What are the best digital platforms for hosting online conferences that are more than just a bunch of panel discussions?

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We’ve all been through the endless zoom panels and we’re tired of it! Looks like things will stay confined most of the spring and we’re planning a summit-style conference with many events and hopefully a lot of interaction between participants. Aside from zoom panels and webinars, has anyone discovered something useful for such events?
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Asked on December 13, 2020
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Answered on February 16, 2021
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Two free solutions to check out for ZOOM events are:
BigStage.Online - a means to add 'call-to-action' buttons (such as Donate, Register, Volunteer) and feature sponsors in a panel that runs in a browser window next to your Zoom session. Presenters in the Zoom session can ask their viewers to click on one of the buttons which directs them to the URL you have set. This happens while they are still watching the presentation. The buttons go straight to your donation page so you get 100% of what was contributed. The buttons can be configured without programming and can also be used to conduct online surveys.
https://thedemlabs.org/2020/07/20/fundraise-better-on-zoom/
https://thedemlabs.org/2020/07/14/hiphop-politics-on-the-bigstage/

BigStageTeleprompter.online - A free on-screen teleprompter into which you post your script that scrolls by while you're presenting. This lets you maintain eye-contact while presenting on Zoom. 
https://thedemlabs.org/2020/12/21/stick-to-the-script-use-an-on-screen-teleprompter/
https://thedemlabs.org/2020/09/22/teleprompter-compatible-with-zoom/

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Answered on January 7, 2021
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Early in the pandemic a couple of organisations were really generous with their learning about how they've made conferences work online - you might find some helpful advice or tips in this article  https://www.niemanlab.org/2020/05/heres-exactly-how-we-organized-one-of-the-largest-virtual-u-s-journalism-events-to-date/ and https://digitalaction.co/news/lockdown-lessons

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Answered on December 22, 2020
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This article might be helpful for more social events (e.g. gathering after a conference): https://www.wired.com/story/zoom-parties-proximity-chat/

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Answered on December 17, 2020
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Halt the Harm Network and FracTracker Alliance recently hosted an environmental justice awards ceremony using Zoom and a social platform called Mighty Networks. They've used this platform to create The Campaign Network https://www.thecampaignnetwork.org to provide social platform for people fighting oil & gas. So far we've hosted a couple very interactive online events within the network. 

I also used the Mighty Networks platform to produce a couple of online conferences that had over 300 people logged in at the same time, with 5 simultaneous sessions. It was the platform's way of displaying events and RSVP that allowed us to have a conference fee.

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Answered on December 17, 2020
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I think this technology is still in its infancy and will rapidly evolve, but I've attended a couple of virtual conferences that used Hopin as the virtual platform. The features and drawbacks are very similar to the feedback about Whova, which I was not previously familiar with. I agree the networking and relational aspects of in-person conferences are very difficult to replicate online.

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Answered on December 16, 2020
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Hi, not quite answering your question but just sharing my perspective: What we tend to do is spice up the zoom sessions with additional digital platforms, like menti.com and https://mural.co/. In other words, we ask participants to log in to the additional digital platform while still being logged into the Zoom session, and use the secondary platform for the interactive dynamics that it offers. Also, we use break-out rooms often, sometimes just for 3 minutes to break the passive sit-and-listen dynamic.

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Answered on December 16, 2020
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I've seen two activist-ey conferences this year try to emulate some of the offline spirit in a covid-enforced remote switch, some interesting things:

  • both used Whova, which seemed to do the basics fine (Zoom integration, app that can also work in browser, displaying agenda and resources) - and I was actually surprised to see that participants did actually use the 'message board' and gamified 'participation score' leaderboard https://whova.com/  I'm sure there are cheaper options but worth thinking about how your tech choices will provide an alternative/replicate the social glue of your conference.
  • organisers putting a lot of effort into injecting energy in the weeks leading up to the conference might have felt a bit like loss-leading 'organised fun' at the beginning, but it actualyl worked quite nicely in giving attendees some kind of permission to also step out of their comfort zone and put a little effort into the social/creative side of the conference (people ended up running their own 'pre-plenary joint yoga session' or niche interest reading group).
  • Where it didn't always work as well was the 'side-event' promotion and engagement. When there's no physical or social cues as to why someone should take the personal and capacity gamble to log into a side-event (as opposed to wander past or recognise a facilitator they thought asked an interesting Q in the morning panel), they need much more explicit and creative incentives (little pre-videos, doodles, specific promises of interaction or skills-boosting, etc)
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    Answered on December 15, 2020