Category Archives: Technology
As with the evolution of all new technologies it takes a little while for the terminology to settle down and become general use. For the early adopters this can be an incredibly frustrating experience. Why? Because we’ve already been part of the (extensive and believe me exhaustive) debate, discussion and intellectual tussle and just as we sign off on that particular topic, along come the newbies and start it all again.
So it is in the land of virtual/online/hybrid events. As conference professionals and other interested organisations begin to understand that the technology isn’t going to go away; that rather than being frightening in its complexity the right solution can simplify marketing and communications; and that there are other people just like them creating very successful conferences and events; so does the supplier network. The latter are not slow at getting on a successful bandwagon, and nor should they be, but never does caveat emptor apply more than in an emerging market. Not least because you won’t get many chances to get this right with your audiences, and if you are billing something as a hybrid which falls in any way short of other experiences they may have had, your credibility will be questioned.
With hybrid events rapidly becoming flavour of the month, it is incredibly important that conference organisers are very clear about what constitutes a hybrid and what does not. So here’s a quick synopsis:
- A recording of the event posted online two or three days afterwards; sorry but this is just an online post-event recording.
- A live event with a Twitter feed running on a screen at an event; no – this is just an injection of social commentary into your live event
- A selection of individual blogs, chatrooms and social media forums; aren’t these already essential parts of your integrated communications strategy?
- A series of event photos; honestly…?
And if you are a purist you would also say:
- A simultaneous stand-alone webcast; because this is a stand-alone webcast
Why are none of the above really hybrid events? Because they fundamentally miss the point. A hybrid is something where two parts meld seamlessly together to form a unified whole. A post-event recording doesn’t allow first-time viewers to participate in the debate; a twitter feed is a one-way stream of consciousness; and a standalone webcast does not allow the live and online audiences to interact with one another.
What a hybrid event IS:
- An event where a technology solution is used to permit both a live and an online audience to view the same content at the same time. PLUS,
- Where the online and live audiences can interact simultaneously with the speakers and other commentators via spoken questions and typed chat. AND,
- Where the online and live audiences can interact with each other within the timeframe of the live event.
With the right technology solution, or blend of solutions the latter point could also be extended so that the conversation with the audience starts in advance of the live date(s), is developed with the input of relevant and well-informed experts and then continues post event. What is imperative is that you, the conference or event organiser, create an environment, beit online, live or a hybrid of the two, where there is no barrier to integrated conversation and networking.
Hybrid events are delivering great results for organisations such as The Economist so they are there to be embraced. Just make sure that when you step into the water you are taking the right equipment with you.
It seems like the technology has finally been toppled from its place at the top of the virtual events debate and we are, at last, getting back to the basics of looking at the needs of the client. We are once again talking about the multi-faceted communications approach that engages all sectors of an audience. There is no sense in trying to shoehorn all comms activity into a one-size-fits-all solution, when every other sector of business is constantly trying to find new niches to occupy.
The evolution of virtual events is being driven by one major factor: as more virtual events happen, more people are participating in them and the better we can measure their behaviour. So rather than making assumptions and creating technology in a vaccuum, we are delivering the goods the customer ordered.
Two research studies* have been released recently which serve to confirm just how quickly behaviour is changing in the physical and virtual meeting industry; their core findings make for interesting reading, not least because of the gulf of expectation between event organisers and their audiences:
- Live content, be it video or webcasts, is the most popular on a virtual site, and yet only 43% of physical events capture any of their content to post online, and where they do it is often less than 10%.
- There is as yet little commercialisation of virtual events, whether this is a conscious business decision, a resistance from the marketplace or the resource issue below is as yet unknown.
- Organisations worry about the additional staff time needed to execute a virtual event to the cost, the quality of the experiencefor the visitor and the complexity of technology.
The benefits for the organiser though are seen quite clearly; more than 82% of past users of virtual events and 84 %of future users questioned in the Tagoras study mentioned the potential increase in audience numbers, an important consideration where physical events were only enabling them to reach a fraction of their total target audience.
So why are event organisers still so reluctant to embrace virtual technologies.
Meanwhile, the potential audience shows no such reticence:
While organisers of physical events continually state that people want to do business with real people, the Business Motivations and Social Behaviors for In-Person and Online Events study found that:
- 80 percent of respondents are comfortable connecting and networking with strangers.
- 70 percent are comfortable using a video/webcam to chat and meet others.
- 33 percent share information by instant messaging at online events, while 28 percent do so at in-person events.
- 41 percent use Twitter at online events, while 51 percent do so at in-person events.
Another objection often raised by physical event organisers is that online attendees are easily distracted. But attendees in real time also check their emails, text, tweet, phone and message while sitting in an auditorium. The only difference is that the virtual attendees can come back to it later.
