Category

Engagement

virtual wedding

My First Virtual Wedding of Coronavirus 2020 All Happened So Fast I Didn’t Even Get a Chance to Set Up a Proper Event

By | Engagement, Online Events, Virtual Events

Today, my stepdaughter and her fiance decided it was time because they don’t know when they’ll be able to hold a wedding ceremony with friends and family actually in one location at the same time (and the fear that even drive up wedding chapels will be closed soon), there really wasn’t a better time to tie the knot!

So, we had they did a live stream of the ceremony to anyone that could get in front of a screen large or small.  Just because I have been touting virtual events for the last 20 plus years, it was not my idea and I was left out of the planning. They wanted a simple live stream and not the virtual event extravaganza I would have liked to host. It worked out just fine and the lessons I learned is boy, you can plan and produce a virtual event pretty quick and virtual wedding pictureinexpensively, and content is still king.

 

Everyone who attended online was oohing and ahhing and some crying. There were pictures taken but no toasts, first dances or banquet food. It seems there was a bit of a rush to get in, do the ceremony and get moving as there were actually other couples thinking the same thing waiting in line to do the deed.

I predict that live streaming weddings will become a thing even after the current crisis passes just as virtual events will be a core addition to events and meetings of the future.

Everything You Want and Need to Know About Digital Event Based Programs and Virtual Events

By | Best Practices, Business Strategy, Communication, Customer Stories, eLearning, Engagement, Marketing, Monetize, Online Events, Personalization, Virtual Events, Webcasts & Webinars

A resource for tools, techniques and good practices for virtual events, hybrid events, online event-based learning, and perpetual communities.

If you’ve come to take a deeper dive on all topics related to digital events, hybrid events and live streaming, perpetual sharing and learning communities and of course, virtual events, you’ve come to the right place. This is our jumping off location to organize, publish, curate and share everything we can find that we think is helpful, actionable, thought-provoking and a valuable resource in your quest to understand and produce more efficient, engaging and profitable event-based programs.

We’re using tags and categories to provide a taxonomy to navigate to the information that is most relevant to your needs. If there is a topic or issue you are looking for and cannot find it here, please drop us a note and we will see what we can do to get you more information or if you have something to contribute, we’d love to hear from you as well and will attribute the resource to you.

Strategy

virtual event strategy

Start by referring to your organization’s vision, goals, opportunities, and initiatives in order to maximize the business benefits of the event program. Align the answer to the question, “Why are we pursuing this program?” back to those items. Outline specific goals and objectives of the program and establish the foundation for assessing the results and success.

Define the target audience(s) and, if appropriate, other participants such as partners, sponsors, press, etc. and quantify how many and from where you want to draw the attendance. It may be helpful to craft personas of your target participants to make sure you meet their needs.

User Journey & Experience

Map out what you want the attendee to see, do and feel during the event, and why. Creating a theme for the event based on this and your desired outcomes around them will create structure, atmosphere, cohesiveness.

Decide what the user experience will entail from the type of content you will be sharing (this is critical as most people attend online events to gain access to content and knowledge) to the graphical look and desired engagement results you identify.

Technology Solution

There are many different online event technologies, with different user interfaces, functionality, ease of setting up, ease of use and pricing. The key is to align your user experience to the best technology solution within the budget available.

Required features also play a critical role in your solution selection. Although most online programs use a one-to-many approach (i.e.webinars), programs needing more interaction with speakers, sponsors or attendees will need to utilize a platform that allows text or video chat and private meetings (many-to-many).

Consider ongoing growth as well. Engagez offers flexible platforms to expand as your events grow. You can also copy the venue, so all your preferences and interfaces are the same across events, even if the information or attendees differ. Engagez offers a copy venue feature to make it easy to reuse things you like.

Unlike many platforms, Engagez offers an optional registration feature with robust security. Each venue can be customized to send confirmation and reminder emails to attendees, which increases participation likelihood.

Content Strategy

Studies over the years have consistently shown that the primary reason attendees register and participate in online events is the content. Your program’s content strategy is trumped only by your marketing strategy in its ability to impact the success or failure of the event. People register and attend online events primarily to discover and consume content for education, inspiration, training, certification, seeing what’s new and keeping up with current practices.

Of course, there are other benefits. Attendees often meet new people, network with peers and discover new products and solutions as well as receiving hands-on demos. Many participants will attend just to gain access to subject matter experts (SMEs) alone.

Most of our customers introduce content through SMEs presenting their ideas, experiences, and solutions in the form of presentations that include audio, video, slides and demos. There are also interactive audience engagement elements like polling, Q&A, social media and breakout groups. Consider what kinds of engagement are needed with your content and use this to determine the best type of platform for your organization.

