So you’ve decided to move forward with a virtual event. You have your team in place and have established a structure for planning the event. Now you have to design and build it. Since “virtual” event experiences are so new, many event and meeting planners are turning to vendors and suppliers to counsel them through this process.
The challenge is how to avoid “cookie-cutter” virtual event experiences that may not be appropriate for your audience and objectives. Consider these questions under the specific topic areas (* are questions contributed by Donna Sanford of Sanford Project Partners, your outsourcing partner for events, print and digital media). What additional questions do you have?
1. What works best – audio, video or video-only presentations?
2. Presenting virtually is quite different than in-person. What recommendations do you have for designing the presentation? This includes length of preso, use of slides, inclusion of polling questions, etc.
3. What training can you provide my speakers to address a virtual audience?
4. What type of social media integration do you have within the presentation console for virtual audiences?
1. What tools are available to familiarize my audience before they enter the virtual event?
- can these be branded with my logo?
- what if I want something customized for my event? What is the cost and time constraint?
- do you have an attendee guide that people can download? For those who prefer a manual, this document would provide screenshots of the key elements of the event and what each function is.
2. I have to drive audiences to a specific presentation, booth, etc. for my sponsor/exhibitor. What is the best way to do this?
3. How can we create an experience that easily guides my audience through the virtual event?
- How do we map this out before we begin building the event? The purpose of mapping is to ensure that your key objectives are forefront during the planning stages.
- What are the average number of clicks it will take for someone to do activity X? This can include: getting to a presentation, attending a group chat, sending a vcard, engaging in a one-on-one chat, visiting a booth in the exhibit hall, etc.
1. What chat functionalities do you have? These usually include text-based one-on-one, many-to-many, and group chat. Video chat is just emerging and worth asking about.
2. What social media integration do you provide?
- Where/how does one access the social media capabilities?
- Are these consistently available in every area of the virtual event? For example, is twitter available in the group chat area but not in the exhibit hall. Why or why not?
3. Do you have match making capabilities? How does it work? And do they bring in my existing social graph from other social networks?
4. How do you connect speakers with the virtual audience?
5. How do you help exhibitors/sponsors engage with attendees?*
6. What kinds of tools or programs do you have for attendees to engage with one another?*
1. What tools do you have for the in-person and virtual attendees engage with one another?*
2. With regard to the physical event, would you program the virtual event exactly with, separately from or a combo of the two? Based on my event, what would you recommend?
3. Should my virtual event be visually similar to my physical event?
3. Pulse Staging: Tips for Presenting to a Virtual Audience
4. A Wider Net: Why Engagement Matters More for Virtual Events
I highlighted three basic types of virtual events. In subsequent posts, I plan to highlight key questions you should ask as you evaluate your virtual event technology provider under the following categories:
1. Event Support & Experience
2. Virtual Event Planning Tools
3. Engagement & Experience
5. Metrics and Analysis
6. Product Roadmap/Innovation
This first part focuses on overall virtual event support and experience.
Number of Events Does Not Equate Experience
Many vendors cite the number of events they’ve developed as testament to their support and experience in creating successful virtual events. However, the number of events produced demonstrates only a company’s ability to, well, produce events. Would you select someone who did 1,000 poorly designed events or one who did 200 very well-conceived and implemented events? I argue you would select the latter.
So how do you get beyond the “number of events produced” response to delve into the characteristics you need to plan, build, design and implement a successful virtual event?
1. This is my first virtual event. What is your process with customers like me? What documentation do you provide to help me understand the steps and questions for a virtual event?
2. How many events do your event directors manage at any one time?
3. What is the event director’s experience in planning, building and implementing virtual or physical events like mine? Can you give me sample events s/he has been involved in?
4. How quickly does your team respond to clients? What is the average time elapsed for responses? 30 minutes, 1 hour, 1 day?
5. Do you survey your customers on their satisfaction? If so, what were the results? If not, why not and how do you know if you’re doing a good job with your customers?
6. Can you provide me with 3 customer references similar to my association, corporation or industry?
7. What is your recommended timeline for an event like mine?
What additional questions are there? Share them below in the comments.
While attending the Virtual Edge Summit 2011 last week, one question asked by attendees is “how do I create an engaging experience.” I would argue that the experience relies not on the platform you select but rather how involved you are in planning, designing, building and implementing the environment. However, many are new to going virtual and are unsure of how to proceed.
As such, I plan to write a series of posts to help meeting/event planners and marketers understand the process for going virtual. Please feel free to forward me your questions.
