Organizing a conference is not an easy task, much less when it is your first conference. For today’s interview, we invited Jiri Novosad, a golf course manager and a founder of successful networking platforms for golf enthusiasts, who organized a unique virtual conference Czech & Slovak Virtual Golf Business Forum within three weeks.
Hello Jirka, could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello, sure! My name is Jirka Novosad, and I have been working as a golf course manager for almost 20 years. My long-term goal is to connect and unite people from the golf field. In January 2020, I joined the company GolferIS.cz s.r.o., which provides CRM for golf courses, and started the development of a web application Bryson and tcm.golf for training centers that connect children, parents, and trainers. Thanks to these applications, we helped to digitalize the training system in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and at the beginning of 2021, we also penetrated the US, Scottish, and Bulgarian market.
Where did the idea to host a virtual golf conference come from?
Traditionally, there is a meeting each year at the end of the golf season, which is organized by the Czech Golf Federation. The representatives of the clubs get to meet each other here to discuss the news, how the season went, etc. Besides this event, there is one more conference organized by TeeTime, where the managers of each club meet as well. The most important parts of these events are the personal meetings and relationship building. As for a long time, it seemed like no event would be possible that year, an idea came to my mind - to create a virtual event where we could all meet. I also wanted to involve other interested people from the Golf Industry and give those who share the imaginary golf pie chart a chance to participate.
I imagined it very simply. Practically a few days of work, which could be rushed in the evenings after working hours. I was looking for a platform that would make everything easier and helped me carry out the whole project. And this is where I came across Eventee.
So, this is the first-ever golf conference of this kind?
In addition to being the first virtual golf conference in our country, it is also the first conference that brings individual roles together. There are conferences reserved for greenkeepers, managers, or members of golf clubs, etc. I believe that such conferences make sense, as we all have a common interest and can share the know-how. With this concept, it was indeed the first conference of its kind in the field.
Can you tell us how big the market is for such a conference?
Currently, there are 150 golf clubs in Bohemia and Moravia. In the Czech Republic alone, there are an estimated 2-3 thousand people who work in this field.
And what was the occupancy of your conference?
During the event, we had about 120 unique visitors, about a half of them remained connected from the beginning till the end of the conference, i.e. from 9 AM to 3 PM. I was positively surprised by this fact because I expected the number of participants to decrease during the day, as they would check-out for work reasons.
Overall, the occupancy was similar to the previous conferences that were held in-person. Even though we did not feed, connect and invite the participants to a joint golf course!
What are the biggest differences you saw between a virtual and an in-person conference?
I have to admit that I expected bigger differences before the conference. The conference was, however, very similar to the in-person event, which was also appreciated by the participants, who said that the overall experience was very close to a conference that takes place in a hall of some venue.
What was missing, was the personal meeting. Traditionally we would stay overnight at someplace, and play a golf tournament the next day. On the other hand, the conference had such positive feedback that the participants even called me to suggest that the conference could be held regularly, even every quarter.
At least, we decided to establish regular virtual meetings every month. For each meeting, there will be a predetermined leader and a specific topic. We managed to successfully build cooperation and trust in sharing the know-how. The meeting in January was attended by 50 participants who are already working on a joint project for golf development.
What were the biggest obstacles during the organization and how did you manage to overcome them?
The biggest challenge in the beginning was the technical solution. I basically had no idea how to do it. The main motivation that kept me moving forward was my enthusiasm for the idea. When I realized the challenge I was facing, it was too late because I had already shared my idea with other people.
I managed to solve everything with Eventee and other integrations. Eventee was the centerpiece of the whole conference with the agenda, up-to-date information, etc. For the conference itself, we had two stages on the Wonder.me platform. The first stage was dedicated to our 30 speakers who performed during the day. I myself moderated all the sessions on this stage. 6 hours non-stop! The second stage was a virtual clubhouse for networking, where participants could meet each other and discuss the news. In the end, the event agenda was so busy that the participants didn't even have time to meet in the clubhouse.
Except from Eventee, did you use any other tools that helped you with planning?
Traditionally, excel was my biggest helper, as I could plan all the lectures and share them with our speakers. I was lucky that once a speaker confirmed his attendance, they did not change the time of their sessions. I then put the confirmed lectures in Eventee, along with additional information about the topic and the speaker. The participants could see how the agenda is slowly filling up.
What role did Eventee play in your event, do you have any feedback for improvements or new features?
Eventee played a role in the fact that I ended up really organizing the whole conference. (laugh) I am convinced that if I hadn't come across you and Eventee, I wouldn't have put it all together. It gave me the certainty that it will help me with the planning. The platform is sufficiently well-arranged and has a very professional-looking output, which added professionalism to the whole event and also attracted the participants themselves.
Over time, it was noticeable that the more content gradually appeared on the event homepage generated by Eventee, the more the trust of the community and the speakers themselves grew. I probably wouldn't have achieved that with a different solution. Eventee also supports multiple languages, including Czech, which is not quite common with other solutions.
To sum it up, the role of Eventee was really important for the whole event. In the beginning, it was my main motivation not to drop the idea and organize the conference. And throughout the event, Eventee served as a technical solution that I could rely on.
Could you say that the main added value for you was the agenda and that Eventee generates a page for your event?
Definitely! The fact that I was able to create a profile for each speaker, which immediately appeared on the web, was a huge time saving for me. And to repeat my previous words, it increased the trust of participants in the conference, because people saw renowned names among the speakers. For me, Eventee provided a great resulting effect with very little work.
How difficult it was for you to create a virtual conference?
It took me a while to go through all the Eventee features that I could use for my conference, but once I started creating my event content, everything was very simple and intuitive. And I say that as someone who is not a technical person. :) I don't usually organize conferences. Actually, it was my first conference, and yet everything was clear and understandable for me.
Could you summarize the organization of a virtual event conference in one or two sentences?
First of all, the fact that it took more time to organize the conference than I had naively imagined at the beginning. Secondly, how it surprised me, as well as the participants, that a virtual conference can really be a great replacement for an in-person conference.
I have a message for those who are planning to host such a conference: "It is possible!"
Is there something else you want to mention?
I definitely would not like to omit my colleague Tomas Vrbicky, who helped me a lot with testing all the individual platforms, especially with the technical part of it. He also covered the role of technical support throughout the conference. He made sure that all participants, including the speakers, could see and hear.
Final advice for our readers?
Stay on top of things. Don't go crazy and rest properly during the preparations.
The biggest obstacle in the beginning, is the distrust of the people that the conference is worth it. Therefore, the organizer needs to break people's assumptions right at the beginning and gain their trust. Constantly remind your audience and convince them that even a virtual conference can be a quality source of information.
An amazing experience, thank you very much for the interview and I wish you a lot of success in the following years!
Thank you for the interview and Eventee as well! :)