Danny and Marco gave this presentation at our Future of Sales Festival in December 2021.

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In this article, Danny De Los Santos, Senior Manager for Curriculum, Strategy and Training and Marco Galvan, Sales Onboarding, Events and Communication Manager at Atlassian, share their tips and tricks to keep the sparks alive at your next virtual kickoff event.

Here’s a break down of the main talking points:

  • Pivoting to virtual events
  • Fostering human connection
  • Looking to the future of hybrid events

Let’s dive in 👇

Pivoting to virtual events

In 2020, we had to pivot what was planned to be a live sales kickoff event to a virtual one. Here are the steps we took:

Re-examine content

One of the first things we did was to re-examine our SKO content.

We're always looking at our SKO content through a magnifying glass to make sure it's relevant but it was even more important for us to do now because we moved from a three-day, full-on, eight-hour day live event to a three-day, half-day virtual event.

One of the most important things we did was ask ourselves: “Can this presentation or topic be delivered via an ongoing enablement cadence or other vehicle?”.

If so, we cut it from the agenda as a way to reduce the Zoom fatigue and overall event runtime.

SKO interactivity

We've always looked at SKO as our premier enablement event for training specifically. We've typically included a pitch contest or ‘Stand and Deliver’ exercise, in breakout sessions. It was important for us to keep that element alive and find ways to keep people engaged in a virtual kickoff setting.

We ran elevator pitches across our key solution areas. We had attendees record themselves on Zoom, and gave them a limited amount of time to record their elevator pitches. Then, we had them upload their videos to Confluence where we hosted the videos and we allowed other attendees to like, comment and upvote submissions.

We also gave people the creative freedom to make the pitch their own. We had people with fun zoom backgrounds, engaging in skits, with props, and really thinking outside the box to make their submissions stand out and get up voted.

We played the top submissions at the end of our kickoff event and that was a great way to get everyone who was at the same time feeling connected at this virtual event.

Invite customers & partners

We made an intentional effort to bring in outside speakers we thought our team was going to want to hear from you. We made sure to keep things like our customer fireside chat, and we also invited some of our premier partners to attend the kickoff and share updates in their own session as well which were both a success.

Showcase diversity

We wanted to diversify our presenter roster. Typically at kickoff events, we have a day of sales leadership doing their typical type of keynotes but we wanted to change it up a little bit here.

We looked at a layer down from senior sales leadership and started looking at their next-in-commands, mid-level managers to stand up and deliver updates and keynotes that would be on behalf of their organization.

This showcases different voices from the field and helps people stay more engaged because they’re hearing from people they wouldn't typically hear from at an event on such a big platform.

Highlighting wins

We made sure to highlight as many wins from the field as we could. We got our sellers talking to one another and presenting in front of their peers to put emphasis on community and to feel more grassroots-driven.

Then, we kept our team specific breakouts for our kickoff event and we allowed those functional leaders of our different sales teams to decide how they wanted to structure them.

The enablement team will then help support and facilitate whatever breakout sessions those specific teams wanted to run. This was an additional way to get teams united and feel connected to one another.

Fostering human connection in virtual events

Here are the techniques and tactics we've implemented to foster human connection at our events:

👥  Grow with Atlassian panel

This is a panel of recently promoted high performers in the sales organization and outside the sales organization who have shared how they navigated growing their careers at Atlassian.

Some of them switched over to different roles in different teams, and others moved up in seniority within different organizations at Atlassian. Through surveying, we realized this had been one of our fan favorites throughout our entire kickoff events.

🔁  Hosting rotation

Rather than having the same person doing the hosting and presenting throughout our kickoff events, we have different members of our enablement team hosting the event to help them gain exposure and visibility across the organization.

🗣  Guest speakers

We have also started a tradition to have guest speakers come in and talk at the end of our virtual kickoffs. They're interviewed by rising stars in the field as a way to spotlight talent within the sales organization.

In the past, we've had a top sales performer interviewed Guy Raz about the power of storytelling and we've also had a top renewal specialist at Atlassian interview astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson about overcoming obstacles and breaking through glass ceilings as a woman in a male-dominated industry.

After we did a debrief of each session, it was great to hear from both interviewers how this is something they're always going to remember.

That was definitely something we loved hearing and something we definitely want to continue doing as a way to help foster human connection.

🎥  User submitted videos

Some of the topics we've had are showing off your pet, showing off your work from home setup, and then of course, some fun TikTok trends videos like “tell me you work at Atlassian without telling me you work at Atlassian.”

It's a way for people to really see: “Hey, it's not just me here sitting at a desk watching a virtual event”.

🏷  Swag & philanthropy

For our sales kickoff, we really have a swag element there, and for our operations kickoff it's more philanthropy focused.

Separating the two promotes sustainability and being intentional about our swag and we want to be sure we're doing quality over quantity when it comes to it.

🎲  Fun events elements

We have custom zoom backgrounds, collaborative Spotify playlists, a DJ that comes in between sessions and after sessions. A lot of these ideas were spawned from our social life and different aspects that we're seeing out in the world thinking this would be a unique way to make this either corporate-friendly, or apply this to our culture at Atlassian.

For operations kickoff, we have invited a business to send drag queens to our operational kickoff events.

They'll be doing live humor, comedy bits, as well as lip sync performances during our breaks, as another way to keep the engagement up and people entertained. I would encourage you to think outside the box as it does a lot for culture.

What are we thinking about as we move to a hybrid kickoff event?

