Do Virtual Events Hurt Your In-Person Events?

This question comes up quite a bit.  The short answer… if you do it right, is…

No.

If you can market the virtual event in conjunction with the in-person event, you end up boosting the value of the in-person event.  If you market one, then move to the other, then back again, the messaging can get very confusing to your audience.  You need to work the shows together, then you can clearly show how your audience benefits from each venue.

One of the successful things that is done is using the online event as a promotional tool, but also as a pre-event tool.  Using this approach, you can help your audience attend the in-person event in possibly a more prepared, informed way.  Here are some ideas to help integrate the two types of events:

  • Hold pre-conference pre-sessions.  These sessions are presented by your speakers and include information that will get the audience ready for the in-person event.  Of course you don’t need (or want) to present the entire in-person session, but you can present the items that help people better understand what will be shown.
  • Consider pre- and post-conference classes or supporting sessions.  You can offer these as an add-on to your in-person registration.  These can be multi-session presentations and provide deep information for attendees.  Then, when they come to the event, they can learn how to apply and further use the information from the pre-con.  These can also be a way to get deeper involved in the materials presented, since the multiple sessions will be focused on a single topic whereas sessions in the in-person event typically are single sessions and stand alone.
  • Use pre-sessions to introduce topics and introduce homework to get people thinking along common lines.
  • Use virtual events to provide additional information about and by your vendors and sponsors.  These virtual events are great ways to further leverage your relationships with your sponsors and provide additional opportunity for the sponsors to interact with and gain information from your audience.  Keep in mind, you can keep the virtual event online after the in-person event, so your vendors can continue working with your audience in on-demand mode.
  • Consider adding “best of” type sessions after the in-person event has completed.  You can add them to the virtual event and use it as an additional touch point to work with your audience.  Simply capture the sessions at the in-person event, then announce that you’ll be adding the top 5 (or 10 or whatever works well for you) sessions to the virtual event in the weeks following the event.
  • Consider live-streaming your keynote presentations or key presentations from industry experts – this can further integrate your events (online and virtual) and show why people should attend both.  They get to see the live session and they get to experience the online virtual event.

There are a whole host of ways you can leverage virtual conferences, webcasts and webinars and in-person events.  From marketing to extending content to outreach to follow-up, the virtual event platform can significantly boost your in-person events.

As you write up your attendee and sponsor offerings, consider adding an option to add the virtual event items you’ll be offering.  Do the inverse on the virtual event registration – adding options to include the in-person event.  By integrating the two, you can leverage your audience, not split your messaging and gain additional ways people can take in your events, talk with sponsors and more.

Virtual events can be a powerful add-on and powerful marketing tool for your in-person events.  So many people make the mistake of assuming it’s one or the other for their audience.  Done right however, it allows you to extend your in-person event’s interaction with your audience in exciting ways.

Keep Virtual Event Attendees Engaged

Keeping attendees engaged is a tough battle with an online event.  Let’s face it, distractions abound!  Email arrives, instant messages beckon, heck just typing a new URL in the browser is a threat to their attention to your event.

What can you do to retain attendees – to keep their attention and make the event all it can be for them and for you and your stakeholders?

One thing that has worked repeatedly is the use of between-session messaging and content.  As you move through your event, offer additional content between sessions.  Rather than just showing “the next session starts in 5 minutes” type messages, consider putting additional content, tips and other elements in the space between sessions.

Here are some great examples that work very well, time after time:

  • Interview the speakers – talk to them about real-life, ask for advice, talk about their pets.  Basically what you’re looking to do is to help your speakers be “real” to your audience, help your audience get to know the speaker.  These are very powerful and can be relatively short.  If you’re concerned about topics, pick a central 2 or 3 topics, then ask the same questions to each speaker.  This can be things like “what’s your favorite board game” or “what movies have you seen recently” or “are you a dog or a cat person?”  All of these are great ice-breakers and can can offer a bit of fun between sessions.
  • Add polls between sessions – ask questions of your attendees, see what you can learn, and then present, about your audience.  Perhaps even ask the same questions as those above.  Then you can get a feel for your audience and help them relate to the content presented.
  • Add contests – have treasure hunts in the virtual environment have treasure hunts in the sponsor’s and speaker’s web sites.  This is a great way to get people involved and learning all that’s available.  You can even score the activities (for every “X” you find, you gain 20 points) – then award a keychain or t-shirt to the winner by points.
  • Have chats on Twitter or in the chat tools – guide the chats to include materials just presented (the speaker may be able to provide interesting topics and questions) or on completely unrelated topics to help people get to know one-another.
  • Create news segments – talk about very recent headlines between sessions.  Make sure the headlines are related to the event.  Perhaps even just one or two headlines, then suggest people move to chat or social media you have integrated into the event to discuss the headline.  Be sure to give them your opinion (or the opinion of the person presenting the headlines) on the items.
  • Have a fun mini-session – this could be an exercise session, a yoga session, stretching that you can lead.  This can also be a completely spoof-based segment.  Remember, it’s only a few minutes maximum.  Have fun with it.

