CloudBees, a privately held software company in San Jose, provides continuous delivery software services used to build, run, and manage web applications. For the last several years, CloudBees has hosted DevOps World – a combo industry, user conference, and open source community event.
Traditionally, the highly-produced, multi-day event with keynote stage shows and interactive sessions is held in-person twice a year, in North America and in Europe. In 2019, a total of 3,000 IT executives, software developers, and community contributors attended the events.
CloudBees originally planned DevOps World 2020 for September 21-25, 2020, in Las Vegas. But with a significant portion of the U.S. and international audience limited to travel combined with national and international guidelines regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, CloudBees realized it wasn’t going to be possible to hold DevOps World 2020 in-person.
Past iterations of DevOps World included live streamed and virtual elements. But CloudBees knew an entirely virtual event had to have more – more content, more audience engagement and entertainment, and more capacity and stability to handle the goal of 10,000 virtual attendees.
Read on for a glimpse behind the scenes from the team that planned and produced this year’s wildly successful virtual event – which drew nearly 3X the expected registrations, filled CloudBees’ sales pipeline immediately with hot leads, and had sponsors signing on for 2021 before the event was complete.
Developing the Event Plan
In the developer world, there is often a silo between programmers (sometimes referred to as “cowboys” because they tend to build all aspects of a project solo) and the managers and operations teams managing the development pipeline. The DevOps World global events typically brought these two groups together to learn how to streamline software development and see and manage an organization’s progress.
“This spirit of collaboration and interaction was an important cornerstone of our virtual event planning,” explained Andre Pino, VP of Marketing, CloudBees.
With the move to a virtual conference eliminating attendees’ travel barriers, CloudBees decided to host a global, multi-day virtual event – which also aligned with the collaborative spirit of the global DevOps community. The virtual DevOps World took place on September 22-24, overlapping most of the originally scheduled Las Vegas event.
Attendees paid to attend DevOps in-person. But the decision was made to make the 2020 virtual event registration free.
Andre explained, “With everything going on in the world, we wanted the community to come together to exchange ideas and knowledge – and we didn’t want a cost barrier to hold them back from attending.”
CloudBees faced two unique challenges when it came to selecting a technology platform:
- First, as a provider of software services used to build, run, and manage web programs, the ability to scale quickly for the expected 10,000 attendees was paramount. “We saw other high-profile, brilliantly planned and produced virtual events that faced tech issues with high attendee load – something we wanted to avoid at all costs,” shared Bryan Pray, Executive Producer and Principal for FoxDog Consultants.
- Second, attendee engagement and interaction were a top goal. For this software developer audience, other platforms’ standard template layouts didn’t provide the flexibility CloudBees wanted for their virtual event experience.
“Like a Netflix or Amazon experience, we wanted attendees to browse and easily engage with different content,” said Saleena Glowik, Event Marketing Specialist at CloudBees. “We needed to quickly find a solution that could provide flexibility and handle our unique goals, so we turned to AccelEvents to create a custom platform, which allowed us to design a great user experience with an intuitive layout.”
Plus, AccelEvents would build the DevOps platform on AWS, which could quickly scale to tens of thousands of attendees by merely adding more servers.
Lisa Bergqvist, Media Production Consultant with FoxDog Consultants, explained one lesson learned in going with a customized platform. “Since everything was developed new to our specs, we spent a significant amount of time engineering and testing – but it was a great decision overall because it delivered on all of our needs.”
Agenda & Scheduling
With the global audience, the CloudBees team paid careful attention to scheduling session times to reach those watching worldwide.
Each of the three event days started at 9 am ET, with an hour-long keynote block. Three keynote speakers presented for 20 minutes each, concise sessions specifically to accommodate shorter attention spans. “This timing schedule allowed us to reach our EMEA audiences toward the end of their day,” explained Heidi Gilmore, Area Vice President, Marketing Communications, CloudBees. “We also re-broadcast keynotes again at 12:30 pm ET, which offered other convenient times for additional global time zones to tune in.”
Following the keynotes, attendees went into breakouts, organized into five different tracks around attendees’ interests. The agenda included over 145 breakouts, running an average of 30 minutes each.
Given the amount of content, the majority of sessions – both keynotes and breakouts – were pre-recorded. “The likelihood of a keynote session running perfectly for two broadcasts is slim,” explained Bryan. “And with speakers from around the world who could suddenly run into Internet, power or laptop issues, pre-recording minimized risk.”
