Jul 8, 2020 | 8 min read

How to Build a World-Class Digital Conference in 60 Days

Having spent our careers creating in-person experiences through face-to-face engagements, hands-on demos, and authentic networking, launching a fully-digital user conference was a unique opportunity for us. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rubrik had spent over a year planning our inaugural user conference, FORWARD, which was set to take place in Chicago May 11-13, 2020.

With the safety of our community and employees a top priority in our mind, like many leading tech companies, in early-March we made the decision to transition FORWARD into an entirely virtual experience. While this shift came with a variety of challenges, we used the opportunity to redefine FORWARD and reflect on what truly made an unforgettable conference for our community: inspiration, education, and connection.

If you want to check out the stellar content we featured at FORWARD Digital Summit, watch it on-demand here.

With all hands on deck, FORWARD Digital Summit was held on May 11th with 8,000 data management professionals joining us and was met with an incredibly positive response from our audience. So how did we manage to successfully transform FORWARD into a digital event in less than 8 weeks? Here are our top learnings and takeaways:

Reimagine (Don’t Revise) the Experience

While it’s tempting to sulk in the task of redoing an entire user conference, we instead chose to leverage this change to truly reimagine it. This allowed us to step back and think through the end-to-end experience and avoid compromising just because we had limitations. 

Nothing will take the place of human interaction and connection, identify what makes a great conference for your company and stick to those goals. For us, there were a few key components:

Focus on the Experience
Delivering high-quality content in a captivating way was critical since we knew we’d be battling with the distractions of WFH life. One of the biggest shifts for our team was the content. While FORWARD was initially designed for customers, our digital audience now included a much broader scope. We revamped our content plan to ensure all attendees would walk away with a deeper knowledge of Rubrik and rich industry insights, which included highlighting some of our favorite customer stories.   

Another key to our approach was making sure speakers for the 3 keynotes and 27 breakout sessions were seen on the screen while presenting, which added a sense of connection. To ensure they were set up for success, we created recording kits (some even had fancy green screens) and helped rehearse since presenting to a screen is vividly different than presenting to an energy-filled, in-person audience. We are consistently looking for ways to increase community engagement at events, which is why each breakout session had a live Q&A.

And finally, branding was a huge part of our strategy both in making a bold statement and providing a unified look and feel throughout the event. Whether it was in our marketing materials, presenter slides, or mailed-out swag, we designed everything to be consistent, much as it would be at a live event. 

Streamline Communications
When completely pivoting a user conference, communicating a unified message quickly will prevent confusion for both attendees and employees. We had less than 48 hours from the decision to move digital to making the announcement. When crafting our comms plan, our goal was to not only showcase the reimagination of the conference but also address the plethora of questions we knew we’d receive. After establishing a unified message, we raced to get it out via as many avenues as possible: media announcement, email, blog, website, social media, and more. 

Streamlining communications needs to be thought through internally too. Because we are all working virtually, communication lines have to be more open and it’s crucial to keep everyone in the loop since strategies are evolving so quickly. 

Select the Right Partners 
We are grateful to work with vendors who think about the end-to-end experience rather than what just looks pretty. Our partners consider: Why design it this way? What is the meaning behind it? What is the best user-experience possible to guide audience members and make them feel informed?

When evaluating a platform to host your digital event, consider both the needs of your company and your audience. Identify what makes a great conference and what technology will enable you to achieve this.  We knew we wanted the platform to be engaging for end-users and seamlessly scale with our audience. Here are some vendors who helped bring the FORWARD brand to reality:

John & Jane has been our trusted brand agency for multiple events and consistently delivers engaging and inspired brand campaigns. When the decision was made to transition FORWARD to a digital user conference, John & Jane adapted to the ever-changing requirements of this event while never compromising on the vision or quality of craft. Here’s a glimpse at how our branding evolved for this event. 

As for Web, the Pixelmatters team was a clear choice for FORWARD, as they’ve always been a great partner and deliver unique designs and high-quality web development. Web was an integral part of our strategy both in driving brand awareness and supporting our attendees in their FORWARD journey. Pixelmatters brought agility and strategic thinking to execute on our vision. You can read more about our FORWARD partnership here.

It Doesn’t End Here

We value the concept of digital as a long-term strategy. While we view this as more of a supplement, not a replacement, to in-person events, we’re excited to find new ways to engage with our community and create events that are informative and accessible. With that, we are excited to announce FORWARD Summits! 

FORWARD is making stops around the globe with regionally-based content from local leaders. Beginning in APAC, our JapanASEAN, and ANZ FORWARD Summits have been announced for July 2020. We will then make our way to EMEA. Stay tuned for more info!

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