Navigating the virtual landscape for the right solution is not easy. As I soon found out the choices out there reminded me of what it was like opening my first bank account when I was a kid and trying to decide which bank to invest my hard earned tips from working as busboy. There were six national banks at that time and they all offered similar if not identical products and services. I remember asking myself: how do I choose? Later in life, I would discover that how I was treated during my first encounter and the support I received in my later engagements - first credit card, loan, mortgage, line of credit - involved people and the way they made me feel. I also credit my relationship with bankers over the years in teaching me about money. As a student of science, my only finance education consisted following the advice of my mother - a single parent raising four kids and working full time.
I spent the first five months of the 2020 researching and participating in demonstrations of virtual event technology solutions ranging from simple Zoom calls to full-blown broadcast studio quality productions and I find myself asking the same questions as I did when I was opening my first bank account: how do I choose?
If you are also asking this question then you are not alone. In fact the ability to manage expectations and reality in a virtual space is very difficult. Some things never change. Great content delivered by great speakers to the right audience has always been my mantra. So, when in doubt I like to return to the basics. First, identify the needs of your various stakeholders not simply as audiences but also as individuals within those audiences. Clients, sponsors, speakers, and attendees all have different needs and expectations based on their own experiences. You want to ensure those needs are met as they may impact downstream choices.
Overall the goal here is to increase the likelihood of engagement among the different members of your audience regardless of which stakeholder group they may belong. I find it helpful to create a Venn diagram to visualize where areas of overlap may exist and begin there. For example, speakers may be interested in the ease of use of the technology and how they engage with the audience through questions and answers or polling. Sponsors and exhibitors may be interested in how to drive engagement with attendees and their assets or representatives through live virtual two-way breakout sessions or chat feeds. Fireside conversations and workshops are very different from didactic lectures of a technical nature. The goal here is not to figure out how to replicate the in-person experience in the virtual world, but rather to leverage the best available technology and innovative ways to utilize that technology in meeting the needs of your audience in order to deliver truly unique engaging experiences.
Adopting a social media platform mindset is a great way to start. After all, social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn keep us engaged and coming back for more by offering us the flexibility to choose with whom we engage or with what content. The technology or platform stripped down to its simplest functional user interface remains largely hidden from view. The "quality of engagement" is what's important here.
People willing to teach you about how to use their platform, share their insights on developing trends and of course support you before, during and after your event are in my experience the most important ingredient in offering a successful virtual experience. Do they get back to you in a timely fashion so you can answer any questions you or your stakeholders may have? Does the platform have an accurate and easy to use knowledge base that allows you to self-direct your learning of their platform? Do they offer unsolicited tips when you don't know what questions to ask? Are they nice to deal with virtually? If the answer is yes then you have found the right people who will help you achieve your goal. I can't stress how rewarding it is to see the upfront investment pay off. Much like my experience as a kid, a genuine sense of partnership will carry forward on future events making them so much easier and less stressful.
Platform, or more precisely the technology should consist of a great content management system, capable of handling videos, images, documents with on-demand or live stream broadcasts. A simple and appealing user interface that is easy to navigate the content is important. The "cleaner" the better I say. Stripping away features that are not adding value to your user experience and only there to demonstrate the capability of the platform are of no value and may even detract from an otherwise great user experience. This is not to say you shouldn't offer a choice for people to connect in different ways, only that it is a choice and not forced upon you.
Price may or may not be a concern. However you may find a less expensive solution provides you with exactly what you need where as a more expensive option does not. I can tell you from my recent experiences that higher price doesn't necessarily equate to better support either.
I hope this article is helpful and would appreciate if you leave a comment, schedule a call or contact me if you would like to discuss how I may assist you deliver exceptional virtual experiences.