Tech

Virtual events are not just fancy webinars

Virtual events have been around for years. So too have webinars. While there has long been a vibrant demand for webinars, virtual events have never really taken off – that is, until the advent of covid-19. Now virtual events are on everyone’s mind in the event industry.

Although a webinar may be a significant component of a virtual event, the two are distinctly different. That’s because people attend events for two primary reasons – one is content, the other is networking. Webinars go some way towards addressing content, but they do not begin to address the desire among event attendees to network.

The Appeal of 1-2-1 Meetings

Without doubt, nothing can beat a face-to-face meeting. Your counterpart’s demeanour, gestures and subtle body language communicate much more to you, even subconsciously, than you are going to pick up when talking online. This is especially the case when the other party may not have video or is connecting over a laggy line in jerky robotic motions. Still, if you can’t meet in person, online is the next best thing. The technology gets better by the day and users are becoming more familiar with the idiosyncrasies of their devices.

Typically, many ‘real-world’ business events comprise presentations, workshops, roundtables or break-out sessions, as well as 1‑2‑1 meetings scheduled in advance or during the event. Half-a-day is the minimum length for such events. Most last at least a whole day. Many run for two or three days. Some can span a whole week.

Virtual Events to Mirror Real Events 

So won’t people expect virtual events to be similar in format and duration? Delegate Select along with our competitors are betting that they will. You may argue that people can arrange meetings between themselves online without the need to attend an event. But event organisers who can bring a diverse group of people together with a multiplicity of common interests in a virtual environment, for a day or more, and can deliver compelling content, organize stimulating roundtables, and enable participants to schedule meaningful 1-2-1 meetings among themselves, may hit on the winning formula. The only thing missing from the participants’ viewpoint will be the refreshments and finger food, but if the event is well planned, they can always find time in the program to make their own coffee and raid the fridge.

One concern for many in the event industry could be that if covid-19 impacts our lives for too long and virtual events become too slick, people might just decide they’d rather attend events from the comfort of their own desktop than venture out and mingle with the masses!

Graham SimonVirtual events are not just fancy webinars
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Making money from meetings at events

You want to add value for participants at your event. You understand that one-to-one meetings can do that. Ideally you would like the solution to add so much value that it becomes a source of additional revenue rather than a cost. If that’s the case, it’s important that you choose the right meeting solution for your event.

Here are three different implementations you might want to consider. There are others.

  1. Buyer-supplier wish-lists. This format is becoming increasingly popular for B2B events with between 20-100 suppliers and 30-300 buyers. Here, buyers and suppliers profile themselves separately. Buyers create wish-lists of, say, 20 suppliers they wish to meet and arrange their selections in order of preference, by dragging and dropping them up and down the list. Suppliers create a list of preferred buyers in a similar manner. Through a powerful administrative desk, the administrator can quickly instruct the system to arrange optimal itineraries for all attendees based on their stated preferences. Through the same desktop, the organizer can drag and drop buyers and suppliers, who were not scheduled to meet each other in one-to-one meetings, into other group activities or onto lunch and dinner tables. Clearly, if you have the right buyers in the room, suppliers will be willing to pay a premium for a full itinerary of meetings with people who have a strong desire to meet them.

