A Lean Non-Profit Conference: SOSS

ArchiteX produces Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom's 7th Annual Gathering, virtually for the first time ever.


SUMMARY

The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom (SOSS) had planned to host their seventh annual gathering of their sisterhood in November of 2020 in person. With the coronavirus, gathering women from across the world in one conference hall became impossible, and the conference was moved to the digital world. ArchiteX had been producing virtual events with other interfaith groups for months, and we began working together on producing the sisterhood’s virtual conference in May of 2020.


EVENT SPECIFICS & DELIVERABLES

  • Produced a six-hour long conference with a main stage, live Q&A, multiple simultaneous workshop sessions, meetups and a vendor fair

  • An event production plan to minimize costs and maximize event experience

  • Full ownership of the event conference digital platform back-end

  • Incorporating open captioning into the broadcast for full accessibility

  • ArchiteX event operation team size: 11

  • Dedicated support for live staff and talent

  • Dedicated technicians for attendee tech support by phone, video and chat

  • Backstage communication across the fully remote staff and crew


CHALLENGE: SELECTING AN EVENT PLATFORM

With events going fully remote in 2020, moving a conference that usually took up multiple rooms in conference halls into an online space was a challenge. We needed spaces for workshops, vendor booths for handmade goods by sisters, socializing, and a main stage.

PLEASE NOTE: The information above was collected at the time of the research done. It is most definitely out of date and inaccurate now.


CHALLENGE: KEEPING COSTS LOW

To produce a live event, it takes a full event crew, frequently 20 professionals or more. The same is true for digital events, though more of the roles can be combined, and the magic of digital production lets you simulate some of the costlier aspects of live production. As a non-profit organization producing their annual conference during the coronavirus pandemic, saving money where possible was a priority.


One of the benefits of producing a conference online is that it can be ‘simulive’, with segments recorded ahead of time and played back as if they were happening live on screen. We’ve found one of the smoothest ways to do this is to have a live emcee hosting and responding to attendees and content live in-between playback of pre-recorded content. Having segments recorded ahead of time gives the speakers more flexibility to get their desired message across and it makes the need for a digital stage manager to wrangle talent on the day of the event unnecessary, saving money.


One of the drawbacks of simulated live production is the amount of organization and prep work needed in advance. Instead of just switching on a camera feed in the moment, each element now has to be listed, recorded, approved and edited into the final program:

However, one of the main benefits of pre-recording content is that footage can be edited together to create more impactful messages. We were able to collect greetings from Sisters all over the world to create a welcome message, kicking off the event:


CHALLENGE: INTRODUCING A NEW DIGITAL PLATFORM

Hopin was a completely new space for everyone attending - most events up to this point with the Sisterhood were produced in Zoom, a common household presence in the pandemic. Hopin gave us the opportunity to have truly separate spaces that could be explored during the conference, and allowed us to stream a high quality broadcast via the main stage area, but it presented a learning curve for the attendees, staff, and hosts.


We created a series of trainings throughout various media:

  • A presentation and demo site for the conference producers

  • A slide deck for workshop speakers and moderators on how to navigate to their workshop and run the video controls

  • Slides for vendors about accessing and staffing their virtual booths in the vendor fair

  • Instructions via email for conference attendees

  • Scripts and graphics for the emcee to direct the audience at transition points

  • Wording for event organizers to post into the attendee chat throughout the day

TECHNICAL SUPPORT OPTIONS:

Tech support was a priority with such a new platform:

  • A tech support hotline, listed on the login page, confirmation emails, and text throughout the platform, staffed by four technicians waiting for calls

  • A technical support session in the workshop space, staffed with two technicians for audio and video support, able to break into private meetings as necessary

  • Reminders on specific how-to's during the broadcast throughout the day, and reminders on where to find the self-help instructions, and how to receive assistance if needed


CHALLENGE: ATTENDEE REGISTRATION

At the in-person gatherings, attendees could self-select workshops and network in person. As in person, each workshop had a limit for attendees online, so to make sure everyone could attend a workshop, attendees needed to pre-select the workshops they would like to attend. Within the chosen event platform, Hopin, workshops were only visible to ticket holders for that workshop, making a dozen ticket options necessary, alongside scholarship tickets, group tickets and more.


Additionally, one part of the networking was designed to be internally contained to workshop participants only, while other networking sessions were open for everyone at the conference. This was managed through live changes in the back-end of the platform on cue to change the permission settings for the networking at predetermined times.


COST-SAVING MEASURES & BEST PRACTICES IN CONFERENCE PRODUCTION

  • Pre-record content for playback with select live speakers

  • Have live event staff engage with attendees in the chat, giving instructions and support

  • Provide written, visual and oral instructions for conference navigation for attendees before the conference begins

  • Staff technical support stations of various formats - i.e. phone, chat, video, etc.

  • Provide sponsorship spotlights throughout the platform and in graphics or video rolls throughout the broadcast

  • Keep simultaneous sessions at a minimum to minimize event staff needed

  • Design the conference schedule to allow for break moments with music, physical activity and human connection throughout the day


LESSONS & FUTURE RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Tech support was needed during key moments, with a priority on phone support

  • Different event platforms have been developed since 2020. Explore the pros and cons of each now that there is much more to choose from. Test as much as possible.

  • Based on user feedback, allow for even more time to network - informal connections are key!


RESULTS

  • 84% of registered conference attendees attended the full day virtually

  • Average user time in the platform was 4.5 hours over a 6 hour long event

  • The number of attendees with new ‘connections’ - exchanges of personal contact info between attendees - EXCEEDED the number of actual attendees!

“Fabulous conference!! Technological wizardry, camaraderie, political and spiritual inspiration!!”

“Thanks so much to all of the organizers and tech support! It must have been a HUGE effort for all of you to put this all together!”

“ Thank you SOSS for the outstanding, uplifting and inspiring day you magnificently created. Bravo.”

“I'll be humming "Together We Rise" for days! I learned, I connected, I enjoyed. Thank you for making it all possible.”

For more information on the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, see https://sosspeace.org/