How One Virtual Event Created ‘Organic’ Interactions

The Data + AI Summit North America 2021 focused on creating opportunities for intimate conversations among its 65,000 attendees.

Author: Casey Gale       

Ali Ghodsi

Databricks co-founder and CEO Ali Ghodsi opens the virtual Data + AI Summit North America 2021, showing its platform.

The Data + AI Summit North America 2021, presented by software company Databricks, held its second fully virtual event May 24-28, building off insights gleaned from its first virtual conference in 2020 to create a more intuitive and engaging experience for its 65,000 registrants.

The five-day event, which was free to all attendees and featured a range of live and pre-recorded content, drew all different types of tech professionals and academics working in fields such as data analytics and machine learning. Attendees’ backgrounds ran “the whole gamut,” said Debbie Seabloom, vice president of strategic accounts at Type A Events, and the meeting professional who has worked with Databricks on both its annual in-person and virtual summit multiple times. Because of the diverse professions and number of online attendees, it was important to Seabloom to find new ways to connect them with the content and each other.

Debbie Seabloom

Debbie Seabloom

“I think last year was really successful,” Seabloom said. “So, nothing was really ‘broken.’ We didn’t really need to fix anything, but we wanted to elevate the experience. When we had to pivot from in-person to virtual for the 2020 program, it was a very short runway. We had to just do what needed to get done and do it to the best of our ability. But with the 2021 event, we knew well in advance that we were going to stay the course. We had a little bit more time to decide what we wanted to do and were able to push the envelope a bit more.”

One of the ways the Data + AI Summit accomplished this was with the introduction of virtual meeting platform MeetingPlay’s “Hallway Chatter,” an online experience meant to mimic spontaneous conversations that often happen among attendees between sessions at in-person events.

“Instead of it just being text chat, they were actually able to go into a video room,” which Seabloom said was similar to popping into a Zoom room, “and you could actually have live and engaging organic conversations.”

The virtual meeting rooms were “all dedicated to different topics within the main core offerings of the conference,” she said. Attendees could pop in at any time and were often joined by industry leaders presenting during the event for extended conversations about their area of expertise.

“We just leaned into making it more intimate,” Seabloom said, “so that people [could] make those one-on-one connections.”

Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.