By doing these types of activities, attendee retention jumps by up to 80%.  These are real benefits and can substantially impact your event, the attendees involvement in your show and their impression overall for the event.

How Long Does It Take? (To create and start an virtual conference?)

This may be one of the most often asked questions about setting up an event: how much lead time do you need prior to getting an event up, running and online to allow it to be successful?

Unfortunately, the short answer is, “It depends.”

Fortunately, we can pretty reliably call out what specifically it depends on.  You’ll probably find that it comes down to a few key factors.  Each of these has a very real role in determining your event’s lead time.

The three areas are:

  • Required marketing
  • Speakers
  • Exhibitors

Typically setting up the platform, getting things rolling, setting up graphics, making choices on scheduling, etc. don’t impact your production timelines, especially not in a “critical path” kind of way, to any significant extent.  It’s usually these other areas that really deserve your planning and attention.

Required Marketing
If your audience is a closed audience, like an internal meeting or presentations where your staff is compelled or expected to attend, you don’t have many hurdles here.  On the other hand, if you’re in a position where you need to market to outside people to help them become registered and attend, you have more time requirements.

Typically we suggest about 60-90 days for externally marketing events.  What’s aggravating about all of this is that you won’t be taking registrations that whole time, but you will be talking to your audience, explaining about your event and pointing them to your micro-site.  This is where it’s key to have solid information on the site about sessions, speakers, what they expect from the event as an attendee, etc.  The maddening truth is that most people will register at the last possible minute.

You can help people decide by using contests (those registered before X date are eligible for…) and by having a complete site, but the fact is, most will register as late as possible.

Speakers
If you’ve worked on any type of event where you were working with speakers, you know: speakers are busy, busy folks.  You need to plan on providing as much information, guidance and scheduling deadlines as you can.  This is critical so they know all of what they need to know in order to participate, produce the session materials, etc.  Any type of delay to get additional information, or any additional steps, and you will quickly find it escalates into delays getting their content.

Respect your speakers.  Give them templates, help them understand both what is needed and how you’ll support them.  If possible, have them work with someone directly on the event team or on the platform team as they can quickly answer questions and keep the speaker moving forward.

One caveat – if your speakers are internal and you have more “control” over them, you can shorten times to deliver content.  The longer timeframes come from speakers that are either volunteer or paid presenters for your event.  They typically are pushed in many directions constantly and you are at their mercy when it comes to getting materials in.

Be sure you provide them as many resources and guidance as possible to keep them “in the flow.”  For internal speakers, many times this is a much easier process.  You often have leverage to set deadlines and present other requirements.

Exhibitors
Exhibitors present an interesting challenge for scheduling.  You need/want them for your event, whether they are external to your company or an internal department.  At the same time, they need similar assistance as your speakers do.

Many times exhibitors are working with many different areas of their own companies to provide materials.  They may have PDF documents, graphics, videos and people to coordinate and they’ll look to you for guidance on setting up the booth, providing information to attendees and selecting the right packages for sponsorships.  This (again) is a great time to get your platform provider involved and working with your sponsors.  Get as much assistance as possible so your exhibitors can make the most of their booth.

Often, exhibitors are so busy just doing business that they put off the setup of the booth to the last-minute.  If you, or the team you work with, can provide them quick choices, best practices and assistance, you can help vastly shorten the time to set up the booth, get it online and have it be excellent for the exhibitors.

Summary
Taking control and specifically addressing each of these areas can help control your timelines, your surprises and best of all, keep you sane in setting up the event.  Make sure you have a good vendor partner that can provide the help, best practices, tips and ideas to make each of these areas flow as smoothly as possible.

If you make it your goal to remove obstacles and provide unique and helpful input to each of these areas, you’ll take big steps toward having a great event and still maintaining your sanity.  Your attendees, speakers and exhibitors will thank you, as will your stakeholders in the event.

