Credit: TEDxTehran / Nargesh Varshosaz

Let me introduce TEDxTehran to those who may not have heard of us before:

Supporting the mission of Ideas Worth spreading, TEDxTehran is a local, independently organized event licensed by TED that brings people living in Tehran -but not limited to borders- together to share a TED-like experience. We bring thought leaders, innovators, and doers, from different disciplines, to share their ideas and stories in the heart of Tehran.

Due to the pandemic COVID-19, like most of the TED and TEDx events around the globe, TEDxTehran has also started organizing its events virtually.

I must admit, as the current director of the Technology team and former head of the backstage & live department, organizing a virtual event, if not harder, is not easier than organizing an indoor event.

There were lots of obstacles in organizing virtual events during this time and lockdown period:

  1. One of the biggest advantages of indoor events is its networking sessions, in which attendees meet each other and enjoy doing social activities, which in virtual events is a hard goal to reach.
  2. People’s enthusiasm in Networking, due to the pandemic, got lower and they weren’t as excited about participating in events as they were before.
  3. It was a brand new experience after 7 years of organizing indoor events, for all of our teams from Curation to Technology, Event Management, and Communication.
Obstacles

So let’s start by talking about how we handled each of these obstacles and more in about 1 year and succeeded in organizing a high satisfying virtual event for our attendees.

Credit: TEDxTehran / Saba Foroutanparsa

Credit: TEDxTehran / Saba Foroutanparsa

Our first significant virtual event, which had around 300 attendees, was TEDxTehranSalon in June 2020. The theme was “Undotted and Uncrossed” and we had 4 speakers. We’ve chosen a live stream platform from Iran and connected it using OBS software. In the outer layer of OBS, we were using some pre-recorded videos (e.g. TED talks, intro videos, and performance videos) and Zoom software for live conversations.

We have made a few forms, as entertainment for our attendees. These forms, which contained some questions about each speaker’s idea, have been shown during each talk and attendees answered them simultaneously. We had also created a hashtag, which could be used to bring up questions to be asked from our speakers, and after each talk, we had a Q&A session with our speakers using those questions.

So, everything to this stage sounds wonderful and creative. But what happened that turned that around? Internet connection!

Yes, entertaining your attendees is important, but to every TEDx organizer reading this article:

The first priority of a TEDx event is to successfully share your speaker’s idea worth spreading. So if it’s not transferring to your audience smoothly, no matter how great you are in designing activities, you won’t get good feedback after the event!

Due to our low experience in organizing virtual events, we forgot to test some connection functionalities before the event and focused on lower priorities. 

What happened to our first big virtual event experience, in a nutshell:
  • The connection was mostly poor and attendees were not able to enjoy our event as planned.
  • We had designed a few activities, which were entertaining, but we didn’t have any networking sessions for our audience which could not satisfy our audience.

So you cannot say that was a bad event overall, as we curated great speakers and designed cool activities. But now our attendees were feeling down, so we uploaded the videos as soon as we could on the TED platform and published the result of our form right after that. We apologized to our attendees in a short statement (Don’t be ashamed of owning your mistakes and apologize. That will make you grow) and promised them a very good virtual event for next time.

Credit: TEDxTehran / Arya Khaksar

Credit: TEDxTehran / Arya Khaksar

TEDxTehran Countdown 2020

TEDxTehran Countdown 2020 was our next big event. The focus of the event was climate change. This wasn’t a regular TEDx event. The Countdown initiative has focused on five subjects: Energy, Transport, Materials, Food, and Nature. So the first and only focus on this event was: Bringing the best content for our audience.

To achieve the goal, we applied what we have learned from Apple; Transfer the best audio/visual experience for their keynotes: They pre-recorded their whole event and streamed it online on the cue.

It brought a whole new perspective for us: A heavy production for a nearly 3 hours event, and handling the quality of our foreign speakers to be the same as our internal production.

This event’s production was too heavy and our whole team’s focus was on creating a great content quality for our attendees. 