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  1. One group of attendees – with upsell of extra meetings and dedicated meeting place to sponsors.  If there is a desire among delegates to meet other delegates as well as sponsors, then the organizer might want to enable everyone to request meetings with everyone else. The amount of requests can be capped by default, but adjusted case by case. The person receiving the request is able to confirm or decline (or ignore) it. On confirming a request, the user is presented with a list of mutually available times. One advantage of this implementation is that sponsors don’t immediately stand out as attendees who want to sell to others and may actually end up with more meetings. There are two ways to effectively monetize this solution. The first is to permit only a few requests per attendee at no cost, but then sell individual packages permitting more requests. The second is to sell sponsors a dedicated meeting place ­– a table or a room of their own where all their meetings will take place. While they stay put, others will need to move around from meeting to meeting.
  1. Two groups of attendees. This works well for conference/exhibition-style events where there are exhibitors with stands and the organizer is primarily interested in facilitating meetings for them with delegates. Attendees are separated into two groups, labelled as desired – delegates and sponsors, visitors and exhibitors, etc. Both can be profiled differently. For example, exhibitors may indicate products and services offered; delegates may indicate the size of their company, their purchasing budget and areas of interest. Delegates get to book appointments directly into the diaries of exhibitors or, alternatively depending on how the service is set up, request meetings which the exhibitor should confirm or decline. Shortly before the event, the organizer can extend the service so that exhibitors can invite delegates to meet them. If sponsors have multiple personnel on their stand they are able to schedule concurrent meetings and manage the diaries of each individual staff member. Optionally, the service can also be opened for delegate-delegate meetings close to the event. When the program is run well, exhibitors can end up with appointments with dozens of “power buyers” before the doors even open. That will bring them back, again and again.

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Lastly, there is a great sponsorship opportunity in all these solutions for a company that would like to have its name and logo on all communications send out through the meeting service.

If you are wondering what is the best way to add meetings to your events, we are always happy to offer advice.

Graham SimonMaking money from meetings at events
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The compelling logic of Hosted Buyer Programs

Hosted Buyer Programs are finally coming of age as a companion to B2B exhibitions and, for smaller gatherings where buyers and sellers come together, as events in their own right.

For exhibition organizers the logic is simple. You hold an exhibition with 300 exhibitors.  You bring 4,500 visitors. Of those, perhaps only one in ten might be considered a “power buyer” that many of your exhibitors would like to meet. Would it not therefore be highly desirable to set up quality appointments between your 300 exhibitors and those specific buyers? Certainly, most suppliers would willingly pay a premium for  15-20 guaranteed meetings with qualified corporate decision-makers.

While only a few exhibition organizers may be ready to replace their exhibitions with hosted buyers programmes, many are starting to run a hosted buyer programme alongside their traditional B2B exhibition. Until now, reticence in the events industry towards hosted buyer programmes has historically derived from two main concerns. First, a fear that any additional revenues or cost savings could be quickly consumed by the additional incentives needed to bring the appropriate buyers to the table; some organizers offer air travel, hotel accommodation and meals. Second, a concern that the work needed by event staff to arrange, schedule and consummate meetings is too burdensome.

I’m not an event organizer and therefore not qualified to contest the first concern. But my gut instinct is that buyers meet suppliers anyway and the opportunity to meet a lot of them in one place in a short period of time is very advantageous. If buyers are planning to come to an exhibition, then most would also participate in a well-organized hosted buyer programme without much prompting. Meanwhile some senior buyers who may not otherwise choose to attend an exhibition might actually be attracted by the opportunity to pre-schedule a full day of qualified appointments with suppliers. For the remainder, it’s a cost-benefit judgement the organizer has to make on a case-by-case basis.

As a technology provider whose company has been providing sophisticated one-to-one meeting services to the event industry for over seven years , I do feel qualified to respond to the second concern. Let’s start by noting that, with or without third-party technology, such companies as Marcus Evans, Richmond Events, the World Trade Group, Forum2Events and others have being generating healthy profits from exactly this format of event for many years now. Several  years ago, the CEO of one of these companies is alleged to have expressed surprise that he did not have more competitors. This is now changing.

Today, there are a lot of slick software solutions on the market that make it easy for event organizers to provide hosted buyer programmes at their events without a huge commitment of resources. Many software companies offer diary-based meeting solutions. One or two – Delegate Select being probably the first in 2008 – also offer wish list-based solutions to event organizers.

Diary Based Solutions

With the diary-based solutions, buyers and suppliers (exhibitors) profile themselves, telling each other what they are seeking or offering. Buyers arrange meetings with suppliers, choosing a mutually available time. If permitted by the organizer, suppliers send personalized invitations by email or SMS to buyers; the recipient confirms, declines or ignores the invitation.