Digital Marketing Tips, Experiences and Blood, Sweat and Tears

While the virtual event is over (it’s still available on-demand, and free, watch it here), the learning and application of the different experiences and all of the information presented (and there is a LOT there), is just getting started.

The GroupHigh event is on-demand and ready to watch – make sure you check out this great summary – there is information here on everything from the conversations you have with your customers and advocates to tools and techniques for reaching out to your community.

In a word, priceless.

Kristen Matthews, the guru behind the event and getting things going for GroupHigh, put an excellent summary of sessions together.  Check it out here.

Great Resource for your Digital Marketing Projects

If you haven’t seen it, check out The Outreach Marketing Virtual Summit (it’s free) – it includes key information from a whole host of experts.  There is so much great information in this free event – it’s incredible.

Here’s the direct link:
http://www.vconferenceonline.com/event/home.aspx?id=1092

This was a project by GroupHigh, an outreach marketing firm that rocks working in this space.  They have a great toolset, and the series of sessions they put together are excellent.

There is also a session there by me (Stephen Wynkoop) about virtual events and how they work in the marketing cycle.  What’s more, you can see the platform in action and check out some examples.

Enjoy!

Producing Content – horses for courses

Why Virtual?
Josh Harrison
Producer
vConferenceOnline

Producing Content – horses for courses

So I talked about the importance of video in creating an engaging presentation. So for this last article let’s get into some real world HOW.
You’ve decided “Josh is right, we should use video in our event.” Congratulations, you’ve made the right choice! Now how do you do it? Let’s set out some example scenarios:

Scenario 1: Your online only event has 6 different presenters. The budget won’t allow for in-studio professional video production. They all have slide deck presentations and want to stick to that plan. The presenters are all in different areas of the world, but you want to give the event a cohesive feel.

Solution:  Not a problem! We have a tool that allows presenters to record their desktops to include slides, full motion computer demonstrations and yes, their webcam! You arrange for a slide deck design treatment that they all use and you make suggestions for webcam placement and lighting in a simple to read document that we provided you. The speakers make quick test recordings and send them in for approval. Everyone agrees it looks and sounds good. They go about recording their full presentations and you smile with satisfaction in a job well done.

Scenario 2: Your in person event is going to include a bonus online event. You need to record and document all presentations and the keynotes. You’d like to offer the online event a week after the in person event for anyone who missed anything. Both in person attendees and non attendees.

Solution:  We discuss your needs and decide that you need a multi-camera production. Our crew designs a production equipment package and travels to your event to record the show. We work closely with your team to ensure that all required moments are captured and we setup the event online to allow for scheduled playback of these videos the following week. You just grew your event attendance, not to mention your event’s income.

Scenario 3: You’ve decided you want to take that same event to the people live over the internet!

Solution:  We add on a live streaming package to the already fully planned production package and you have created urgency and excitement for those that couldn’t attend in person.

Scenario 4: You are having an online event with your company’s top executives. This needs to be polished and professional. Production quality is very important. The event will be live with on-demand versions of the presentations available after the live event.

Solution:  We invite you out to our production studios in Tucson Arizona. Our producers work with you to decide show flow and set design. The required content and rehearsals are scheduled. Everyone knows what is happening when and where they should be. Our well designed studio gives your event that high end look you were after and your executives appreciate the chance to tee off at some of the world’s best golf courses after the event.

I could go on and on as there are many different scenarios. The point is that we can handle any of them and we help you along the way. That is a major separator for us as a platform provider.

I hope these quick articles have been informative, or at least entertaining. “Like TV”.

To Video or not to Video – Slides and a Webcam

Why Virtual?
Josh Harrison
Producer
vConferenceOnline

To Video or not to Video – Slides and a Webcam

I will admit right off the bat that I am a bit biased towards video for online events. “Like TV”. By which I mean seeing a person’s face not just hearing their voice. But ask yourself… which do you prefer? Static or moving images?

I mentioned in an earlier article that static slides and telephone audio probably aren’t the ideal format for your next big online event. However, there are some key points to consider when you are thinking about your event’s playout format.

First and foremost, what does the content call for and how do the viewers want to take it in? If you’ve got nothing but computer code and script syntax to cover, there may not be a chance to see the presenter’s face much less put him/her in front of a camera. On the other hand, if you’ve lined up a big name (and they are not presenting loads of text) then you are probably going to want to put that persons face front and center and let other materials like slides play a supporting role. A good example is the TED talks. If you’ve seen one you know what I mean. They are interesting, engaging, and nice to look at. Now imagine that you only see bullet point slides and their voice behind that. The subject may still be interesting, but you’ve lost the engagement and immersion.