First, there are many types of “virtual events.” Let me highlight three flavors of virtual events that include multiple locations, such as an exhibit hall and auditorium, chat functionality and presentations.
Virtual Event “Out-of-the-Box”
A couple of the vendors are touting that they can build an event in one day. This is possible as certain features have already been pre-selected for you, such as presentation window and chat. While you can add a logo and some other basic branding, there is not much more to this. What you see is what you get with this virtual event.
Pro: Quick and easy set up with minimal monetary outlay (estimate of $5,000-10,000). Once created, you can reuse over and over again as a central library for your archived content and future events.
Con: You get a standard “virtual” event as defined by the vendor with minimal customization. This may or may not work for your particular audience with regard to providing an “engaging” experience. If you plan to use more than once, there may be additional charges for each new “event/presentation” with in the environment.
“Template-Based” Virtual Events
The next level is adding some customization options in terms of the location look-and-feel (usually selecting from a vendor’s library of themes) and adding/taking away certain features such as group chat, locations (i.e. an exhibitor space) and social media with a click of the mouse.
Pro: You have more control over the look-and-feel and how attendees interact with the environment. Like the “virtual event out-of-the box,” once you’ve created it, you can reuse the set-up for future virtual events you hold.
Con: Increased price tag to about $30-60K depending on the features, limited to stock library of images or providing images that fit a specific criteria, and requires more time and effort to design and implement. Furthermore, if using the same format repeatedly, you have to consider additional charges to light-up the environment, as well as if the look-and-feel will become dated.
Fully Customized Virtual Event
The high-end is working with the vendor to develop a fully customized environment from a branded look-and-feel to adding features beyond chat and social media, such as games and quizzes.
Pro: You are intimately involved in the building of the virtual environment that is customized to your event, brand and audience. This provides you with the best option for engaging your audience. Once built, you can add new features to further customize the experience.
Con: This takes a lot of time (recommend at least 6 months to plan, design, build and implement) and can be six figures or more. If you decide to add onto the environment, the challenge is how to integrate any new functionality seamlessly into the overall experience.
In the end, you need to find the right partner based on your budget, expectations and overall experience requirements. In my next post, I’ll highlight the types of questions you should ask when evaluating a virtual events platform provider.
What other pros and cons are there with the above three virtual event scenarios?
Every Friday, I try to interview an industry expert to provide insight on their industry. This week on PRMM Interview, I interview Scott Kellner, CMO of 6Connex, regarding what the future holds for virtual events and the best way to keep people engaged virtually.
As CMO of 6Connex, Scott is responsible for all communications activities and initiatives for 6Connex, including corporate, product, and channel marketing. He also supervises the 6Connex Service and Support group. Scott brings more than 20 years of marketing leadership to 6Connex. He has established branding and positioning strategies for a variety of companies, both as an agency executive and as senior, corporate marketer. Scott has also implemented the development and training of international reseller networks, managed direct sales organizations, and developed go-to-market, alliance marketing, advertising and PR strategies for companies in industries ranging from entertainment to professional services to consumer packaged goods.
Can you provide a quick intro to 6Connex?
One of the questions we often get is where our name comes from. I think it’s important to cover this because our name underscores our view of the virtual experience industry. The name comes from a combination of: the six degrees of separation connected at a nexus point. As such, our core mission is to connect people with each other, and with relevant content.
While we formally launched in February of 2009, our beginnings can be traced back to the first, and still the largest, virtual event every produced: AMD’s Virtual Experience (or AVE), which was run on 6Connex technology in 2006, and again in 2007. With just under 1 million unique registrants and statistics like 330,000 video views and more than 600,000 document downloads, it was truly a monumental undertaking. That experience, and the software that powered it, launched the company, though we stayed in stealth mode for two years.
Webinars have become a common lead generation tool for marketers. Can you provide 2-3 reasons why marketers should consider virtual events?
Given the way we’ve architected our platform, we believe marketers should consider virtual experiences for more than just events. That said, webinars are a tremendous tool, but they are usually effective for just a moment in time. While there are varying technologies, their efficacy is brief, and they don’t offer the level of flexibility, measurement, rich media content distribution or social networking that solid virtual platforms do.
We counsel our customers to use webinars as a key part of virtual experiences, but to also to take advantage of the ongoing presence afforded by virtual platforms to continually reach out to target audiences, refresh content, encourage interaction and create networks of professionals that can benefit from one another’s expertise.
