Going Virtual in 25 days: The Transformation Journey of the UC Cyber Security Summit

Screenshot from UC Cyber Security Summit website

 By Adrian Mohuczy-Dominiak. My team was putting the final touches in place for the April 2020 UC Cyber Security Summit. Then the world was hit with a pandemic. Our in-person event was no longer an option.   

We didn’t want to give up on our goal of information sharing and community building, so we decided to act quickly to transform the event into a virtual format. Thanks to hard work, determination, and a little luck, we created a successful virtual event in just over three weeks. We want to share our story so that you can learn from our successes – and our mistakes.   

Summit Goal 

The Cyber-risk Coordination Center (C3) team coordinates the biannual UC Cyber Security Summit, which is designed to promote collaboration and coordination among faculty and staff across the UC system, as well as the California State University and the community colleges. Our goal for the summits is to provide an engaging environment for attendees, speakers, and sponsors and to ensure that all parties get value out of the event. 

The Team 

Our online team was the same as for an in-person event. It consisted of:  

  • Summit Coordinator 
  • Coordination Assistant 
  • Graphic Designer 
  • Writer 
  • Technical Expert 
  • Platform vendor 
  • Zoom Professional Services  

The summit coordinator ensured that all of the summit pieces are in place. She dealt with financial and speaker issues. The coordination assistant supported the coordinator and dealt with sponsors. The graphics designer designed all of the graphics for the summit website, as well as any digital and physical materials. The writer prepared a lot of the website content and other communications. The technical expert worked on all technology aspects, including the website design and Zoom, as well as testing audio/video with the sponsors and speakers. The platform vendor and Zoom professional services worked with us to ensure the website and event were successful.  

The Platform 

With limited time to make our virtual transition, our team knew that choosing an effective platform was the most critical step. We knew our options were somewhat limited because the virtual platform market is somewhat immature still, and at the same time, because of shelter-in-place orders and remote work, there was a huge increase in demand for virtual meeting platforms.   

We looked for a platform that could provide: 

  • An intuitive and secure space 
  • Engaging audience experience  
  • High value for sponsors 
  • Quality virtual presentations 
  • Beneficial, high quality information sharing 

After careful consideration, we chose a relatively new platform vendor that offered most of what we wanted at a reasonable price point. The platform had several advantages: 

  • Branding and customization options 
  • Clean speaker and sponsor sections 
  • Unique log-ins for each user 
  • An ongoing site of reference for video recordings and other materials 

The platform was relatively new and came with a few technical challenges. Fortunately, as the technical lead, I was able to overcome some of the limitations by programmatically removing unnecessary website content, proper content positioning, and adding and modifying non-existent features and content.  

Our writer and designer also assisted in quickly creating the virtual solution. They had to create a lot of content such as graphics and information about the event, speakers, sponsors, etc., which they then added to the site. 

Our writer and designer also assisted in quickly creating the virtual solution. They had to create a lot of content such as graphics and information about the event, speakers, sponsors, etc., which they then added to the site. 

The platform required us to use our own Zoom webinar license. In conjunction, we made the fortunate decision to take advantage of Zoom’s professional services on the day of the summit. That team worked with us to ensure all speaker audio/video was working, they ensured correct speaker transitions, highlighted the current speaker, and muted and turned off videos for any non-speakers. Additionally, they monitored the chat and were ready to remove any offenders if required. They also opened up the lunchtime sponsor sessions. Having their services along with our whole team on deck helped us have a successful event without too many technical glitches. 

The illustration above is a screenshot of our final virtual platform. You can review the main page, and the summit agenda as well.  

Audience Engagement 

A special challenge was how to achieve our goal of connecting people with each other and getting them to really engage. In today’s online world, we all get exhausted from too much screen time and not enough breaks/relaxation or networking. To engage the audience, we hired a musician to play during breaks and we also had an entertainer who challenged the audience to play different types of games. We also encouraged attendees to converse and network in chat.  

One participant told us, “The musician and the activities were inspired, and I learned a lot about how to increase virtual engagement.” 

Lessons Learned
We learned that not everything that is possible in person should be recreated virtually. Here are some modifications we made: 

  • We reduced the time of our speaker presentations to 35 minutes. 
  • We offered thought leadership opportunities to sponsors, which allowed them to give shorter presentations about the current threats and how these relate to the product they offer. 
  • Networking opportunities are very important for attendees. 
  • Due to the minimal cost to attend, we got close to three times as many attendees as we usually do for a purely physical event.
  • We scheduled many breaks during which attendees could stay and listen to our musician and our entertainer, or just to take a break 

Other lessons were: 

  • Give yourself time and resources; organizing an event might sound simple but all of the little pieces add up. 
  • Virtual events are different. In-person planning doesn’t map precisely onto virtual. 
  • Cost might actually be higher than you think. That was true in this case, but we found the cost per attendee was lower because we are able to include so many more attendees virtually. 
  • Teamwork is key. A variety of people with multiple talents will produce the best results.
  • Don’t hesitate to get support from vendors.

Final Thoughts 

As the technical member of the planning team, I can say that changing direction on such short notice was difficult but also very rewarding. Given what little time we had, I can’t say that I would have done anything differently. Our team was highly functional, and we gave it our all, which was the key to success. 

We look forward to our next event because, in addition to having learned so much from our trial by fire, we now have more time for planning and more options. We can dedicate more attention to each of the components. For example, we will be selecting the platform from at least 10 different ones and perfecting it. We will give tips and training to speakers and sponsors to ensure they are engaging, contribute substantially, and gain value in return. We plan to increase sponsor engagement opportunities and offer more peer networking activities. We will likely offer more virtual events and/or hybrid events in the future.  

For me, the best part is knowing that so many attendees enjoyed the event and found it valuable. We received a lot of really nice feedback from participants. One summed it up perfectly: “I personally would never guess you had such a short amount of time to put it all together as you did.” 

The next virtual UC Cyber Security Summit will be held October 14, 2020. Mark your calendars now and be on the lookout for registration information 

Adrian Mohuczy-Dominiak, IT technical security analyst, Cyber-Risk Coordination Center, Information Technology Services, UC Office of the President. Adrian Mohuczy-Dominiak is an IT technical security analyst, Cyber-Risk Coordination Center, Information Technology Services, UC Office of the President. 

Comment (1)

  1. beth Kellman

    Great article! I hope we can provide a link to it in our emails to attendees of the Oct 14 Summit and to prospective attendees.
    I was engaged during the entire Summit.
    Great team effort.


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