Online events offer unparalleled opportunities to bring together colleagues from across the globe.

Yet we’ve all attended plenty that were unsatisfying, draining and felt like a waste of time.

This post takes you behind the scenes of two dynamic online summits with thousands of happy participants.

The secret to success: Don’t replicate in-person events. Innovate.

As we set out to design the Innovation in Interpreting Summit in February and the Innovation in Translation Summit this October, we wanted to identify the essential parts of a worthwhile conference experience.

With this in mind, we crafted events that fit the time constraints of busy professionals and were accessible worldwide.

Read on to discover how we designed the summits, why we picked our tools, and how we used that toolbox to create two powerhouse online summits.

Pre-recorded presentations

We started from two key insights: Language professionals are busy, and our community is scattered across the globe.

Running a traditional conference - with longer presentations scheduled throughout the day - made no sense. What time zone would we pick? Any decision would inevitably force some colleagues to wake up before the crack of dawn and others to burn the midnight oil.

Instead, we decided to produce most summit presentations beforehand. This offered unique benefits: We could avoid tech glitches, offer polished videos, prepare captions to boost accessibility, and prepare accompanying worksheets to help attendees take action.

On the tech front, we recorded interviews with Riverside.fm, a powerful web-based tool for capturing high-quality audio and video. We made screen recordings using Capto and QuickTime, and edited videos in Adobe Premiere (PC), iMovie (Mac) and LumaFusion (iPad).

We used our favorite semi-automatic subtitling tool, Sonix.ai, to automatically generate captions, then manually edited and reviewed them. (You can learn more about Sonix in this techforword insiders webinar.) We then used a script to convert captions into transcripts, pasted them into a document template, and created PDFs for our all-access pass, which we call the Power Pack.

Live events and community

A fully pre-recorded summit, however, would lack the spontaneity and networking opportunities of an in-person conference.

So we used two more tools to create fun live events and a dynamic online community.

For our networking and co-working events, Zoom’s breakout rooms excelled at pairing up attendees. The insiders helped beta-test the ideal group size and conditions: 15 minutes for a group of four and six minutes for one-on-one speed networking. For co-working, we found that setting goals, leaving the camera on, and checking in at the end of the session reliably pave the way for success.

For panels, we used Zoom webinars to create a polished viewing experience. Since Zoom webinar licenses can get pricey for thousands of attendees, we invited Power Pack holders to join us on Zoom and livestreamed sessions to techforword’s YouTube channel.

And those fancy virtual backgrounds? We created branded backdrops in Canva, set up our favorite portable green screen, the Webaround, and cropped our webcams using OBS Studio.

Creating a thriving community for attendees and speakers that went beyond live events was key. Enter Circle.so, the incredible platform where we also host the insiders community. We built momentum with daily prompts in the two weeks before the summit, and set up introductions, FAQs, and hangout spaces, the Faces and Spaces of Translation showcase, a thread to ask every speaker questions, and even Jost’s dad jokes forum. Circle’s flexibility allowed us to set up different space layouts, pin important announcements, quickly add gorgeous cover images, and create a private Speakers’ Corner. Plus, it offered a member directory, private individual and group messages, adjustable notification settings, and an iOS app to connect on the go. We’re huge fans - and based on the hundreds of posts and comments, it seems like you were, too!

The summit website

Every project needs a home on the web. We kept our navigation menu simple, with pages about registration, the schedule, our speakers, the Power Pack, deals from sponsors, and bingo.

We also set up pages for each presentation, embedded YouTube videos with captions and the discussion thread about that presentation from the summit community, and added links to download the worksheet, share appreciation with the speaker, or upgrade to the Power Pack.

Since we expected thousands of website views at any given time, we use Squarespace to build and host: it automatically scales up and is also incredibly user-friendly.

For the summit timers, banners and registration form, we picked a robust, easy-to-use tool called ConvertBox, which integrates seamlessly with our email marketing tool, allowing us to customize each user’s experience.