Some of the best examples of this go beyond mere “events”. We encourage our customers to think in terms of both short and long term objectives, and to utilize the flexibility of virtual technology systems to continually engage their target constituencies. Cisco’s Data Center of the Future, and Siemens’ Navigating Healthcare virtual experiences are great examples of this. Simply put, webinars can do that.
As virtual events become more prevalent, there is a risk of attendee fatigue. What recommendations do you have to keep the experience fresh for attendees?
As many in your audience know, our heritage is not only in software development, but also award-winning interactive strategy and design. 6Connex has created virtual environments and critically acclaimed Web-based gaming programs for Disney, Universal Pictures and ABC, for example, so we understand, at a deep level, things like how to use video effectively, how to create a user experience that’s engaging and meets business objectives, and how to walk the fine line between attendee length of stay and the ease of finding relevant content.
To avoid fatigue, a virtual environment must be both pleasing and intuitive. It must have best in class information architecture, user interface design and be quick to load. But it must also be designed to allow attendees to chart their own path if they want. We believe you avoid weariness by making a virtual experience pleasing to the eye, by enabling people to connect with one another easily and by allowing attendees to encounter content on their own terms.
There seems to be a lot of developments with virtual events. Where do you see the industry going in 2-3 years?
Well, I have to be careful here. I don’t want to tip my hand in terms of what 6Connex has in alpha and beta stages now, though our customers are all in the loop. I will say this: I think better collaborative tools are on the immediate horizon. Improving the effectiveness of virtual platforms will require that providers enable secure, collaborative workspaces for their customers to use.
Another area of innovation centers on video conferencing, for sure. Creating more lifelike environments that complement physical events will continue to be necessary.
Also, integration with physical event technologies will become more important. One great example of this is “pushing” virtual content into a physical space via digital signage. We’re all familiar with “hybrid” events that take in live feeds from physical venue keynote addresses, for example. But we see no reason it cannot work the other way around.
Last, mobile is an obvious area for innovation. The increasing adoption of tablets and personal consoles like the iPad will drive some of this, but the most innovative virtual software providers will seek to push some envelopes in this arena on their own. Stay tuned!
Many virtual events vendors and companies have touted that they have held the “largest” virtual event. Cisco GSX in 2009 with 19,000 attendees and AMD with 672,000 attendees in 2006 (Forrester Report, Market Overview: Virtual Event Platforms for B2B Marketers) are just a couple of examples. A quick search on the term “largest virtual event” yields over 40,000 results on Google – some referring to vendors with others referencing events.
But does size really matter?
While an important indicator of a platform’s scalability, I think the focus on size overlooks other key factors when determing the value of virtual for your marketing and communications campaigns.
The largest event may not necessarily yield the right results for your company. Many of the platform providers have detailed metrics regarding the number of attendees, length of stay, number of downloads and more. The challenge is how developed is their analytics engine to provide a layer of intelligence to interpret that data.
Questions to consider: What type of metrics are provided? What format are these metrics provided to me – excel data sheets or graphs? Are there lead scoring capabilities to identify A, B and C leads? If so, how does it work? Does the vendor help me to calculate ROI? A discussion on Focus, a resource for business professionals, provides more discussion about the ROI of virtual events.
Developing an experience that is unique to your company, ties back to your brand, and is engaging requires thoughtful planning. With hundreds and thousands of potential attendees, how do you structure the environment to intuitively create a flow within your virtual event. A critical element is mapping out how you want people to engage with one another, exhibitors and speakers within the event.
Questions to consider: Can I use a cookie cutter template or do I need something more custom? Will the vendor work with me or do I have to provide this? Do I have to use an agency in addition to the platform provider? How much time do I need to accomplish the desired experience? How do I create the right attendee flow within my virtual event?
The main component of any event is the content. Driving people to the virtual event is one aspect, while delivering content in a way that imparts learning is another element.
Questions to consider: Beyond how long somebody attends my event, what ways are there to measure short-term and long-term retention? Can you test or quiz the audience before, during and after an event? Will this cost more? What delivery method works best (video, audio, text, combo) and why?
While you host or build the largest event, a truly successful virtual event goes beyond size. It provides the right metrics with an engaging experience that delivers real learning to you audience.
What other factors are there to consider?
Cece Salomon-Lee is director of product marketing for Lanyon Solutions, Inc. and author of PR Meets Marketing, which explores the intersection of public relations, marketing, and social media.
This blog contains Cece's personal opinions and are not representative of her company's.
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