AtlanTec Festival – Tips on Running a Virtual Conference

Jul 1st, 2020

The annual AtlanTec Festival went virtual this year for the first time since its inception six years ago. There were speakers and attendees from across 23 countries and over 350 different companies and universities. The festival featured 30 online events that ran over five days, from May 18-22, and reached a total audience of over 2,500+ people.

Virtual presentations covered topics and trends in tech and digital innovation in the fields of AI (Artificial Intelligence), cybersecurity, medtech, fintech, mindfulness and leadership. This year’s line-up also included a special focus on COVID-19 and featured NUI Galway researchers who are responding to the pandemic with innovative solutions.

We spoke to Caroline Cawley, Chief Executive of AtlanTec Festival and ITAG (Innovation Technology AtlanTec Gateway) and Dee Timoney, ITAG Skillnet Network Manager, to find out their tips on running a successful virtual event, the benefits of running AtlanTec fully online and what they think events will look like in the future. We also spoke to Karl Gaffney of Avaya, a previous AtlanTec festival attendee, who discusses how he found this year’s fully virtual AtlanTec festival.


Running a successful virtual event


Some of the key benefits of running AtlanTec virtually included a large increase in attendance on a global level, with their audience increasing by 600% from 2019. Additionally, the costs were lowered for attendees and speakers, as were the event set up costs. Less printed materials also meant the festival was much greener than previous years. Caroline Cawley expands, This year our conference was environmentally friendly and brought the latest trends to your door while supporting our ecosystem with the elimination of brochures and other supplementary material.  Virtual conferences are rapidly replacing physical conferences, proving themselves as a popular and effective tool for businesses in the future.  This year’s festival allowed us to be truly global”. 

Making sure your virtual event is successful starts with having great technology powered by a secure platform. It is important to make sure your event looks as professional as possible and has the ability to engage with your attendees throughout. Make sure you test your event multiple times before going live and depending on the scale of your event, hire a professional expert to help. As Caroline explains for AtlanTec, “The tech set-up and a secure platform is a must, we were lucky to have Cisco Webex as our sponsor and platform provider. With their expertise that alleviated a lot of potential problems. We also have a fantastic AtlanTec Festival Committee who also acted as moderators for the sessions. The attendees posted their questions in the comments section and the speakers answered them on the go”.

ITAG Skillnet worked with their training instructors straight away to make the transition over to virtual training events as smooth as possible. Dee Timoney, ITAG Skillnet Manager explains, “We worked with our trainers at the onset of COVID-19 to transition the programs that we were delivering instructor-led to now being delivered virtually. Delivering virtually is working well. For some programmes, we have broken them down into smaller modules and are running them over more days but for a lot of the technical programs we are running them across full days same as we would if they were instructor-led.” 


A fast-track to digital transformation


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it the advent of digital transformation at scale. People all over the world have moved their working lives, events, and team meetings online. Whole offices became virtual spaces in a matter of weeks. Caroline recommends being open to change if you’re transitioning to a virtual event, “Switching our event online also required us to switch our mindset from what we were used to with live events. Making this transition was also a great opportunity to explore new ways of delivering even better events. So, if you are running a virtual conference, think outside the box, be creative and be brave”.

Most importantly, the transition to virtual has great advantages for event attendees, particularly when it comes to time management and the ability to tune in when it best suits your schedule. As AtlanTec attendee Karl Gaffney, of Avaya explains, “The great thing about the virtual AtlanTec Festival was the ability to pick and choose the talks you wanted to attend without the need to give a whole day to the event. No events were overlapping, thus it was possible to attend all the events you wanted to in real time. I liked the fact that each talk was an easily consumable amount of time, approximately 40mins. Also, where you did have a conflicting work challenge the fact that all events are recorded and available online, means they can be reviewed at a more suitable time for you.”


The future outlook for events


The future outlook for events looks bright as we bridge the gap between virtual and offline events. Technology will continue to help create tailored, innovative, and immersive experiences. However, there are some elements that cannot be brought over to the digital world just yet. Speaking about one downside to running a fully virtual event, Caroline explains, We did miss the connection with our members this year. The element of face to face contact, sense of community, networking and socialising is somewhat lost online”. To remedy this, for next year’s AtlanTec Festival the team will include both virtual and offline elements. The 2021 event will combine a face to face networking element and will continue with the successful virtual sessions for the festival.

When it comes to online delivery of learning and development programmes, people are becoming much more open and receptive to learning in a virtual environment. Dee Timoney believes this is because, “The “fear factor” has been taken away. Initially, learners wondered if it might be difficult to keep focus for long periods of time but in fact if you use the functionality of the platforms, breakout rooms and so on then it can be almost as engaging as being in the physical room”.

AI and machine learning have played a significant role in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As AI and machine learning continue to transform the digital world, Dee Timoney suggests that immersive learning will become even more prevalent in the future. Some of the tools and innovations Caroline Cawley thinks we will see at events in the future include, facial recognition, event apps, media monitoring tools, gamification, apps and much more.

As people begin to settle into the new reality of our digital world, virtual events will become much more commonplace in the future. AtlanTec attendee Karl Gaffney of Avaya, sums this up perfectly, One of the positive aspects, of the lockdown, is that people have become much more familiar and comfortable with online video technologies. This comfort will drive people to demand that more and more content and events be delivered to them in their homes and workplaces when we return there. The AtlanTec Festival 2020 has clearly demonstrated what can be achieved with these online virtual events.”


Find out more


Are you interested in learning more about running greener events and applying more environmentally friendly business practices? If so, take a few minutes to read our short article with Madison Savilow, Chief of Staff, Carbon Upcycling Technologies Inc. Madison spoke about Climate Change and the Forth Industrial Revolution at this year’s AtlanTec festival.

The AtlanTec festival is supported by Avaya, Cisco, ITAG Skillnet, Fidelity Investments, Genesys and NUI Galway. To see the recordings of the sessions or to find out more about AtlanTec, visit Learn more about the courses that ITAG Skillnet have on offer over on the ITAG website. Keep up to date with their latest news on ITAG’s Twitter and Facebook pages.


ITAG Skillnet is co-funded by Skillnet Ireland and member companies. Skillnet Ireland is funded from the National Training Fund through the Department of Education and Skills.




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