Events are big business. They give people the opportunity to learn and make key connections to help advance their careers. They are where important deals are struck, where industry-rocking technologies and offerings are launched and important announcements are made.In fact, a study by the Events Industry Council showed that business events contributed $1.5 trillion to the worldwide economy in 2017, drawing in more than 1.5 billion participants across 180 countries.
No doubt, in a world in which social distancing has become the norm and gatherings of all sizes have been postponed or cancelled for much of 2020, the impact on the event business has and will continue to be substantial. It’s also given rise to innovation around virtual conferences – a concept that until now many companies have hesitated to embrace. But new technologies, powered by the cloud, are giving companies the ability to organize compelling and engaging online events with broadcast-grade live streams, artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled closed captioning and subtitles, real-time polling and surveying, virtual expo halls, as well as real-time, two-way communication between presenters and attendees.
In late February as the world began to shutter, Tech Data was faced with a dilemma: Should it cancel or postpone the Quantum Leap Summit it hosts each year with Microsoft? The 2020 event, set to take place the second week of March in Madrid, Spain, is an important forum for Microsoft partners to align on a global strategy regarding the digital transformation of the IT channel, share best practices with each other and network. As a global solutions aggregator and IT distributor that provides professional and managed services and sales support to more than 50,000 Microsoft partners in 45-plus countries, Tech Data’s ability to bring together stakeholders dedicated to services transformation, plan innovation and community development at the Quantum Leap Summit is crucial to deepening its partnership with Microsoft.
Postponing the event was too risky given that attendees had already carved a significant amount of time to attend. Therefore, Tech Data chose to move forward with the event – which was scheduled to start less than a week later – but opted to do something it had never done before: host a key conference entirely online. In a fitting move and after carefully comparing and testing its videoconferencing options, Tech Data decided to host the Quantum Leap Summit on Microsoft Teams, a unified communication and collaboration platform that combines workplace chat, videoconferencing, file storage and more, and can be securely used on any device.
The Tech Data team modified the agenda and notified the conference’s 100-plus attendees, who embraced and supported the switch to a virtual environment. To accommodate an international audience that would be logging in from their homes located throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia, the schedule was condensed into four-hour blocks of time taking place on three consecutive days that second week in March. Rehearsals using the technology were conducted to ensure it worked properly and as expected. Each session’s run time was reduced, and the Tech Data team coached presenters on speaking to an online audience and adjusting their content to encourage attendees to interact with them and each other.
As anyone who’s ever attended a conference knows, sessions hardly ever start when they are supposed to and often go over the time allotted. However, the Tech Data team was pleasantly surprised that speakers were less apt to go over time in an online environment. Laura Vanassche, manager, Product Marketing, Tech Data, credits the Microsoft Teams chat function for helping to keep things on schedule.
“If there was a question from the audience in the chat space, often others who knew the answer would step in and answer it, instead of the speaker having to respond to it. That seemed to save a lot of time and kept the sessions moving quickly,” she said.
Caption: Using Microsoft Teams, attendees of the virtual 2020 Quantum Leap Summit were able to participate in interactive surveys, like the one depicted above, throughout the conference.
From the start, one of the biggest concerns was figuring out how to facilitate the summit’s interactive workshops in an online environment. The workshops, which are used to drive conversation and garner feedback and insights about important product launches and the like, are a staple of the Quantum Leap Summit. Ensuring that they would be as engaging and useful in an online environment was imperative. Although it required some coordinating, the Tech Data team efficiently and successfully ran four concurrent workshops the last day of the conference using Microsoft Teams and its robust survey and chat features.
Caption: A participant’s view of one of four live concurrent workshops at the virtual Quantum Leap Summit that were conducted using Microsoft Team’s robust collaboration capabilities.
One of the most interesting findings from hosting a virtual conference was realizing just how interactive the audience would be during the presentations via chat and live via video, said Caterina Moro, Tech Data’s team leader for Microsoft Marketing, Europe.
“People were a lot less shy than we anticipated they might be,” she said. “The chat functionality of Microsoft Teams motivated the audience to interact with the speaker – maybe more so than when they are in a physical space and have to stand up in front of a live audience, introduce themselves and speak into a microphone to ask a question.”
By the numbers, more than 450 online conversations were exchanged over the course of the three-day virtual conference. Thirty-five topics were covered during the presentations and nearly 20 hours of video were captured via the Microsoft Teams platform. The best news? The feedback from attendees about the value they derived from the summit was overwhelmingly positive. The Tech Data team was satisfied knowing they had delivered a seamless and informative virtual conference, and that the variety of interactive channels offered by the Microsoft Teams platform helped foster a sense of inclusion and allowed participation in new ways.
Caption: Interactive crowdsource activities took place during the live workshops at the virtual 2020 Quantum Leap Summit.
“This event really helped me understand how technology has evolved to the point of being able to create a truly engaging online conference experience,” said Rob Thijssen, Tech Data’s Europe business manager for Microsoft and the lead organizer of the Quantum Leap Summit. “I was amazed by how easy it was to organize the content, keep the audience, speakers and moderators focused, and how well the parallel workshops came together. From a post-event management perspective, this saved us an incredible amount of time coordinating follow-up activities. I am confident we can execute more events like this in the future.”
Microsoft was pleased with the turnout at the 2020 Quantum Leap Summit, the results it generated and, especially, how well its Teams solution performed.
“Tech Data proved [its] agility and resilience in transforming the Quantum Leap Summit into a virtual experience with Microsoft Teams,” said Mark Rice, general manager of Global Services Partners for Microsoft. “It was remarkable to watch the worldwide community come to life [by] leveraging the full capabilities of Teams. Tech Data continues to lead by example in its digital transformation, and the worldwide adoption of Microsoft Teams has strengthened the community and allowed our partnership to achieve more.”
About the Author
Jenni Ottum is part of the integrated communications team at Tech Data. She began her career in public relations and communications with a global retail and supply chain software provider. Since then, she has held several B2B marketing communications roles in the software space. Most recently, Jenni served as senior director of public relations for SHE Media, a leading women’s media company with nearly 70,000 unique visitors per month and comprising four individual media properties, SheKnows.com, BlogHer.com, STYLECASTER.com and Hollywoodlife.com, as well as the #BlogHer conference series. In that role, Jenni led all B2B and B2C public relations and communications initiatives. Her background and profile can be found on LinkedIn.