Lessons Learned from Our First Ever Virtual Conference

Last week, AINS hosted our 15th annual user conference for customers and partners of eCase and FOIAXpress. The conference, delivered virtually for the first time, saw over 400 attendees between two days of presentations, workshops, and panel discussions. We are grateful to the team at AINS for the successful execution of a project of such great magnitude, as well as to the attendees for their cooperation and insights. With this hurdle of “firsts” now under our belt, we have a lot of takeaways for the next conference:

 

1. Delivering Through the Platform

Due to COVID-19, we were unable to deliver our usual in-person conference at the D.C. Marriott, including the complimentary breakfast and free swag. However, offering the conference virtually allowed many of our long-distance customers, including those in California and Canada, to attend. For the platform, we chose Zoom, which our organization uses internally and which offers end-to-end encryption, making it one of the most secure platforms on the market.

Some of our customers expressed concern that their agencies would not allow Zoom access, so if we are to repeat a Zoom conference in the future, we plan to offer YouTube streaming. We will also continue to research the other virtual event hosting platforms on the market in order to offer the best possible experience to attendees of next year’s conference.

 

2. Building the Schedule

One of the limitations of Zoom was that it did not allow breakout rooms in its webinar feature. Because of this limitation, we opted for a two-day event, rather than the usual one-day event, with time divided between FOIAXpress and the eCase platform and apps. Both days, the conference began at 8:30 a.m. ET and ended at about 2:30 p.m. ET.

The schedule worked well as we were able to deliver all of the content, and customers could easily choose which days and times they wanted to attend. We know that 8:30 a.m. ET is an early start for those attending outside of the D.C. metro area, so we’ll look into consolidating the schedule and possibly running some sessions in parallel to accommodate a later start time.

 

3. Coordinating the Speakers

One decision we made early on was to bring all AINS speakers and moderators into headquarters on the day of the conference to ensure smooth connection and delivery. This task required special cooperation from our AINS team to uphold COVID-19 safety standards. All employees in the office were required to adhere to strict safety rules such as wearing a mask, consenting to a temperature check, and arriving to a specified location at designated times.

Before the conference, we held a technical day to test the equipment for the conference and ensure that AINS employees could safely enter and use the space. We also held multiple rehearsals via Zoom so that speakers could prepare their content and understand how to use the software. This process required trial and error that, with experience, will be a much easier undertaking in the future.

 

4. Final Thoughts

Our employees and guest speakers were able to deliver quality content seamlessly thanks in large part to the cooperation and dedication of our team. Throughout the conference, moderators were on-hand to answer customer questions and help speakers transition through their sessions. Thanks to our IT team, technical issues were minimal and the conference was accessible to our customers.

We are most thankful to our customers and attendees for supporting AINS through our new endeavors. This year’s virtual conference has added new breadth to what we as an organization can deliver to our customers, including the potential for product-specific webinars in the future. So far, feedback has been positive, and we will be sending out surveys later this week to solicit more insights. We look forward to hearing your responses.