IT strategy congress online with over 500 participants
// by Matthias Rensing
IT & Management Consulting, IT Strategy, Modern Work
noventum manages successful event with Microsoft TEAMS
The organisation of a congress for a few hundred visitors with twenty speakers and opportunities for networking and encounters has always been an organisationally challenging project. Countless events of this kind have been cancelled in recent months because of Corona, and even in the near future it does not look as if the old congress business will be quickly restarted. The IT-Forum Nordwestfalen, the IHK-Nordwestfalen and the digital hub Münsterland nevertheless wanted to hold their annual IT Strategy Congress and switched to an online event at short notice. The consultants from noventum consulting took up the challenge to digitally map the congress with Microsoft TEAMS. In the end, the participants were delighted with a perfectly staged congress. The organizers are very satisfied and have gained a lot more experience.
IT strategy congress "Strategy 2025" as web conference
Since the beginning of the Corona crisis, a large number of meetings and events have only taken place online. Collaboration tools are used in great detail and the possibilities of digital collaboration help many companies to keep their business running even without a regular office and conference operation.
The IT Strategy Congress planned for 13 May 2020 at the Bildungszentrum of the IHK Nord Westfalen promised to be a particularly good event: the registration numbers were very promising, an illustrious round of interesting speakers had promised to attend, and the location (IHK Bildungszentrum) had already presented itself as an ideal conference venue in the past. Corona thwarted all plans and the question arose: hold the congress digitally? No one had ever done it on this scale before and the challenges were many and varied:
- The right technology for a multimedia and communication-intensive format had to be found
- typical components of an analogue congress should be digitally reproduced
- new roles had to be identified and filled for the digital event
- a well-rehearsed team had to be able to deal with unexpected problems on the day itself
- the interested parties of the IT Strategy Congress had to be convinced to participate in this event online (and free of charge)
Find the right software for online events
For many years noventum consulting GmbH has consistently relied on Microsoft products, be it in its own internal processes, in external communication or in customer projects. The idea to conduct the IT Strategy Congress with Microsoft TEAMS resulted from these diverse experiences. noventum has been using TEAMS not only since the crisis and, for example, holds weekly digital employee meetings with more than 100 participants.
Originally designed for smaller team situations, the collaboration features of the Microsoft software can be used in a variety of ways and can be scaled to a very large extent according to requirements. The software allows for a differentiated distribution of roles and rights and is performant at an event for up to 10,000 participants. Technologically, the load runs on the Microsoft servers at all times, so that even smaller organizers can carry out large events.
The only requirement for the organizer of a Microsoft TEAMS event is a full O365 license, which most companies and institutions have. Participants only need a valid e-mail address and an Internet connection to attend the event. Using TEAMS does not incur any additional licensing costs even if there are hundreds or thousands of participants.
There are other tools that offer other features as required, but higher fees are incurred as the number of users increases. noventum manager Markus Ristau compares the Microsoft software used with a Swiss knife: "TEAMS has very versatile functions, but as a standard application for large online events there is still room for some improvements in detail".
The range of interaction possibilities is a decisive criterion in the selection of tools. "One of the great advantages of TEAMS is that the Microsoft world has an almost monopolistic spread and every user can find his way around quickly. We have of course also tested other applications such as Zoom or Go to Webinar. Some of them are even more professional in the details, but the universal access and the low additional costs were the convincing argument in favour of TEAMS", emphasises noventum consultant Karim Fleifel, who pulled all the strings in the technical preparations for the IT Strategy Congress.
When major events go digital, everyone has to learn
Keeping hundreds of people at the computer screen for a whole day and entertaining them well is a challenge. Organizers and visitors alike have to find themselves in new roles, and technical trial runs are also part of good preparation.
Presentation and visuals
Just like a TV show, an online congress needs good moderation and design. This is also an unusual role for congress professionals in a team or alone in front of the camera, not least because there is no direct audience response. Camera work, lighting and scenery deserve extensive testing to ensure that the scene does not look unprofessional.
Dramaturgy and direction
Congresses live from lectures and discussions and the subsequent exchange of opinions, questions and answers. In order not to strain the visitors' receptiveness unduly, an agenda that is transparent at all times must enable the individual to filter out what is of particular interest. Presentations must be tightly timed and extensive breaks, like in an analogue event, help to keep interest and receptiveness alive. A director has to hold all the threads together and be able to intervene at any time so that the dramaturgy of the day does not get out of hand.
If the speakers record their contributions from home, they must first be given a good introduction to the software used. Nothing is more unnecessary than when speakers inadvertently "shoot themselves out" and have to be "brought in" again with a lot of effort before their presentation can begin. Optics also play an important role. A "dress code" is no longer available even at most analogue congresses today. However, if speakers only use their notebook camera to get into the picture and become visible in a very private posture and atmosphere, they must be aware of their effect. The different ways of interacting with congress visitors is another topic for the preparation of the speakers. As with an analogous event, speakers need a fixed contact person whom they can ask for help at any time if they wish.
Interaction and communication
Only Q & A functions and the conversation among the participants make a digital congress complete. In order to depict the communication typical of a congress in digital form, chats and digital surveys (the results of which flow into the moderation) can supplement the lectures. In contrast to an analogue congress, animation and support from the organisers are helpful for this digital form of networking, as for many people the first anonymous step into a purely digital discussion room is still unfamiliar.
Data protection is a complex topic that is particularly noticeable at a digital congress. While name badges and lists of participants are commonplace at an analogue event and mutual perception and encounter is an important part of the event, participants at a digital congress may prefer to remain anonymous. Even when registering for a free online event, organisers are not allowed to request more than one e-mail address. This restrictive data protection policy naturally also dictates the dos and don'ts in the concrete course of a congress.
Online from 9 to 18 o'clock: The IT Congress "Strategy 2025"
The online IT congress "Strategy 2025" was a very successful premiere for future events of this kind with more than 500 participants, 20 speakers and a duration of 9 to 18 o'clock. In the background, a team of 4 noventum employees provided technical support for the event. The supervision of the chats, the moderation and the logistical supply of all participants on site was ensured by additional staff. The "Bistro" was open to all congress visitors throughout the event, and the organisers also kept the communication going with Microsoft Forms surveys. In three dress rehearsals, the unusual format was tested in advance.
In the end, all the local players were very satisfied and a little proud. The IT Strategy Congress was a complete success despite corona-conditioned digitalisation and is now the blueprint for future digital large-scale events.
The implementation of the congress with Microsoft TEAMS had worked almost smoothly and the technical team was able to gain valuable insights for future events of this kind. Initial customer enquiries for technical support for similar events confirmed the positive impression the congress made on its visitors.
noventum consulting GmbH