Hosting Virtual Events: Tracking & Utilizing Proper Data

STRV is known for its public events, and that’s no accident. Sharing knowledge, welcoming people to our spaces in Prague and Brno, and inviting others to experience the STRV culture is something we’ve cherished since the STRV name first began gaining traction, years ago.  

We usually throw about one event per two weeks and like to mix it up to cater to almost anyone. People can participate in events like Developer Meetups and Workshops, Open Design Sessions, networking and chill—all of which allows our team to thank the community for supporting what we do, to discuss our learnings from STRV projects and to dive into the newest tech advancements together.

However, our entire approach to events needed to be reconsidered due to the COVID-19 situation we’ve been going through since March.

When the situation first got critical, the transition of our in-person events to the virtual sphere was a challenge. But once we got going, we began accumulating data that showed us what works and what does not. By tracking numbers and reactions during the spring lockdown, we’re now ready for lockdown number two: autumn edition. What are we going to take into consideration during our future events in autumn and onward?

We know that “Best Practices for Throwing Online Events” are all over the internet. So, instead of the classic step-by-step guide, we’d like to do STRV’s engineering mindset justice by leading with data. The numbers show our approach, what we have learned and which areas for improvement still require our experimentation.

THE INITIAL TRANSITION TO ONLINE

At the beginning of the year, we’d made huge plans: Almost 50 events covering all platforms, from tech departments, project management and HR to cross-platform discussions and conference-style, intensive experiences. We had to cancel 16 events in spring and 14 events in autumn. But there was no way we were going to cancel everything.

Our priority is always to take care of our people and to keep our internal as well as external community safe. But, at the same time, we want to stay connected—which is why the transition from in-person events to virtual ones was inevitable.

At STRV, getting creative with whatever we get our hands on is sort of our “thing.” The freedom we have to explore uncharted territory on client projects translates into what we do in all areas. Ultimately, our Community team took on the philosophy of television producers. How do we adapt our content, programming and delivery to fit a brand new format? Suddenly, we were working with a 13-inch screen, shorter attention spans and the option to leave our events with a single click.

When presented with a new challenge, you need to think outside the box. However, you also need to use all tools at your disposal to make informed decisions. For us, that meant looking at our past events, dedicating time to research and paying attention to the numbers that tend to point in the right direction—provided you know how to find and use them.

DATA: WHAT WE TRACK, HOW WE ANALYZE & WHY IT’S CRUCIAL

Data is gathered before, during and after every event and can be used to qualify goals, validate event success and improve future events. The data available varies from in-person to virtual events. But there’s no doubt that the possibilities for collecting data prove much richer when it comes to virtual events.

The online environment and its multifunctional tools allow us to capture and analyze almost everything. It gives us the chance to track and monitor every action taken by the attendee—whereas in person, this would require intensely staring at each person to gather observations (which would definitely scare some people off).

Online events give us a well of information: The audience demographics, which topics and speakers were most engaging, how many attendees left during the talks, which streaming platform was more effective and more. The only downfall is that without proper interpretation and care, the information can easily get overwhelming and even a bit intimidating.

Here is what STRV measured during our spring virtual events, how the information compares to in-person events and how these metrics can be improved in the future.

THE DATA SOURCE

Throughout spring, we held nine external online events from April 9th to July 2nd. With limited options, we made sure to include almost all tech STRV platforms:

  • 3 iOS Talks + 1 Workshop
  • 3 Backend Talks
  • 1 Frontend Talk
  • 1 Android Workshop

In total, we had 10 STRV speakers (a sincere, massive thank you to our online speaking pioneers!), along with one external guest speaker: Cyril Cermak, the iOS Tech Lead from Porsche AG.

We utilized these events to gather all insights available. And for the data to be as informative as possible, we compared the numbers to those from 14 in-person events held between October 2019 and February 2020.

Here’s everything we tracked and what we learned.

THE NUMBER OF REGISTRATIONS

Comparing the number of registrations of in-person events vs. online events can get a little bit tricky. We need to take into consideration the limits we have—namely the capacity of the venues where the in-person gatherings took place. Nevertheless, to get realistic results, we can compare each online event to its closest in-person counterpart. How do we do this?

Most online events consist of one or two short talks, while most in-person meetups usually consist of three or more talks. This means that the energy and content varies, so any comparison must be adapted accordingly. On the other hand, workshops are still very similar intensive experiences: one or two speakers going over a specific topic/topics in-depth.

Taking the above into consideration, we work with the following generalizations to get comparisons that are as accurate as possible:

  • 1 online workshop = 1 in-person workshop
  • 3 online talks = 1 in-person meetup

With this in mind, let's look at the differences in numbers of registrations:

  • Backend talks/meetups: 35% more registrations for online
  • iOS talks/meetups: 30% more registrations for online
  • iOS workshops: 47% more registrations for online
  • Android workshops: 27% more registration for online
  • Frontend talks/meetups: 7% more registration for online

Result: The average increase of event registration after moving from in-person to virtual is 29.2%.

Without any significant changes to the format of our talks when we moved to online, we had almost 30% more people register compared to our in-person events. Thanks to this information, we know that our online events are in no way a waste of effort, and that people are interested in the content we provide—even if it’s “just” online. We could therefore conclude that it's wise to continue with these events and to consider increasing the amount of online talks in the future.

THE NUMBER OF ATTENDEES

Attracting the audience is hard. What’s even harder is convincing them to actually show up to the event. When it comes to online, it’s well-known that this gets even more difficult—because while it’s easy to join an event last-minute, deciding to skip it is just as easy. People can get distracted by work, they may be stuck on a conference call or they may decide they’d rather relax.

So, it came as a huge surprise to us that, in our case, the numbers actually look quite positive.