Though the organization’s goals and objectives need to be kept in mind during the content strategy planning process, it is a good idea to focus on the target attendees’ needs first. Amazing, unique content should be your goal throughout the entire agenda.

Marketing Plan 

The marketing plan will closely resemble a marketing plan for a physical event, or for any product or business. Email marketing is still the number-one driver of event marketing efforts for most organizations. The marketing mix beyond email tends to get very fractional (in most cases) with social media channels, SEO, SEM, and content marketing. The list of tactics is large and often is weighted by the particular market—B2B vs B2C etc.

Since a whole book could be written on the various tactics, we focus more on what and why you need to market. Marketing prior to the event is, of course, critical to drive registrations.  But it doesn’t end there as converting those registrations to actual attendees is vital—more so than physical events.

Just like physical events that offer free registration, the conversion of those free registrations to actual attendance can be a challenge. You need a meaningful campaign to keep registrants aware of the event, as well as excited and motivated to attend.

The campaign to specifically convert the registrants to attendees begins at least a week in advance and requires a reminder 24 hours before–1 hour before and a message at the opening of the program to let people know you are starting now.  These need to be well crafted and informative messages providing new insight or knowledge to keep your event on the top of the registrant’s calendar.

Revenue & Funding: Sponsor & Exhibitor/ Paid Program

Online events have different funding models with the majority being funded internally.  There are also events that are totally revenue- and profit-generating with sources of revenue from sponsorships, exhibits, paid registration and access to required courses for certifications and professional development. For some companies, their virtual events are used to sell products and services during the event or generate leads.

An example of a large paid registration event is the Social Media Marketing World event. This event found success with a hybrid model, in which there is both a physical event with paid registration and a virtual event running in conjunction. Registration fee is $695 per registrant, generating significant revenue from both online and physical registrations.

Many events rely on sponsors/exhibitors/partners to augment revenue as well as to add additional value to the attendee’s event experience via content, connections or solutions.  You’ll need a plan to identify and secure sponsors including developing compelling sponsor opportunities, marketing materials, and sales strategy.

Engagement Strategies

Engagement at an online event directly impacts the degree to which attendees are participating in the various activities at your event. Generally, the more participation an attendee or speaker or sponsor have around the event, the more successful they will be and the more emotionally connected to the event’s experiences.

Depending on the participant, engagement can be measured by sessions attended, items downloaded, polls taken, chats with other participants, social media activity, sponsors visited, meetings held, inquiries made, demos watched, questions asked, questions answered, or connections made.

These are all metrics that can be easily measured within your event platform. The challenge is actively and strategically planning for these encounters to happen. Our customers have included downloadable materials and guides, opened discussion forums, and allowed for real-time speaker Q&A, automated greeting when arriving at a different location in the event–all helping to increase participant engagement.

Engagement needs to begin before the event, continue through the event and ideally, accelerate after the event is over.  Creating persistent year-round engagement utilizing all marketing channels in an integrated campaign will deliver tremendous results impacting audience acquisition as well as participant satisfaction and retention.

Program Production & Results Measurement

Depending upon the technology platform/solution you have chosen or will choose, the event will need to be created, the content and graphics added, registration configured, email messages uploaded, and sponsor locations and features set up. A sample checklist and timeline document can be found here and will detail most of those activities and deliverables.

Based on the complexity of the program, such as multiple versions of the same event for different regions of the world, the setup could be a bit more work. This is especially the case for your first event.  The Engagez platform offers self-service options for those clients that have the resources to support the buildout as well as service packages to provide assistance for clients that don’t have all the resources needed inhouse. Engagez allows for some uploading of materials via spreadsheets, including speakers, session information and registration lists. The platform also includes a robust media library that allows event builders to upload many assets simultaneously.

Leave ample time for testing all aspects of the platform. We suggest all buildout activity be stopped at least one week prior to the event in order to fully test, train staff/partners/speakers and make any final tweaks to the environment. Registration can, of course, continue during this period.

The Engagez platform offers a comprehensive analytics dashboard for measuring activity before, during and after your event.  We strongly recommend you also supplement that with exit surveys (provided in the platform) for each of your participant segments (attendees, sponsors, speakers, and internal stakeholders).