Not all diary-based solutions are equal. It is worth checking whether the software provider’s solution is able to:

  • Permit an exhibitor to hold multiple concurrent meetings and assign individual meetings to other members  of his/her team.
  • Permit a buyer with a confirmed meeting to invite a colleague who is also attending the event to join the meeting.
  • Provide all participants with a bespoke itinerary of their meetings.
  • Update buyers and exhibitors itineraries on their mobile device, i-pad or tablet in real time, should changes occur or new meetings be arranged at the event itself.

Some diary-based software solutions promise to arrange meetings using just the profiles of the two parties. While this may sound convenient, it is not recommended. There are many reasons why buyers and suppliers might not wish to meet.  History, personal relationships, or even the fact that two companies are already doing business may all come into play. Experience suggests that meetings arranged by software systems without direct or even indirect consent of both parties will likely result in a high number of unfulfilled meetings.

Wish-list Solution

With the wish-list solution, buyers and suppliers create online wish lists of who they would like to meet and, if permitted by the organiser, a handful of companies they wish to avoid. Participants arrange their wish lists in order of preference online. Following a cut-off date, the event organiser, at the touch of few buttons, can quickly confirm and schedule hundreds of meetings between the two parties. The organiser has the ability to over-ride or manually supplement the selections made by the system. Attendees end up with personalised itineraries that, to the greatest extent possible, reflect the preferences of both meeting partners.

Regardless of whether a diary or wish-list solution is used, organisers should be sure to check that the solution has been designed responsively and that all functionality is accessible on desk-top and mobile devices alike, without users having to download an app… because many will simply not bother.

Five years ago, the first time one of our wish-list solution clients ran the scheduling for her event, she called me up in tears. “I’ve just scheduled 800 meetings in less than five minutes. You’ve saved me three days of my life”, she cried. We’d like to think that this is only a fraction of the time that has been saved cumulatively since then by bringing buyers and suppliers together in meetings they were both keen to attend.

Graham SimonThe compelling logic of Hosted Buyer Programs
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Do I need a mobile app for my event (and should I have to pay for it)?

There are a lot of nuances surrounding mobile apps for events. People will tell you “you’ve gotta have mobile”, but in order to decide what you actually need and how much – if anything – it should cost you, requires a little clear thinking. So let’s start with the big question: “What issue am I trying to address?”

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Issue 1: People are now using mobile devices instead of (or in addition to) desktop or laptop devices

Nowadays people are increasingly using mobile devices including phones, i-pads and tablets to access the internet and do things they used to do through desktop PCs or laptops. If this is your issue, then the first place to look is your main event website. Does it offer a full range of functionality – registration, delegate profiling, conference agenda, session selection, one-to-one meetings, personalized itinerary, payment and event feedback? If it does, then what you really want is a way of ensuring that all this great functionality also looks good on a mobile device.

This used to be a big issue. Mobile devices have a smaller screen size than desktop PCs and laptops. Software producers had to write separate programs to cater for them.

But thanks to an exciting development in IT called responsive design, websites are now becoming intelligent enough to know what sort of device they are being displayed upon and reformatting themselves accordingly.

So if your event website does everything you want, there’s just one question you now need to ask your IT department or your software solution provider: “Is our event web-site designed to be responsive?”

If the answer is yes, no specific mobile app is needed. All people need is a link to your event website and an internet connection.

Issue 2: There is no internet connectivity at my event but I want people to be able to view certain information on their phone

Of course, if there is no internet connectivity at your event, such as wifi or a mobile internet connection, e.g. 3G, 4G or GPRS, because the local environment or infrastructure does not support it, then it will be difficult for people to view your website at all.

If it is imperative that people see information relevant to your event during the event, then the only solution may be a mobile app installed on their phones. There are some apps out there that do very clever things. But even with these, there are three major caveats of which you should be aware:

  1.  If people have not already downloaded your custom event app to their phone before coming to your event, they may struggle to do so at your event and many will fail or give up.
  1.  You can display static information and functionality through your custom app, as long as it does not need to interact with a web-server. But if, for example, you wish to allow people to see other attendees and issue meeting requests or make appointments, they will be unable to do so during your event.
  1.  Mobile apps are device dependent. All serious app providers will address the both i‑phone and android markets. Not all will go the extra mile to reach users with Blackberry and Windows phones.