Marketing

A mega-event involves hundreds of graphics. At techforword, we’re huge fans of Canva, a feature-packed free online design tool. We created image templates galore - for social media graphics, YouTube thumbnails, sponsor graphics, website images, social media headers, handouts, and our speaker grid - then duplicated and tweaked them with just a few clicks. We designed over 200 graphics to feature our 36 speakers, 3 panels and 7 sponsors. 🤩

We scheduled dozens of social media posts using SocialBee, which links up with Canva and our Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and lets us create post variations which we can use again and again.

And those fancy xl8.link short links? Jost and Alex set up that translation-branded link shortener a few years ago, and we created both xl8.link and tfw.rocks short links using Bl.ink, which offers dynamic links that reroute based on user language, country, operating system, time of day, and tons more. (It’s geeky, but incredibly useful for creating easy-to-remember links! 🤓)

Finally, we made snazzy Innovation in Translation Summit water bottles for our speakers, panelists and bingo prize winners using Spreadshirt.

Power Pack

We host all techforword on-demand courses on Teachable, and the Power Pack was no exception. There is no perfect online course platform, but Teachable offers a user-friendly interface, unlimited video hosting, lecture and course duplication (essential for the Power Pack, where we built a template and cloned it 26 times), tracking of lecture completion, certificates, and single sign-on for Circle, our community platform.

The Power Pack also featured a dozen bonuses contributed by speakers, including courses, e-books, webinars, tickets to live workshops, and a month in the techforword insiders program. We uploaded these materials - or instructions to access them - to the Power Pack.

Just like you, we don’t want to sit at the computer after a long day at work. We’d rather listen to courses, webinar recordings, presentations or panel replays on the go with our favorite podcast player. That’s why we’ve been using HelloAudio for the summit podcast, courses, webinars, and even a pop-up podcast to launch the Interpreter’s Guide to Audio and Video.

We took Power Pack payments through Thrivecart, which offers coupons, installment plans and robust affiliate tracking and links up with Stripe, PayPal, and many of our other tools, including Teachable. Online automation platform Zapier enabled us to link up everything else. We also tracked our expenses, income and invoices with FreshBooks, and logged time with Toggl. (We practice what we preach! 😅)

Communication and coordination

The summit team included three co-hosts in three different countries and time zones, a designer, a subtitler, and techforword’s fabulous assistant, Roxane.

This translated to thousands of tasks, big and small, which we tracked through one of the most tricked out Trello boards you’ve ever seen.

We used Airtable to brainstorm summit topics and speakers, collect presentations and Power Pack contributions, schedule live sessions, collect sponsor information and logos, track certificate requests, and create forms for the student scholarship, community survey, and feedback. Our favorite innovation, however, involves you: You wrote over 400 notes of appreciation for our speakers, which we could share with a single link.

We turned to Google Drive to collaboratively draft emails, panel outlines, and questions for speakers, share resources with speakers, and store videos, worksheets, transcripts, captions and tons more.

Our team communicated using Slack and even fed our summit email into Slack using a shared inbox tool called MailClark, which allows us to power through email together. We sent summit emails using ConvertKit, a powerful email tool with customizable messages based on your preferences.

Finally, a special shout-out goes to Summit in a Box, which provided templates, guidelines and hours of training that served as an excellent starting point for building two successful summits of our own.

Wrap-up

But a summit is about more than just the design, the tools, or the figures. Most importantly, it was about the shared experience.

We were thrilled to bring together thousands of colleagues and dozens of expert speakers and panelists for a truly transformative event.

Our takeaway: Keep learning, growing, building your networks, and of course, innovating.

This post originally appeared in the October 2021 edition of the Tool Box Journal.

This post includes affiliate links. If you use them to purchase one of the snazzy tools we used to run the summit, techforword will receive a small commission to help support our work at no additional cost to you.