Virtual Events

Is AI Matching at Events a Hoax?

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To some event organizers, “AI Matching” sounds like a dream come true. Let your attendees register for your event, get them to answer a few choice questions, and hey presto, some clever machine can tell them who they should be meeting. If event attendees’ meetings do not yield fruit, blame it on the machine.

But is life really that simple? First, does the smart-arsed computer know that you and Joe used to work together and were glad to see the back of each other? Does it know that Carol is a family friend, and you can just pick up the phone and call her at will? Does it know that Fred registered for the event as a visitor instead of as an exhibitor and that he is a competitor of yours and not a potential client? Or that you and Penny spoke last week and have no need to meet again for a while? Or that Bill and you already do business, but you are looking for an alternative supplier? The number of things computers do not yet know about us is thankfully still rather large.

Where’s the AI?

Second, is there any AI involved, anyway? AI implies the machine learns. Amazon uses AI. It looks at what you buy. It looks at people who bought similar products and suggests other things they bought too. How often do you take up Amazon’s suggestions? If you are like me, then the answer is rarely. Invariably I am offered products that are substitutes for ones I have already purchased or supplementary items in which I have little interest.

Can the same hit-and-miss machine learning principles be applied to one-to-one meetings at events? Possibly, but why bother? All you need are a few well-crafted questions to establish your event attendees’ areas of interest, products and services sought or supplied, regions of operation, etc. With a couple of algorithms, the software can present attendees with a list of potential meeting partners whose profiles complement their own.

Most companies who offer one-to-one meetings do just that. The “AI Matching” slogan is marketing gloss. Unlike our competitors, we do not try to persuade event organizers that there is any magic involved. What we can offer, not readily available elsewhere, is the ability for attendees to build ordered lists of preferred meeting partners. Armed with this information and matching compatibility scores derived from profiles, the event organizer is just a few mouse-clicks away from creating optimal itineraries for their attendees. That is what we already do for many of our clients.

Alternatively, if the organizer does not wish to be involved in the matching process, we can let attendees quickly identify the most suitable meeting partners and arrange meetings among themselves.

Either way, there is no AI involved. We take great comfort in knowing that there is still room for conscientious event organizers to create satisfactory outcomes for their attendees. Perhaps we should call the process MAHI*.

* Machine Assisted Human Intelligence

Graham SimonIs AI Matching at Events a Hoax?
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1-to-1 Meetings at Events with No Boundaries

People attend business events primarily for two reasons. First, for content: attendees come to hear informed speakers or partake in a panel discussion where different perspectives are presented. Second, for networking: with peers, potential customers and suppliers or with new business partners. The networking might take place in small discussion groups or through 1-to-1 meetings.

While COVID-19 has changed the world and event industry in so many ways, two facts of life remain. People will still want to attend events and for both content and networking. For business events, the overwhelming proportion of the costs will still be borne by the suppliers.

What will change in the post-COVID world, however, is the shape that events take. Pre-COVID, most events were in-person. Today, almost all events are happening virtually. Once the event industry starts open up again, it is reasonable to assume that most business events will be hybrid events.

Hybrid Events are the Future

To understand hybrid events, it is important to view them from the perspective of both content and networking. Hybrid content has been happening for many years. I’m sure most of us will have seen a TED talk at some time. Presentations to a live audience are broadcast live to remote viewers, or they are recorded and broadcast later. With the advent of fast internet, live-streaming has supplanted TV broadcast, but for the viewer the end result is very similar. However, pre-COVID, neither the streaming of live nor recorded content was a priority for most organisers of business events. They were just keen to get as many “bums on seats” as possible on the day of their event.

By contrast, hybrid networking is a completely new phenomenon. Even at in-person events, many boundaries are imposed on event organisers by software suppliers, through the design of their solutions. Who, for example, can choose the time when arranging a meeting? Can hosted buyers book appointments directly into suppliers diaries? Can organisers collect attendees preferences, but schedule the meetings to ensure that less popular suppliers get a minimum number? Delegate Select has been addressing such user requirements for over 12 years and today we offer the most flexible solutions on the market.

From In-Person to Virtual…

Moving from in-person to virtual events, especially if your event is an international one, two more variables are introduced – time and space. All your participants have to see times automatically adjusted to their own locale. They have to be able to make themselves unavailable for meetings when they are sleeping, or otherwise engaged. Meetings, once scheduled, have to result in a single link in participants’ itineraries, which, when clicked, will bring them all into the same online ‘meeting room’ at the same time (and throw them out when the meeting is over!)