Credit: TEDxTehran / Arya Khaksari

Credit: TEDxTehran / Arya Khaksari

Event Experience

We have debated in our “Event experience” team on what was missing in our virtual events to bring the satisfaction that we were waiting for? Gifts! With the help of our partners, we prepared gift bags for attendees of the TEDxTehran Countdown 2020, and due to our partnership with one of the logistic startups in Iran, we have managed to send the gift bags all over Iran. The engagement that these gifts brought to our event (i.e. attendees posting the photo of their gift on social media after receiving them), helped us in being able to expand our audiences for spreading worthy ideas as far as possible.

What else? Exclusive Performances. We have recorded 2 special performances which I should admit were one of our main success points for the event.

So to wrap this event up:
  • Quality was perfect as the Whole event was pre-recorded. We’ve changed our streaming service and also got help from our “Internet service provider” partner, Zitel, to prepare a great internet connection and system for event day (which I should admit was a great help in avoiding connection loss and performance problems)
  • We were missing networking sessions during the event, which made this event less interactive, only because we have focused on content quality improvements.

TEDxTehranWomen 2020

Now that we have mastered both content quality and entertaining our attendees, TEDxTehranWomen 2020 was the right time to combine these two to help bring the closest experience to an indoor event. First, let me introduce TEDxTehranWomen 2020:

This is an uncertain time. And yet, amid the physical, cultural and economic challenges affronting us at every level – from personal to global – now is the time to engage. With the theme “Fearless”, we’re drawing upon our collective courage and our community to create a global step forward together. Fearless is having fears, but not being afraid to face them. The voice in your heart overpowers what you want to think.

A wall builds up behind you to keep you from going back even if you wanted to. We as TEDxTehran are working tirelessly to distinguish the meaning of having fear and being Fearless, and we welcomed TEDxers to discuss what Fearless means.

As we were planning to organize a great and interactive event, TED introduced us to its Sponsor Marketplace’s newly added Online video and webcast tools section.

We’ve started to take a look at different virtual event organization platforms including TED suggestions, after trying around 10 platforms we came down to the final 2 platforms. We then tested it with TEDxTehran volunteers and put up a survey to help us choose. Each team announced their list of pros and cons for each of the 2 platforms and finally, we’ve decided to use Run The World to be our virtual event platform.

Virtual Event Platform

This is not the final step in organizing an interactive virtual event. Choosing a great virtual event platform can help you boost your interactivity, but let’s not forget that each of these platforms give you some tools that you have to manage. By managing these tools, you then have to plan on turning their pros into your event’s best interest. So we reminded ourselves of the way we used to organize indoor events and planned our event as follows:

We decided to have 5 sessions, 2 sessions for networking and activities, and 3 sessions for our exclusive + TED special contents.

In our first networking session, we prepared 30 minutes of speed networking (We divided this 30 minutes into 6 parts so each attendee could talk to at least 5 different people) and then 10 minutes of an activity designed on the Miro platform which you can see in the picture below:

We had the same activities and networking process during the second networking session in addition to a simple in-place 5-minute exercise video provided by one of our partners that showcased corrective movements, in this time of immobility.  

Take this into consideration:

“Care about your attendees’ health even if they’re not beside or among you physically.”

Our content (from the Countdown event experience) was pre-recorded, but we also put so much time into increasing the quality by editing and curating.

Credit: TEDxTehran / Nargesh Varshosaz

Credit: TEDxTehran / Nargesh Varshosaz

To keep the engagement with our attendees after the event (besides publishing videos) we also provided gift bags, which resulted in a series of really good feedback.

Credit: TEDxTehran / Faezeh Bakhshali

Credit: TEDxTehran / Faezeh Bakhshali

We, TEDxTehran, suggest you find your best way of organizing virtual events by testing out different solutions. There is no denying that some of the points mentioned above are not really an issue in your particular region, but with our experience, the points above can help you hold a better virtual event.

Good luck from TEDxTehran!

Written by Tadeh Alexani (Director of Technology)

Edit and publish by Asal Ghamari

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