Have 'Realistic Expectations' - Thoughts on Virtual Event Platforms

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"The single most important thing [for a virtual event] is realistic expectations about what the sponsor and attendee can expect," said Brian Cuthbert, group vice president, Diversified Communications U.S., in a webinar held early in the pandemic. "You are not reimagining the show. How many leads can I expect? How will the learning be? Are you implementing video? Are there trainers or is there an audio webinar?"
 
"We've been pulling together, in the past five days, a virtual event for the same time that the live event was scheduled," Alicia Evanko, executive vice president, Travel Group Global Events, Northstar Travel Group, added. "We're just doing an appointment event so we're using Zoom. We're exploring other options for the content piece.
 
"The #1 priority is bringing those buyers and sellers together because we're already getting requests, 'Hey, can you get me the list? I'll set those appointments up myself.' Zoom will handle the appointments. We will have content available."
 
The platforms that she named included Brandlive, eZ-XPO, Bravura Technologies and 6connect communications.
 
Of course, almost every company doing events has had to switch to some form of virtual platform. Through our former excellent events director Emily Ruf, I found a blog from her new company, The Linux Foundation, recommending these virtual event vendors. A lot of research went into their selections:
 
inXpo Intrado
Best for large events with high budgets requiring a virtual conference experience with few compromises. InXpo Intrado has robust hosting capabilities and uses hyper-scale cloud providers for its infrastructure to provide highly reliable and resilient performance.
 
vFAIRS
Best for medium to large events with smaller budgets that want to offer a 3D environment/booth experience. It has many of the same robust features for sponsors, virtual trade shows, concurrent sessions, and attendee networking features that InXpo Intrado does, but at a lower cost of entry.
 
MeetingPlay
Best for any size event where attendee networking tools are a priority and sponsor 'booths' aren't required. It does not have a 3D virtual exhibit hall/booth capability. That said, the sponsor benefits built into this platform are robust, and they have excellent attendee networking capabilities. As with vFAIRS, you can use Meeting Play's own integrated video conferencing solution for content delivery, or use your own.
 
QiQo Chat
QiQo is best for smaller technical gatherings that don't need all the bells and whistles of an industry event focus. This is a great option for a focus on small group collaboration, such as developer meetings and hackathons.QiQo acts as a Zoom wrapper for attendees collaboration and session broadcasting and is ideally suited for smaller events that have a more narrow focus
 
For smaller open source options, they recommend: Jitsi Meet; Open Broadcaster Software; EtherPad; and Big Blue Button. There's more information in their post.
 
Remo is recommended for its networking capabilities. It features a "discussion table format that mimics mingling around a cocktail table at a reception. Attendees can click on a table in a virtual banquet room to join, which takes them into a live video chat with the other five or so people at that 'table.'"
 
And the very popular Hopin. "Similar to speed networking, the tool randomly connects two participants into a live, one-on-one video chat where they have a set amount of time to talk and possibly add each other as 'contacts' before time is up and they are both connected with other participants."
 
At Connectiv and SIPA we are partnering with BeaconLive on CES Deconstructed, webinars and for the upcoming SIPA 2020 Virtual Conference and have been very satisfied. One piece of advice that I've heard often is to start with the platforms you already use. Have discussions with your current vendor(s) about what you need and what they can do. A vendor might not even have be fully aware of what they are capable of until they're told what you might envision.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…