Pre-Record or Broadcast Live?

In-person conferences are only slightly different from online events, but one way in which they are vastly different is the presenting style. In-person events are presented live, with the speaker on a stage or at the front of a classroom-style room, speaking to the audience in real-time. They can step off the stage and answer the audiences’ questions while being a foot or two away from them and everything they say is live. This is great for a personal touch to events, but with a larger event, the personalization fades.

For online, virtual events, you have a few different options to try to replicate this experience while broadcasting your message and knowledge to a large audience. You can pre-record your sessions or host them live. If you host them live, through a livestream, you can even use a service like Google Hangouts to invite attendees to ask questions in real time while showing their face and using their own voice.

So, what are the pros and cons of each option?

From the platform standpoint, it makes no difference if an event is live or pre-recorded. The platform will work with either and it’s all about what makes you more comfortable.

Live sessions are great because the presenter has (hopefully) rehearsed their presentation and knows it like the back of their hand. A live panel-style session can be personalized to the audience. They can submit questions before the session via social media or text chat. Those questions are then answered during the session, which adds a nice touch for the audience.

However, live sessions carry a threat to your event as well. If the presenter is late, has connection issues, forgets their slides, has background noise, doesn’t wear something appropriate, or just has an “off” day, it can reflect badly on your event and brand. This is why pre-recorded sessions have their own benefits.

With a pre-recorded session, you can approve it ahead of time, cut out background noise, ensure that it aligns with the high quality event you are arranging. If you decide to do a 100% On Demand event, where the attendees are able to choose which session they want to watch at their leisure, this is the only option – and it’s a great way to make sure each presentation is up to your high standards!

Both types of presentations – live and pre-recorded – have their pros and cons. Make sure you figure out what the aim of your event is before you choose which will fit the best for you.

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Have any questions about hosting a virtual event and want a great platform that will help you every step of the way? Email us at sales@vconferenceonline.com

Happy event planning!

The Benefit of Session Tracks

Many online event platforms attempt to copy in-person events, particularly when it comes to sessions. During an in-person event, there are a few rooms set up with perhaps a theme for each (or perhaps none at all). The sessions are presented in each of the rooms and there is typically a ten-fifteen minute break in between so attendees can check the schedule, look for the next presentation, grab a cup of coffee, and settle in before it begins.

Many platforms emulate this by having a session listing where the attendee will choose a particular session to watch and, like a webcast, when it is over, click back to the lobby to choose the next they want to watch.

As an attendee, if there is a theme to a room, typically, you want to watch all of the sessions. You find a table in the room, settle in your chair, and stay there until the sessions you’re interested in run out. If an in-person event were run the same way as many online events, the room would have to be cleared before the next session, forcing all attendees to stand outside before being let back in.

That idea seems so inconvenient and unnecessary that vConferenceOnline created session tracks. It’s very similar to a playlist – sessions are scheduled to present live or play pre-recorded content at a particular time, have a break in between, then continue with the next session. An attendee can simply stay in the “room” and have the sessions play seamlessly and conveniently.

How does that benefit you, as a conference host?

The time in-between the sessions can be used for any manner of things. You can play elevator music to entertain the attendees. You can host a trivia game. You can ask people to communicate with you via Twitter hashtags or Facebook. You can show commercials from you or your sponsors. Ten or fifteen minutes is a lot of air time – with no fewer options for how to use it!

Many options that make things easier for your attendees also make for great opportunities for you and your sponsors. Just think creatively!

Help Viewers Understand First

Many people approach a webcast or virtual conference session as an opportunity to sell. This ends up driving the content for the session, and it drives the focus and presentation style as well.

While it’s certainly possible to present a “pre-sales” type presentation with information about your product or service in hopes of driving the sale, you might want to consider a different approach, particularly if you don’t have a captive audience.  A “captive audience” is one that can’t leave, that must watch your presentation.  This might be the case if you’re presenting sales training or other required materials.

But, if you’re talking with potential customers, or trying to woo customers into upgrades and enhanced service offerings, presenting a sales pitch or making sure you cover your marketing bullet points might be the last thing you really want to present.  You’ll probably find that this causes people to click away, to stop listening and to become disengaged with your message, brand and presentation.