The “show-up” rate for online events is at 57%, while the rate for in-person events is at 60.7%. The difference is lower than expected, which helped reduce the worries we’d initially had during the transition to virtual.

LEAVERS VS. DWELL TIME

Originally, back in spring, we turned our focus on the number of attendees who leave during an event, before it ends. Unfortunately, we could not do a proper comparison because we hadn’t tracked this data for our in-person events. Additionally, many in-person attendees stay until the end for the purposes of networking (let’s be honest—it’s often about the free pizza and drinks, which doesn’t apply for online events). And of course, it’s much easier to press a button and leave then to get up and exit in a room full of people.

So although we found that the percentage of online leavers was 30%, the number was less relevant due to lack of a comparison.

Nowadays, we’ve found that the more relevant data is dwell time; how long our attendees spend in a session is something worth analyzing because it allows us to adjust the time spent on each aspect of our talks, from education and discussion to networking and the fun stuff. We’re also able to observe what makes the audience engaged the most and the least.

AUDIENCE DEMOGRAPHIC

Here, we’re focused mainly on the geographic location of our audience. Obviously, online events are more reachable.

We’ve found that 50% of attendees are from Prague, 24% are from other Czech regions and 26% are from foreign countries. This means that half of the online audience would probably never—or very rarely—show up to an in-person event, yet there is clear interest in what we do in many areas of the world. By having numbers to back this up, we can pour resources into nurturing the connection.

LIVE POLLING: SPEAKER & SESSION ENGAGEMENT

Engaging audiences during online events is a huge topic. Everyone agrees that this is something that is missing the most during the transition to online. There are several tools, methods and best practices on how to keep the audience entertained and how to get immediate feedback on performance. And you can very easily utilize any of them.

After testing out various approaches—such as live questions, Q&A, discussion, etc.—we’ve found live polling to be the most effective. Thanks to live polling, we’ve been able to conclude that, overall, 86% of our online events’ attendees are engaged (which means that we have their attention and they actively take part in interactive aspects of the events). By diving deeper into this number and the level of engagement, we’ve gained great feedback in terms of which content resonates with the audience and which speakers have been the most engaging.

All learnings outlined above are just the tip of the iceberg. There are several other tools and measurements that allow you to compare the performance of online versus offline events, such us: Email Open and Click-through Rates, Post-Event Survey Results, Session Ratings, Social Media Engagement and Reach, Networking Session Attendance and many others.

KEEPING DATA COLLECTION FRIENDLY

As already mentioned, it's a given that for any event to be successful, we need to know as much information about our audience as possible. However, asking them numerous questions during the event registration can feel overwhelming.

We have never wanted to bother people during our sign-up process, therefore we’ve never included any special questions on the registration form. This has not changed. Instead, we’ve made these questions a part of the events themselves. This keeps the audience interacting with our speakers, it helps us fill any pauses that may occur, it’s super easy and often quite funny, and it allows us to learn about our audience on the spot. Simply put, it’s a win-win.

During the spring edition of online events, we implemented this approach step by step. We started with asking just one simple question: ”Where are you from?” We did not make answers a requirement. Still, not only did we get the answers we needed in a way that added some fun to the event, but we also accumulated important insight into our geographic reach (see category above).

When the lockdown regulations began loosening up, we asked our audience: “Do you prefer online or in-person events?” The answers poured in, making it easy for us to move forward in a way that catered to our attendees.

By seeing how happy our audience is to join any conversation, we can now go even further when needed, mixing up informal questions with those that provide us with important insight or networking opportunities.

Another form of collecting data is our feedback survey. Spring taught us a lot about those...

GATHERING FEEDBACK

We’d been collecting feedback from event attendees way before this year. However, during the transition to online, it became much more needed. Thanks to asking people for their honest thoughts, we’ve learned a number of important things:

Preferring intelligibility

We’ve learned that valuable feedback cannot be acquired via a number scale (1-5), even if each number’s meaning is clearly explained by the form’s creator. The fact is that responders often do not read the text; they just want to get it done as quickly as possible.

Because we aim to avoid all possible misleading info and “grey zones” (for ourselves and our audience), we now always use words (e.g., amazing/terrible) rather than numbers in our feedback forms. And it’s actually a good place to get creative!

Timing

There are several claims stating that asking the audience for feedback during the actual event is essential. This can no doubt catch them when they’re at their most alert—which is often a smaller window during the online experience.

As mentioned, we do agree that asking the audience questions during events can absolutely be helpful. However, when it comes to more in-depth feedback, we choose to trust that our attendees’ will want to provide insight after the event. On top of that, we make sure that they can trust STRV to provide additional information as well.

We believe in giving and getting back, and this applies to all of our processes. Our audience has proven to be highly reliable in providing us with much-needed and appreciated feedback after our events, and that is in part thanks to that reliability going both ways. They know they can count on us to provide additional materials, interesting links, more information about the topics covered, links to the recordings and much more… all in just one or two emails that closely follow the event.

EVERYTHING WE DO IS THANKS TO OUR TEAM

STRV events were created because we wanted to give back to the people that drive the industry, people who love what they do and want to know everything about their respective fields. That’s who we all are, too. And when you bring these minds together, the immediate sparks of curiosity show off exactly why this industry’s expansion transcends all others.

It’s not just that we have the resources to throw these events. It’s that we have brilliant engineers, designers, product managers, QA testers and more, all of whom want to take part in connecting with the community. We’re thrilled that our events resonate with so many people and we hope we continue making them, and our entire team, as proud as we can with every meetup, workshop and future pizza parties.

Anyway! We’ve got many, many online events coming up. Check out the autumn and winter events that are now around the corner, and see you there!

STRV EVENT SCHEDULE

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Katerina Pekova

Katerina Pekova

Tech Community Manager

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