“Audiences are so used to watching digital content they don’t distinguish between live and pre-recorded videos,” Lisa added. “There is a mentality that the ‘first time I see it, it’s new to me.’”
Another benefit to pre-recording and pushing out content over Vimeo to the DevOps custom platform? Each video included closed captioning – giving the content another “live” feel and making it more accessible to all attendees.
However, Bryan added there was still a benefit to including some live content. “When we did broadcast a few exclusive live sessions, we broke our records during the simulive broadcast of the keynotes.”
Pre-recording offered peace-of-mind during the run of show, but it didn’t mean speakers were left on their own to record. “We coached every speaker, talked through how they’d use polling and Q&A, and set-up and tested filming so the end result would be engaging to watch,” said Heidi.
The CloudBees team put together production kits to ship to keynote speakers, including green screens, capture kits, and microphones to improve each speaker’s remote capture quality. “We allowed plenty of time for shipping and delivery since we literally sent the kits around the world,” added Saleena.
But the extensive prep wasn’t just limited to keynote speakers. “We provided a detailed coaching video to every breakout session speaker, scheduling individual recording sessions, filming and editing each session,” said Bryan. “It was a tremendous amount of work, but it kept all messaging on point and up-leveled the overall production value – while reducing the stress for each speaker.”
One of the original goals was to create a highly engaging experience for attendees – and that extended to the virtual exhibit hall. Forty-nine sponsors paid to participate, with benefits varying based on sponsorship level. Perks included multiple-sized “booths,” different placement options in the virtual expo hall, and logo placement frequency in a virtual banner.
“We allotted dedicated time in the agenda for the expo hall, just as we would have done with the in-person event. This encouraged attendees to visit the virtual expo floor,” explained Andre. “We also utilized an incentive strategy with drawings and giveaways, with attendees earning points for each sponsor visit they completed.”
Another unique approach was to mix in “fun attract” booths – like those typically seen at tech shows. For example, the DevOps Radio Booth featured a variety of interview podcasts with award-winning dev teams and industry visionaries, plus a DevOps Spotify Playlist of curated tunes. The Share Your Run booth put a virtual spin on popular, in-person 5k Fun Run. Attendees downloaded a DevOps World race bib to wear on their virtual run from home, and then posted a pic of themselves or their run app upon race completion to celebrate.
To encourage attendee interaction and participation, the team designed the platform interface to emulate those seen on social media platforms like Facebook. “The central landing page provided an intuitive pathway that brought all of the different ways to participate front and center,” explained Jude Wellington, Marketing Event Manager, CloudBees. “The chat room was featured prominently on the right side of the screen, with networking on the left along with a menu that led to the expo, keynotes and breakout sessions.”
CloudBees also knew their audience liked to engage with online games and other programs, so they used gamification to reward participation in ways such as: attendees who stayed in breakouts for more than twenty minutes, visited virtual sponsor booths, or interacted with booth representatives. “We were blown away by the activity – we had attendees racking up thousands of points on the first day,” shared Heidi.
The engagement extended to keynote and breakout sessions too. Speakers answered questions in real-time in the chat room. “Many attendees told us they loved this approach because they got their questions answered on the spot,” said Bryan. “We worked hard to make the entire experience entertaining. All the feedback we received from attendees who said this wasn’t like any other conference because they were constantly engaged show we achieved that goal.”
Results + ROI
Total registration for DevOps World reached nearly 29,000 – nearly triple the original registration goal. The event drew new audiences: 77 percent had never engaged with CloudBees previously. Beyond registration, attendees dug deep into the content, with over 313,400 total page views throughout the three event days.
Exhibitors saw benefits too, with a total of 13,700 leads across all sponsors. CloudBees had nearly 7,000 views of their booth, with other sponsors like AWS and Google also drawing several thousand each. CloudBees generated about 2,500 leads, which they were “over the moon with the results,” said Bryan. “We’ve never had actual hot qualified leads pouring in in real-time during our events,” added Heidi.
By the end of the show, CloudBees also had commitments from more than a dozen sponsors for next year’s virtual event.
With a successful completely virtual event on the books, CloudBees is already planning for a virtual DevOps World for 2021, and a more robust hybrid approach for 2022.