Hybrid Hour: Web Summit's Digital Experience

Learnings from Ciaran Hope, Senior VP of Event Operations, Web Summit

By Danica Tormohlen

Ciaran Hope, Senior VP of Event Operations for Web Summit, oversees day-to-day operations in Design & Brand, Project Management & Operations, Event Production, Video & Broadcast, and Corporate Development. He focuses on strategy design and implementation, operational excellence, change management & business model transformation for Web Summit, home of Collision — which is expected to draw 40,000+ attendees to its virtual event this month.

Top advice : “Start afresh,” Hope said. “The most difficult thing is to get out of your own way. Give yourself permission to fail … and then get up and do it all over.” But at the same time, stay true to your core. “Our core purpose is to bring people and ideas together,” he said. “We look at every concept to see if it serves those purposes.”

Need to know: Founded in 2009 in Dublin, Web Summit grew rapidly to become one of the largest tech events in the world. The annual conference is held in Lisbon, Portugal. Ciaran’s team also produces the Collision Conference, one of North America's fastest-growing shows. Collision brings together Fortune 500 companies, groundbreaking startups and world-class speakers to its current home in Toronto.

Digital natives: After producing a virtual Web Summit 2020 that drew more than 100,000 attendees, Ciaran and his team are planning for a return to an in-person Web Summit Nov. 1-4 in Lisbon. While the in-person 2021 event in Toronto is canceled, Collision will draw 40,000+ attendees overall on April 22, including those attracted to the Future of Events track.

User experience: As the Web Summit team has gained experience with digital event production during the pandemic, Hope and his team are now laser-focused on the customer journey. “It’s easier to onboard your attendees when you are in-person where there are visual cues like registration, maps, signage and staffers,” Hope said. Make it easy for virtual attendees to navigate and interact with your event, he advised. One example of an improved UX: “Using one-click emails to register have made the onboarding journey so much slicker.”

Networking matters: While content and speakers are a huge draw for the company’s virtual events, the primary reason attendees come to the digital event is for networking, Hope said. “It’s easy to stream content, but it’s hard to replicate networking online,” he said. In response, the company’s engineering team developed Mingle, an AI-powered tool that serves up three-minute speed networking sessions for attendees, vendors and partners. “We are engineering serendipity,” he said. “Some attendees ‘mingled’ all day.”

Renewed partnerships. When the in-person events were canceled in 2020, Web Summit offered refunds to exhibitors immediately. “We had open, honest discussions with exhibitors,” he said. His team collaborated in tandem with its partners to develop digital products, like workshops and master classes. “Given the amount of opportunities for partners online … I don’t think we will walk away from that when we go back to in-person,” Hope said. How does he know it’s successful? “So many of our customers have come back this year, which is a great way to gauge success.”

For more, read Hope’s recent post on LinkedIn.

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Danica Tormohlen is an Award-Winning Journalist, Content Strategist and Omnichannel Media Pro. For trade show industry news and analysis, follow her on Twitter @DanicaTormohlen.