Just a little side note:  Personally, I don’t get event platforms that put all the content up in front of you at the same time in so many little windows. The problem I see is that there is no main focus. This probably comes from my training in both cinematography and design. It is important to direct the viewer’s focus. It’s much easier to take in information when it is presented clearly and your attention is directed in one place. If I’m looking at a slide deck window, a video player window and any other assortment of “supplementing materials” windows, my focus is never on just 1 thing. The human eye will wonder when allowed.  I prefer a “like TV” approach where you get one screen and that window is your focus. What you put in that screen is up to you.  Arguments can be made for both sides, but that is what sets us apart from many other platform providers and we like to think it’s the best way to deliver engaging content.

Ok, so I said there were “some” key factors which would imply more than the one I just described. Secondly, Is it possible? Can you actually get the presenters to use video? I say, “where there’s a will there’s a way”. Not every session has to be a huge multi-camera production. Keep in mind that even a webcam is better than no cam at all. Giving your viewers something to connect to besides text is a big part of immersion.  Ok, sales guy hat on for a second. We have a full HD production facility that is purpose built to deliver presentations. As our client, you have access to those facilities and our production staff. Also, there are plenty of free lance video producers who can help. Beyond                       that we offer tools that allow for self recording that are easy to use and can help you avoid bland presentations. I understand that wrangling speakers alone is difficult, much less trying to produce video, but that’s what we are here for. It’s what we do and we would love to help you take it up a few notches.

Off with the sales guy hat and on with the video guy hat again. Quality is important. It sets a level of respect for your brand’s reputation. The world is full of boring slide deck presentations. You don’t see anyone commenting on social sites about the latest PowerPoint preso they just saw. Pay special attention to producing creative, engaging content and step outside of the box a bit.

In the next article we’ll get into some technical stuff. That’s what this is supposed to be about right?

Different types of Content and Delivery

Josh Harrison, Producer
vConferenceOnline

Different types of Content and Delivery

The good news is you have options. The other good news is that it’s not hard to choose your option.

I’ve seen many types of events and helped produce content for all of them. The important thing to remember is you have to make your content available in a manner that suits the information presented and in a format that your audience wants to consume it in.

Example #1:

You run a yearly conference. Typically you get 2000 attendees to your 3 day conference in Las Vegas. Your attendees are used to days full of educational sessions and exhibits. We won’t talk about the evenings cuz what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

You don’t want to alienate the crowd that attends the in-person event, but you know there are thousands if not tens of thousands of other interested people that couldn’t make it for 1 reason or another. If you were to do a hybrid event that runs alongside your in-person event you might stream live video broadcasts of the keynotes or sessions. You could offer online exhibitor booths and charge a fee for all those attending online. Or you could use it as a free teaser and limit the content to entice possible in-person attendees to your next event.

Example #2:

Your company needs to train new sales staff around the world and you’ve been asked to cut costs on the training program. Why send trainers all over the world for days on end at high cost to deliver the same information over and over? Do a continuing education event that is ongoing and place training modules and videos on-demand or scheduled with trainers manning the chats. Still need that person-to-person training? Trim down the amount of time needed by placing the material that doesn’t require person-to-person in an online event.

Example #3:

You need to market a product or service and your company wants new marketing avenues. Do a webcast where you have an expert in your industry do an informational talk on your product and make it invitation only or release it to the whole world to watch whenever they want? Further, don’t just do slides and a phone call, make it a video where you can see the presenter. Webcasts and webinars are great for fostering interaction with potential customers and clients. Keep an open email portal for the on-demand period so potential customers can contact you with questions and see other viewers questions and answers.

These are just 3 examples. There are many other possible scenarios and each event is a little different. I’m really trying not to be a sales guy right now, but I have to say that that is why our platform can be a great choice. We are not a template you plug your info into and push go. We really do work with each event to help you pick the delivery, format and options that best suit your event.

I’ll get off the sales horse now and get on my video producer horse for a minute. It’s important, now more than ever, to create compelling content. Viewer expectations are up. Slides and telephone audio aren’t going to do the trick like they used to. Video production can be had for little investment and it makes a world of difference in keeping your viewers attention and instilling a good impression of your organization. Granted, it’s not always the best way and at times is just plain overkill. Either way, always keep in mind how your viewer wants to consume the information you want to deliver.