It’s just too easy to click away, or become distracted with email or have a thousand other things that get in the way of the attendee’s attention.  An online presentation is, by necessity, a different animal from an in-person presentation.  You need to turn on the expertise, the creativity and answer the “what can you do for me” question that all of the attendees are struggling with in their own minds.

To do this, consider providing information.  REAL information – lessons learned, best practices, etc.  These are the things a viewer can watch, learn from, and apply to their own world.  Talk about things you’ve run into.  Talk about customers and situations that have come up that show you have both a sense of humor and a problem-solving approach.

When you provide real-world information and experience, and you provide take-away, actionable information, the viewer will appreciate it.  You’ll be seen as the expert, the one to go to for more information, more services.  With an online presentation, it’s much more like a conversation with a viewer than a presentation AT a viewer.

Here are some quick ideas to get you started:

  • Provide a quick 5 or 10 tip best practices sheet they can download.
  • Provide an idea sheet that gives unique ideas that can spur other ideas the viewer can use to be successful.
  • Provide a “common pitfalls, and how to avoid them” sheet
  • Give a checklist of things to cover or consider

By providing takeaways, and giving actionable items, your viewer will be engaged and care about what you’re presenting.  It’s not enough to just have great slides.  Give a worksheet or other item that can be put into play immediately.  Make the viewer look good in the eyes of their boss and/or customers and you’ll immediately be seen as a benefit to their work, and you can show that you’re trustworthy.

Sure, you can show a slide or two about your product or service at the end, but first give the viewer something they can relate to and depend on.  Then help them see how your offering can help.

One last thing – don’t handicap the information you provide.  In other words, provide ALL fully-usable information in the sheets or takeaways you provide.  Don’t give 3, then say “contact me for the other 10.”  You’ll only make your viewer resent you and feel like the whole thing was a setup for sales.

People understand that sales are needed, they just don’t want to be sold.  Help them understand first.  The sales and marketing will follow.

Where Do I Begin?

Getting your first virtual conference or event up and running can be a daunting task – but it’s really not as big of a hill as it may seem initially.  Remember the old adage, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time*.”  It’s the same with an event.

(source)

The really great thing is that there are several areas you can focus on  – and they typically happen sequentially.  This can give you the time you need to put the effort into each area:

  1. The public site – these are the micro-pages, the web site devoted to getting the word out about your event.  Put this up as quickly as possible and begin taking registrations.  Remember, you can update this page (or pages) as you go along, adding speakers and other information about your event. However, the most important thing is that you provide information about your event.  As you talk with speakers and potential sponsors, they’ll want to see what your event is about and this will be the starting point.
  2. Speakers – who is presenting the content?  Whether you’re hosting a single webcast/webinar session or a full virtual conference event, you’ll need to have content and speakers.  The speakers (and, more specifically their content) drive attendees.  Attendees drive sponsors.  Sponsors base their expected attendee counts on your content.  Speakers and their topics are key.
    One interesting thing we found in talking with attendees at various events is, while the speaker is important and big-name speakers can help an event, it’s really the topics that drive people to register for and attend your event.  In nearly every survey we’ve conducted, we’ve found that attendees look at the content (the session title and abstract) to be presented, then the speaker to see if they are qualified to talk about it.  If so, and it’s a topic they’re interested in, they’ll register.  People don’t typically register solely based on the speaker’s name and reputation.  There are clear exceptions to this for celebrities and such, but generally, it’s all about the content.
  3. Sponsors – who will be sponsoring your event?  Start talking with them early, but the real process of signing them up will get underway as you beef out your content and show your attendee interest.  Create your packages, know what you’re offering, but talk with them as your event starts to fill out in terms of content, direction and the style of event you’ll be having.
  4. The event platform – there will likely be things about the platform you need to set up.  This includes getting the content into the system, doing housekeeping and making setup decisions that will impact attendees during the event.  This can be done fairly late in the setup process as no one will be seeing this until the event is open.  Know what you have to do, but save this to the last portions of your set up calendar.

By attacking the things you need to do in a serial way – instead of looking at all of it at once – you’ll be able to work through the steps and have a great virtual event, without losing your sanity.

* Of course I’m not saying you should actually eat an elephant.  That’s just not a good idea on so many levels.

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.

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?