Events of all kinds—from free classes for 300 students to private to small-group coaching circles—are powered by Crowdcast. But it was the world's largest virtual conference that launched Crowdcast as the interactive live video platform that it is today.
In 2014, I was dabbling with a personal project to create an interactive live video platform, powered by Google Hangouts, after noticed people creating their own chat widgets for their hangouts. A friend of mine took notice and told me he wanted to use it to “pull off the largest virtual conference in history.”
We didn't know if it was possible to scale my solo-project to host 10,000 people from around the world for hack.summit. But, by the end of day 4, we had more than 30,000 attendees from 127 countries. Through the process, I had created the interactive, livestream platform that would become Crowdcast (you can read more about my journey here).
I've learned a lot about scale by supporting the last couple hack.summits on Crowdcast, like how to accommodate a ridiculous number of participants all asking questions simultaneously. The most valuable thing I learned was how to organize and market a massive virtual event. Below are my five key recommendations to create a large, interactive event of your own.
1. Create viral triggers for registration
It takes a lot of work to get that many people to register—ultimately, we had 64,000 sign-ups for the 2014 event. We tried several tactics but found these two to be particularly effective:
- Tweet to pay: hack.summit is a donation-based event, so we offered to let people swap donations for tweets to attend (via PayWithATweet). This created a viral storm—and boosted registration.
- Partnerships: We linked up with 10-20 coding-related charities. Registrants could select one of those charities as the beneficiaries of their event donation and, in return, those charities promoted our event to their communities.
Also—don't shy away from generous coupons and freebies in exchange for registrations or event promotion.
2. Have a dedicated host
Your host will need help—one other person behind-the-scenes should be enough (both host and off-camera organizer will use the same log in). The organizer can help with tech-prep for all speakers, including the host. They should also keep an eye on audience comments and questions for the host, but most importantly, they should moderate the chat box. (We actually built the ban feature in response to trolls during the first summit.)
This frees up the host to just focus on having engaging conversations with the speakers. Make sure the host does plenty of research on the speakers and what they're about. Identify topics within their expertise that would appeal most to your audience. Create questions that keep the conversation focused on value—getting a large group like this immediately engaged (and to stay on track) is essential.
Slack was super helpful for communication, especially during the event.
Pro-tip: Create different channels, like #comments and #questions, so the host can quickly glance and read Slack info during the live event. Your host needs to maintain eye contact with the camera, especially for a large-scale event with top-tier speakers.
3. Prep speakers to go live
For a live, virtual event, you want to triple-check that speakers won't have any glitches. As an organizer, I had speakers join me online 30-minutes before each event to make sure everything was working on their end.
Speaker-prep also includes the panel host—I would physically set-up a laptop for hosts and hand it to them. This way, the host could focus on preparing for the upcoming interview while I made sure everyone was ready to go live.
Pro-tip: Use our setup checklist to quickly test your camera, mic, screenshare and connection.
4. Engage your audience early & often
Audiences this large are really active; harness their energy by acknowledging them. We did this in several ways:
- Select interesting comments from the chat box and have the host share them (giving a shout-out to the contributor).
- Offer prizes for top-voted questions to keep up interaction.
- Surface buried questions from the queue—the top-ranked questions may not be the most valuable.
- Run polls during the event—we had every speaker create topic-related questions ahead of time.
Pro-tip: Polls are an excellent channel for audiences to share their opinions (who doesn't love that?) and require the lowest level of effort to participate.
5. Continue the conversation off camera
The conversation doesn't have to end with the broadcast. Have a post-event outreach plan in place before the event goes live, so you can capitalize on participant and speaker excitement at its peak.
Our sponsors and partners wrote a number of articles summarizing key take-aways, while participants shared excerpts on YouTube. In retrospect, it would have been valuable to create a 5-10-minute highlight reel.
At the very least, draft a summary of your learnings (and thanking partners) and post to a publication platform like Medium.
My friend Ed Roman, founder of hack.summit, shared some insights about virtual conferences with App Developer Magazine last year—it's a quick read and explains well why our live, interactive video experiment ended up working.
If you're thinking of hosting a large-scale virtual event, definitely reach out to me on Twitter. Or, for more inspiration, check out a few of these large, multi-day events that have been hosted on Crowdcast:
Follow hack.summit on Crowdcast