That takes us to the next Article: Scheduling… Live, Simulated-Live or On-Demand.

Is Your Virtual Event at the End of the Marketing Cycle?

One thing that seems to come up quite a lot is that marketing leads up to the virtual event.  The event is the target or goalposts for the marketing work.  People get all involved putting together the different campaigns that will support the event, make sure the word gets out, etc.

Some food for thought – the virtual event really should be somewhere in the middle of your efforts, rather than the end-point.  Some quick tips:

  • Your event should reinforce your messaging presented in your campaigns – it should provide additional information for attendees and provide them a “what’s next” plan – should they contact you?  Will you be contacting them?  What is the purpose of the contact?  For example, if you’re event is in and industry you provide a service for, the next steps might be how you can help the attendee apply the things they learned at the event.  This helps them get started and realize the value of the event.
  • Your event can provide opening comments to talk about the things that will be presented, then closing comments to talk about application of those items.  Close the circle, help attendees get their arms around what’s been presented.  You can help with this by organizing your event into sections, tracks or rooms depending on how you’ll be doing your event.
  • Consider a pre-event webcast or short video.  This will help attendees get moving on their understanding of your content.
  • Pre-publish your slides, if possible.  This gives you another touch point with attendees, and it helps them come to your event with your messaging in mind, and they’ll be and feel more prepared.  You can, of course, use this as a good point to not only point out the slides available, but point them in the direction of your site, your blog or other items that are helpful.
  • Contact attendees after the event – let them know where they can watch on-demand, let them know about related items on your own site or blog – basically connect the dots between the event and your offerings.  “We had a great session (watch it on-demand here) about XYZ – when you’re finished watching, be sure to check out my blog post on the subject here” — that type of thing gives attendees a good handle on the items and helps move them beyond the event with a purpose.
  • Consider offering sessions from the event as exclusive webcasts – you can run them in the future to reinforce the value of the event content, to re-establish contact and provide information to new potential attendees for your next event.

Essentially, the big takeaway is that you want to make sure your event is PART of your overall plan, not the endpoint.  It’s much more valuable to you, and your attendees, if everyone is able to connect those elusive dots.

Types of Events

Why Virtual?
Josh Harrison, Producer
vConferenceOnline

Types of Events

I realize that the name of our platform might lead some to think that we only do conferences online. I assure you  that is not the case and my bosses didn’t make me write that either. There are many different types of events that can be done online. I’ll get into the  types we work with most often. Starting with the most obvious… in person events.

Conferences

These may be the most popular and well known types of events simply because there are so many and they generally happen in every area of interest. From finances to comic books, there are people with like interests that need to gather and communicate. For the most part these consist of keynote sessions to start off and general sessions combined with a show floor or exhibition hall for vendors to tout their offerings to attendees. Depending on the area of interest you’re probably going to a conference for the sessions or the exhibits. A subgroup to conferences would be shows or exhibition events for vendors. The attendees at these events only represent a very small portion of the actual audience for their topics. Many can’t get away from their daily lives or simply can’t afford to travel and attend.

Education

This is  also a very popular type of event. In most professional industries there is some sort of Continued Education implemented to keep pros up to date. There are requirements and standards that must be met to qualify for these CE credits. Professionals are usually busy, and time is money, so fitting in travel or even leaving the office for CE is usually a struggle.

Training

Training events are usually done on a smaller scale in person. There will be an instructor going over hours if not days worth of courseware with a select group of people. Some training programs will do a circuit or tour run to try and reach as many people in different locations as possible. Still, the reach is limited and you have an instructor repeatedly delivering material to a small audience. This requires higher registration prices due to trainer costs and can eliminate some potential trainees due to travel or costs.

Webcasts/Webinars

Marketers have long been creating events to attract attention to their product or services. A company may be releasing a new product and they want to tell the press or educate potential customers/clients. In many of these situations these are small events that require their attendees to travel.

If you are starting to see a trend I’m hoping you are starting to see the advantages of Online Events. Factor in time and costs for travel, food, lodging and attendance charges and you may see why in person events have seen a decline in attendance.

I said all of that to say this. Give the people what they want. In today’s world, individuals and businesses are accustomed to instant gratification. Everything is at their fingertips thanks to the internet. If your information isn’t easily available to the world they will find another option as quickly as type, point and click. The good news is all of these events and more can be done online.

Any craftsman knows that you need to use the right tools for the job. In the next article we’ll start to talk about what type of delivery suites your information.