It’s been over 2 months now after our second virtual event and it’s time to talk about how it all happened. This LinkedIn article is going to talk about our original plan, the demise of PASS and replacement tools, some 2021 stats, and what worked well.

Our goal was to “rinse and repeat” our first 2020 virtual event:

  • 300-400 remote attendees
  • 30 speakers/sessions (5 rooms x 6 session)
  • 5-10 sponsors
  • Rely on our battle-proven experience from 2020 event to deliver the 2021 event
  • Use PASS/SQL Saturday infrastructure

Running a PASS-free virtual event

Back in 2020, we had to adjust from in-person to delivering a virtual event. To deliver our 1st virtual event, we were using GoToWebinar software licenses (provided by PASS) to deliver virtual event as well as sqlsaturday.com to market event for attendees, speakers, and sponsors. As early as November 2020, we started to see the likelihood of PASS eventual demise. Needless to say, we started to explore alternatives. Luckily, as a non-profit we already had most of the tools. We had enough available licenses for MS Teams via Microsoft for Non-profit program as well as our own WordPress web site.

Here are the tools that we used to replace tools previously provided by PASS:

  • Event delivery platform – replaced 5 x GoToWebinar licenses that we were provided by PASS in 2020 with 5 x MS Teams licenses (we created 5 new generic users in our Office tenant with proper licensing)
  • Attendee registration – replaced sqlsaturday.com event page with Eventbrite
  • Sponsor registration – replaced sqlsaturday.com sponsor web page with a combination of blog post on datadriventechnologies.org web site to list all available sponsorship tiers, Microsoft Form to enable sponsor sign up, and PayPal invoicing to collect fees (we are working on automating it with Power Automate)
  • Speaker registration/schedule/session management – replaced sqlsaturday.com schedule section with sessionize.com
  • Event listing – initially replaced sqlsaturday.com with datasaturdays.com that was eventually replaced with a new sqlsaturday.com (fully owned now by SQL Saturday Incorporated)
  • Event/session feedback – replaced sqlsaturday.com feedback section with a custom Microsoft Form + QR code
  • Event raffle – replaced sqlsaturday.com SpeedPASS with a custom Microsoft Form + QR code and Microsoft Office Excel
  • Volunteer registration – replaced sqlsaturday.com volunteer section with a custom Microsoft Form
  • Email marketing – replaced sqlsaturday.com message system (it was quite awful to begin with) with Sender.net Email Marketing Platform
  • Evaluated different MS Teams offering – Meeting, Webinar, and Live Event

Event stats:

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  • 300-400 actual attendees

What worked great

  • 5 MS Teams meetings (8 hours long) to cover 5 tracks/virtual rooms
  • Dedicated 1 host per 1 virtual room
  • Scheduled meetings for all hosts to test-drive MS Teams Meeting functionality
  • Scheduled meetings with speakers 2 days prior to the event to practice transferring control and sharing the screen using MS Teams
  • Created tinyurl.com links for each virtual room to hide MS Teams long URLs to provide convenience for attendees to switch between rooms (example: https://tinyurl.com/2021datasqlsatla-vmware)
  • Ran a Virtual raffle via Microsoft Forms + QR code (less than 200 attendees signed up for that) – we will definitely use it once we go back to an in-person event
  • Administered prize distribution after the event – we had 5 e-gift cards to deliver as well as 5-10 hard-paper books and other swag to USPS
  • Speaker gifts – still working on it
  • Scheduled reminders for all the speakers about exact timing of their sessions
  • Kept constant communication vie email with speakers to prevent no-show
  • Utilized a free-tier (all the features with a 15,000 emails a month limit) Sender.net Email Marketing Platform to send 8 email campaigns (welcome, raffle, schedule, to attend or not to attend, how to connect, message from sponsor, thank you for attending, recorded session)
  • Created and utilized a WhatsApp Messenger group for a internal communication between team members
  • Provided double opt-in for speaker content recording – we asked before and after recording (all the speakers agreed to be recorded)
  • Each host sent an email to all his/her room speakers to introduce himself/herself as well as to share an event playbook that included all the nitty-gritty details
  • Setup a 5-pages long PPT template to present event information by each host before each session (additionally, we used MS Teams Power Point Live feature to allow attendees to navigate to sessions/sponsors using hyperlinks)
  • Introduced LinkTree to maintain all links in one place – https://linktr.ee/sqlsatla 
  • Produced promotional (3) and recorded (20+) videos for our YouTube channel

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