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How We Put the World in FME World Fair

Tech summits are an integral part of the tech ecosystem. Learn how to pivot and host a virtual event for the ultimate user (and planner) experience.

Building out a virtual platform that’s fit to host 5,300 registrants, thinking on our feet as unexpected challenges arise, and configuring and hosting hundreds of Zoom rooms — these are just a few of the things we’ve experienced as virtual event planners in 2021. FME World Fair is a virtual event.

Over the past 6 months, we planned out the FME World Fair – a virtual international conference spread across 9 days, 15 languages, 130 sessions, 25 co-hosts, and 9 sponsors, all wrapped up in a fair-themed virtual venue where we were able to make data dreams come true for our attendees.

This event provided an opportunity to show off what FME can help attendees accomplish with their data, both for savvy users and those unfamiliar with FME alike. Attendees got the chance to connect in a unique way with partners, FME experts and users from all over the world during what has been a year unlike any other.

Here we go. Pivot. Pivot! Pivot! Pi-vot. Pi-vot. Pi-VOT! (Friends, Season 5, Episode 16)

“Pivot!” was the name of the game when it came to producing an event of this size, caliber, and complexity, all while being something we had never done before. Choosing a venue quickly turned into choosing an event platform, in-person presentations into virtual zoom sessions, and ordering furniture into designing pages. But hey, “pivot” was basically the motto of 2020 and 2021 anyways, so why not keep with the theme? Like other event planners across the world, we began researching ways that we could bring our entire community together to learn from and inspire each other, in a way that would encapsulate our fun energy, data-tastic theme, and provide an elevated experience, above and beyond a webinar series.

While there are many virtual platforms out there, we searched for an option with agenda building, theme incorporation, and the ability to host fun and unique virtual elements of our event, such as our photobooth, escape room, and Doctor’s Office meetings.

How FME World Fair - a Virtual Event - looks!

Learning how to set up a conference on an unfamiliar event platform was a challenge. Having 4 full months to build the platform out with graphics, content, and to invite in special roles pre-event (staff, speakers, sponsors, etc) was vital and allowed us the time to become familiar with how to use our selected platform. In addition, it gave us time to educate our co-hosting partners on how to edit their partner pavilions and session pages. We feel that our ability to incorporate the theme of a Worldwide Fair took our event to the next level. We worked with our graphic design team on building out custom 3-D lobbies for both our main map and partner pavilion page. These visual maps were referred back to often by attendees, as it not only made navigation easy, but quite fun to look at and search for hidden easter eggs throughout the main map.

Not only did COVID flip our event plans for 2021 on their head, but it also introduced ideas and elements that we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Many of which can also be integrated into future events, post-COVID.

Features that Furthered the User Experience

Attending an event with 130+ sessions scheduled can be chaotic for attendees deciding what they want to attend, especially within a virtual platform. It was important to us that the event platform we chose allowed for organization and easy navigation for users.

By employing custom filters to each session such as ‘language,’ ‘session type’, ‘industry,’ and ‘session host,’ during the planning stages, attendees could easily explore the agenda day by day, by track, or by applying these unique filters to search for sessions that appealed to them. We also found that hosting a variety of session types, such as lightning, panel, interactive and a special “Lizard Lair” format, offered many interesting options for showcasing content. After adding sessions to their personal schedules, they could view these schedules on a separate page and even sync them to their own third-party calendars.

These features proved to be extremely useful! After the event concluded, analytics through the event platform’s reporting tool showed us that after the main page, the Agenda and MySchedule pages were the most visited pages on the whole platform.

Photobooths, Escape Rooms, and Slido, oh my!

At Safe we have always collectively enjoyed hosting in-person events to provide an all-in-one opportunity for our staff, customers and partners to learn, network, and have fun together. Replicating that in-person conference energy in a new reality where we can’t gather physically is a challenge!

cute cat gif for FME World Fair - a Virtual Event
Image taken from giphy

We strove to create ‘fun extras’ for the World Fair that allowed our attendees to feel like they were actively participating in the event instead of simply watching afar through their computer screens. We believe this set us apart from other online conferences.

“At the #FMEWorldFair this week. There is so much to learn, see and do. @SafeSoftware does a great job of making sure we have fun while we learn tips and tricks to work with data more efficiently.”
– @FidoKittyCat via Twitter.

Using our chosen event platform, we were able to have a ‘main stage,’ where we hosted our kick off, three plenary talks, and our wrap up sessions. We used a third-party Q&A application called ‘Slido’, embedded in our main stage, which allowed our attendees to answer questions and live polls to create a similar atmosphere to in-person banter at live conferences. We also tried out Q&A Zoom Rooms to follow all of our Safe-hosted user talks. We learned these were less popular among attendees, and in the future, would consider hosting fewer of these and considering other options.

In the months leading up to the event, we thought long and hard about how we wanted to entertain our attendees with a special guest that would fit our theme. We went with a magician, Neb, who wowed our attendees with his psychological tricks and virtual audience participation. Implementing a virtual photo booth also garnered much enthusiasm from our users, as the gallery allowed people to see fun pictures of other attendees and helped bridge the gap of not being able to socialize in person.

attendees at FME World Fair - a Virtual Event
Another attendee at FME World Fair - a Virtual Event
Online escape room at FME World Fair - a Virtual Event

Additionally, our brilliant colleague Dmitri Bagh created a challenging carnival escape room that was embedded in one of the event pages. This not only tied into our event theme nicely, but encouraged attendees to try something fun in-between presentations.

One of the best parts of conferences is the opportunity to talk to like-minded industry professionals about shared interests. So, we created several casual ‘Birds of a Feather’ coffee chat sessions. Topics ranged from FME related, to fun categories, such as “Where will your first travel destination post COVID be?”. This was an excellent chance to break up the day and give attendees an opportunity to talk with one another in a more casual setting. We even were able to transform a traditional Safe event staple, the ‘Doctor’s Office’ to the virtual realm. By having several experts on standby, attendees could book online meetings for assistance on FME head scratchers. This variety of activities throughout the 9 day event kept attendees entertained, excited, and most importantly, engaged!

“It’s difficult to replicate the in person networking and information sharing that goes on at in person events, but it has been great that Safe has continued with these events in these crazy times where we can’t meet in person!”
– A. Holdsworth, LPS-OSNI.

Ultimately, the challenges and new things we got to try out as event planners through the FME World Fair presented many learning opportunities, resulting in an amazing event with over 5,000 registered attendees and a 4.4 / 5 overall event rating, filled with a multitude of avenues to learn from and a space for FME users to inspire one another. From building out the fair within the event platform, selecting and supporting 130 different sessions rated at a 4 / 5 average, and implementing fun networking and interactive fair-themed elements – the FME World Fair was an experience unlike any other.

We encourage you to consider hosting your own conference, or even user group meeting, showcasing the impact FME can and has made for you and your company, perhaps following a similar blueprint. We hope that this blog sparked some ideas and challenges you to think outside the box when planning your next event — whether virtual, hybrid, in-person, or anything in between. Cheers, and we hope to see you in 2022 at our FME User Conference!

“This is the best virtual conference I have been to, including all the big company’s ones.”
– J Elliott, City of Toronto.

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