Links to more resources (more to come):

Marketing Check List

RFI/RFP

Timelines & Checklists

Monetization & Funding

Speaker Preparation

Sponsor & Exhibitor Preparation

Staffing & Training

Hybrid Event Extensions

Audience Engagement

Hands-on Labs

Registration

Venue Build Out

Simulive

Event Support FAQs & Answers

woman attending an online event

Virtual Events Demand Spikes Due to Coronavirus COVID-19 Travel and Meeting Restrictions

By | Best Practices, Business Strategy, Communication, eLearning, Engagement, Marketing, Online Events, Webcasts & Webinars

I’ve been heavily involved in virtual events since the early 2000s, actually anything related to digital events as the category is quite broad stretching from webinars to perpetual, event-based environments and communities. When I started the Virtual Edge Institute and caught the attention of PCMA (Professional Conference Management Association) who were very astute and saw the value of extending the reach of in-person events for their members and importantly for their member’s event programs, I thought online events and physical event extensions would be huge.

What event or meeting planner or any marketer for that matter, wouldn’t want to leverage the power of reaching the billions of people that have access to the Internet but can’t attend an event or meeting in because of cost, time or schedule conflicts? Instead, online events and live streaming of events experienced steady growth but always played second fiddle to in-person get-togethers.

Then, life happens and for one reason or another, people cannot meet in person. Today it is the coronavirus, in the past it was 911 or the great recession or volcanos that disrupted travel and people were forced to meet, network, sell and learn online.  Major events like Mobile World Congress, Facebook, Apple, Cisco and Google all canceled or postponed major events and even the Louvre and many other attractions around the world have been affected. It’s not just mega-events and venues, smaller events are getting canceled as well.

There have been organizations that saw the value of convening online audiences and incorporating online participation into their event and meeting portfolios. Cisco, Microsoft, Amazon, Dreamforce. IBM and many others large and small have leveraged the incredible reach of their events engaging hundreds, thousands and in cases, millions of online participants.

Its situations like coronavirus, which totally changes the focus from in-person events and meetings to online, that change has sent many organizations scrambling to replace their events and meetings and deal with massive travel restrictions while still keeping in contact and engaging with their customers, prospects, employees, members, stakeholders, and even students.

At Engagez, a virtual event platform, we are getting lots of calls now from people saying they need a virtual strategy asap. No one is happy we are again in this situation, and personally, it is going to hurt my new event venue in Silicon Valley (Blanco) for sure, but we have been building it with the very intention of opening a venue that is built for live streaming the event, networking and learning experience too much larger remote audiences.

virtual event playbook cover imageEngagez (engagez.com) is seeing a spike in demand and we want to help people who are just getting thrown into this as well as those that want to expand their knowledge on what can be achieved with event and meetings online, so we’ve published The Virtual Event Resource Guide and Playbook.  You can download it here.

Virtual events seemed to be on a growth trajectory beyond the tech sector before the current health and travel crisis and if history repeats, we’ll see a lot more people adding online event and meeting programs to their permanent marketing, sales, learning, and development mix.

Simulive: Bringing Recorded Presentations to ‘Live’

By | Best Practices, Communication, Engagement, Marketing, Video, Virtual Events, Webcasts & Webinars

A simulated live webinar, “simulive”, is a scheduled webinar which streams a pre-recorded presentation while allowing organizers to engage with the audience in real time using interactive tools.

In case you have not looked into simulive before, there are key advantages that are worth your consideration:

1. Ease of Coordinating Schedules

Your webinar presenters are all busy professionals, located in different offices, different cities and countries.  Finding the one time slot convenient for all which fits your marketing schedule can be a daunting task. With simulive, you coordinate the timing of the recording at the presenters’ convenience, and then broadcast the recording as live at a time convenient for your target audience.

2. Reducing “Live” Production Risks

Should we even elaborate more?!  We all have scars on our backs with production issues that happen from time to time during a live webinar.  Whether it’s presenter delays, networking and audio problems, or incorrect downloaded presentations, these degrade the attendee experience and leave a bad mark on our brands.  With simulive, you can avoid many of these problems, by pre-recording highest quality presentation, and then broadcasting it live from the cloud.

3. Addressing Globally Dispersed Customers and Prospects

Agreeing on the best time to schedule a live webinar to address the east, central and west coast US time zones is already a challenge.  What about the rest of the world? Simulive is a perfect solution that enables you to schedule the same presentation multiple times, using a recording of the original, each optimally timed for a specific region of the world.

4. Increasing Rate of Return on Marketing Spend

Simulive allows you to leverage a presentation recording multiple times, hence increasing your utilization of an asset you have already committed time and money to.  Meanwhile, the “live” nature of simulive increases the attendance, and substantially improves viewership, compared to on-demand utilization of the same video.

5. Engagement of Attendees

Perhaps even more important than increased viewership, simulive sessions give you the opportunity to engage with the attendees in real time, through online chat with staff, Q&A with experts, surveys and polls.  Engagement data is crucial in your follow up strategies, and simulive is a powerful way of collecting more.

