Podium runs UK Biobank Scientific Conference

At the beginning of the year, I was (like most marketing and events professionals) gearing up for a new year and a new decade – the horizon dotted with exciting event opportunities.

By March lockdown arrived and suddenly we were all making the difficult decision to postpone or worse, cancel events – the majority with months of planning and resource behind them. While this was the right thing to do, there was a real sense of disappointment – both for the teams who had been planning, selling and promoting them, and for the people looking forward to attending.

To avoid the complete collapse of an entire industry, the focus shifted almost overnight to the virtual space. A space that had existed for some time, but for many, was unfamiliar and unproven.

For many event organisers the pivot to virtual events has been challenging and the need to evaluate every aspect of the traditional event process and product against virtual audiences has been an interesting experience.

UK Biobank Scientific Conference 2020
With Biobank UK – a new Podium client, we jumped in at the deep end having a mere four weeks to build an event from scratch. From platform advisory to scheduling and talks, it was vital we could create an event to deliver the critical, potentially lifesaving work Biobank is doing to combat the Pandemic with scientists around the world.

In four weeks we pulled on the vast digital, technical and creative experience held within the Podium team to present UK Biobank’s ground-breaking research to over 3,500 attendees – three times the number of their previous live annual conferences. The event was a resounding success.

Having successfully navigated Biobank through all the challenges going digital could throw their way, I wanted to share some useful insight into the process:

1. Your audience might not be who you plan for
With none of the usual barriers to entry, your virtual attendees could suddenly be very different. Think twice about attendee needs and preferences and how you can harness this new format to expand the reach of your event. If travel, cost and time are no longer holding someone back from attending your event, what will draw them in? By running the UK Biobank event at a time that suited the majority of global attendees and by ensuring a mix of speakers who may have previously been unable to contribute, we tripled the number of attendees on the day.

2. Choose your technology wisely
Virtual event platforms are a minefield. One of the key differentiators for Podium is being platform agnostic, as there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all platform solution for any business. Invest time understanding what you need the platform to do and choose it based on your event needs, rather than shoehorning your event into tech that doesn’t fit. If you already have a platform but you’re not sure it’s working for you it doesn’t mean all is lost and certainly shouldn’t equal delivering a sub-standard event experience. One thing we do know is that whilst the platform sits at the heart of the experience, it’s only one part of it. If you’re not sure, talk to us. It’s likely we’ve heard of it and can help.

3. Have backups of backups – but don’t beat yourself up
Every event, whether physical, virtual or hybrid needs a backup plan. If a presenter’s WIFI goes down, do they have another way to quickly reconnect? In fact, it doesn’t matter how much time and effort you’ve put into rehearsals and testing, technology will seemingly always find a way to not work when you need it to the most. And beyond the obvious, have things like a small script to bring light-hearted relief to those times when a presenter goes full ‘freeze-face’ mid-sentence. Do this and you’ll feel far-less stressed before and during the day of your event.

As an industry, adapting to the new–normal, with virtual sitting at the heart of every event. If your live event promises to deliver value and build community, there’s no reason you can’t do the same things virtually – you just need to know how.

Kate Love
Digital Event Director at Podium | The Crocodile