On Wednesday 11th November, the Hire Space Virtual Team kicked off Part 2 of EventLAB 2020 Online, which was all about The Virtual & Hybrid Event Experience, Project Safety & Success.
The first discussion of the morning explored how hybrid networking can be beneficial and what needs to be considered during the planning process. Joining the panel were Natalie Campbell-Reid, Marketing Manager at Explori; Phillip Maggs, Senior Creative Technologist at Identity Group; Pamela Benitez, Founder & Director of The Virtual Events Experience; and Jack Geddes, Founder of EVNTe.ch.
Watch the full video below and read on for the key takeaways.
It’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach
With everything that’s gone on this year, we’re seeing more and more that potential attendees are almost as likely, if not just as likely, to attend an event virtually rather than in-person, which means that effective virtual events have now firmly become part of the attendee acquisition strategy. Because it’s fairly new ground, it can often be difficult to combine in-person networking with virtual networking, so if one element is going to suffer it’s likely to be the virtual component. It’s therefore important to think about the differences between virtual and physical experiences and not try to use the same approach for both.
For example, you’re never going to be able to recreate virtually the serendipity of bumping into someone at a live event, so don’t try to! Instead, use the data and tech to your advantage and use people’s behaviour to inform who they meet via AI. With hybrid networking, one of the main challenges is to avoid making the virtual attendees feel like ‘second-class citizens’ compared to the people attending in person. Making it equally as beneficial to both types of attendee ultimately comes down to the messaging and initial onboarding - there is no unified user experience, so make sure each type of attendee knows what’s available to them. After all, there’s no point having great tech if the virtual attendees don’t know how to use it!
Facilitate the networking experience
It’s important to consider how we leverage the data and respond accordingly. For example, at an in-person event, suppliers or exhibitors can scan an attendee’s QR code to get their information, and this begins with spoken interaction. At a virtual event, this information is already freely available before any interaction even takes place. This means it is easy to lose the interaction element and therefore there is scope to do a facilitated networking experience that guides attendees through a little more.
In terms of the hybrid experience, this hasn’t really happened yet on a big scale! However, it’s worth noting that in-person events may be better suited for specific audience types. Therefore segmentation of the audience could be something to consider, such as by charging more to attend physically than virtually. This would separate those that really want to be there in person and those that really want to be virtual, thus tailoring the attendee’s objectives and making it easier for attendees, partners and exhibitors to focus their energy where they’re likely to get the best results.
We need to be empathetic to people’s environments. As planners, we’re incredibly empathetic when building a physical event; we consider every part of the event and attendee experience from F&B to lighting, so it’s important to do the same for virtual events rather than simply focusing on functionality.
One way we could be more empathetic to virtual attendees is by making the timings for networking much broader. Rather than a strict half-hour time slot, you could make it available for 24 hours and attendees can drop in when they like/can. This eliminates pressure and allows for factors that may disrupt a virtual attendee, such as children, or simply getting bored and switching on the TV instead. By extending the length of the networking period, you could actually make an attendee more engaged, contrary to popular belief.
Conquering new ground
The concept of virtual or hybrid networking is new to most of us and something which we’re all working out as we go along! Therefore, being transparent and informing sponsors and attendees how to meet their objectives in this new model will garner respect for the organiser and is likely to create a sense of camaraderie rather than frustration or anger if things go wrong or are a little unpolished.
Preparing the audience
Preparing the audience for online networking starts from the attendee building their profile on the platform. Just like on LinkedIn or other online networking tools, a profile with a good photo and personal information is more likely to get connection requests, so attendees should be instructed to build their profile and informed that the better their profile and engagement, the more valuable the connections they’ll make.
On the other hand, attendees who work for desirable companies may be inundated with requests, so the organiser needs to make sure there are checks and balances in place, such as creating certain time-slots for making connections, so it’s not overwhelming or distracting.
How do we give virtual attendees a break away from screens during networking?
Use a mobile-friendly event platform so that attendees can step away from their desks and the main event, and maybe go for a walk and message fellow attendees from their phone. This makes it feel like they’re taking a break from the main event but are still engaging in the networking. You could also offer an optional virtual follow-along activity for virtual attendees to join if they want to take a break but not shut off from the event, such as a group Zoom yoga session or cocktail-making class. Scheduling breaks into the agenda is also an easy way to encourage attendees to step away.
Are there any virtual platforms or events that you’ve come across that have done networking really well?
Bizzabo has good built-in networking functions and Swapcard has clever AI networking features. Rume is also a great tool which allows you to click on a person’s face to have a conversation with them, whilst still being able to see the same room. This avoids Zoom’s segregated breakout room function. Remo is also handy and allows you to switch to different tables to keep the networking speedy.
Have you seen hybrid facilitated networking in practice before, and what do you think that will look like in future?
Not yet, only in proposal build up. Mechanisms will need to be created and tested. Maybe a “talk to me” booth built in an experiential way to push people to network with online attendees. Or, if in a speed networking format, a digital station onsite which is included on attendees' agenda, pushing them to speak with online attendees.
Do you think that there is a reluctance to embrace new tech platforms for events as an attendee?
Yes, but that's natural. Attendees would prefer tech they are comfortable with and that's easy to access, plus that makes sense for their own objectives.
Do you have any recommendations for how best your sponsors can engage to generate leads?
- Pamela suggests bringing engaging entertainment to your booth – activities attendees can do together and pre-sign up so you can collect leads. For example, advertise a VIP cooking session with ITV chef Parveen - The Spice Queen (Spice it up! by The Virtual Events Experience) with a spice kit box delivered at home, for only 30 people.
First come, first served – you can work with organisers to push registration of key targets to you and even select from registrations if more people sign up. That way, you can select who will be with you during the one-hour session and you can promote your business in a fun and casual way – where attendees will have fun and not run away from you. Instead, they will come to you.
- You could make a training course available as well. But instead of just showcasing your product, bring some speakers that are relevant or your best clients to act as a case study, talking about your product.
- Have a spare team member to network incognito. That way, they can push promo of your booth.
About The Speakers
Natalie Campbell-Reid, Marketing Manager, Explori
Natalie Campbell-Reid is an experienced Marketing Manager skilled at raising brand awareness and creating compelling content. Natalie uses Explori’s extensive data insights to create content which helps event organisers maximise event revenue and exhibitors measure their ROI.
Phillip Maggs, Senior Creative Technologist, Identity Group
Working with brands like Rolls Royce, Pepsi and Nike, Phil creates digital, interactive and technology-based immersive experiences. Working from initial technology strategy, research & development through to prototyping unique products, activations and tools, Phil encompasses the full spectrum of emerging and innovative technologies.
Pamela Benitez, Founder & Director, The Virtual Events Experience
Pamela is an events manager with over 10 years’ experience creating VIP events and corporate entertainment. She started the first social enterprise events agency specialized in virtual events experience, during the pandemic. The company purpose is to reinvest 51% of the business profits to promote relevant social causes through partnerships with Charities, Foundations and Social Enterprises.
Jack Geddes, Founder, EVNTe.ch
Jack’s passion for technology led him to work for Prop-tech to HR-tech and Event tech companies. He is now the Founder of EVNTe.ch, a publication and a guide dedicated to event technology created in partnership with Mash Media. The full guide called ‘The Everything Event Tech Guide’ will be launching at Confex 2021.
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Izzie brings a deep understanding of the events world to Hire Space, and keeps busy by writing lots of Hire Space and EventLAB content and managing the Hire Space social media presence.