In 2021, the 4th annual Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge took place. Over two days, 20 teams, comprising four university students each, came together to put their cybersecurity knowledge to the test. In 2020 the event had been hosted at the BT Tower – this time however, the organisers had to adapt to the ongoing global pandemic
Increase in event participation following virtual format adoption
Going virtual with a cybersecurity competition
In 2021 Rob Black, UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge Director and Cybersecurity Lecturer, made the decision to run their annual event virtually. “Following the pandemic, we had to consider whether we took the event completely online or explored hybrid options, but did need to go fully virtual ultimately,” explains Rob Black. With the decision to go virtual it opened up the competition to a wider audience, ultimately resulting in having more teams apply than ever before. “Going virtual allowed us to increase the scope of the event, from 17 teams participating to 20.” Explains Rob. It also gave them access to global speakers, volunteers, sponsors, and government officials, as travel was no longer a limitation. “We also had volunteers, sponsors, government officials taking part, alongside global speakers from Singapore and the US. The format also allowed us to be more inclusive of our competitors from across the UK, saving them the need to travel to London, and we did see an increase in applications from broader geographies in the UK following our switch.”
One of the key requirements for Rob when selecting a virtual platform was its engagement features, he wanted to ensure he maintained the student’s interest and attention. “For me, the potential of Cvent was to give us a platform that could keep everyone engaged,” Rob continues. “We wanted to deliver something more than just traditional Zoom meetings or broadcasted seminars.”
Throughout the competition, the teams are tasked with role-playing government advisors during a hypothetical cyber crisis. They are assessed on their ability to persuade a panel of judges that their proposed course of action is the right one. These sessions were carried out using Cvent Video Conferencing, an integrated part of the Cvent Attendee Hub®. They used collaborative sessions, which enabled interaction with the attendees, and named theses essions “competition rooms”.
“We had five competing teams participating at any one time, and so needed to set up a series of competition rooms and co-ordinate the participants, judges and volunteers,” explains Rob. “Attendee Hub gave us a platform to keep everything together and running in parallel. We used collaborative Zoom sessions to facilitate the interactions between participants and judges.”
Alongside the competition itself, the event included several additional live streamed sessions featuring speakers to develop the participants’ cybersecurity knowledge and experience. “We hosted a series of keynote speakers, using the Q&A function to solicit and moderate questions from viewers.”
Q&A is a feature of Cvent’s chat function in online sessions. Attendees can submit questions to presenters within the live Q&A chat box for an additional layer of interactivity. The questions can be approved automatically or by a moderator and answered verbally or with written responses.
“We used collaborative sessions again for students to meet with subject matter experts and attend masterclasses on cybersecurity related topics, which students could view on-demand after the event too. Alongside the competition element, one of our goals is that students have that opportunity to meet and network with people they otherwise wouldn’t meet.”
With Attendee Hub®, event organisers can set any session to be accessible on-demand after the event closes. Attendees can return to the page for up to 90 days after the event’s end.
Building in branding opportunities for sponsors
“One of our priorities when selecting a virtual platform was the ability to provide branding and overall presence for our partners and sponsors,” explains Rob. “The competition relies on their funding, so I wanted to make sure that we were able to recognise these contributions.”
“One of the reasons we opted for Cvent was the ability to tailor the Attendee Hub, the event web page and event emails to have their branding and information visible. We also set up exhibitor booths in Attendee Hub for our partners and sponsors to offer another channel for the students to engage with them.”
Cvent users have full control over the theme, icons and imagery used in the Attendee Hub®, the event’s web page, their promotional emails and the event app, if they have chosen to use it. This enables users to fully incorporate their own branding and establish a visual identity to their events, as well as easily offer visibility to speakers, exhibitors and sponsors.
As well as prominent branding, users can add sponsor-related questions to their registration process, identify recipients who clicked a sponsor’s logo in an email, or set up a dedicated partner section for their event website –within which sponsorship levels can be used to highlight the event’s most valuable partners.
Planning ahead for 2022
As the next annual event approaches, Rob and the team have a wider set of possibilities to explore than ever. In planning for 2022 they are hoping to run their very first hybrid event. “We’re certainly looking towards a hybrid version of the event in future,” says Rob. “There are a lot of benefits from switching to virtual that we can’t leave behind –such as the lifting of geographical restrictions on participants and speakers and the ability to host content on-demand.” While there is huge value geographically to running an event virtually, Rob feels it has its limitations when it comes to giving the students the opportunity to network. “However, as our aspiration is for students to meet and network with new people, it’s key to have an in-person element there too. So we’re looking at options to enable virtual participation, and certainly to continue with on-demand content, virtual keynotes and digital visibility for our sponsors.” By utilising the Attendee Hub, Rob can easily facilitate both virtual and in-person sessions whilst giving students the option to watch content on-demand at a time that works for them.
“For those looking for online event platforms, I’d suggest imagining what you want your event to look like and working back from that. For us, centring the participant experience was absolutely critical –we didn’t have all the details laid out for how everything would move over to virtual until quite close to the event, but always had a specific user experience in mind to work back from.”