As we prepare for our hybrid kickoff events, a lot of these talking points are included in real conversations we're having as a team to to start gearing up. The future of kickoff events, at least for the next five to 10 years, is going to be hybrid.

Our teams are itching to get back together in-person. They want this large scale, in-person event kickoff where they can meet people, network, collaborate and create that camaraderie between teams.

We're doing everything we can to make our virtual events stick out and not feel as repetitive as one another but we're also cognizant of teams starting to get ready to be together in-person.

💰 Cost and budgeting

What is the cost of going hybrid and how do we budget accordingly? We're looking at it from a perspective of wanting to create an equitable experience for all of our attendees, whether they're in-person or virtual.

At previous kickoff events, we've typically streamed and recorded our mainstage sessions and didn't for breakouts.

If we're trying to create an equitable experience for all attendees, regardless of whether they're virtual or in-person, we're going to have to look at upping the budget and figuring out how we can make people feel like they're in the ballrooms with us from a virtual setting.

That's something we're currently analyzing and figuring out how to build a budget for.

🌏 Geo-based regional kickoffs or global

We haven't been in-person or had business travel since the pandemic so the idea of putting together travel budgets, hotels, planes, meals, events, fun social events, is what we're currently working on as well.

We're analyzing the pros and cons of geo-based regional type kickoffs vs one global one where we fly everyone into the same location.

What's top of mind for us is how to make our virtual attendees feel included and feel as if they're getting the same type of experience as their peers that are there in-person.

Also, this comes down to figuring out the numbers. We need to start booking our venues and hotel space months in advance, if not almost a year in advance.

How do we start to plan and ballpark numbers? Who will show up in-person and who will want to stream from their couch? Is it a 50:50 ratio? Is it 60:40 or 70:30?

We don't know but we're looking into putting together a survey to assess the appetite for our sellers to be in-person. That's also going to help inform the type of space we can run this event.

🤓 Learning styles

How do we adapt to various learning styles for interactivity and collaboration? With every type of kickoff event where enablement and training as part of the event this is always top of mind for us  but even more so when we have attendees who might be in-person or virtual.  

If we're going to run pitch contests again, and have some ‘Stand and Deliver’ exercises, how are we going to modify those for participants attending remotely? How do we track engagement? That’s something we're thinking about at the moment as we prepare for hybrid events.

Common questions

Q: What key lessons have you learned since pivoting to virtual?

A: Our kickoff events have continued to enhance as they've gone virtual. Some of the feedback we've gotten from senior leadership is that we've found ways to help teams feel connected.

One of the fun elements that people are now excited about are the video submission prompts at registration.

In the registration form for our kickoff events we include video prompts so the participants can record them on their laptops and submit the videos through our event portal. Before the event, we edit all those videos into a montage, and this has become very popular with our field.

As we've pivoted to full virtual, the biggest challenge was runtime and attention span. Our events went from three half-days of about five hours of runtime a day to now three-hour days including breaks.

We've realized that we need to be very targeted and sharp with the content we're producing for kickoffs and if it can wait or be delivered in another vehicle, that’s the true litmus test of whether it makes its way into our kickoff agenda.

Q: How are you keeping the experience just as memorable virtually as it would be in-person?

A: We're looking to further brand our two kickoff events (we have kickoff events every six months). What we do for our sales kickoff which starts at the beginning of every fiscal year is look at more high-quality swag, especially since we're saving money on travel budgets.

We're also conscious of sustainability and shipping things like that on a global scale. We’re now creating a way for us to give back and engage in philanthropy, through our kickoff events.

For our operational kickoffs, which we have at the midmark of every fiscal year, we're incorporating donations to charities using our own SKO budget and funds.

We're allowing our registrants to pick charities they're the most passionate about from a dropdown menu, all of them are global charities so that it's equitable in terms of their benefit to society.

Q: How are you measuring the success of your SKO?

A: We’re looking at post-event surveys and completion. For our pitches, and role playing exercises, we typically use Rubrik to capture completion and scoring. And we have interactivity metrics through Zoom polls.

We're planning reinforcement sessions of some of the key concepts the field is to hear specifically around our products for our operational kickoff in January.

Then, we're going to create those reinforcement sessions as a bridge to what we're going to emphasize at SKO. Our two events are connected so what we emphasize is key themes for the year at sales kickoff, we revisit at SKO, as a way to tie back learning and reinforce that throughout the year.

Q: What are some of the hiccups or hurdles you’ve had to overcome going virtual?

A: Having over 500 people in one Zoom room can get a little tricky sometimes so we have testing sessions with our presenters and our DJ to ensure high video playback quality. Just making sure those are all good to go.

We’re also making sure people are muted through our entire session to avoid undesirable background noises such as dogs barking or doorbells ringing.

The quality of camera and background from the presenters is essential and we make sure they have the best quality so everyone watching can have the best experience.

Q: Do you have suggestions to get the sales team to fill in the surveys you mentioned?

A: We use our survey data to improve our virtual or our kickoff events in general but since we've gone virtual, we’ve listened to the teams’ feedback about sessions that feel too long or specific topics that don’t belong at kickoff and could be delivered in some other way.

Then, we take that data and we share it with our sales leadership team as a debrief to each event to understand the CSAT score of the event, what were the key themes and takeaways and what do people want to see more of.

By delivering on those changes, and iterations to each event, we've built good faith with our field that we will make changes based on what we're seeing.

We also do raffles and we'll select at random based on the people that complete the surveys. We have the highest survey completion rate than any other org in the company.

I think it is because we take the survey data very seriously and we make improvements and iterations to our events based on them.

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