Content Contributor, HeySummit
Here at HeySummit, we're always looking for new ways to help you make the best of your summits. We're doing our best to feature all the ways HeySummit has been used and loved by our community of users. In this post, we're featuring Bridget Bray. Read on and get inspired 🏔️
Events are Bridget Bray's passion. Since launching her first food and drink meetup group in New York 11 years ago, she now leads four groups with varying levels of activity. 8 years ago, she began her foray into in-person events, seeking to bring people across her meetup groups together. Despite having a full-time job leading a sales team, Bridget thrived on event organization.
"I've always found events as a way to express my creativity, because I create the concept, develop all the components, and work out all the logistics."
That first event, on genealogy, was a resounding success and she went on to host similar events in New York, as well as in Ireland. In 2016, she launched an event to showcase Irish food and drink products in New York. She now had two main annual events in her wheelhouse - on genealogy and Irish F&B - and also ran several smaller workshops throughout the year to keep momentum up.
Fast forward to Spring 2020 - with an in-person event scheduled for April, right in the midst of multiple state and city-wide lockdowns in the US, Bridget knew she had to cancel. But that didn't mean she was giving up.
COVID-19 thrust Bridget into unfamiliar territory - the virtual event space. With physical conferences a no-go, event organizers were forced to get creative. With a goal to launch in six weeks and a team of one, she turned to HeySummit.
Bridget had always wanted to do an event on culinary history. With this in mind, she decided that it was the perfect time to go for it. While familiar with live webinars and meeting platforms such as Zoom and certain online ticketing platforms, online events were unfamiliar territory.
"I had zero experience in online summits, - I dived straight in," Bridget says.
Her initial fear was that it would be difficult to get quality speakers without paying them a speaker fee. Luckily, her fears were unfounded.
"I strategically chose speakers that I thought would give great content first and foremost, but also those who had authored books, and were representing academic institutions or companies within the field - I find these types of speakers are more than happy to be part of something educational."
Unlike many event organizers, Bridget did not have prior relationships with most of her speakers (9 out of 12 were new connections). She canvassed sites like LinkedIn, Amazon as well as various culinary history group pages and societies online. She had a broad search category - culinary history - but did not limit her search by region or time period in order to cast her net as wide as possible.
Ultimately, the key to finding and securing speakers lies in knowing what you want. But if you're just starting out and don't already have a base, start out broadly and narrow it down as you shortlist more speakers. Another thing that worked in her favor was using the pre-recorded format for her talks - giving speakers the flexibility of recording the talks whenever suited them best.
"I got many 'yeses' early on - I think people are kind of craving speaking at events at this point, and being a part of something different from their usual physical conferences and lectures was exciting."
While she had some attendees come from her meetup groups, email marketing was critical. Being a complete beginner in this did not deter her - and she was delighted to find her attendees were signing up from all over the world - including the US, Canada, the UK, and Ireland. With location and travel no longer a barrier to access, Bridget realized that this was an opportunity to reach a wider, entirely new, type of audience.
Zoom fatigue is real - and Bridget was conscious that attendees weren't likely to pay as much for an online event than a physical one, so she kept ticket prices low.
"Since this is just a passion of mine, and my side hustle, many people questioned my credentials in hosting such an event".
She took the criticism in her stride and soldiered on - putting all her focus into creating a memorable and smooth experience for her attendees. Like her, attendees were familiar with webinars and meeting software, but nothing quite like HeySummit. Bridget estimates that 80% of her audience was tech-averse. Fortunately, all attendees reported they were able to view all talks easily, Bridget cites managing attendee (and speaker) expectations and training them to use the platform as two things she'd like to sharpen up for her next event. How? By creating a handy guide for attendees on the functions of the platform; as well as organize a briefing call with speakers to train them on how they can access their talks and chat capabilities.
"It would be great to fully maximize the functions of HeySummit - so I'm really going to give clear instructions next time, with things like upvoting talks, making comments, and viewing talks via their mobile".
Still, attendees were delighted to discover functions such as replays - with some attendees watching the same content up to 5 times!
What's life without a bit of drama?
And Bridget's came in the form of a last-minute cancellation by a speaker. With the cancellation happening just three days before the summit launch, it was impossible, despite her best efforts, to find a replacement speaker. Fortunately, she had a back-up plan.
"I had already delivered a talk last summer on a topic within this theme. I promised 12 talks, I need to deliver 12 talks."
For aspiring Summiteers, she advises having one or two back-up talks lined up, just so there's one less worry to have in your summit journey.
Bridget's mantra for the summit was 'KISS - keep it simple, stupid'.
For both seasoned Summiteers and newbies, she stresses the importance of testing your event, in order to experience it from all perspectives and ensure everything has been set up correctly.
"Just don't do a test event where you're using the same laptop and trying to be an attendee, a speaker, and the organizer from two different browsers - it doesn't work right," she laughs.
Bridget kept to a no-frills setup, not wanting to overcomplicate things: just speakers, attendees, and feedback questions. Only one ticket type was available - one that allowed attending live and/ or watching replays. While some speakers had handouts and media files, it was not something she required, or even expected, of them. On the day of their talks, speakers would enter the HeySummit chat to take questions. However, with one summit under her belt now, she plans to up the ante, and utilize features like different ticket tiers and giveaways.
She recommends all event organizers really get to know the HeySummit platform and use all the support resources provided to resolve any doubts and pre-empt problems before launch day. Having anticipated many queries from attendees and speakers alike, she familiarized herself with HeySummit to a point that she was ready to handle all queries as they arose.
"HeySummit doesn't just leave you on your own, and it helps that I'm a question queen - if you're passionate about something and want to pursue it, don't let 'being new' be a barrier."
Bridget created a tip sheet for herself along the way, noting down things to take note of when planning future summits. Whether questions she posed via the HeySummiteers Facebook group, articles she found via our Knowledge Base, attending our live Technical AMAs via our Learning platform, or speaking directly with our Customer happiness team, Bridget fully used the support from the team as well as the community.
Bridget strongly believes that her project management skills were her most valuable asset coming into virtual summits as a total newcomer.
"I visualized everything from the beginning through to the end - what is the experience like throughout the different steps for the speaker and the attendee? Staying on top of those dynamics is key to managing a hectic process".
Bridget also stresses the importance of taking it slow with your first summit. As virtual summits are so customizable - with more layers, you need more time and resources. For example, by sticking to pre-recorded talks, she was able to ensure the tech worked as expected, as well as give herself sufficient time for no-show speakers. It's easy to build up once you master the basics - and Bridget is challenging herself next time with the addition of a live Q&A session and hopes to work with sponsors to keep things varied for her audience.
Ultimately, Bridget believes her summit has helped her get top-of-mind awareness in a field where people have so many choices.
So, what's next for Bridget? Will she run straight back to regular conferences in a post-COVID world?
"Well - when I did my very first event (physical), I ended up bringing about 1000 people in, which is great, but the talks were 30 minutes long, with 15 minutes between them. No lunch breaks. Not only does a virtual event not compromise on the attendee experience, but it also simplifies the process as an organizer - less packing up boxes and moving things around."
She'll be hosting her next summit, Ireland Collective, a showcase of Ireland's innovation in food, drink, craft, and design, on Nov. 14 & 15 2020. Tickets go on sale in October.
She also has a holiday-themed culinary history conference, Past to Apron, on Dec. 5 & 6 2020. Tickets go live in November.
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