We did it!!!

There is a feeling of emptiness here in the office. No more buzz or contemplations at lunch, and my inbox is not piling up so quickly. The Conference has gone and left us trying to capture it in numbers, emails, post-surveys and your feedback.

On the days leading up to the conference the office was bustling with activity. The main action was happening in Big Blue Button (BBB). We wanted to provide all parties involved with optimal support and training. In total, we conducted 1 general moderator and 2 presenter training sessions, 2 drop-ins for attendees, 34 one-on-one dry runs, settings tests for PD groups, and team meetings. As a result of accumulated experience, we came up with three manuals designed for each participant role. It felt rewarding to enhance people’s technical skills and provide them with opportunities to try practise their different ‘online roles’.

I am looking for a word to describe last days before the Conference, but can’t find it … We encountered many firsts along the way to January 23 and 24, 2014. We served as a connecting point between moderators, presenters and participants on one side and technical support on the other. While emailing back and forth to presenters in order to finalize their presentations so they worked in BBB, we revised technical requirements for submitting PDF copies. Finalizing and uploading the Schedule took longer than anticipated as we had to consider time zones and presenters’ availability, and avoid topical overlap in concurrent sessions. It was an endless circle of communicating between our web designer Rob Cote, Fred Dixon,the BBB team, our website support and Internet providers to make sure that technology supports were in place. We ended up increasing our Internet speed two times.

A contingency plan was also put in place to anticipate possible issues. Altogether this looked like a web where main task was to pull the right rope to get to the right person to solve the possible problem. Later on, Contingency plan played its vital role that very morning…

The community interest in the Realize Conference exceeded our expectations.  As of the day of the Conference, we had 889 participants registered – a pleasantly surprising number for the first time event held by a small team of REALize! With overwhelming interest growing before the Conference (we received 111 registration submissions on January 23rd , which was the peak number through the whole period). The increase in registrations made us seek other options and after another round of discussions we made last minute rearrangements to streamthe Keynote Address using Google Handouts on Air. Our change of plans was well worth the effort as broadcasting allowed to accommodate 341 participants watching Lionel Laroche’s live presentation and invigorating discussion on Twitter and Google +.

The anticipation was rising after the kick-off and next day brought even more engagement, as well as new challenges and surprises. After a Welcome Message opening the Conference, eager participants started pouring into session rooms… And the website went down… Luckily this issue was anticipated and we had a backup plan. First moments of shock gradually turned into action and together with technical support we moved to Plan B – a back-up server site.  We had the email out to registered participants with the new link by 9:16 a.m. CST. Soon everything came back to regular schedule and the Conference was carried out as planned with two sessions rescheduled and one repeated later that day.

Morning sessions turned to be the busiest ones with 273 attendees in total in concurrent rooms. While average amount of participants during the Conference was 54 per session, in some of the sessions this number reached up to 100. The busiest session of the Conference was Pronunciation: The Big Picture by Andrea Taylor and Sean Cavicchi gathering the audience of 103 participants.

There also was a great feeling of satisfaction from fulfilling our goal. We perceived it when we saw participants coming to the Wrap-up and demonstrating their appreciation in the Chat Box. We saw it in the pictures of your PD events across the country and in those emails you sent to us after the Conference.

And now that excitement and emotions are distilled, the time for analysis and evaluation comes. Your feedback will be a foundation in understanding how  the conference experience can be enhanced when creating the next event.