Respondents seek similar information from exhibitors whether booths are live or virtual: more than half want to see what a company does and how it can help them, and nearly half of respondents want to get company, product or solution information for review or want to see a demonstration or the product itself.
Where virtual events really begin to draw in the attendees though is in accessibility:
- the environment’s ease-of-access;
- the ability to ask questions and participate actively;
- reduced travel costs and hassles
- reduced time away from family and office
Given the solid evidence, it is hard to see why so many event organisations continue to find more reasons not to embrace virtual technologies than to explore the possibilities. Perhaps it will take some new entrants into the marketplace to steal a march on the naysayers, establishing great virtual events that morph into fantastic physical ones that take the old-guard by surprise.
Remember: if you don’t listen to your customers, and give them what they want, you are giving them every excuse to go somewhere else.
* The two studies quoted are:
Virtual Event Study, done in collaboration with the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, Relate Content & Community Solutions and Tagoras, and funded by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events:
The Business Motivations and Social Behaviors for In-Person and Online Events, a study sponsored by the Professional Convention Management Association, UBM Studios and Virtual Edge Institute:
Just when you thought you had got to grips with all of the options available via cloud computing and social networking along comes something else to add to the mix. If you are one of the many trying to navigate your way in this emerging market there is a much opinion being shared by those on the leading edge.
Before you can even begin to think of technology suppliers or content you need to know exactly what is meant by virtual event because like lots of new innovations the term doesn’t mean the same to everyone. The end result from using a webcasting solution would differ greatly from that produced from one of the purpose built platforms such as 6Connex, Ubivent, On24 or InXpo.
A virtual conference is a Web-based event that replicates many aspects of a traditional placebased conference. It features multiple sessions (not just a single Webinar or Webcast) and may include keynote presentations, training and education workshops, discussion areas, social networking opportunities, exhibit areas for vendors, and various other features. Activities in a virtual conference may take place in real time (synchronously), on demand (asynchronously), or in some combination of the two.
Which is a great starting point. Next you need to specify your goals and then work out what you expect a technology solution to deliver. If you are a novice reading the advice of an independent commentator like Cece Salomon-Lee from Virtual Buzz could prove invaluable.
Above all, go and have a look at some of the events currently being produced: you’ll find everything from Shakespeare Festivals to Sales Conferences; Training Days to Careers Fairs. In fact there isn’t much you can’t do in these environments.
In a question posed by Greg Hackett on a LinkedIn group that we follow he asked ”Can we have our cake and eat it” in the context of whether ambience or content should be the key driver in creating a successful event or if indeed it was important to have both.
There are some examples of venues that are so magnificent or exclusive it isn’t hard to pursuade delegates to attend, even at strange times of the day: for example a breakfast briefing at the House of Lords, London will draw in even the most hardened of industry hacks; and a conference on a hot-topic specialist scientific topic with an industry leading speaker could be held in a dusty lecture theatre with curly sandwiches and still attract a huge number of delegates. So this doesn’t really answer the question either.
However, one thing the group has been able to agree upon is that it is important not to flog the delegates with so much content that it becomes impossible to absorb all, or indeed any, of the information being imparted from the lecturn. This is one area where professional conference organisers and marketers can struggle. In an effort to create an event that is so compelling, so packed full of benefits and so worth having one or more days out of the office to attend it is possible to end up with such a multi-streamed, PowerPoint-packed programme that it becomes a nightmare to navigate and almost impossible to promote.
Erin Handel from Bankerstuff reinforces the point. She cites an example where promoting a five-session live-streaming event in a single mailing failed to deliver any results, but by breaking this down into five single streams, each of which could be marketed with their own specific messaging resulted in a significant number of bookings.
What this illustrates most clearly is a need to get back to straight-forward marketing techniques. In our eagerness (desperation?) to get individuals through the door we have got into the habit of bombarding potential delegates with as many benefits and features as possible. This only serves to hide the real message and make our job harder rather than easier. And to be honest sometimes we just sound desperate.
Greg asked the original question in the context of virtual events, where the debate continues about the complexity (or not) of the technology used to deliver the digital content. The very fact that the responses strayed so quickly back to comparisons with live conferences and the difficulties in marketing them only serves to illustrate that the disciplines driving both are very closely linked. Could it be that digital platforms enable organisers to add all of that extra-value content, for longer giving them (and the delegates) the breathing space to engage more thoroughly in the content and face-to-face networking opportunities provided by a live event?
Most important of all is to ensure that in embracing a new virtual medium we learn from, rather than replicate our existing experience. After all, who wants to go to an event where they are always serving the same cake?