Earlier this week, the Association of Independent Music (AIM), transformed their AIM Sync Conference into a free virtual conference. We chatted to AIM’s Senior Events Manager Guy Lowman to find out how they pulled it off…
Hi Guy. Can you talk us through how the virtual event came together behind the scenes? How long did you have to put it together?
It was about two weeks. Once the physical event was officially cancelled we started having a conversation with digital experience agency Level8 about the possibility of going virtual. We ended up partnering with them to put the event together and I can’t speak highly enough of them – they are incredible. The idea they had was to make it very similar to a TV show or TV station because we wanted to make it really immersive and visual.
From a technical perspective, we had built a website for the conference and Level8 did all the conference hosting through Zoom, which was then put through our YouTube platform. Then we embedded that YouTube platform on the event website which allowed users to access it as the virtual platform.
There were definitely times when it felt like we were up against it in terms of the very short timeframe, and we were unsure as to whether we could pull it off. But once we’d identified all the areas to cover and we had all the components together, it was pretty exciting and a welcome distraction from the difficult circumstances we are currently facing. We also had a great Official Event Partner in the Department for International Trade, along with our Friends of the Event: MPA, MPG, GMS and the Ivors Academy.
What were the main challenges that you faced?
I would say the main challenges were juggling multiple rooms and multiple experiences and making them all play out all at the same time. Trying to retain the original programme was another challenge. I was convinced that we would see a lot of speakers drop off but almost everyone stayed on board, which was amazing because it allowed us to run with exactly the same programming that we had planned for the physical event.
Getting our heads around the technology was also a challenge. But again, our minds were put to rest because Level8 had mapped out a plan for us. Once you understand how people are going to watch and engage with the content and how panel discussions are going to work, it all starts to come together. We used a platform called Slido for audience interaction and questions and that was a huge win for us. We gave all of our moderators a run through a few days before so we weren’t just throwing them to the lions.
“It was really important to us to make it as engaging and exciting and fun as possible.”
It was also really important to us to make it as engaging and exciting and fun as possible, even down to the yellow and black colour scheme we used on the website. I’d seen some webinars and other virtual b2b events that were not as visually enticing as they could be, so we went for something really vibrant. We also had an AIM Sync digital radio on the homepage where people could listen to music that was submitted to us by our members and guests in advance. Then we had the virtual remote and a 3D brochure so you could flick between the pages. All of these little things became part of the bigger picture.
And the turnout far exceeded your expectations?
Right! With all things considered in the global and financial situation we find ourselves in, we decided that the event should be free to access for AIM Members and those of our event partners – and ultimately we were able to accommodate many more people than we would have with the physical event, with over 4,000 unique users tuning in on the day, which was an incredible turn of events.
“Ultimately we were able to accommodate many more people than we would have with the physical event, with over 4,000 unique users tuning in on the day.”
Can you talk us through the decision to make it a free event? Do you think there’s room for virtual conferences to charge for tickets in the future?
Initially we had sold tickets for a physical conference, but when we knew that wasn’t going ahead we instantly wanted to refund everyone and make it a free virtual event. There are lots of businesses, freelancers and industry individuals affected by the Covid-19 crisis, so we just couldn’t charge for the event. Making it free felt like the right thing to do morally. Being able to host a virtual conference that’s free for everyone to access and helps people learn and network and take their mind off everything that’s going on was a huge win for us.
The response and feedback we’ve received has been overwhelming and it really re-instilled our confidence that yes, we can do this and that we delivered something meaningful and of value. So I think charging for tickets is definitely an option for other conferences and, depending on how we go about things in the future, we could definitely look at a ticket price of some kind. I hope that what we delivered shows that a virtual event can stand firmly alongside a physical event in many respects. People can still be a part of something from their own homes, and that’s a wonderful thing. When times are hard it really makes you dig deep and I hope out of everything that’s going on, there will be some good that will come out of this.
“When times are hard it really makes you dig deep and I hope out of everything that’s going on, there will be some good that will come out of this.”
Do you have any other advice for conferences that are considering going virtual?
If you’re ever nervous about making the transition from physical to virtual, don’t be, because it’s not as scary as it seems and you might actually enjoy what you get out of it! I would say have a plan, have an idea of how you want it to look and feel, and try to make it as engaging as possible. As long as you plan and test everything to the best of your ability, you can’t really do more than that.
Check out the AIM Sync highlight reel below:
Highlights from #AIMSync 2020 – our first ever virtual conference.
Over 4,000 attendees took part in 14 panels & listening sessions, as well as over 100 speed meetings. The feedback has been incredible and will change how we approach future events. Thanks to all who took part! pic.twitter.com/iZzwpodury
— AIM #blacklivesmatter (@AIM_UK) April 6, 2020