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Teams online conference : How to conduct?

I attended the Microsoft recently MVP summit – it was a three-day event conducted as a Teams online conference. 100’s of sessions, 1000’s of attendees. I want to share this knowledge with you to help you conduct Teams live conferences of your own.

Teams online conference poster

Requirements for Teams Online Conference

Any online conference requires the following components.
Please note that I am only talking about the actual conference delivery – not the preparation, invitations, travel arrangements and so on.

  1. Conference spanning many days
  2. Thousands of attendees and hundreds of presenters globally
  3. Multiple key topics, subjects or tracks
  4. Multiple sessions at the same time in the same track
  5. Multi-party video calls with live demos and presentations
  6. Full interaction using 2-way Chat, Audio, Video
  7. Video recording of all sessions with automatic transcript
  8. Live support for attendees and speakers
  9. Ability to join multiple meetings at the same time
  10. Ability to switch multiple meetings – Meeting Hopping
  11. Social interaction for comments / chat – likes, emojis, sharing
  12. Confidentiality and Privacy
  13. High performance and Resilience
  14. Leadership Keynote – which thousands will attend
  15. This is a very challenging set of requirements. Surprisingly, all this is implemented using a single product – Microsoft Teams.

What happens Post-COVID

All the content covered during this event is confidential. Therefore, I cannot cover topic details. But one thing was clear. Everyone was so happy with it that even the next year conference is going to be Teams online conference – irrespective of whether COVID stays or goes.

Answers to frequent questions about Teams online conferences

Should I use Teams Meeting or Teams Live Event for a Teams online conference?

Teams supports both the options. Your choice depends upon the number of attendees and type of interaction.
Use Teams Meeting
– If attendees need to interact with presenters and share chat, audio, video, etc. then Teams meeting is better. The capacity of the Teams meeting as of now is 300 but check the latest documentation to find the current limit.
Use Live Event
– If there is one-way interaction – like a keynote, inaugural speech, CEO’s address to all employees, guest speaker covering key topics and so on. Here we need more than 300 attendees, but the interaction is limited to Q&A. The current limit is 20000 users.
Large conference needs both Meetings and Live events
Typically a conference has few keynote sessions and many breakout sessions. Therefore, you can use both these modalities. Make sure that you manage the invitation links carefully.

Can you give me an example of a team created for Teams online conference?

Sure. Here is a practical example. We have multiple channels. Each name is self-explanatory. The channel tabs will give you more ideas.
Teams conference structure

How to manage conference spanning multiple days?

Create one Team where attendees will be added as guests. All meetings arranged within the context of this all-encompassing Team. Due to security concerns, you must follow a 2-factor authentication requirement even for guests. In fact, guests access is the weakest point in any online meeting.
If you need distinct set of audiences which need to attend complete disparate topics, then create multiple teams. The same guest can have access to multiple teams.

How to handle hundreds of presenters and thousands of attendees online?

This is where Azure AD B2C shines. All guest accounts have to register with AD as a guest and follow the security protocol. Once this is done, all participant (guest) accounts can be managed centrally and securely. Policies can be changed globally without coding or manual work.
Guests do not need to purchase any license. Any user ID, including personal IDs like Yahoo, Gmail, Outlook is permitted, provided the attendee is already registered with Microsoft as an invitee for the event. A single team can have up to 10,000 users as on 1st Sept 2020.

How to handle multiple tracks, topics and subject areas in a Teams online conference?

Each track becomes a Channel in the team. Each channel has a tabs for open discussion, Q&A, agenda, collateral files , feedback forms and so on. Owners and members have more flexibility. Guests have limited functionality. Everything is available as an audit trail for compliance reasons.

How to conduct multiple, parallel sessions in each conference track?

Teams online conference uses Channel Meetings. Channels represent topics. Therefore, attendees can go and look at available meetings and join the one which interests them. The meeting links are also posted as a part of the agenda.
Each Channel starts a Channel meeting at the scheduled time. Attendees are NOT bombarded with hundreds of meeting requests. They just join the meeting they want by going to the correct Channel and Meeting.

Who can respond and who can discuss?

Each channel shows all the ongoing meetings. Any invitee can join any meeting. Attendees cannot post in the Channel. But can respond to existing posts by Channel owners.
Community channel is open to all, but with moderation by Owners.

In a Teams online conference, how to restrict some attendees to some tracks?

If required, channels can be restricted to a subset of invitees, based upon business requirements. These are called private channels. There is a limit of 30 private channels per team as on 1st Sept 2020.

