Introduction

As event organizers, we cannot rely on events being held in the usual form again soon. Especially when we have many international guests. That’s why we need new concepts for bridging the time when social distancing measures are in place, e.g. with virtual events and conferences.

The great challenge is to transfer the personal connections we have grown fond of to virtual events, while at the same time creating a communal feeling throughout the event. These new concepts will look as diverse as the events themselves.

Starting position

With the re:publica in digital exile event which took place on May 7, 2020, re:publica successfully took on this challenge. This prototype was a great learning experience for us and we will use the lessons learned for future projects.

In June, I will take on a similar challenge with the Plain Schwarz team: from June 7th to 12th we will be running Berlin Buzzwords entirely online.

For more than 10 years, Berlin Buzzwords has been dealing with the technical and real world issues surrounding Big Data. Every year, international developers meet in Berlin to discuss new tools and challenges in storing, streaming, scaling and searching these large amounts of data. All based on Open Source technologies. Buzzwords is all about discussing practical applications and solution concepts, in talks, workshops and of course the “hallway track”.

Preliminary considerations

Preparations

There are three central considerations for the successful delivery of our online conference:

  1. As supporters of open source, it is important for us to use open tools for the broadcast and implementation of the conference as far as possible.
  2. The focus of the virtual Buzzwords should remain the direct exchange of knowledge and networking.
  3. The conference is aimed at an international audience. The speakers come from Europe, America and Asia, a fact that needs to be taken into account when planning the program.

The program

The heart of any conference is the program. Its success of the event stands and falls with it. It attracts participants and forms the base for discussions at the conference.

When designing the program of a virtual conference, three challenges can be identified:

  1. In this situation we do not have the undivided attention of the audience. Instead of taking a break from their daily work routine and meeting on site, participants are most likely at home. They might also have professional and personal commitments running alongside the conference.
  2. The beginning and end of the conference should take into account the international audience. This means that the different time zones have to be taken into account when planning the conference.
  3. Next to the program there should also be enough space for participants to network, mingle and catch up with friends and acquaintances.

The tools

Up until now, there has been no digital conference system that covers all of the aspects needed from ticketing to partner integration, streaming and networking. For this reason our setup is divided into different tools. The main difficulty is that on the one hand we want to offer a diverse program and enable an open exchange, while on the other hand we need to restrict access to registered participants.

Our setup therefore consists of the following tools:

The concept

The normal three-day conference plus barcamp became a six day event with about four hours of program each day. In order to create a truly international conference and to do justice to the global audience, the program starts at 16:30 CEST and ends at around 21:00 CEST. This allows participants from India to Europe and the West Coast of the USA to participate comfortably in the virtual Berlin Buzzwords.

In order to make the program as diverse as possible, we joined forces with two other conferences in our network, MICES the E-Commerce event, and Haystack the Search Relevance Conference. Together we are able to join forces and create a strong digital conference for a broad audience.

The main program consists of lectures, panels, Q&A sessions and exclusive workshops. It will be accompanied by an open supporting program of digital activities, talks and AMAs (Ask me Anything) as well as virtual bar events. Presenters will guide participants through the program from a studio in the Kulturbrauerei Berlin, the regular venue for Berlin Buzzwords.