From Virtual to Hybrid

Moving from virtual to hybrid – where some people attend in person and others attend virtually – brings further challenges. The software now needs to cater for the vagaries of human nature and the changing rules set by politicians attempting to contain the pandemic. It needs to super flexible. Participants should be able to reschedule individual meetings at the drop of a hat and flip between attending them in-person or virtually.

For Delegate Select, enhancing our 1-to-1 meeting services to cater first for virtual and now for hybrid meetings has taken plenty of development resources. But, we are pleased to say that we have risen to the challenge. Please contact us if you would like a demo.

Graham Simon1-to-1 Meetings at Events with No Boundaries
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Ten Golden Rules for Virtual Event Success

After years of lurking in the wings, virtual events have been thrust centre stage, courtesy of Covid‑19. Because of their novelty, no-one can yet claim to be an authority. But based on 12 years of providing software solutions to the event industry, here’s my list of do’s and don’ts:

  1. Make your event an event!
    A few webinars arranged over an extended period do not constitute an event. Events run for defined period of time and give participants a concentrated experience in which they and their industry colleagues are fully focussed on topics of common interest and convergent goals. Virtual events may run for a few hours or for many days, but they need a clearly defined structure – a beginning, a middle and an end.
  1. Include a mixture of online activities
    Events where ‘experts’ deliver presentations all day long are, at best, an acquired taste. Nowadays, event attendees look forward to a mixture of activities. Use webinars for the keynotes and main content presentations. But also include plenty of time for 1-2-1 networking and small working groups. If applicable to your event, consider having roundtables or workshops sponsored by suppliers.
  1. Make your webinars engaging
    Plan your webinars carefully and make them engaging. There are a lot of good products out there to help you. Look for ones that permit presentations with a moderator, ongoing chat among listeners, the posting of questions to speakers, and polls. Consider a variety of other formats, such as moderated panel sessions, interviews with industry thought leaders, or even a light-hearted quiz.
  1. Don’t be afraid to make your event exclusive
    Quality is more important than quantity. Attendees want to feel they are amongst their peers. Virtual events give you a great opportunity to vet your audience. Use registration software that lets you preload invitees or else allows people to register provisionally, pending your approval.
  1. Carefully profile your registrants
    Use your registration process to collect valuable profiling data. Some of this can assist in marketing, but its primary purpose should be to enable participants to quickly identify suitable meeting partners. If your event brings together buyers and sellers or multiple attendee types, then consider profiling them differently.
  1. Make the networking format fit the event
    Good networking opportunities are a powerful magnet. The chance to have a 15-minute meeting with a major buyer or key executive will be gold-dust to some attendees. But not all events are the same. Peer-to-peer networking events are different from buyer-supplier forums. Sometimes, you may want to let the attendees arrange meetings among themselves. At other times, where certain participants are in high demand, you may want to collect everyone’s preferences but curate the meetings yourself.
  1. Ensure activities run on time
    Timeliness is important at events. But even more so with attendees, some in different time zones, all trying to keep up with the programme. With 1-2-1 meetings and invigorating roundtables, participants, left unconstrained, will merrily over-run allotted times. Your meeting and roundtable software should visibly count-down the time remaining and then terminate your online sessions.
  1. Include sufficient breaks between activities
    Include enough downtime in your programme for refreshments (self-catered!), bathroom breaks, and a chance to make vital business calls. If people are in different times zones, they should see times adjusted to their location. Participants should be able to block out their schedule when unavailable for meetings and other programme activities.
  1. Communicate clearly and provide simple personalised event itineraries
    Regardless of the underlying delivery platforms used for webinars, roundtables and 1-2-1 meetings, users should just see a single itinerary with simple links, e.g. “Join Webinar”, “Join Roundtable” or “Online Meeting”. Use email or SMS to remind participants of upcoming activities.
  1. Make recorded content available after the event
    If you are recording webinars and other sessions, make the content available, but only after the event. This could be made accessible to registrants who signed up for the event as well as selected business partners, prospects and VIPs with whom you wish to further your relationship.

Good luck and feel free to contact me at Delegate Select with any questions or comments.

© Graham Simon – May 2020

First published in Event Industry News on May 1, 2020

Graham SimonTen Golden Rules for Virtual Event Success
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