Should I have to pay extra for mobile?

If you have a fully functional event web-site built with responsive design, the answer is probably “No”. With internet connectivity at your event, users can do pretty much everything they need before, during and after your event. What else is there to pay for?

A company such as Delegate Select will sell you a complete event registration site with your own branding, delegate profiling, session selection/tailored agenda and one-to-one meeting functionality for up to 500 participants for under £1,250. Now, with the implementation of our new responsive design, your site will run across mobile devices, i-pads and tablets at no extra charge.

However, if you do want a fancy stand-alone app requiring no internet connectivity built for i-phone and android that allows users to see where they are and plan their route to an exhibitor’s stand or the coffee and doughnuts, then expect to pay handsomely for it!

Graham SimonDo I need a mobile app for my event (and should I have to pay for it)?
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Organizing stress free Gala Dinners

Does your company organize Gala Dinners? If so, on a scale of 1 to 10 how stressful is it for those doing the organizing and administration?

If you have sponsors booking tables, it’s even worse, isn’t it? Making sure the right person is sitting in the right place and getting served the right food is a bit like driving a car blind-folded with someone in the back seat giving directions.

So what might your perfect stress-free Gala Dinner solution look like? How about this?

  • Sponsors book one or more tables, company representatives book several seats, individual attendees book a single seat
  • Payment is taken online or invoices are issued automatically
  • Everyone who books one or more seats and/or tables is wholly responsible for who sits on their seat(s) as well as their dietary requirements
  • Table sponsors have the additional benefit of being able to arrange the seating around their table
  • The event organizer can place any unassigned persons booked by company representatives or individuals to empty spaces at tables
  • Just before the Gala Dinner, the event organizer prints seating plans and presses a button to send notification by email or SMS to all attendees telling them where they are sitting.

Like it? Want one? Then call us.

Graham SimonOrganizing stress free Gala Dinners
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Potato washing monkeys

koshima_monkeys

Researchers in Japan in the fifties observed that a few monkeys on the island of Koshima, with a taste for sweet potatoes, began taking the mud-caked delicacies they excavated down to the sea to wash before eating. The researchers then observed this custom spread quickly among the monkey population of Koshima and soon to neighbouring islands.

This research was popularized by various writers in the seventies and eighties, including Rupert Sheldrake who saw it as evidence of his theory of morphic rensonance. This he described in his book The New Science of Life as ‘the basis of memory in nature… the idea of mysterious telepathy-like interconnections between organisms and of collective memories within species’. An idea similar in many respects to Jung’s “Collective Unconscious”.

Personally, I’m a believer – especially in light of our recent software development experience.

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About six months ago, our technology director and I were kicking some ideas around and became very excited about developing a mobile app for exhibitor lead retrieval. Using their mobile phones, exhibitors at events would capture information about attendees who dropped by their stand simply by scanning a QR code on the visitors’ badge. No more charging scanning devices, renting them out, collecting them at the close of the event and downloading data.

Great idea.

We proceeded to design a slick and sophisticated mobile app to run on both i-phones and android devices and oversaw the development of this app alongside a myriad of other tasks.

Finally, the app is ready to launch. We are still excited, but we also note that in the intervening six months, a number of other apps have appeared on the market that do a similar job to ours.

There are both negatives and positives here. On the minus side, we have a lot of competition (though we would like to think that our app has several advantages over those of most of our competitors – such as being multi-lingual and providing automatic synchronization with our registration server).

On the plus side, we feel our vision has been fully vindicated. Without sharing our ideas with others or gleaning theirs from them, we are somehow fully attuned to the direction in which the market is heading.

In short, we are washing our potatoes along with all those other monkeys!

Graham SimonPotato washing monkeys
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