3 Steps to Transition Your Face-to-Face Conference to a Virtual Events Platform

How Palisades Convention Management Took Display Week Virtual Amid a Global Pandemic

NOTE: This case study is based on a recent webinar. Register for additional insights!

For over a decade, Palisades Convention Management (PCM) has worked on the Society for Information Display’s annual conference, Display Week. Display Week is the premier worldwide event showcasing advances in the $100 billion dollar electronic display industry.

This year the event date fell amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. PCM, like many of us, had to quickly transition this traditionally face-to-face conference to a virtual environment.

Meet the Experts

Bill Klein – CEO of PCM and Program Coordinator for Display Week

Bill’s responsibilities on Display Week included working with authors, managing submissions, and getting the program online.

Jenny Donelan – Director of Publications and Special Projects at PCM

For Display Week, Jenny managed a subset of authors working on longer form content, special events such as panels and keynotes, and text-based publications.

Samantha Tola – Operations Manager at PCM

Samantha managed the exhibitor forum presentations and general operations for Display Week.

3 Challenges PCM Faced While Transitioning Display Week to a Virtual Conference During COVID-19

1. Building the Right Platform

PCM approached the virtual event much like they would a physical event. The first thing they needed to consider was the venue. For a virtual event, the event website becomes that venue.

Some of the questions they asked were:

  • Should our content be live or pre-recorded?
  • How can we host live Q&A over different time zones?
  • How can we foster interactivity between participants?
  • How to differentiate free vs. paid content?
  • How do attendees access different types of content?
  • How do attendees easily find the content that’s important to them?
  • What is the process to collect content from subject matter experts?

2. Managing Expectations

Since this was the first time PCM transitioned a conference as large as Display Week to a virtual event, the team had a new problem to solve. Managing expectations with their content creators, presenters, and subject matter experts.

“We didn’t know what the virtual event would look like. We had never done it before!”

Jenny Donelan, PCM Director of Publications and Special Projects

Jenny Donelan says that many speakers were asking what the conference would look like in a virtual environment. Since it was new for everyone, she couldn’t give them a definite answer.

3. Adjusting the Timeline

The PCM team made the decision to go virtual in March. Display Week’s original event date was in June, but they moved it back to August. That gave them just a few months to readjust the schedule, collect submissions, and create their virtual events platform.

Bill Klein emphasized that content is at the heart of Display Week.

“If you don’t have content, you don’t have a conference.”

Bill Klein, President of PCM

Collecting and organizing that content in the most beneficial way to both speakers and attendees was crucial.

With over 100 sessions to review, record, and get onto the virtual events platform, PCM knew they needed to find the perfect balance of rigidity and flexibility to meet all their deadlines for Display Week 2020.

How PCM Kept Speakers Informed, Created an Exceptional Experience to Attendees, and Delivered the Perfect Platform for Display Week’s Audience

Step 1: Consider the Attendee Experience

At Display Week, it’s the content attendees want.

Jenny states it bluntly: “Symposium is the meat of Display Week.”

What Makes a Conference?

But content alone doesn’t make a conference, especially when the conference is virtual. Bill says that the PCM team had to consider the question, “What makes a conference, a conference?”

They landed on one thing. Interactivity.

It’s the connections between individuals and the content becoming part of a larger conversation that makes a gathering like Display Week worthwhile for its attendees. Without that, a virtual events platform is just a website.

So, PCM started meeting nearly a half dozen times per week to discuss how to make Display Week 2020 an experience that rivals their face-to-face meeting.

How to Design the Attendee Experience

Bill says the most important aspect of these meetings was getting inside attendees’ heads and thinking about what their experience might be like. They created a diagram in Excel to walk through the process from the attendee perspective.

This document became a crucial part of the planning process.

PCM later used it to translate the desired attendee experience into a workflow when they began having regular calls with their technology partners.

Step 2: Keep Communication Open with Content Creators

Bill believes that attendees aren’t the only stakeholder that need to be considered.

“Presenter experience is just as important as attendee experience.”

Bill Klein, President of PCM

PCM decided to have presenters pre-record their sessions, which they could stream to attendees at the allotted time. This took a lot of pressure off presenters and also helped PCM avoid any technical challenges the day-of.

Since the content was pre-recorded, they could also offer this content on-demand to attendees who could not make it live.

The Path of Least Resistance

This was the first year that PCM was asking presenters to pre-record, so they wanted to make it easy for them.

Instead of uploading video of themselves speaking, presenters were simply asked to upload their slides using CadmiumCD’s Conference Harvester, then record audio using the presentation audio task.