How to conduct sessions in a Teams online conference?

All sessions are Teams Channel Meetings. Each session is a presentation conducted by multiple presenters physically sitting at different locations / countries. All they need is a good internet connection and a laptop. Technically, if it is only a presentation with speaking, even a mobile phone is adequate.
Presenters can share their screen and show live demos. All people except the presenters are automatically muted. However, participants can unmute anytime to ask questions.
If required, any presenter can Mute All except self to avoid audio disturbance.

How does presenter to audience interaction occur during online events?

During the presentation, participants can chat, talk, share video, share screen, like or share stuff or upload files. Usually for every presenter, there is another person monitoring chat. Chat is another place where people ask questions or post comments – why so? Because they do not want the presenter to be interrupted during a presentation. The person monitoring then prioritizes the questions and feeds them to the presenter.
In many cases there is an open discussion / debate about specific topics or issues.
All meetings, including the interactions are recorded. The video recording is made available to MS people using Stream. For Guests videos are posted on a protected Yammer group. (Why so? Because, by design, Stream videos cannot be shared outside the primary domain – Microsoft – in this case.)

How to get transcripts for all videos?

Stream has built-in transcription. Participants can add the video to their own Stream service and get automatic transcript.
If you do not have Stream (which is a part of Office 365), you can use this amazing site – Video Indexer– which is based upon Azure Cognitive Services – to create multi-lingual transcript and translation files. This site provides few hours of FREE transcription, person recognition, scene recognition, topic parsing and much more.

How to provide live support to attendees and speakers?

A separate channel is required for live support. In fact two channels are better. One for attendees and one for speakers. Dedicated support team answers queries and resolves issues as soon as possible and in near – real time. In some cases, they can even ask the participant to share their screen to troubleshoot issues.
Frequently encountered problem list is maintained and updated live. This helps repeat problems to be handled faster.
Many presenters as well as attendees are not familiar with Teams. Post short explainer and how to videos to assist them.

In a Teams based conference, can I join multiple meetings at the same time?

Absolutely yes. In fact, this is a completely new capability which you will never have with in-person conferences. You can be physically in one conference room at one time!
I joined multiple meetings at the same time. One meeting is active others go on Hold automatically. You can switch between them at will.
It may sound confusing, but it is actually empowering.

Can I join multiple meetings and keep them active at the same time?

Yes. Join one meeting using Teams desktop app. One or more meetings in multiple browser instances using In-Private (Incognito) mode.
You can also have another meeting running on the mobile phone(s).
This way, you can hear one meeting actively and monitor screen activity across multiple meetings. Switch to the most interesting one in real-time.

How to encourage social interaction during online conferences?

Everyone can be on video. That makes it a truly a global experience. Someone is in their bedroom, someone in a lobby, someone in a bar… Everyone is on mute by default. Unmute only when required. During the MVP Summit I attended, everyone understood the etiquette quickly and the execution was amazingly smooth. Lively chat while the presentation is going on delivers live feedback and interaction amongst participants. As all participants are experts in the topic, it takes the social interaction to a new level.

How to maintain confidentiality of data during a Teams online conference?

This is easily managed because the entire platform is already geared for this. Technically this was done using Azure AD B2C functionality and Teams (with Office and Stream) full audit trail, and compliance. No third-party tool is required. Classic example of how the Microsoft 365 platform delivers value without additional headaches and manual integration overheads.
Of course, a valid participant can share the link with another, unauthorized participant. But there is no easy (and convenient) way to prevent that in any platform.

Performance and resilience

In a large online conference, bandwidth automatically gets distributed because everyone is actually in a different place. That is why bandwidth bottlenecks with a particular venue do not affect online conferences.
Few interruptions and outages will happen, but those are acceptable. Overall experience is very much acceptable.
One best practice is to use video only when required – may be in the initial part of the session during introductions. Thereafter, if video is not adding any value, shut it off. This is the simplest and most effective way of optimizing available bandwidth.

How to simulate the feeling of in-person events in Teams online conferences?

Many approaches are available. The idea is to encourage the feeling of community interaction during the event duration. This can be easily done by having one channel where guests can also post comments, photos. Of course, it should be moderated to prevent misuse.
You can also have crowdsourced activities like impromptu demos, interviews with attendees, video testimonials, polls, contests, and so on.

Allow users to create Teams

Dual monitor Teams presentations

Teams presentation on slow internet

Teams Live Events Best Practices

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