Now, you might be thinking “hey, I see the advantages for the organizer!  But how about the attendees? How would they react if they knew the “live” session they are attending is pre-recorded?”.

Based on our experience, the attendees don’t care as long as the following expectations are met: (i) the presentation delivers fresh and high quality content on the advertised topic, and (ii) they can ask presenters questions and expect timely answers.   When these expectations are met, simulive is a win for all!

At engagez.com, we take pride in our simulive offering. Our customers use Engagez not only for simulive but also to host live, and on-demand events.   We view simulive not as an alternative to live webinar but as a lower-cost means of offering more frequent live programming. Our calendaring mechanism further allows an organizer to mix and match live, simulive and on-demand sessions and create comprehensive and engaging events.  These events expand the concept of a traditional webinar, offering attendees more content and higher educational value, while increasing their engagement opportunities.

Best Practices for Hosting Video on Demand

By | Best Practices, Communication, Engagement, Marketing, Video, Virtual Events

We have come a long way from the days when hosting a video was simply putting a file on a shared drive and letting people download it. First with desktop players, we were able to play the video directly from a shared drive. This was a step forward but still painful since the initial players had to download the entire file before starting to play, hence costly and slow. The next generation of players were embedded within your HTML pages and were able to cache and start the video with some delay without having to wait for the full download. This somewhat improved the video experience but was not as helpful if you wanted to consume the content by jumping around the video. The shortcomings of these approaches were only magnified as the popularity of mobile devices exploded, leading to further challenges in maintaining a steady internet connectivity speed.

Today, the best practices of serving high quality VOD have substantially evolved. You experience these best practices when consuming videos on the largest of service providers like YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, etc. What is not obvious to the consumer is the amount of computational work and process flow that goes on behind the scenes in preparing an uploaded video file for that smooth viewing experience. These providers are addressing the consumers insatiable desire for flawless playback experience and ease of navigating/jumping within videos, on any device, and in most connectivity situations. As the cost of adopting these best practices become more affordable, more and more service providers will adopt them over time, yet many are not there yet.

As you evaluate the best solutions for your VOD needs, consider the following best practices and whether they are adopted by your service provider:

1. Transcoding

Having a single high quality video file does not translate into best consumption experience: depending on the situation, it could translate into wasted bandwidth for those on desktop/notebooks with high internet connectivity and poor to unusable experience for mobile users and those with slower internet speeds. The best practice is to transcode the original file, generating multiple versions of it, each with its own optimized streaming segmentations, bitrates, bit depths, and framing policies, targeting differing internet connectivity situations. This process is usually performed as part of the video upload process, prior to making the VOD available for viewing.

2. Adaptive Bitrate Streaming

Once you have adaptive bitrate versions of the video, your player and the server need to communicate with each other to leverage the most suitable content. Over the last few years, the best practice communication protocols between the client players and the host servers have evolved into streaming models that work over HTTP across wide distributed networks. These protocols are designed specifically to take advantage of “adaptive bitrate” optimized server content, hence referred to as “adaptive bitrate streaming”.

Adaptive bitrate streaming protocols are superior to delivering a static video file at a single bitrate.  As depicted in the image above, the video stream can be switched midstream to be as good or bad as the client’s available network speed.  It continuously adapts to any changes to the client’s network and CPU situations. To see the advantage of this approach, compare this to the buffering or interruption in playback that would happen when client’s network either did not support the quality of the native video, or the network load kept on changing based on changes to the mobile signal strength or others’ activities on the same network.

There are several implementations of adaptive bitrate streaming. If compatibility across diverse devices are important to you, then MPEG-DASH and Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) are the two most widely adopted implementations available across most devices and OSs.

3. Timeline Thumbnails

The ability to locate with ease the portions of interest within a lengthy video is a high value need by video consumers, especially in the B2B space. One feature that is very helpful in this regard is the ability to move the mouse along the video timeline and seeing the frame thumbnail images of that spot in the video. The smoothness of the frame updates as you traverse the mouse over the timeline are critical in making this capability useful and attractive to users.

4. Use of Content Delivery Network (CDN)

If you have a large and global audience, using CDN for video delivery will go a long way in removing latency and delivering a smooth experience for all users, regardless of physical location.

At engagez.com, we take pride in our implementation of these video best-practices. Our customers use Engagez to host live, simulive (simulated live) and on-demand events. Most live events also transition to on-demand after its completion and stay open for a period of time for further audience engagement. During setup, when you upload videos, whether for on-demand or simulive, we apply these best practices and ensure smoothest possible user experience for your attendees.