson for any advice she could share, here was her response

"Here are a few things that made my life easier. 

WhovaApp + Zoom +Vimeo

After months of back and forth with how we were going to handle the live vs pre-recorded sessions, I decided on:

Zoom

Zoom Pro account with 7 users/hosts - This allowed us to have multiple LIVE sessions going on at the same time.  EX:  I host speaker A @ 11am and 
team member hosts (created zoom meeting and hosted session) speaker B @ 11am.  100 participants was our plan because our event is small, so make sure you purchase the Zoom account to match your anticipated attendees.
Speakers - Attendees
  • All speakers were provided the direct Zoom meeting link 
  • Attendees joined via WhovaApp
  • We used Zoom's waiting room feature. The moderator/host of the session would add people to the room. The moderator was also in charge of checking chat/and Q& A for the speakers as well as time keeper.
Zoom Chat turned off
We turned off chat in Zoom and only used the chat feature in the WhovaApp.
Zoom meeting vs webinar
Since our conference is small and very social in nature. We've always encouraged people to speak up, so we didn't want to stifle that during the virtual version.
I chose to do Zoom meetings and it worked out fine. I see how many people would rather do webinars, but we were trying to avoid the talking heads.
Zoom recordings: 
We set zooms to auto record when they start. So we had to pause at the very beginning then hit record again so we didn't get so much extra chatter. I'd probably not do that again, but at least I didn't have to worry if a session was being recorded. 
After the sessions on day one, we downloaded the recordings, uploaded them to vimeo and added them back to the sessions for people watching on their own time. 
If I wasn't the "host" I had to have my team member send the recorded file link to me or to our a/v person to upload. By the time we started day 2, all day 1 recordings were uploaded. 

Vimeo Pro

Recorded sessions were uploaded to our pro-Vimeo account. 
All videos on vimeo were set to private, (only people with the link can view)
then we uploaded the longer link (not the short one) to the Whova session for people to view later.
Recorded session. We set to not play until the session time. We asked the speaker to be available during their session to answer questions on the chat. 
We only had one speaker with a conflict with that, so we had our team members in that session to answer questions.
 
One thing I like about Vimeo is that you can replace a file.. If a vimeo link had been updated with a new video, the link wouldn't work in Whova. Make sure you copy the updated link to the app.  One of our team members (the one with the fastest internet) was assigned to uploading videos to the vimeo account if they arrived during the conference or in the middle of the night. 
Note: to fill in a couple of spaces, we added youtube links of a fun activity we've done in during the IRL events It worked fine.

Communication

 

Google Sheet

Below is what we created for speakers and our team. 

It was just the spreadsheet of our Whova agenda that we added additional colums to. We used Google sheet so that as things changed, and they did, we could update the Google sheet.

We included the moderator/host's cell phone # so that speakers knew who to call or text is they had any issues. (I've removed that from this version. Feel free to make a copy and make it work for your event)

I'm a stickler for back channels. Since we are a social media-centered group, we have many options, but here's what we did:
Speaker only Facebook group - This is where I kept speakers up to date on all happenings and plans. As I was learning about Whova, I would do a quick video or go live to show the speakers. 
Production team Facebook group - Most of my team are volunteers who have worked on this in person event for years. We kept communication going and a few of them became hosts on our Zoom account and it was great.
The sessions they hosted were with speakers whom they were most interested in or had some sort of relationship to (friend, met at previous conf, etc)
We probably over-communicated with speakers as we worked out the process. at first, we were going to allow speakers to use their own Zoom accts. 
Then, after seeing all of the feedback in the Whova community, we decided to just upgrade for a month. I highly recommend this.

More Whova app Activities

We did Leaderboard contests and gave away a few fun items to the top participants. 
We encouraged people to engage with each other on the app. Networking in a different way. In fact, one of our first sessions was about 
how to get the most out of our event -- Putting Success in your Way. It's something we've done for years as an opener and it always 
Photo contests. We asked people to share photos of their virtual conference setup
We asked them to share photos of their co-workers (dogs, kids, etc) We know distractions happen and that people were probably Zoomed out,
so we wanted people to feel comfortable to experience the conference where they were and how their life is. 
 
Have fun!  Don't forget Social Media
Fun has always been a part of our conference. 
Some of our team members were in charge of sharing the conference on social media.
We specifically focused on Twitter and Instagram stories. We had animated Gifs and stickers and fun things that was fun to share outside of 
the whova app. 

See our GIPHY channel 

I hope this information is helpful to you. We highly recommend WhovaApp for virtual and in person events.  

All conference sessions are recorded and available to view as well. Click on the link below to get your ticket.