But some presenters misunderstood the request.

These presenters used third-party tools to record their audio and wondered where to upload it.

“We could’ve said, no that’s not what we asked,” Bill says. “Instead we created another task in the system where presenters could upload these recordings. It took us a little more work, but we wanted to accommodate their process, whatever it was.”

Patterns of Misunderstanding

Jenny says little instances like this were common.

“Ask yourself: what are the patterns of misunderstanding? Look for them and follow up!”

Jenny Donelan, PCM Director of Publications and Special Projects

She says that when something you communicate is received in an unexpected way, it is an opportunity. Figuring out how to communicate it better or react creatively to a misunderstanding is simply part of the planning process.

“We were transparent and over-communicated everything,” she says. “If they asked what the platform would look like and we didn’t know, we explained when we would have more information. When the timeline changed, we told them. If someone didn’t understand something, we patiently explained it. Everyone was patient and understanding in return.”

Jenny Donelan’s 3 tips for Good Communication with Presenters

Jenny shared three ways the PCM team successfully managed expectations with this crucial stakeholder:

  1. Give speakers just enough to keep them satisfied — a little bit of information goes a long way.
  2. Share dates and be transparent about where you are in the planning process — including your unknowns.
  3. Communicate with people often, especially when things change — and things change often, so it’s never one email too many.

Step 3: Get the Platform Right

Once PCM defined their expectations for the attendee experience and presenter experience, they got to work building their virtual events platform.

They decided to use eventScribe Live, which focuses on education, but also adds a lot of interactivity to virtual events.

Keeping the Conversation Going

PCM decided that features like scavenger hunts and grab bags were not right for their audience.

However, to foster that interactivity they determined to be important to the attendee experience, they included a live audience response system that featured Q&A.

“We didn’t necessarily need the Q&A to be real-time,” says Bill. “A large portion of our audience is international so we wanted the conversation to persist as new people were tuning in from all over the world.”

Making Content Discoverability Easy

Display Week is not one linear track. There are many different types of events all happening at once.

They worked with CadmiumCD on how to break these different sections out to maximize content discoverability.

“The CadmiumCD team really got it. They understood how the data should be displayed.”

Bill Klein, President of PCM

PCM structured their Symposium, Short Courses, Business Conference, and Seminars as different tracks on the home page of their virtual events platform. They also broke out their exhibit hall and additional special events to help attendees navigate those activities too.

“It was very easy for attendees to find what they were looking for,” says Bill.

Providing Access to Different Types of Content

The third and final piece was making sure everything worked together as a seamless experience.

PCM used eventScribe Live for their virtual platform and content management system, but they were also using Cvent for registration.

“Some of our content was free,” says Bill. “Some of it was paid. The paid content was sold through our registration platform and we needed a way to provide access on the events platform.”

They were able to work with their tech companies to build an integration, and use access levels in eventScribe to gate certain types of content for users who had not purchased it.

So… Did It All Work Out for Display Week?

PCM says the response to the virtual platform and new format of the event was very positive.

“Silence usually means attendees are happy,” says Bill, describing the lack of complaints the team received about navigation. “If we don’t hear complaints, we know we’re doing something right.”

Attendance was on par with previous live events, but content views were much higher. There were over 150,000 content views for this year’s Display Week. The PCM team was also excited to see the engagement generated by the Q&A panel in each session.

An Unexpected Shift

For PCM, the busiest time of Display Week is usually onsite. But that shifted with the virtual event.

Display Week 2020 required the most energy the week before the conference. The first day was a bit hectic, but the rest of the week was very hands-off.

“When everything is going smoothly, we ask ourselves, ‘what are we missing?’” says Jenny. “It felt good to see everything… just work.”

She says it’s important to celebrate those wins and acknowledge the hard work your team has done to achieve them.

Words of Wisdom from Palisades Convention Management

Bill has a bit of advice for anyone making adjustments for the 2020 and 2021 conference session:

“Everyone will give you a pass this year because we’re all going through it.”

Bill Klein, President of PCM

So follow PCM’s example and put on a great show!

About CadmiumCD

CadmiumCD is an award-winning event management platform for award-winning event professionals. Visit go.cadmiumcd.com/virtual to see how eventScribe Live can help you transition your face-to-face conferences and trade shows to a virtual environment.

About Palisades Convention Management

Palisades Convention Management (PCM) has 35+ years experience managing operations, registration, sponsorship sales, technology, and marketing for association meetings and conferences.