So little old Team SaaStr just put on our first digital event, SaaStr Summit: Bridging the Gap.

We had over 16,000 registrants in the end, and learned a lot.  The speakers were incredible, from the CEO of Slack and Twilio and Zuora, to the CIOs of Zendesk and Nutanix, to the CMO of TripActions and Microsoft for Startups, to the CROs and heads of sales from Brex, Atlassian, Pandadoc, Salesforce, and much more.  And incredible VC sessions from Bessemer, Upfront and Initialized that were really, really good.

We’re still processing some of the learnings, but thought I’d share some while still fresh in my mind:

1. Time Zones are tough on a full-day event.  With >50% of the SaaStr community outside the U.S., afternoons in PST were challenging for many.  I don’t have any magic answers here, but we didn’t lose anything starting at 8am PST, and we didn’t gain anything with an “end of day” PST session.  So if possible, we’d probably make 9am PST the anchor of the day.

2. Folks that were great at Q+A were amazing.  Meagan Eisenberg of TripActions kept a solid 20 minutes of audience Q+A going that was epic.  Byron Deeter of Bessemer used the Q+A to have an incredible session with Jeff Lawson of Twilio that in many ways was better than it would have been in a traditional 1-on-1 on stage.  Q+A is tough to do well IRL.  But it can be really good on a Zoom.

3. Slides are distracting, but so are No Slides.  Many folks are a bit anti-slide on Zooms because they can be distracting.  But so is seeing 2 talking heads on a screen for 30 minutes.  Slides are better, as least as a prop and a guideline for the audience.

4. Default to 20 Minutes.  Default to Shorter.  Some speakers clearly know how to use an hour of time on a Zoom, but most did best with a 20-minute cap.  That’s about 10 minutes shorter than an IRL talk.  That was enough for most speakers unless the prep was significant and there was a real reason to continue.  Even for a longer session, 20 minutes of content with the rest for Q+A, even a lot of Q+A, is better.

5.  Breaks are important. We designed 10-minute breaks between sessions, and participants really needed it.  We relaxed this in some cases, which was fine, but it led to some viewer fatigue in the following sessions.

6.  A lot of management and moderation was required to do a 2-track virtual event.  We had 3.5 full folks managing speakers, questions, technology, etc.  And folks were tired after the day.

7.  The stories are even better on Zoom.  While data is king in SaaS presentations in general — that’s what founders want — stories work even better in Zoom than IRL.  It’s just a more intimate seeming format.  I’ve never heard better founding stories from Michelle Zatyln at Cloudflare or Jeff Lawson at Twilio than on Zoom at SaaStr Summit (and I’ve heard both speak a lot).  Versus folks that just read slides of data that might have performed well IRL struggled a bit on a Zoom without live audience feedback, etc.

8.  Networking and mentorship is our next challenge, and it’s hard.  How do we do this at scale, for 15,000+?  We don’t know yet.  But we’ll be deploying more tools here at our next events.

9.  Less content is better.  As time has gone on, SaaStr event have always been packed.  We grew from 1 day, 1 track in 2015 to 7+ stages across 3+ days for SaaStr Annual 2020 in March!  But I think one learning is just because digital lets you have more content, doesn’t mean you should.  2 tracks from 8am-5pm didn’t seem like a lot, and we Ioved every session.  But it would have been just as strong an event with say 60% of the content we had.

10.  Close to zero glitches with a simple tech stack.  We just used Hey Summit as a layer on top of Zoom.  We’ll need more functionality than this next time.  But it was simple, and it just worked.  That matters a lot when you have 16,000+ registrants.  And haven’t done it before.

It’s also interesting to see how different this advice is from this SaaStr post on how to produce a great IRL event at scale:

10 Secrets to Putting on a Great Event



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